NicaNotes: Branding Nicaraguan meat as ‘conflict beef’ is the latest political attack on a country already suffering from illegal US sanctions

Earlier this year Nicaragua’s opposition and its supporters in the international media were promoting stories about the Sandinista government’s “failure” to address the Covid-19 pandemic. This backfired when Nicaragua became the first country in Central America to get the virus under control. Next they claimed that Sandinista supporters were attacking Catholic churches, but then it emerged that an opposition politician had paid for one of the robberies that took place. The latest effort to malign Daniel Ortega’s government tries to link Nicaragua’s beef exports to the United States with land conflicts in its remote Caribbean forests


John Perry, writing from Masaya, Nicaragua, picks up the story.


Nicaraguan cattle ranchers, spurred by a surge in beef exports to the United States, are alleged to be attacking indigenous communities in eastern Nicaragua, destroying “pristine jungle,” forcing people to flee and killing those who resist, according to Reveal News. In a related report on PBS Newshour, beef imported from Nicaragua during the pandemic is said to “come at a high human cost,” while the Center for Investigative Reporting calls the imports “conflict beef.” These claims are based on allegations by the Oakland Institute in California, whose director Anuradha Mittal says that “the supply chain of beef from Nicaragua is anything but clean.”

These reports make false links between land conflicts and meat exports, creating an image that Nicaragua (like, for example, Brazil) is carelessly or deliberately allowing indigenous lands and rainforest to be destroyed while the government does nothing about it. Cattle ranchers’ violence and exploitation are supposedly driven by increased exports to the US. The reality is very different from this disturbing but simplistic picture.

First, Nicaraguan trade unions and cattle farming associations point out that the vast majority of cattle production is in areas that are distant from Nicaragua’s remaining forests, which are protected reserves. The region discussed in the news items, Región Autónoma Caribe Norte (RACN), in the north-east of the country, is the largest in Nicaragua, with about a quarter of the country’s land area, but is sparsely populated (it has only 7% of the total population). It is a mixture of forest and farmland and has a relatively small proportion of the country’s cattle (about 10%).

Second, cattle movement in Nicaragua is carefully controlled, with animals bearing tags showing their origin. The executive director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Meat Industry, Juan Bautista Velásquez, said that meat for export comes from farms certified by the Institute for Agricultural Safety and Health (IPSA). The institute made a new statement (in Spanish) setting out the precautions it takes in full, even though neither Reveal nor PBS made any apparent attempt to obtain a statement from IPSA. The head of the National Livestock Commission added: “The animals that are taken to slaughterhouses are ones that are properly identified and from outside the country’s natural reserves.” Given the remoteness of the indigenous areas and difficulty of access, it would be very difficult for cattle from disputed lands to be able to enter the supply chain for exports. PBS Newshour’s report, which begins with images of packs of beef for sale in US supermarkets, gives a highly misleading impression.

Third, the fact that that there are land conflicts in the RACN region is well recognized by the Nicaraguan government, which has been taking active steps to tackle them. Ground-breaking laws have given communal land rights to indigenous communities across the region. A special army battalion exists to tackle deforestation. There has been considerable investment in schools, health centers and roads serving remote communities. Violent incidents have been investigated and in many cases the culprits have been tracked down.

Nevertheless, the government faces huge difficulties. Nicaragua has the largest area of tropical forest north of the Amazon, yet is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, with limited resources to deal with the extension of the agricultural frontier or defense of land rights in remote areas. The conflicts in indigenous communities have existed for decades and are often complex – sometimes involving illegal land sales, local corruption or clashes between different indigenous groups.

Undoubtedly more could be done to tackle the problems but it is completely wrong to represent the Sandinista government as either negligent or complicit in the land occupations that take place. Even if the government had the strongest determination possible to stop the land invasions and protect indigenous communities, the lack of resources caused by the US economic war against it and the battering taken by the economy in the violent coup attempt in 2018 and in the pandemic of 2020, would make success difficult if not impossible.

By making a completely false link between the land conflicts in remote areas and the growth of meat exports to the United States, the media are fueling the US government’s regime change agenda for Nicaragua, which has been reinforced by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in recent statements, and which is evident in the open support by USAID and other agencies for opposition parties and groups in Nicaragua. If suggestions in the Reveal and PBS reports that US producers or supermarkets should boycott Nicaraguan beef were followed through, there would be further damage to poor communities in Nicaragua – potentially on a massive scale. The livelihoods of 140,000 producers and 600,000 workers would be at risk.

