By John Perry
(John Perry is based in Masaya, Nicaragua, and writes for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, London Review of Books, FAIR and elsewhere.)[This article was first published in Covert Action Magazine.] A biased new report lends weight to U.S. regime-change operations targeting the Sandinista government.
While the United States pays little regard to the human rights of many of its own citizens, it manifests intense interest in those of countries that it regards as its enemies.
Nicaragua, designated by both Trump and Biden as a “strategic threat,” is seen as one of those enemies. Of the countries selected for their own annual human rights assessment by the U.S. State Department, Nicaragua merited special attention in 2022, with a 43-page report compared with, for example, only a 36-page analysis of neighboring El Salvador, where 66,000 people have been subjected to mass arrests in the past year. This is part of a highly selective approach in which human rights violations by U.S. allies are downplayed or ignored.
Worse, the U.S. exerts extraordinary influence on international bodies to follow suit, producing their own reports in the same ilk. The Organization of American States (OAS), largely financed by Washington, will readily scrutinize the performance of left-wing governments in Latin America at its bidding, while of course never threatening to monitor human rights in the U.S. itself. Perhaps more alarming, the United Nations human rights apparatus has been similarly instrumentalized to serve Washington’s agenda, as former UN rapporteur Richard Falk has argued. This was evident again in March when the UN Human Rights Council released a new report by a “group of human rights experts on Nicaragua.”
The report claimed that President Daniel Ortega’s government had “executed” 40 people, disregarding the context of violent opposition attacks using firearms. The report also claimed that the government ordered hospitals not to treat wounded demonstrators, when the then health minister had made clear that anyone injured should receive treatment. It goes on to detail a range of other alleged government human rights abuses, including torture, where the evidence is contested.
The aim of demonizing Nicaragua was apparent at the press conference to launch the report: One of the “experts,” Jan-Michael Simon, a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law in Germany, likened conditions in Nicaragua to those in Nazi Germany (the Sandinista government’s actions are “exactly what the Nazi regime did”).
Given that the group had not even visited the country, this was not only absurd but grossly irresponsible. Yet it enabled The New York Times, never slow to criticize the Sandinista government, to come up with the headline “Nicaragua’s ‘Nazis’: Stunned Investigators Cite Hitler’s Germany.”
However it is the damaging content of the report itself that led the Nicaraguan Solidarity Coalition to launch a petition demanding that it be with withdrawn, already co-signed by human rights experts Alfred de Zayas and Professor Falk.
The report’s focus is on the violence in 2018, which Dan Kovalik has characterized in his new book as bringing Nicaragua “to the verge of civil war, with hundreds killed and many more injured.” The group of experts was charged with examining “all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Nicaragua since April 2018” and they claim to have adopted a “victim-centered” approach to their task.
It is extraordinary, then, that the report focuses almost entirely on the human rights of the perpetrators of what became a violent coup attempt, rather than on the rights of the huge numbers of ordinary Nicaraguans who suffered the consequences of their violence.
It is as if the experts had produced a report focusing on, say, the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020, or the recent attack on Brazil’s presidential palace, and focused on the behavior of those repelling the attacks instead of on the injuries and mayhem caused by the attackers.
Because it took this stance, the experts’ 300-page report found no space for incidents such as the attempted murder of student leader Leonel Morales, who was kidnapped, shot and left for dead in a drainage ditch. Or the burning down of Radio Ya, whose 21 workers only narrowly escaped death. Or the sacking of the municipal depot in the city of Masaya, in which all the vehicles were destroyed and the workers so badly beaten or tortured that one later had his arm amputated. Or the attack on the police station of Morrito, that left five dead and nine kidnapped and beaten.
Or countless other crimes by “protesters” whom the report describes as largely peaceful, despite the gruesome scenes of torture and humiliation that they filmed and then posted on social media. It contains not a single reference to any of these victims, let alone quoting from testimony (as it does in the cases of alleged victims of government violence).
