NicaNotes: Facebook Provoked Violence in Nicaragua, Too!

By John Perry

[John Perry is based in Nicaragua and writes on Central America for The Nation, The London Review of Books, OpenDemocracy, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Counterpunch and other outlets.]

Frances Haugen’s cutting accusations against her former employers, Facebook, on October 5 included references to how social media are used to provoke and coordinate violence. This happened in Nicaragua too.

“Citizens circulated as ‘dead’ denounce media manipulation” announces a headline on the webpage of La Voz del Sandinismo.

It’s June 2018 on a backstreet somewhere in Nicaragua. Filmed by an adult, a boy holds a toy gun to the head of his friend, who has just been “kidnapped”. The adult asks, “What are you going to do?” “We’ll kill him and burn him alive. We’ll leave him naked,” says the boy. The adults laugh. The boy is re-enacting a real scene of opposition violence that he’s watched on a smartphone.

On April 18 that year, the Nicaraguan government announced modest changes to pension rules that prompted a handful of protests. The same day, a Facebook post falsely claimed a student taking part in one of them had been killed; it was quickly shared. Other posts grossly exaggerated the effects on pensions, claiming they were a ‘death sentence’ to the nation’s widows. On April 19, protests spread: young people with homemade mortar guns battled with police and three people died, none of them protesters: a passer-by caught in crossfire, a policeman and a young Sandinista supporter defending a government office from attack by rioters.

Nevertheless, Facebook posts immediately called a vigil for April 20, in honour of ‘protesters’ who had been ‘killed and injured in the struggle’. As a result, violent demonstrations broke out in several cities, with more deaths on both sides. It took only two more days for the government to withdraw the pension proposals but the protests continued, now demanding President Ortega’s resignation.

Frances Haugen testified to the US Senate that Facebook causes ‘violence that harms and even kills people,’ citing events in Myanmar and Ethiopia. She didn’t mention Nicaragua, but it could have given her many more examples. Facebook’s role was obliquely recognised by the New York Times in 2018 when it reported that young people “armed with cell phones and social media skills” were challenging the government after “dozens” of students had been killed. But many journalists who came here, such as Jon Lee Anderson, dismissed the role played by ‘fake news’, not believing that it had fuelled the protests. Of course, government supporters also used social media, but their posts were usually more obvious and less sophisticated, because they weren’t coordinated. A police officer told me recently that some of the protest organisers were running more than 100 Facebook accounts each, often using paid-for posts.

Public anger was stirred by a succession of reports on Facebook and WhatsApp of killings of young people, supposedly at the hands of the police. William González Zúñiga was one such ‘victim’, but he had died at home, possibly from a cardiac arrest after playing football. Photos of Mario Alberto Medina’s body were posted: he had died nine months before the protests began. Karla Sotelo, listed as dead on Facebook, was the subject of a makeshift memorial: she is still alive. Marlon Josué Martínez, whose photo as a victim was paraded in the streets, had been living in Spain for more than a year.

Large numbers of events were falsified for Facebook. A friend watched from his window as youths donned fake ‘Young Sandinista’ t-shirts before being videoed ransacking a supermarket. In a similar attack, a man trying to stop the looters died and his death was also blamed on ‘Young Sandinistas’.

Personal hatreds could easily be turned into public ones. Facebook posts began to give instructions on how to track down and kill government sympathisers or officials (labelled sapos or toads), leading to the victimising of government workers and supporters like Bismarck Martinez, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in June 2018. Many instances of public humiliation and torture were videoed and posted on social media to instil fear in communities (Here is a collection of gruesome examples).

In 2018, Facebook was at the height of its popularity in Nicaragua, accounting for eight out of ten social media posts. Using it for mass manipulation had only become possible a year or two earlier as smartphones became cheap enough for young people to buy and as the government made free Wi-Fi access available in public parks. Facebook, in particular, quickly became the main source of news as it already had in other countries. The government, hit by what was quickly labelled a ‘tsunami’ of social media posts, was totally unprepared, relying still on its own TV channels which young people increasingly ignored.

Haugen told CBS that Facebook promotes ‘angry, hateful, polarizing, divisive content’. In response, the company claimed it had 40,000 people working on safety and security and had spent $13 billion on such measures over the last six years. Until the end of 2020, it had a specialist ‘civic-integrity team’. But as Haugen also pointed out, 87% of misinformation spending at Facebook is on English content when only 9% of users are English speakers. “Facebook invests more in users that make them more money, even though danger may not be evenly distributed based on profitability,” she said. Under pressure for its effects on users in the U.S. and Europe, it seems unlikely that the company will devote more effort to eliminating hateful content appearing in places such as Myanmar, Ethiopia… or Nicaragua. Most of the worst material posted in 2018 has now been taken down, but it stayed on Facebook long enough to have its intended effect.

Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

World Bank: Nicaragua Number Three in World in Renewable Energy
The World Bank reported on October 11 that with 70% production, Nicaragua ranks third in the world in electricity generated from renewable sources, surpassed only by Kenya (72%) and Denmark (86.4%). The report states that “since 2007 Nicaragua has implemented a national electrification program that tripled energy production from diverse renewable sources and also expanded electricity coverage going from 54% in 2007 to 98% in 2021.” It went on to say that “The country’s renewable energy production is generated from geothermal, solar, hydroelectric, wind and biomass sources, abandoning in a few years dependence on fossil fuels and establishing a national energy grid that has more users, is affordable and significantly reduces environmental impact.” (Nicaragua News, 12 October 2021)

Nicaragua Ranks First in Infrastructure Investment in Central America
On October 11 the Strategic Alliance for Measurement of Public Investment in Infrastructure in the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (Infralatam) published a report entitled “Public Investment in Economic Infrastructure of the Countries of Central America”. The report says that with 3.7% of the GDP allocated to economic infrastructure, Nicaragua ranks first in Central America in infrastructure investment, followed by Panama (2.9%); Costa Rica (2.4%); Honduras (1.4%); El Salvador (1.2%); Guatemala (0.6%). (Nicaragua News, 15 October 2021)

Many People Involved in Elections
Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) Vice President Carlos Amador explained that some 245,000 people will be involved in the elections, including party poll watchers, polling station board members, electoral police, voting center coordinators, SEC and political party officials, and officials from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. Political parties have until October 14 to register their poll watchers. Electoral police have already been trained. (Informe Pastran, 13 October 2021)

Ballot Reviewed by Parties and Alliances
The Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) together with the legal representatives of the political parties and alliances of political parties, reviewed and unanimously approved the ballot to be used in the elections. The ballot review included the names and photographs of the candidates, colors of the logo that represents them, order and number of boxes, design, quality of the material and ink, plus the security elements contained therein. Party representatives will also be present at the printing. SEC President Brenda Rocha, highlighted that all the information corresponding to the political parties and alliances was corroborated by their legal representatives. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/lista-boleta-electoral-para-las-elecciones/  (Radio La Primerisima, 14 October 2021)

Electoral Council Presents Ballot
The Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) presented the official sample of the ballot for the November 7th elections to the legal representatives of the Political Parties and Alliances. The representatives received samples to use to train their members prior to the elections. See photo: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/consejo-supremo-presenta-boleta-electoral/ (Radio La Primerisima, 18 October 2021)

Army to Accompany Elections
The Army will have 15,000 troops, transportation, and air and naval vehicles for the transfer of electoral material to the most distant places of the country in order for elections to begin on time and also to guarantee the security of the population. General Julio Cesar Aviles said, “In these elections the people of Nicaragua will exercise their right and it is the people who will determine who will be the authorities elected.” (Radio La Primerisima, 18 October 2021)

High Intention of Vote for FSLN in the Segovias
According to a poll conducted by M&R Consultores in the northern part of Nicaragua the people there indicate a voting intention of 76.1 % for the FSLN. The survey indicates that 91.2% of the population consider that the next president will come from the FSLN.
The FSLN has a political sympathy of 76.1% in the department of Estelí, 83.9 in the department of Madriz and 76.1 in the department of Nueva Segovia. See details: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/intencion-de-voto-fsln-es-76-1-en-las-segovias/ (Radio La Primerisima, 19 October, 2021)

ALBA-TCP Rejects Interference in Nicaragua
In a statement from Caracas on October 18, 2021, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) categorically rejected the recent statements by officials of the government of the United States who, the statement said, in flagrant violation of the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, continue with attacks and destabilizing attempts against the legitimate government of Nicaragua. Likewise, the statement condemned the interference of the OAS in matters that exclusively concern the Nicaraguan people and institutions.

The Bolivarian Alliance welcomed the preparation of the electoral process in the Republic of Nicaragua and also ratified its support for the Sandinista government, for President Daniel Ortega, for Vice President Rosario Murillo and sent support to the people of Nicaragua in their decision to continue defending the sovereignty, peace and remarkable social, economic, security and national unity advances achieved. The member countries of the Alliance called on the international community to reject this type of intimidation and to defend the sovereignty, self-determination and political independence of States. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 October 2021)

Billion Dollars Invested in Drinking Water & Sewerage since 2007
Between 2007 and 2021 the Sandinista government has invested more than a billion dollars in bringing drinking water and sewerage to the country as a human right and not as a business, reported Ervin Barreda, executive president of the Nicaraguan Aqueduct and Sewerage Company (ENACAL).  He recalled that in 2006 there was an attempt to privatize ENACAL. The Sandinista government not only rescued the company but established a government policy of taking water to all homes to restore the human right to water for all. Barreda recalled that the neoliberal governments subjected the population to long hours of electric power rationing which affected water supply. “In 2007, at the initiative of President Ortega, a bill was sent to the Assembly, Law 620, The General Law of National Waters, which says that water cannot be privatized; water is a human right.” In 2006 only 65% of the urban population had potable drinking water; today it is 91.5%. By December 31, 28 drinking water and sanitation projects will be completed in 18 cities. “With the Bluefields project the population will go from having zero hours of water in their homes to having 24 hours of water, with high quality.” The Government’s National Plan to Fight Poverty includes investment in water and sanitation of US$526 million for the period 2022-2026, for 31 projects. (Informe Pastran, 15 October 2021)

