Margaret Kimberly Interviews Camila Escalante
(This is a transcription of a podcast interview on Black Agenda Report on September 15, 2023.)
Margaret Kimberley is Executive Editor and Senior Columnist of Black Agenda Report and the host of the Black Agenda Radio podcast. Camila Escalante is a Canadian journalist who has reported from different Latin American countries and currently from Nicaragua.
Margaret Kimberley: You’re listening to Black Agenda Radio. I’m Margaret Kimberley. Camila Escalante is an editor for Kawsachun News, and a Latin America correspondent for PressTV. She joins us from Managua, Nicaragua, to discuss a recent segment of the National Public Radio podcast The Sunday Story, which featured an interview with Eyder Peralta, an NPR correspondent who reported on a recent visit to Nicaragua in which he made many untrue statements. We will talk about how corporate media serve state propaganda and Camila will give our listeners an overview of what was wrong with that interview.
Camila Escalante: Well, NPR featured an interview and story as part of its The Sunday Story, which is a podcast segment. These air on NPR’s public airwaves and are available online. It’s a 40-minute-long story produced by, as you said, Eyder Peralta who is a Nicaraguan citizen. He’s interviewed by host Ayesha Roscoe. They have this angle about how difficult it is for foreign press to enter and report in the country. They make the big claim at the start of the story that he is the “first journalist”, I would presume that he means ‘journalists working for a foreign outlet,’ to be able to enter the country and report in over a year, which is factually incorrect just from the start. Also, Ayesha Roscoe, when promoting the segment on social media, says that they have exclusive reporting from NPR’s Eyder Peralta in Nicaragua, where foreign journalists have been banned, and human rights are under attack.
It’s completely false from the outset that foreign journalists have been banned. I myself am a Canadian journalist. I work for different media outlets, both freelance and other capacities. I have my own outlet. None of the outlets I work with are Nicaraguan or have any ties to anything in Nicaragua; we are completely foreign. I’ve been here for a couple of months and during this time, I’ve seen a lot of foreign media come in and out and do different types of stories for broadcast journalism, both TV and radio, and I’ve seen a lot of foreign writers, some of them working for more mainstream outlets, including public radio in the United States but also different correspondents for state media outlets from around the world.
We could review, point for point, the different claims that were made in this 40-minute NPR piece, and describe the actual conditions here in Nicaragua, which I think are very important to talk about. But I think ultimately what this demonstrates is that the approach that US state media is taking is fundamentally flawed in the ways in which they approach covering different countries like Nicaragua, a country that is under siege by the United States which has a certain foreign policy towards Nicaragua.
At the same time, we see the same press outlets, whether they be PBS, or NPR, or any of the other mainstream outlets in the US doing some really poor reporting in other parts of the world, but primarily the Global South, where they kind of use to their advantage, the fact that a lot of people in the United States have never been to some of these countries. So, they don’t actually know what the conditions are in these different countries.
For that reason, they’re able to make all of the outrageous claims that we also hear made by the State Department, by the White House, and all of the other different departments and agencies of the United States government. They’re simply reiterating them in this sort of storytelling approach with this reporter’s experience here in Nicaragua when he came in, starting with how he entered the country.
Peralta, a Nicaraguan citizen with a Nicaraguan passport, entered through a border checkpoint by land through an immigration checkpoint on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. He himself said that he had no problems entering. This is right at the start of the story if anyone wants to listen to it, and he wasn’t questioned at all. He was able to immediately enter Nicaragua without any problems whatsoever, which he seems to attribute to him being Nicaraguan. But as I can see here, and as anyone can tell you, there are a lot of foreigners here. There are a lot of people who come here on vacation, for cultural reasons, for different people-to-people exchanges, or to participate in events, or for business and foreign investment. All these people are coming in with their foreign passports without any problems. Also, like I said, [that includes] a long list of foreign journalists.
So, he himself didn’t have any issue. I’m not sure what exactly he’s referring to in terms of who is being barred from entering the country. If he were to have to answer any questions about his occupation, I would expect that he would answer those, because in my case, I’ve had to as a foreign correspondent, as a reporter, over the course of several years. I’ve had to travel as you know, Margaret, through multiple Latin American countries. These are countries with all sorts of different governments [in power] at the time and I’ve had to tell the immigration authorities what my occupation is, what I do and what I intend to do. He didn’t even have to do that when he entered the country successfully to do his reporting.
