NicaNotes: Complicating the Narrative on Nicaragua

No one can accuse NACLA of being a pro-Sandinista publication. While at times we have worked with them, we have also had some major disagreements over the years. For that reason, we share this NACLA article and commend them on pointing out the nuances and contradictions at a time when the US Senate is poised to pass legislation, S. 3233, which would cut Nicaragua off from international loans unless it agrees to early elections and bow to US supremacy. To send emails to your two Senators opposing this blatant regime change interference click here.

Complicating the Narrative on Nicaragua

Many reports on the situation in Nicaragua have failed to capture the complexity of the crisis

September 24, 2018

James Phillips

Recent news coverage of the crisis in Nicaragua has sought to simplify a complex reality. The prevailing coverage lays the blame for the conflict on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and presents a politically narrow and historically shallow context. As a result, the message implicit and sometimes explicit in the coverage—that Ortega is the villain and his departure from office would end the conflict or solve the problems underlying the crisis—is distorted and misleading. This rhetoric, furthered by penalizing measures taken by the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress, targets Ortega, and by extension Nicaragua, as a brutal dictatorship and human rights disaster. Meanwhile, Washington applauds and offers moral and material support for the government of Nicaragua’s neighbor, Honduras, where there is indeed a brutal dictatorship and a human rights disaster. Unlike President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, Ortega is not seen as a faithful ally of the U.S. and thus faces strong scrutiny and condemnation.

This hypocritical double standard highlights the fact that for a long time Ortega himself and Nicaragua, in company with Cuba and Venezuela, have represented a largely symbolic challenge to U.S. hegemony. The anger of U.S. administrations toward Nicaragua, Ortega, and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) goes back to the revolution that in 1979 succeeded in toppling the 43-year-long dictatorship of the Somoza family—Washington’s faithful and corrupt ally through successive Democratic and Republican administrations from Franklin Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter. The current crisis is not simply the story of a brave opposition and a brutal Ortega. It is a long-simmering conflict among different groups within Nicaragua that has been carefully manipulated over the years to put Nicaragua firmly and securely back under U.S. hegemony.

Roots of the Crisis

Two incidents are commonly identified as the sparks that ignited the crisis: the government’s handling of a devastating forest fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the government’s proposed social security reform. Students at several Nicaraguan universities were among the first and leading protesters to take to the streets to protest both these situations.

The Ortega government faced criticism for failing to respond effectively to the Indio Maíz fire and protect this important biological treasure, although considerable resources were employed, including army units, helicopters, and other personnel and equipment, to protect the reserve and fight the fire. Criticism also ignored that some neighboring cattle ranchers have for some time wanted to expand into parts of the reserve, despite the government’s warning that the area was not suitable for ranching due to increased fire danger.

Just days later, protests turned to the proposed social security reform. Diverging from his government’s successful consensus model for working with the private sector, Ortega had rejected a plan favored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), and other members of the Nicaraguan business community that would have entailed larger cuts in social security, including raising the retirement age. Ortega instead opted for milder reforms, which various parties rejected—from COSEP, the country’s most powerful business lobby, on the Right, to other sectors critical of austerity measures on the Left. Trying perhaps to appease both sides, Ortega canceled the reform, but the demonstrations had already pivoted to focus on government repression and calls for Ortega’s resignation after the first fatalities—two civilians and one police officer—were reported on April 19.

The media has portrayed the first student-led demonstrations as spontaneous and indignant at the actions of the Ortega government. That may be true of many of the students, but there are also organized groups at the center of these protests that had been mentored and funded for years by agencies of the U.S. government. There is a trail of connections. The Civic Youth Movement (MCJ), which has already been active in Nicaragua for some years, describes itself as an organization dedicated to promoting projects of civic responsibility, education about and promotion of democratic institutions among students and youth. Whether this promotion of democracy is simply a broad and laudable principle or, in the context of Nicaragua, a specific coded critique of Ortega and the Sandinista government or even a call for regime change, is open to interpretation. MCJ was created and funded by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

The NDI itself is an arm of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), funded mostly by U.S. Congress, an organization that  boasts a close history with the CIA. One of the first fields of operation for this activity was Nicaragua during the Contra War of the 1980s, when the NED gave several million dollars to anti-Sandinista opposition groups. More recently, the NED gave a reported $4.1 million to opposition groups in Nicaragua between 2014 and 2017, ostensibly to promote pro-democracy activities. The history of U.S. interventionism in Latin America fuels skepticism about what kind of “democracy” NED is fomenting in the region after the CIA helped sow discord to unseat elected leaders in Guatemala in 1954, in Guyana in 1964, in Chile in 1973, in Jamaica in the late 1970s, and many more. With a history that rubbed elbows with the Iran-Contra affair in Nicaragua, NED’s activities among students and others in Nicaragua—and across the region—furthers cause for skepticism.