The Nicaraguan government refused to take part in this exercise, having participated in similar ones in the past and found that its evidence was largely ignored. It has produced detailed evidence to show the steps it took to facilitate access by one set of international investigators, and how its cooperation was then abused.
As a result of past experiences, it denied permission for the group to visit the country, so the experts were reliant on evidence collected remotely. In these circumstances, the group might have been expected to balance carefully the sources and material it used.
In practice the opposite happened: Its preferred sources were opposition media or NGOs, in most cases ones that had received U.S. “democracy promotion” (meaning “regime-change”) funding in the years prior to the 2018 coup attempt, as Nan McCurdy has previously described.
The experts themselves are opaque about how their work was done. Requests for the names of the other team members assembling the report were refused, a lack of transparency which inevitably leads to the suspicion that its researchers might well have been drawn from opposition-supporting “human rights” groups or think tanks.
The report’s bias is obvious from the fact that it makes no reference at all to independent examinations of previous human rights reports, which have shown them to be unbalanced and to contain key omissions.
For example, I was part of a group who prepared the 2019 report Dismissing the Truth, which identified dozens of inaccuracies and omissions in a report on Nicaragua by Amnesty International. I also helped compile an open letter from the Alliance for Global Justice to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, about the errors in a previous “expert” report that it published. I have shown the bias and manipulation in the work of Nicaragua’s so-called independent human rights groups, several of which are now based in Costa Rica.
The new UN report uses all of these questioned or discredited sources, while ignoring the various detailed, published criticisms of them.
How does a report focused on events five years ago pretend to justify new sanctions on the Nicaraguan government? — By claiming that the government has been engaged “since April 2018 and up to the time of writing this report…[in] a widespread and systematic attack…against a part of the Nicaraguan population.”
In making this assertion, the experts not only discount evidence of crimes by those arrested since 2018, but also ignore or downplay the many acts of clemency that took place, culminating in a general, conditional amnesty in 2019 that covered even the organizers of fatal attacks on police stations. The strong implication is that abuses such as “extrajudicial killings” which it alleges—on highly questionable grounds—occurred in 2018, still take place now in a country which is entirely at peace.
The fundamental problem is that the expert group pretends that the opposition forces in 2018 were either unarmed or had only homemade weapons. It said that “acts of violence [were] perpetrated by some demonstrators in the context of the protests, including stone throwing, the use of homemade weapons—mainly ‘mortars,’ and some ‘contact bombs’ and Molotov bombs.” They also “documented the use of conventional weapons in some cases.” These acts “allegedly” resulted in the deaths of 22 police officers and injuries to more than 400 more from gunfire.
Given that almost all these deaths and injuries were the result of firearm injuries, there is a very obvious disparity between the group’s assessment of the behavior of the opposition groups and what actually happened. If they had also taken into account the widespread kidnappings, torture, arson attacks, robberies and other crimes, they might have come closer to producing a report which reflected the real experience of Nicaraguans in 2018.
Instead, the UN report is clearly intended to be a whitewash of the violence which (as Kovalik says) brought the country “to the verge of civil war,” just as so-called “human rights” bodies were used to whitewash the violence of the “Contras” in the U.S.-directed war of the 1980s. The opposition explicitly aimed to overthrow the Nicaraguan government: At the start of the violence and during the national dialogue that began in May 2018, opposition activists and their leaders openly stated that their objective was the removal of President Daniel Ortega.
There is nothing surprising about the line taken by the new report, as a litany of official reports since 2018 have done the same. The danger of the UN’s latest attack on Nicaragua is that it comes at a time when Washington is clearly deliberating new sanctions.
Indeed, not failing to step up to the task, the group explicitly calls for additional sanctions in one of its recommendations. In doing so, it ignores the UN Human Rights Council’s own assessments of sanctions issued without its authority (known as “unilateral coercive measures”), which conclude that their legality is highly questionable.