MK: You know, you make many good points there. He makes these very dramatic statements about entering through a remote border crossing on the border with Honduras, and he was afraid he’d be turned away. And then he says, well, actually, five minutes later, I got in.
So, they build up this story about an authoritarian regime. He then makes statements that contradict the premise of this story, calling it the most authoritarian government in the world. By what measure is Nicaragua authoritarian at all, first of all, and even if that definition fit, the most authoritarian government in the world? I mean, we have an elected president, an elected vice-president, an elected legislature and yet it’s called authoritarian. And it seems to me it’s pretty clear that he is one of those journalists, I use the word loosely, quite frankly, who promote the narrative of the US state.
The US has been hostile to Nicaragua ever since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. We had the Reagan administration spending, basically the entirety of Reagan’s time in office trying to overthrow that government, giving money to people who were called the contra rebels. The current government, the Biden administration, passed legislation called the RENACER Act, renacer meaning rebirth in Spanish. It’s an awful term frankly, and it is sanctions and it is ways to punish Nicaragua and to make life more difficult for the people there. I wonder if that’s authoritarian or not. But at any rate, this is quite a problem when people who are journalists who are acting under a pretense of objectivity, spread state propaganda, what I would call war propaganda. Is that not the problem?
CE: Absolutely. Well, a lot of people would consider NPR among other outlets in the United States, including those that receive public funding, which many believe to be more progressive outlets. People are getting information from outlets which they believe are more progressive, and more neutral, more transparent, and more ethical sources of information compared to the other large corporate media. Of course, NPR is also corporate media.
And so, this is the problem. They are acting like any other psychological warfare outlet. And so, what does this guy do in his reporting? He interviews one person who is actually a State Department official, who speaks anonymously and says all the things that we’re used to hearing them say quite publicly, but he doesn’t name this official.
There’s another person who he interviews, who is among those who were convicted here in Nicaragua before being sent to the United States after the negotiations that took place between the State Department and Managua. They were released from prison and they’re able to live normally in the United States. Many of these people had lived in the United States previously, and a lot of their lives and everything else are there. This person who Peralta spoke to, describes himself as being anti-socialist, and anti-Sandinista. And this person is part of the narration of the story. He’s talking about his time in jail here.
But NPR’s reporter doesn’t actually speak to anyone in this story, whether it be to quote them or anything, who supports the government, which I find very difficult to wrap my head around, because this is a country that has huge support, in the 70% or higher range of people who support the government, particularly in this period, since President Daniel Ortega won the presidency in 2021. So, a lot of false and inaccurate claims are made, a lot of really bizarre angles are taken. They claim that there’s a “political crisis” in this country, when there simply is no political crisis, I think we’re going to have to define what political crisis is because I’m here now and that doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, there are political crises in different parts of Latin America right now, namely, in countries like Ecuador, where we’ll see a new round of elections to elect a new president, because the situation there is so severe. Another one is the political crisis in neighboring Honduras, which is a country that has a leftist government. They have had a very difficult time renewing the authority of the Attorney General’s office in order to prosecute some of the people who carried out acts of corruption in the previous administration. Rather than report on those, NPR is making false accusations about Nicaragua.
He [Peralta] says that the country has been in “constant turmoil”. He doesn’t mention repeated US intervention in this country over the last several decades, and actually the last couple of centuries, including US military interventions. Nor does he mention the US military bases and operations around Central America and the Caribbean. which serve as provocation.
He references a discredited UN Human Rights Report and another person is interviewed who claims that seven “presidential candidates” were barred from running when in fact, this is one of the most important things I’ve covered here during my time in 2021 in Nicaragua. I was not living here, I was based in Bolivia, but I came here and interviewed authorities of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), to get an idea of who was running, who was registered to run as candidate for the presidency and to get an idea of the electoral scenario. I interviewed them both months before the election and after the election.
The people who say they were candidates (or pre-candidates) could have participated in the election if they had become members of one of the many parties and were then chosen as candidates by those parties. But, since they knew they had no chance of winning (after similar candidates lost by big margins in 2011 and 2016), they chose not to play by any of the rules.] It’s completely false, that anything happened to “pre-candidates” or candidates. You know, these words have meanings and the people referenced in the interview were not candidates.