Ortega’s government accuses foreign coup-mongers, including Washington neocons, of seeking to destabilize his government. Such suspicions are bolstered by the events surrounding meetings in June between opposition protesters and Washington powerbrokers. Opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, director of the NED-funded Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP), went to Washington with anti-government student leaders to denounce government repression at a meeting of officials of the Organization of American States (OAS). Maradiaga and the students also met with Republican senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, author of a bill in the U.S. Congress that would sanction the Ortega government, as well as of a letter urging the State Department to investigate Nicaragua’s police chief.

The question of student involvement in the conflict is complex. The United States and right-wing Nicaraguans are certainly not the only influences on the country’s youth. The Sandinistas have a long and effective history of training and promoting youth mobilization and resistance. This was a crucial part of the resistance mounted against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, and it continued during the country’s defense against the Contras in the 1980s. As a longtime Nicaraguan revolutionary reminded me recently, “We trained them to resist and defend their rights, and now they are doing it. Not all of this is solely the instigation of outsiders, though that element is certainly there. What did we expect?”

[To read the rest of this article on NACLA’s web page go to: Don’t forget to return to read this week’s news briefs!


By Nan McCurdy

A Song of Hope for Bismarck Martinez, Example of Love for Nicaragua
Martinez was kidnapped at a roadblock in the city of Jinotepe June 29 and videos of his torture appeared on cell phones of captured criminals two weeks ago. He has not been found.  In honor of his fifty-sixth birthday on October 1 his family, friends and colleagues organized an evening of song and prayer held at the Cinemateca Nacional. The evening was entitled “56 years of commitment, love and struggle for his country”. Among the participants were Nicaraguan artists and members of the Protestant community.

“We thank God because on a day like today 56 years ago, Bismarck was born. My husband has not yet appeared and, in spite of that, today we celebrated his birthday with the testimonial and revolutionary music that he liked so much. Wherever he finds himself, he will be satisfied to see that his people support us in the difficult situation we are facing”, said his wife, Myrlhem Méndez. For Photos: (Voz del Sandinismo, 10/2/18)


At the UN, Nicaraguan Chancellor Denounces US Intervention in Nicaragua
On Oct. 1, Foreign Minister Denis Moncada , spoke at the UN General Assembly. He stated, “Nicaragua has resisted the attempts of a coup d’état; our country has once again won peace, fraternal coexistence and the gradual return of normal daily life. The attempted coup that we have foiled in Nicaragua is the result of intervention and has left us with serious consequences, economic damage, death, destruction, terrorism. Terrorism disguised as peaceful protests, atrociously killing citizens and police, setting fire to public and private property, assaults, extortion, rapes, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In the [Central American] region Nicaragua is recognized for its stability, peace and regional security with important positive indicators in economic, political, and social development, in poverty reduction, gender equity and citizen security; and it is a barrier against organized international crime, gangs, terrorism, and drug-activity –  state policies that we continue to develop.”

Moncada said that the Nicaraguan government and people defend the principle of independence and sovereignty as established in the Charter of the United Nations and “therefore we demand the cessation of any interventionist policy that violates international law with interventionist actions in Nicaragua and against other Peoples of our America and the world”. Moncada said that the government and people of Nicaragua have worked in a sustained manner to meet the objectives of the [United Nations] 2030 Agenda. “Until the month of April of this year our country had experienced sustained economic growth of approximately 4.7% per year. Our projects and economic and social programs to eradicate general poverty at the national level managed to reduce it from 42.5% in 2009 to 24.9% in 2016. Extreme poverty decreased from 14.6% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2016,” he said. Here is the entire speech in English:  (Channel 4, 10/1/18)


US Citizen deported
Carl David Goette Luciak was taken from his home by police midday Monday, Oct. 1 directly to the Managua airport where he was questioned (according to a tweet by a Nicaraguan journalist, Wilfredo Miranda), and then flown to El Salvador on Taca flight 397 and the next day to Washington DC. Luciak was a close associate of leaders of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and wrote extremely one-sided anti-government articles on the recent unrest that were published in The Guardian, Washington Post, and other publications.