Given that the “experts” who wrote this latest report are international lawyers, this is remarkably unprofessional. But it is even more extraordinary that the United Nations would publish such an unbalanced report attacking one of its own member countries, promoted in such a sensational manner. It could be tailor-made to give Washington the go-ahead to continue with the illegal measures against Nicaragua that it has already taken, and which it might now decide to strengthen still further.
By Nan McCurdy
Notable Increase in Tourism
The Chamber of International Transportation, a business group, registered an increase of almost 80% in the entry of tourists to the country this season, the representative of that sector, Enrique Quiñonez, told Radio La Primerísima. The majority of visitors arriving in the country are from Costa Rica, the United States, Israel and Canada. He also pointed out that an increase in travelers’ length of stay has been observed. “The image of the country has changed: the tourists say that the situation in the country is not what they had been told abroad, that here there is peace, there is calm, there is security and the people of Nicaragua are concerned about progress and support the government’s policies,” Quiñonez said. He added that all bus seats into the country for Holy Week are taken. Quiñonez, general manager of NICABUS International which travels between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, said that in his case they will add four more buses for a total of eight units that will circulate every day during this season, transporting some 400 tourists daily to Nicaragua. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 March 2023)
Earthquake Drill Is Great Success
The National Center for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Attention (SINAPRED) organized the National Multi-Threat Exercise for Preparation and Preservation of Life, carried out on March 30. SINAPRED Director, Dr. Guillermo González, reported that 1.8 million Nicaraguans participated in the exercise simulating a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, with its epicenter located at 30 kilometers of depth, off the Pacific coast of Masachapa. Some 7,000 Local Emergency Committees were activated in the points identified as the most vulnerable to the effects of a major earthquake that could generate landslides, tsunamis, volcanic activity and infrastructure collapse. This exercise tested the VHF and HF frequency communication systems at the national and international levels, in the event of a possible failure of conventional services. There was also an evaluation of the response protocol of the Ministry of Education Risk Commission, in the event of a threat to the lives of students in emergency situations. SINAPRED also tested the effectiveness of canine units in search and rescue scenarios. (Nicaragua News, 31 March 2023)
Nicaragua Rejects UN Human Rights Report and Resolution
The government of Nicaragua once again expressed its total rejection of the resolution that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights intends to present on Nicaragua. The government reiterated in a statement released in Geneva on April 3 that this type of resolution constitutes unilateral aggression with the sole purpose of damaging the sovereignty and independence of Nicaragua. The statement demanded that the UNHCHR apply in all its actions the principle of non-intervention and equal treatment for all nations. Nicaragua emphasized that it does not accept any resolution or report whose content is constructed with distorted information and taken only from sources that are adverse to the government. What these reports really contain, said the government in its statement, is information totally lacking in objectivity and with a marked political bias. See statement: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/nicaragua-ratifica-total-rechazo-a-resoluciones-de-la-onu/ [See rejection signed by dozens of organizations and hundreds of people: https://nicasolidarity.net/taking-action/action-alert-un-human-rights-report-on-nicaragua-is-fatally-flawed-and-should-be-withdrawn/] Radio La Primerisima, 3 April 2023
Exports Totaled US$7.731 Billion in 2022
The annual report of the Nicaragua Central Bank (BCN) that was released on April 3 reported that total exports for 2022 were US$7.7 billion. Non free trade zone exports grew 10.5%, for an income of US$3.88 billion driven by manufacturing, agricultural and mining products, with an increase in the exported value of gold, coffee, dairy products, sugar, beans, among others. Exports from free trade zones totaled US$3.85 billion (14.8% growth), reflecting the recovery of world demand, which favored automobile harnesses, textiles and the tobacco industries. Remittances totaled US$3.23 billion, tourism income was US$596 million and gross foreign direct investment income was US$1.84 billion. The balance of payments current account balance ended 2022 with a deficit that represented 1.4% of GDP. In a context of higher domestic price pressures, monetary policy was balanced, leaving the monetary balance consistent with currency stability and exchange rate support.