Neither the Reveal report nor the PBS Newshour items make clear that the source of their material – the Oakland Institute – is openly hostile to the Nicaraguan government, producing reports with titles such as “Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution.” Its director Anuradha Mittal refuses to engage with Nicaraguan groups or individuals who question their research, including groups with deep knowledge of Nicaraguan agriculture. She failed to respond to an email asking for proof of her claims. Neither of the other two sources for the pieces are unbiased: Lottie Cunningham Wren’s organization has received US government funding and Camilo Castro Belli is a committed supporter of Nicaragua’s opposition.

Once again, knowingly or otherwise, US media are complicit in attempts by Nicaraguan opposition groups and the US government to undermine Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Reveal has a deserved reputation in progressive circles for its work in exposing immigration abuses, conditions faced by Amazon workers, and other issues: it should pay much more careful attention to the sources of its reports on Nicaragua.



By Nan McCurdy

Cattle Raisers Condemn US Misinformation
The National Livestock Commission (CONAGAN) on Oct. 22 condemned the campaign by members of the UNAB-MRS in the US for claiming that the meat exported there is contaminated with the blood of indigenous people from nature reserves. The general manager of CONAGAN, Ronald Blandón, condemned the lies which put at risk more than 600 thousand permanent jobs. “The animals that are taken to the slaughterhouses are properly identified and come from outside the country’s reserves,” Blandón said. Cattle rancher Douglas Aleman told Radio La Primerisima that “any ill-intentioned campaign against the export of meat to the US will have the absolute rejection of the 134,000 cattle-raising families of Nicaragua.” Solón Guerrero, director of the Federation of Nicaraguan Cattlemen’s Associations, stated that the Federation will present documents that prove that their group signed agreements to protect the reserves held by the indigenous populations. Ariel Bucardo, president of the National Council of Cooperatives said “This malicious publication misinforms people saying that our Association produces more meat to take advantage of the pandemic, which is ridiculous, because the process of pregnancy of the cows, birth and fattening of the calf for slaughter lasts more than three years.” Meat industry representatives denied any veracity to the campaign that Lottie Cunningham and Camilo de Castro Belli have carried out. The executive director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Meat Industry, Juan Bautista Velásquez, stated that the cattle that are processed are duly identified, because they come from Institute for Agricultural Protection and Health (IPSA)—certified farms. He said that, “If we lose the North American market more than 600 thousand people would lose their jobs and 140 thousand producers would be affected.” Radio La Primerisima, 22 Oct. 2020

Animal Registration with Two Tags Mandatory for Traceability
The Institute of Agricultural Protection and Health states that the technical norm of the “Registration System for the Identification and Mobilization of Beef Cattle”, is mandatory in all establishments for the slaughter of cattle. Cattle farms are registered in the Agricultural Protection and Health (IPSA) national system of bovine traceability information so they know exactly where the cattle come from. Each farm has a specific identification number in the national information system of bovine traceability granted only by IPSA. Bovines are identified with identification devices or tags. Each bovine must carry two devices or tags, one main and one secondary, and both will visually carry the same unique identification code. Radio La Primerisima, 23 Oct. 20

Puebla Group Calls for Resignation of OAS Secretary General
On Oct. 21 the Puebla Group called for the resignation of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, after the resounding victory of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia. The communiqué, which bears the signatures of leaders Dilma Rousseff, Ernesto Samper, Rafael Correa, José Luis Zapatero and Fernando Lugo, among others, says that these results confirm there was no election fraud in 2019 which is what several international research centers’ studies had also shown. A statement released by the Group said, “Evo Morales should have been in office as the President of Bolivia, if the OAS, in its condition of Observer, had not indicated that there had been fraud.” “The questioning by the OAS of Bolivia’s elections unleashed violence, which ended in a coup d’état and the subsequent resignation of President Morales,” stated the Group and the members demanded that the head of the OAS take responsibility for his actions. The statement went on to say, “Given this evidence, it is clear that the leadership of the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, is seriously questioned. The role he played in the destabilization of Bolivia disqualifies him from continuing as Secretary General. His departure will help the recovery of peace in the region.” The Puebla Group has 32 members. Radio La Primerisima, 22 Oct. 2020

