Nicanotes: New “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” about Nicaragua from Human Rights NGOs

Fake News from Amnesty International and Global Witness

Nincanotes : A blog about nicaragua by solidarity activists

By Chuck Kaufman

The past month has seen a new round of attacks against Nicaragua from US-European professional human rights NGOs. Global Witness continues against all reason and evidence to claim that Nicaragua is one of the “most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders” in its March 8 blog:Activists, Defenders, Investigators: These Are the Women Who Inspire Us. Given that there have been no environmentalists killed by state security forces (or non-state actors as far as I know), no environmentalists have been imprisoned by the state judicial system, and the fact that environmentalists have full and free access to Nicaragua’s mostly opposition-owned media, Global Witness must be confident that its liberal funders do not read its reports, or that they only read its reports.

A more generous person than I could imagine that Global Witness is truly ignorant of the fact that the violent land struggles between indigenous and mestizo peasants in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region has no connection to the peaceful protests hundreds of miles away in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region against the proposed shipping canal. One could perhaps ignore ones offense at Global Witness’ orientalizing all indigenous people so that they are “environmentalists” by definition. Someone who is more familiar with human rights abuses in countries like Honduras, or Colombia, or Mexico could perhaps be excused for assuming that, if someone beat up the son of an indigenous woman who has led protests against the proposed canal, it must have been at the instigation of the government of President Daniel Ortega.

But, Global Witness reveals that its anti-Sandinista bias allows it to write lies as if they were truth when it publishes the bald faced lie that the inter-oceanic canal project “wasn’t preceded by any environmental impact reports, nor any consultation with local people like Francisca on how their lives and land might be impacted.” All you have to do is Google “Nicaragua canal environmental impact assessment” and you’ll get lots of links to read. One of the first things you’ll note is that the Sandinista government required HKND, the Chinese company which holds the canal concession, to hire an outside professional company to conduct an independent environmental impact assessment. The European company ERM produced a 13 volume report and the chosen route was modified and a number of further studies were ordered based on recommendations in the report. You can read about the report here.

Many of the Google hits warn of potential serious environmental damage and others maintain that the need of a canal to be fed by a healthy watershed is the only hope (and source of funds) to reverse Nicaragua’s galloping deforestation. The other part of Global Witness’ lie is that there have been no consultations with communities, land owners, and indigenous governments. There have been consultations with all of these and the proposed canal route has been changed to accommodate both concerns raised in the environmental impact assessments and by community concerns.

I’m glad it is not my decision to make. There are people on both sides of the question who are passionate about the issue. An important fact is that whichever side of the issue you are on, neither your life nor your freedom is at risk. What is within my competence to decide is that I can no longer believe what Global Witness writes about human rights in any place in the world because in the one place in the world where I know more about the situation than they do, they knowingly tell lies for ideological purposes.

Now let’s look at Transparency International which released its report entitled Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 on February 23. TI’s anything but transparent rank ordering system places Nicaragua as the 151stmost corrupt nation in the world out of 180, exceeded in Latin America only by Haiti (157) and Venezuela (169). Okay, has anyone read or seen a news story about Brazil in the last two years? Has anyone ever traveled outside the resort areas in Mexico? Has anyone ever talked to a Honduran, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Colombian, Peruvian escaping drug violence? I don’t think I need to say anything more about Transparency International’s perceptions of corruption!

And that brings us to Amnesty International, the gold standard of human rights defenders according to US politicians and the corporate media. I know I was sure surprised when I read their reports on Nicaragua during the 1980s when Ronald Reagan’s Contra War against the Sandinista government. The reports were highly critical of alleged human rights violations by the Nicaraguan government, but barely a mention of the brutal atrocities of the Contra mercenaries. The excuse was that Amnesty only reported on the actions of governments. Well, in that case, they should have been reporting on the actions of the US government, without which there would have been no war.

AI’s antipathy toward the Sandinistas still rings out loud and clear today. Here is the introductory paragraph of AI’s report on Nicaragua in the recently published Amnesty International Report 2017/18: The State of the World’s Human Rights.