Control of Chemical Substances Reduces Illnesses
Health Minister Dr. Martha Reyes said that the control of the use of toxic substances has reduced the incidence of kidney disease, cancer and poisoning in the population. Reyes said that the continuous exposure and manipulation of chemicals produces skin diseases, kidney diseases and cancer in the long term. Auxiliadora Diaz, president of the Commission for Registration and Control of Toxic Substances, said that sectors such as agriculture and industry are reluctant to reduce the use of chemicals. She added that with the awareness-raising work they have done, some companies have registered with the entity, which allows them to control imports of these substances. She added that since 2014 when the entity was formed, 36 substances harmful to health and the environment have been banned and they are analyzing the suspension of the use of more than 87 chemicals. (Radio La Primerisima, 13 October 2021)

First Lab for Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue & Leptospriosis
The Government opened the first laboratory for diagnoses and research related to leptospirosis, dengue, zika and chikungunya. The center will also perform PCR tests to check whether a patient is Covid-19 positive. (Radio La Primerisima, 19 October 2021)

Turkey Opposes Sanctions against Nicaragua
The Turkish government opposed the application of sanctions against Nicaragua and expressed its willingness to increase collaboration during a visit to Ankara by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada. “We are against sanctions, whether they are against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua. Problems cannot be solved with sanctions or exclusion,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at a joint press conference with Moncada. The two ministers signed an agreement to develop relations and cooperation.  Cavusoglu and Moncada also underlined their readiness to open respective embassies and increase trade. (Informe Pastran, 13 October 2021)

Pier to Be Inaugurated in Bilwi
The National Port Company has completed the reconstruction of the pier in Bilwi, capital of the North Caribbean Autonomous Region, destroyed by hurricanes ETA and IOTA in November 2020. The pier will be inaugurated on October 17. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/muelle-de-bilwi-ya-esta-reconstruido/  (Radio La Primerisima, 13 October 2021)

Educational Infrastructure on Caribbean Coast
New educational infrastructure with an investment of US$1.4 million was finished in the community of Alto Wangki, Siksayari in the Special Zone of Alto Wangki. The Special Zone of Alto Wangki is one of the country’s seven regions of Indigenous peoples. The secondary schools on the Caribbean Coast were also equipped with more educational technology. Two schools were remodeled in the communities of El Wasno Yahoya and San Martin Susun III, in the municipality of Prinzapolka. (Informe Pastran, 14 October 2021)

Nicaragua and CABEI Will Co-Finance Health Projects
The National Assembly approved a loan with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) which will co-finance the Project for the Strengthening of the Attention Capacity in the Hospital Service Network in Prioritized Health Units. The loan for US$114.58 million will strengthen medical attention against COVID-19. CABEI will contribute US$85 million, and the United Kingdom’s Credit Agency US$29.55 million, as a direct loan. These resources are in addition to the US$400 million that CABEI has contributed for three anti-COVID-19 programs. It includes the construction of six modular hospitals, one of which will be for oncological care. (Informe Pastran, 14 October 2021)

Vaccination of Pregnant Women Begins
Voluntary vaccination for pregnant women from the 4th to the 9th month, postpartum and nursing mothers began October 13, according to the Minister of Health, Martha Reyes. She explained on the magazine show En Vivo of Channel 4 that pregnant women should be in the second trimester of gestation, since the vaccine is not recommended during the first trimester. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/gran-afluencia-de-embarazadas-a-centros-de-vacunacion-contra-covid-19/ (Informe Pastran, 13 October 2021)

230,000 More Vaccines against Covid-19 Arrived
Some 192,000 doses of Sputnik Light vaccine and 38,000 Astrazeneca vaccines arrived on Oct. 15. The single-dose vaccine, Sputnik Lite, was donated by the Russian Federation. (Radio La Primerisima, 15 October, 2021)

Nicaragua Provides Free Scoliosis Surgeries
Nicaragua has set a new milestone in specialized and quality care in its public health system, by becoming the first Central American country to perform free scoliosis surgeries, which in other countries cost at least US$50,000, not including pre- and post-surgical expenses. The Nicaraguan doctors were trained and accompanied by the renowned surgeon in pediatric orthopedics, Alaa Azmi, who came to the country to exchange his knowledge in this type of spinal surgery, as a result of the cooperation of the Palestinian Embassy in Nicaragua. (Informe Pastran, 13 October 2021)

Exports Continue to Increase
The Nicaragua Export Processing Center (CETREX) reported that exports totaled US$2.7 billion from January to September of 2021, a 19.9% increase compared to the same period in 2020. The products with greatest demand on the international market during the period were gold US$652.5 million, beef US$513 million; premium coffee US$447 million; sugar US$117.7 million; peanuts US$85.3 million; beans US$67.5 million and shrimp US$56.2 million. (Nicaragua News, 14 October 2021)

Law Approved to Protect Flora and Fauna on Islands
National Assembly Deputies approved the “Law that declares and defines Great Corn Island, Little Corn Island and Blowing Rock as a Protected Landscape and Protected Seascape Area.” This will contribute to the protection of the natural heritage of the nation. (Informe Pastran, 13 October 2021)