Great Advances in Preservation of Environment
Nicaragua has made significant progress in the protection and preservation of nature and the environment under the government of President Daniel Ortega thanks to vision, leadership, policies and strategy, Presidential Advisor Minister for National Policies Paul Oquist told INFORME PASTRAN. He mentioned the demarcation and titling of indigenous territories as a great social achievement. The original peoples’ territories have their own autonomous governments elected according to their ancestral forms of organization. The 23 territories, that include 314 Communities, 200,000 people and 37,859 square kilometers, have been titled and delimited. This is 31% of the national territory and more than 55% of the territory of the Caribbean Coast where 61% of the land has some type of forest. “Forest conditions and sustainable management have improved through land conservation and rehabilitation,” Oquist said. He noted that “forest fires have been drastically reduced in the period 2007-2016, from 1,257 annual events in 2007 to only 197 in 2016.” “Programs like strengthening the organization and response capacity of municipal committees, strengthening brigades for the prevention and control of forest fires and establishing forest observation posts are being implemented,” Oquist pointed out and he added that the National Association of Reforesters (CONFOR) was created, which has reforested 32,000 hectares. “Promotion of agroforestry and silvopastoral programs on farms are increasing,” he said. One of the government’s strategies is to address the causes of deforestation and forest degradation and allow access to resources from international mechanisms on forests and climate change. “Nicaragua has a Strategy for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation by addressing the causes of deforestation and forest degradation. We have an agreement with the Forest Cooperative Fund that has produced good results, and we have already had two disbursements thanks to Nicaragua’s contribution,” he said. “This is possible because we have solid and lucid leadership,” he commented.

Oquist noted that the country now has the National System of Protected Areas, which represents 25.5% of the national territory, with an area of 3.3 million hectares, made up of 72 protected areas, organized into nine management categories, and two large Biological Reserves. “Environmental indicators are monitored such as total protected areas, marine protected areas, terrestrial protected areas, municipal ecological parks and the management status of protected areas,” he said. Oquist said that the country has important projects coming up in the last stage of the process for approval by the Green Climate Fund for up to US$255 million, to strengthen conservation in the Bosawás and Indio Maíz Biosphere Reserves. “In addition, the BIOCLIMA Project is soon to be presented to the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), to promote investments in plantations and in the establishment of agroforestry and silvopastoral systems. The CVF would contribute US$50 million as a “first loss” to attract other private financiers, with the goal of achieving US$250 million in investments including from the Forest Investment Fund to strengthen the fight against deforestation and the restoration of degraded areas through reforestation.” Informe Pastran, 23 Oct. 2020

MEFCCA Supports 626,333 Farm Families
The Sandinista Ministry of Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy (MEFCCA) through September 2020 had assisted 626,333 small farm families, supporting their production and small enterprises. MEFCCA’s vice-minister, José Benito Aragón said, “We are supporting families with vegetable seeds and seedlings, medicinal plants and fruit trees: and those who produce basic grains are trained in water management, in planting techniques, selection of native seeds, pest management, and more. 15,546 coffee-producing families received training in the application of innovative practices in wet processing, post-harvest management, soil sampling techniques, establishment of seedbeds and coffee nurseries, among others. 3,993 coffee and cocoa producers were capitalized with the delivery of seedlings, goods, infrastructure and inputs for sustainable production. 2,224 cocoa-producing families were trained in value addition.” Aragon noted that “9,499 families were trained in fish production, food processing and pond management. 707 new artisanal ponds were established with 30,200 fry. 20,730 families received training to start ventures in goldfish, quails, turkeys, rabbits, mosaic plants, garden grass, and geese, among others. Seventy-one fairs have been held with the participation of 1,792 protagonists.” Radio La Primerisima, 22 Oct. 2020

74% of Schools Improved in 2020
The Ministry of Education will close 2021 with 74% of schools improved or rebuilt. MINED is already planning next year’s improvements which will exceed those of 2020. In the next few weeks a new preschool will be inaugurated in the Sahsa community, in the territory of Tasba Pri, 80 kilometers from Puerto Cabezas, on the North Caribbean Coast. It is a two-story preschool in a castle style with a water tower. It will have play areas for children, with a children’s dining room, and storage space for food for the daily School Snack. Also, MINED said that 370 new English teachers will be hired for 2021. Radio La Primerisima, 22 Oct. 2020.