In a context of a tightening of global monetary policy through increases in the rates of interest of the main central banks of the world and in view of the persistence of international inflation, the Central Bank made gradual adjustments in interest rates until completing seven increases throughout the year (from 3.50% at the beginning of the year to 7.00% at the end of December). This was done in order to preserve monetary equilibrium in an environment of higher inflation, in particular, to prevent the increase in international interest rates from generating an outflow of capital from the country in search of better yields. (Radio La Primerisima, 3 April 2023)
Growth in Foreign Direct Investment
The Central Bank’s report on the Results in the IV Quarter 2022 Balance of Payments states that Gross Foreign Direct Investment reached US$1.84 billion between September and December 2022, a 25.3% increase compared to the same period in 2021. The FDI Net Flow was US$1.3 billion, representing 6% growth over the amount registered by December of 2021. (Nicaragua News, 30 March 2023)
“Right to Choose and Duty to Respect” Booklet presented to Christian Leader
Government authorities held a meeting with non-governmental organizations and church representatives to present the booklet entitled “The Right to Choose and the Duty to Respect,” with the objective of promoting love and unity in families. Minister of the Exterior Denis Moncada stated that since 2007 the government has promoted a solid model of dignified diversity equity through actions that contribute to the wellbeing of families. Moncada said, “Today brings us together in this important presentation of the booklet, work done by outstanding colleagues in the government, in a diverse world with the duty to respect the diversity of human beings.” He said that this primer is an instrument of peace to reaffirm that love in families allows them to find the way to understand, respect and accept the diversity of identities. “All of us must not only ourselves respect people with diverse identities, but also foster respect within our own towns, neighborhoods, and communities.” See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BJt2jwESCU&ab_channel=vivanicaragua13 (TN8TV, 3 April, 2023)
Tablets to Improve Health Care
The Ministry of Health gave more than 1,000 electronic tablets to health workers around the nation which Dr. Oscar Vásquez, director of Health Services, said are part of the process of incorporating new health technologies, thus strengthening the process of care for families. He stated, “We are reaching the heart of the Family and Community Health Model which are the sectors where we have health personnel, doctors and nurses, who are carrying out house-to-house visits, visiting pregnant women, newborns, and the chronically ill. The tablets are intended for colleagues to make the work process more practical.” He also noted that “They will be better able to discover statistical trends, compliance with goals, and establish communication with regional and departmental hospitals to ask for clinical-medical advice when an emergency arises.” The Ministry of Health now has digital platforms to communicate with personnel who are providing services in the most remote communities. “Before we had to carry reports by hand, such as the census of pregnant women, vaccine reports, and we couldn’t deliver the information until we got back to a center; now we report the work immediately,” said Alfonso Romero, a nurse from Nueva Guinea. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 March 2022)
Reforestation Campaign Reached 112% of Goal
The reforestation campaign Verde, te quiero verde (Green, I want you green) has reached 112% of the programmed goal in its first stage with 1.25 million trees planted. Reforestation was carried out in the departments of Boaco, Carazo, Chontales, Estelí, Jinotega, Las Minas, León, Madriz, Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Costa Caribe Norte, Costa Caribe Sur, Río San Juan, Rivas and Central Zelaya. Over thirty-seven thousand people have been involved in the different activities, setting up 2,450 community nurseries. Now everything is ready to begin the second stage in May, with the goal of reforesting with 26 million plants. Also, during the campaign, 54,468 people participated in talks and training sessions. Over twelve thousand farmers and owners of forest plantations and wooded areas were trained in the management and protection of these areas. See Photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/siembran-mas-de-1-millon-de-arboles-con-campana-de-reforestacion/ (Radio La Primerisima, 1 April, 2023)