Photos of Luciak with armed opposition terrorists began to circulate on social media in early September including a troubling video on June 30 during an opposition march called “March of the Flowers.”  In this video the terrorists are walking along torturing an old man who they accused of being a Sandinista. Luciak was right there and shows up in the video at various points. In this excellent recent article by Max Blumenthal you can watch the video and see his photos with armed terrorists:


Police present Terrorists who committed crimes like Torture of Police in Jinotepe
The National Police presented on Oct. 1 several men arrested in the city of Jinotepe, who are linked to crimes against Nicaraguan society. Five individuals accused of committing different crimes such as kidnapping, torture and carrying illegal arms were presented. Allan Enrique Alemán Castillo, Flavio Alexander Castillo Blanco and Jack Josué Castillo López manned the roadblocks in Jinotepe, committing acts of vandalism.

They are charged with “kidnapping local people, transferring them and torturing them in the San José Catholic School. This same group is accused of looting and destruction of public and private institutions and selling stolen objects,” said Police Commissioner Major Farle Roa.

Likewise, Dany Javier Chavez Salazar and Cristopher Javier Castrillo Ramirez were arrested for crimes committed while manning the roadblock near the Dulce Nombre community in Jinotepe. They are accused of committing organized crime, kidnapping, torture, assault, injuries and illegal possession of firearms. “They kidnapped, tortured and seriously injured policeman Carlos Alberto Jiménez Campos, transferring him to the San José School, a center of studies used by the vandals to murder, torture and rape,” the police chief continued. The subjects will be referred to the competent authorities for their judicial process, while the police continue looking for others involved in the case. The institution reaffirms its commitment to defend the right to peace, tranquility, work and security of Nicaraguan families. (Channel 8, Channel 2, 10/1/18)


Thousands Walk for Peace and Reconciliation in the Rain in Managua
Most weeks since mid-July, thousands of Sandinistas walk twice a week – but this week it was three times. They walk to secure the peace, to support reconciliation and to demand justice for victims of violence. This Saturday when President Daniel Ortega arrived to speak to the group it was raining cats and dogs. He went out in the crowd, in the rain, to greet people for a half an hour.  (See excerpts from President Ortega’s speech below.)


Nicaragua has Some of the Best Roads in the World
According to the World Economic Forum on Infrastructure Nicaragua has among the best roads and ranks 54th out of 137 countries in a rating from the World Economic Forum on infrastructure in which the quality of streets, avenues and roads was evaluated. In Latin America, Nicaragua appears better than the Dominican Republic; El Salvador; Honduras; Uruguay; Argentina; Brazil; Guatemala; Peru; Colombia; Haiti; Venezuela; Paraguay; among others. Costa Rica appears with countries that have the worst roads in position 123. The study carried out by the World Economic Forum, is based on the opinion of 14,000 leaders and businesspeople who were surveyed on the quality of the roads of their countries, and according to these considerations, a score of one to seven was granted, in which the value 1 corresponds to roads with extremely poor conditions, and the value 7 for roads with extremely good conditions. Nicaragua obtained a rating of 4.3. The state of roads in a country can affect the economic and social growth according to Marianne Fay, chief economist of Sustainable Development at the World Bank. (Informe Pastran, 10/27/18)

95% National Coverage for Energy: More People Have Electricity
The Ministry of Energy and Mines is advancing by leaps and bounds to expand national electricity coverage to rural and remote areas of the country, improving the quality of life of thousands of Nicaraguans. Electricity is an important part of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and part of the effort to reduce poverty.  In a press conference, Salvador Mansell said that “It is a commitment to work every day to reach remote areas and install their electricity service. We are bringing electric power to Nicaraguan families, we have already installed 20 thousand light systems and the goal is 36 thousand for the year. Mansell, Executive President of ENATREL said that from September 20 to 26, they brought power to 377 homes in 6 communities in different municipalities. Mansell said they are also installing modern air conditioning systems in institutions in order to save energy. In 2017, 94 percent of the population was electrified benefiting 5.7 million people, during that year 2,778 kilometers of power lines were installed. (Informe Pastran 10/27/18)