Record Production of Beans
Bean production from the first harvest of this year totaled 1.76 million hundred weights, 68% greater than the same period last year, according to Minister of Finance and Public Credit Ivan Acosta who made the announcement on Oct. 23. This translates into an increase from 12 to 14 hundred weights per manzana (1.7 acres) over last year. Radio La Primerisima, 23 Oct. 2020

Nicaragua Elected to World Bank Carbon Fund Board
On October 22, Javier Gutiérrez, Deputy Minister of MARENA and Nicaragua’s representative to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) was elected to represent Latin America and the Caribbean on the Carbon Fund’s Executive Board; as were Madagascar and Nepal representing Africa and Asia respectively. This election reflects the confidence in the good results Nicaragua has achieved in environmental matters, climate change and the sustainable management of forests. Nicaragua is committed to defending the interests of our region as one that is highly sensitive and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Nicaragua Sandino 23 Oct. 2020

Forbes Recognizes Success in International Cooperation
On Oct. 23 Forbes said that of the US$438.5 million in assistance that Nicaragua received in the first semester of 2020, which represented 3.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), US$288.5 million were channeled through the public sector. International cooperation increased by US$86 million in relation to the first semester of 2019 due to an increase of US$48.7 million in resources directed to the public sector and US$37.3 million to the private sector, highlighting the success of the Sandinista government in the area of international assistance. Informe Pastran, 23 Oct. 2020

Assembly Passes Cyber Crimes Law
On Oct. 27 the National Assembly approved the Special Law on Cyber Crimes that protects the rights and liberties of the Nicaraguans. This law establishes a legal framework for the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes committed through information and communication technologies to the detriment of natural and legal persons, as well as the protection of systems that use such technologies and content. It will strengthen and regulate the protection of the State’s public services communication systems, the banking and financial system, public, private or mixed institutions that provide a public service, as well as journalists and social communicators who become the main guarantors of the freedom, fluidity and abundance of ideas and thoughts.

The law will be applied to those who commit the crimes foreseen in it, inside or outside the national territory, such as computer fraud, data security violation, theft by computer means, and transfer of reserved public information, and will sanction those who, without authorization, access, intercept or make use of computer systems, appropriating programs or data, intercepting, capturing or recording images, conversations or videos that are not intended for the public, interfering with or damaging state computer systems in the fields of health, education, communication, energy, water, social security, ports, airports, finance and national defense. It will also punish those who illegally access or destroy computer systems, damage, modify or alter them, those who reproduce, sell, appropriate passwords or codes to illegally access computer systems, those who manipulate technological platforms and smart cards, make improper payments or appropriate goods or services by digital means. Radio La Primerisima, 27 Oct. 2020

68,000 High School Graduation Bonuses Announced
Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that as in previous years the Sandinista Government will award a high school diploma bonus to students in November. “The high school diploma bonus is given to high school graduates,” she said, adding that “Nicaragua is a great school where we learn, and grow every day and become more successful as human beings to know how to learn and to realize dreams for ourselves and our homeland.” “So let’s encourage those dreams of fair development, dreams of equity, freedom, dignity, brotherhood. We dream big; we walk in harmony and for the common good,” concluded the Vice President. Radio La Primerisima, 22 Oct. 2020

New Fire Department in Sébaco, Matagalpa
The national Unified Fire Department moved three new vehicles to the new fire department in municipality of Sébaco which will open on Oct. 27. The institution sent a 550-gallon tanker truck, a 2,500-gallon tanker truck and an ambulance. The Unified Fire

Department in Sébaco will be providing coverage to 37,900 inhabitants. By the end of 2020, 101 towns will have well-equipped fire departments. On May 31, 2018, the opposition burned the Transportation Ministry Plant and many of the vehicles for road building and repair parked there that serve five departments were destroyed. Radio La Primerisima, 23 Oct. 2020

Covid-19 Report Week of October 20 to 26
The Ministry of Health reports 62 new registered cases of COVID-19 from Oct. 20 to 26, Sixty-two people recuperated and one person died. Since March 18 there have been 4,424 registered cases of COVID-19, 4,188 people recuperated and 156 deaths. Radio La Primerisima, 27 Oct. 2020