Gender-based killings became increasingly brutal. Attacks against human rights defenders persisted. A total ban on abortion remained in place. Impunity persisted for perpetrators of violence against Indigenous Peoples. The authorities continued to deny a genuine and effective consultation process for communities likely to be affected by the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal.

Let’s parse this a sentence at a time.

“Gender-based killings became increasingly brutal.” Domestic violence has always been a serious problem in Nicaragua, pretty much the only kind of violence that is a problem in Central America’s safest country. Under the Sandinista government, “women’s police stations” have been expanded to every major municipality and the government has launched education campaigns and legal reforms to change the culture of domestic violence. The government’s programs that have addressed poverty also attack one of the root causes of domestic violence. Calling the killings of women “increasingly brutal” is just a gratuitous choice of words to prejudice the reader.

“Attacks against human rights defenders persisted.” Oh yeah, like what? No human rights defenders have been killed. No human rights defenders have been criminalized or jailed. How can something be said to persist that never occurred in the first place?

“A total ban on abortion remained in place.” True. Nicaragua’s historic exceptions for the life and health of the mother were removed in 2006 under the presidency of Enrique Bolaños after a campaign by the Catholic and evangelical churches. The Sandinista government has not restored those hundred year old exceptions because unfortunately, the total ban is supported by the vast majority of voters. But, what the Ortega government has done is to quietly not prosecute any women or medical personnel suspected of participating in an abortion. In contrast to neighboring El Salvador, where women who had spontaneous miscarriages have received long prison terms, that is quite a laudable response.

“Impunity persisted for perpetrators of violence against Indigenous Peoples.” It is pretty much true that the mestizo peasant families themselves have not been prosecuted for violent clashes with indigenous families whose land the mestizos are encroaching on. But, there have been numerous prosecutions of unscrupulous lawyers, judges, and notaries who have illegally sold indigenous land to the mestizo settlers and the army patrols the roads leading into indigenous lands, turning back would-be settlers and at times confiscating their vehicles and cattle. Is it enough? No. But as one who has witnessed in Honduras what true impunity is, it is not fair to call it impunity either.

“The authorities continued to deny a genuine and effective consultation process for communities likely to be affected by the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal.” I believe this to be a completely bum rap. What makes a consultation “genuine and effective?” This is a binary situation. Either the canal will be built or it won’t. Do the people on the direct route have effective veto power or do the potential benefits for the whole country enter into the decision making process? This is neither a new dilemma nor unique to the Ortega government. Years ago I was an administrative assistant to a Virginia member of the board of supervisors. My boss would hold hearings in the community on rezoning requests. There were always supporters and opponents to any land use change. Were those who didn’t get their way pissed off? Yes. Were they denied “genuine and effective consultation?” I don’t think so.

I have been doing Nicaragua solidarity work for over thirty years. Dealing with the lies and the disinformation has always been part of the work. Whenever I read negative reports like those of Global Witness, Transparency International, and Amnesty International, I ask myself whether the criticisms benefit the people of Nicaragua or the corporate and imperial forces of the United States. That makes it pretty easy to decide which side I’m on.

Our friends at Tortilla Con Sal have also written on this subject, digging into the roots of the human rights industrial complex more deeply than I have in this essay. I recommend you read their article published by Telesur English on March 11, 2018.


  • In celebration of International Women’s Day, Vice President Rosario Murillo reiterated the commitment of the Nicaraguan government to promote greater female empowerment. The Vice President noted that the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report published earlier this year, ranked Nicaragua in the number one position in the Western Hemisphere and number 6 worldwide in female empowerment. “This international recognition is a great privilege and a great responsibility with women in Nicaragua and the world,” Vice President Murillo said.  (Nicaragua News, Mar. 8)
  • The Labor Ministry announced minimum wage increases retroactive to March first totaling 10.4% through the end of February 2019 broken into two increments of 5.2% The second increment will kick in Sept. 1. With this increase agricultural workers will receive wages 62.71% higher than they did five years ago. Different sectors of workers receive different minimum wages but all will be increased by 10.4% and all sectors have received increases of at least 60% since 2013. (El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 10)