This just points to a larger problem of how the press operates, particularly when news has to be sensationalized, or “click baited” particularly now, in the age of social media. The only way for him to be hired by NPR and to do this type of work is to have an angle that is sought after by US authorities or by a particular US audience, otherwise, there would just be no demand for it whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are many good stories about the different protagonists and struggles here in Latin America that news outlets, even the most progressive outlets, don’t accept because they are busy chasing stories that are sensational. They want to hear about coups; they want to hear about governments falling; they want to hear about hardship and misery, and disaster porn, quite frankly. And they want to see these different governments attacked and slandered as authoritarian dictators and so forth.
MK: Yes. And, it’s always those governments that the US doesn’t like and I guess we could sum up by saying governments that are socialist, those are considered enemies. They are targeted. They are smeared. Last year in Los Angeles, the US was the host of the Summit of the Americas and deliberately excluded leaders from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. It’s the Summit of the Americas. It’s not the summit of the United States, even if it’s in the United States. But it’s that kind of thing that the press follows without questioning. And it says a lot about the state of what is supposedly journalism in this country, doesn’t it?
CE: Yes, absolutely. In the run up to the Summit of the Americas that was held in Los Angeles last year, no one really questioned why those three countries were not receiving an invitation to participate in the summit. Of around 35 nations in our region, why exclude these three? Reporters were just regurgitating the same lines that we were hearing from the OAS, the State Department, and the White House.
This is not the first time that NPR has put out bad reporting on Nicaragua. In recent years, it has lent itself to this sort of anti-Sandinista propaganda, an example being a piece they published on Nicaragua’s response to COVID-19, and framing it as a failed response when in retrospect, the government managed the situation quite well.
A lot of other claims were made that were simply bizarre: Peralta says that “Daniel Ortega only understands the language of violence”. He ought to mention that this is a country that is completely safe; there’s a very low level of violence in the country, people are able to walk, go to work, go to school peacefully, with very few robberies, assaults, and a very low level of homicide, particularly compared to other countries of the region. He doesn’t say that. What he does say is that when you enter the country, you see that oddly calm or normal. He himself says that the things which are supposedly wrong with the country are not visible at first sight. But the reality is, they’re not visible, because these things simply don’t exist and for that reason, a lot of foreigners have been buying homes here, or have been trying to come here for vacation and for other purposes. It’s just a more pleasurable experience for them compared to some of the neighboring countries. It’s simply the most peaceful country in the region.
The reporter actually tries to attend the celebrations marking the 44th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, which was on July 19. He paints a picture of security measures being set up ahead of the official central act. And he’s making it seem like some very mysterious event is supposed to take place but it is a very important event that is watched on television by the entire country, and where there are many high-ranking officials, like presidents and heads of parliaments, representatives of foreign governments, all of whom come here from all continents, in order to participate in these celebrations. So, there is some level of security in place there and some preparations are needed.
But he doesn’t say anything about the fact that all sorts of activists and people who are not screened in any way, who were just in the audience, ran up to President Daniel Ortega to shake his hand and give him gifts during this event. They did so without going through any sort of security barrier. It’s clear that he likes to shake hands and get out to see the people.
They claim that President Daniel Ortega doesn’t want to hold big public rallies. Until COVID-19, the government had been holding massive rallies and that had to change for obvious reasons, in 2020 and thereafter. but a lot of public functions are now taking place, including the marches in the last two weeks. There have been two large police and military parades in commemoration of their anniversaries, as well as the parade marking the anniversary of independence from Spain, which went down a central avenue with the attendance of the public. Obviously, he didn’t stick around to see them happen.
MK: I just want to tell our listeners, I also have been to Nicaragua and written about my observations and my experiences there. And, of course, the President has security. What head of state doesn’t have security? And, you know, as far as he doesn’t like to hold large public events, he appears in public like anyone else who runs for office. So, these things are clearly untrue. But there’s a larger purpose being served here [by this US media coverage]. And I believe it is to get buy-in from the public so that when Nicaragua is sanctioned, or there’s some sort of interference in the affairs of that country, that people will go along with it, because they have been told that it’s an evil authoritarian state. And this is, frankly, it’s nothing but war propaganda, in my opinion.