Ecumenical Colloquium: Nicaragua: Land of Dignity, Reconciliation and Peace 
In honor of Father Miguel D’Escoto, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister in the 1980s and President of the United Nations General Assembly from September 2008 to September 2009, members of Nicaraguan Christian Base Communities brought together members of the religious community from all over the continent. The objective was to see what Christians say about the violent coup that attempted to take the peace away from Nicaragua. To see pictures of some of the speakers:  (19 Digital, 9/27/18)


Excerpts from President Ortega’s Speech Saturday September 29:

        “In the United States Congress we already know, in the Senate, the infamous Initiative of the NICA Act, which passed the Congress (House), passed the Senate Committee in recent days. That is to say, they continue in their process with an interventionist policy, disrespectful of International Law, disrespectful of the judgment of the International Court of Justice of The Hague that condemned the United States for the acts of Terrorism against Nicaragua.

        And I say to the US Representatives, I tell the US Senators, that they are voting in favor of this interventionist law, that what is coming will simply harm the people and hurt the economy of the country, because with this law they want to hurt Nicaragua. They think that, with the law, the Nicaraguan people will fall to their knees, and they do not realize that this is a people that neither sells out nor surrenders!

        But the Representatives, the Senators, should reflect a little: the US Representatives and Senators should understand how many times they have implemented interventionist policies, these sanctions against the Peoples of the world, not only against the Peoples of our America. Countless times. But that has not prevented the Peoples of Africa, Latin America and Asia from achieving independence to build their own way in the midst of these interventionist policies, in the midst of invasions, like those Nicaragua has suffered; like those suffered by the Dominican Republic, or the one suffered by Vietnam.

        They must understand that this is not the way, they must understand that with such actions they will never win the respect and affection of the Nicaragua people. The respect of the International Community will not be won with this type of action. At the end of the day they will not paralyze the Nicaraguan People in their productive capacities, in their work capabilities, in their creative capacities, because the Nicaraguan People are a hardworking People, and thanks to God, we have hard working men and women, we have fertile lands, we have creative forces to produce wealth in our country.

        I wish the countries that practice interventionism would understand this, because not only the United States, but other countries practice interference: it is the practice of those who feel powerful, and they forget the great defeats they had when they colonized the peoples of Africa and enslaved them. They forget how those Peoples rebelled and defeated the colonialists, expelled the colonialists from African lands. They believed that they were going to dominate them all the time because they were impoverished Peoples – precisely because of the colonialists who came to exploit them, to plunder them.

        We have a commitment to peace, and the commitment to peace goes through reconciliation, and we have to continue practicing reconciliation, which is the most effective dialogue to ensure peace in Nicaragua. We don’t want to repeat episodes of terror like those that our People have lived in previous months. We have to ensure peace by talking and talking in the community, in the neighborhood, and showing that we have a great moral strength. Thank God this is a People with great moral strength, with great dignity, with great pride, pride to be Nicaraguan, which gives us precisely the strength to do these Walks for Peace and for Justice.

        And they are Peaceful Walks! On these Walks no stone has been thrown against anyone. These walks of thousands and thousands of Nicaraguan families, can go by a place that belongs to someone who supports the coup and they will do no violence against those who oppose us. These are peaceful marches and the ones who have the strength to walk, to be part of peaceful marches, it’s because they are sure they are doing the right thing.

        No aggression comes from the march. That is part of our strength and what makes us powerful. Adults, youth, children, all walking together, under the sun, under the rain, on long journeys, as Gandhi did with his People, when Gandhi fought for the Independence of India they traveled for miles, and they did it in a peaceful way.

        That is why, sisters and brothers, Nicaraguan families, we must feel proud that there is a majority of Nicaraguans, an immense majority of Nicaraguans who are for Peace, who fight for Peace, and will defend Peace to the ultimate consequences. To watch the walk and the President’s talk:  (19 Digital, Canal 4, 9/30/18)