CE: Absolutely. So, what is the objective? Well, right now we’re going to continue to see more of these sorts of propaganda hit pieces that take aim at Nicaragua and this government because, for the time being, Nicaragua is being singled out by the State Department and by US legislators who are trying to pass a new piece of legislation, currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio and Tim Kaine. This is a new piece of legislation to amend the RENACER Act and the NICA Act, two pieces of law that were passed in recent years, which make it very difficult for Nicaragua to access loans from international financial institutions as well as technical assistance, things that are very much needed. There are a lot of different things that are shoved into the text of this legislation which have very little to do with the human rights or democracy premise. It mentions Nicaragua’s strengthening relations with Russia and China. I’m not really sure what that geopolitical and diplomatic aspect has to do with the domestic policies of a government. They also talk about religious freedom, because after so many years of trying other angles with limited success, they now are seeing if anyone will buy into the allegation that there is repression towards a religious faith, the Catholic Church specifically. This is a country where people are practicing many different religions, but primarily, they are Christians [Protestants] of different denominations and Catholics.
What’s worrying about this new piece of legislation is that they want to impose more sanctions, and they want to ensure the standardization of sanctions among US-allied countries. As in the RENACER Act, it says that the United States will work with the UK, the EU and Canada, to set the same designations and sanctions against Nicaragua, and that they intend to continue working within the multilateral system, using the United Nations system and its different bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and even the General Assembly in the form of a draft resolution vote, to try to attack the country even further. Such sanctions could potentially be very far reaching, particularly given that it’s such a small economy, a developing country, just like the majority of countries that are illegally and unilaterally sanctioned right now.
MK: And that was Camila Escalante, discussing a biased NPR report on events in Nicaragua.
By Nan McCurdy
World Cries Out Against US and European Aggression, Says Foreign Minister
At the 78th UN General Assembly the world demanded that the United States and the Western European powers put an end to aggressions of all kinds, in favor of peace, stability, security and development, said Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada. “In this Assembly we can see how the new international order … is growing, strengthening, and moving forward,” said the diplomat. “We can say that the world spoke clearly and loudly against the US empire and the Western Europe powers, demanding they put an end to aggression. The world spoke in favor of peace, stability, security and development,” he said. Moncada added that the Nicaraguan delegation held 28 bilateral meetings with representatives of different countries. He highlighted Nicaragua’s support for Venezuela’s initiative for the creation of a Geopolitical Map of Sanctions, which would show how the unilateral measures of aggression by the United States are progressively increasing. (La Primerisima, 28 Sept. 2023)
Two Million People Take Part in Emergency Preparedness Drill
On Sept. 28, two million people participated in the III National Preparedness Exercise to Protect Life in Multi-Hazard Situations. The population practiced more than 8,400 scenarios, under different hypotheses among them the impact of a hurricane in the Caribbean Coast, an earthquake causing a tsunami in the Pacific and landslides on Ometepe Island. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/dos-millones-de-personas-se-incorporaron-al-simulacro/ (La Primerisima, 28 Sept. 2023)
New Intensive Care Unit at Managua Hospital
There is a new intensive care unit at the Manolo Morales Hospital in Managua financed with US$1.4 million from Nicaragua’s budget. The project includes 10 cubicles for patients in critical condition, nursing stations, as well as the installation of X-ray, ultrasound, electrocardiograph machine, defibrillator, ventilators, and infusion pumps, benefiting 238,000 people. (Nicaragua News, 28 Sept. 2023)
Three Fetal Surgeries at the Bertha Calderón Women’s Hospital
Ministry of Health specialists performed three successful fetal surgeries on pregnant women from three Departments in the operating rooms of the Bertha Calderón Hospital.
The women had twin pregnancies with a complication called Feto-Fetal Transfusion Syndrome and Selective Growth Restriction, which if they had not undergone surgery, one or both babies would have died due to growth alterations. So far, 188 specialized fetal surgeries have been performed successfully. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/tres-cirugias-en-el-vientre-materno-tres-vidas-salvadas-en-el-bertha-calderon/ (La Primerisima, 3 Oct. 2023)
Mega Health Fair in Jinotega
The women in the Special Indigenous Territory of Alto Wangki, inhabited by the Mayagna and Miskito peoples, were taken first in canoes across the rivers and then by bus to a Mega Health Fair where 15,943 health care services were provided to 6,716 people. The Fair served communities from the municipalities of La Concordia, San Sebastián de Yalí, San Rafael del Norte, Wiwilí, Santa María de Pantasma, San José de Bocay, El Cuá, Jinotega, and from the Special Indigenous Territory of Alto Wangki. Specialized care included 13,809 ultrasounds, 628 pap smears and readings, 590 laboratory studies, and 88 surgeries. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/prodigiosos-resultados-de-la-mega-feria-de-salud-en-jinotega/ (La Primerisima, 1 October 2023)
Education in the Penitentiary System
The international news channel Russia Today (television and web), broadcast a report last week describing the Nicaraguan program to introduce education for men and women at all levels in the country’s penitentiary centers as an example to the world. “In Nicaragua,” says the Russian television report, “the government initiative to provide the right to education in the penitentiary sector is progressing successfully. This increases the chances of a better future for inmates.” (La Primerisima, 27 Sept. 2023)
Chinese Buses to Improve Transportation
On October 2, Vice President Rosario Murillo announced the arrival of 250 buses from the People’s Republic of China to reinforce public transportation in Managua and Ciudad Sandino. The buses “will be delivered in the coming days,” she explained. Murillo emphasized that these 250 buses complete the 3,000 units which have transformed and improved the public transportation model in Nicaragua in recent years. She added that 1,500 more buses will be received in the near future, 250 of which will arrive in November. The investment in this first group of buses is part of a larger project aimed at modernizing the public transportation system in the municipalities of Managua. (La Primerisima, 2 October 2023)
Festivals to Promote Gender Equality Begin
The Ministry of Youth (MINJUVE) will support community culture festivals in October to promote gender equity, prevention of pregnancy, and gender-based violence. The purpose is to promote cultural spaces with young people to strengthen values in youth community networks. The objective is also to sensitize the youth so they have positive values and attitudes about healthy sexuality, gender equality, good communication and decision making. The festivals will be held in the main parks of each municipality. (La Primerisima, 2 Oct. 2023)
Operating License Granted for Natural Gas Plant
On Sept. 26 the National Electricity Transmission Company and the Ministry of Energy and Mines announced the approval of an operating license for the US company Nicaragua Development Partners LLC, to carry out operation and maintenance of the Puerto Sandino Plant for Electricity Generation from Natural Gas in Nagarote, León Department. The new US$700 million plant will contribute 300 MW of electricity to the National Electrical Interconnected System when it begins operation. (Nicaragua News, 27 Sept. 2023)
Nicaragua Ranks in the Top Ten in Coffee Production
The International Coffee Organization (ICO) published its “Coffee Report and Outlook” last week which states that, with 3.2 million quintals (hundred weights) produced during the 2021-2022 agricultural cycle, Nicaragua ranks eighth in the world in Arabica coffee production. The Coffee Report and Outlook is a biannual evaluation published to provide a preliminary assessment of global coffee production and market outlook. (Nicaragua News, 3 Oct. 2023)
Central Americans Reject any Type of Foreign intervention
Eight out of ten Central Americans consider that the region should reinforce its integration and reject any type of foreign power intervention, according to the last poll by M&R Consultants. According to the poll, 96.7% affirm that any action to preserve peace, stability and sovereignty of the region should be promoted. And 95.5% of Central Americans believe that any differences that arise should be resolved through dialogue. Finally, 88.1% agree that united, Central Americans will be stronger and have greater opportunities to compete in the global economy. See details: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/centroamerica-debe-rechazar-cualquier-tipo-de-intervencion-extranjera/ (La Primerisima, 27 Sept. 2023)
Best Performing Country in Korea-SICA FTA
The South Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency presented an analysis of the Free Trade Agreement between the Central American Integration System (SICA) Nations and South Korea (FTA Korea-SICA) that went into effect in 2019. The report states that with a 300% increase in exports to South Korea between 2019 and 2022, Nicaragua is the country that has taken the most advantage of the treaty, followed by Honduras, Panama and El Salvador. (Nicaragua News, 28 Sept. 2023)