NicaNotes: Nicaragua: Virtual reality and human rights

July 5th 2020

By Stephen Sefton, Tortilla con Sal

Ever since January 2007, the Western human rights industry has attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government for being undemocratic and repressive. For over a decade, Nicaragua’s social and economic development and successive democratic elections repeatedly contradicted that mendacious narrative. Frustrated by Nicaragua’s embarrassing example of undeniable, sovereign, socialist-inspired social and economic progress, the United States authorities, over several years, prepared, organized and finally openly supported the violent coup attempt of April 2018.

During that coup attempt and ever since it failed, the North American and European human rights industry has falsely accused the Nicaraguan authorities of having brutally repressed peaceful opposition protests with disproportionate lethal violence. In doing so, reports by human rights organizations have systematically ignored numerous very serious crimes and even massacres by Nicaragua’s US-directed right wing opposition and their allies. Between April 18th and July 17th 2018, 23 police officers were killed by opposition activists and 400 officers suffered gunshot wounds inflicted by opposition gunmen. And at least 60 Sandinista supporters were killed by the opposition as well as over 100 people not directly involved in the violence. Reports by Western human rights organizations have concealed that deliberate lethal opposition violence by systematically suppressing conventional witness testimony, documentary evidence and audiovisual material.

Conversely, no categorical evidence exists to support accusations of systematic human rights violations by Nicaragua’s government. But human rights organizations have lately sought to overcome that absence of evidence by using innovative virtual reality reconstruction.

The Argentinian Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) published a video on May 30th this year resulting from a collaboration between an Organization of American States body, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), the EAAF itself and a New York based company called SITU Research, which previously did virtual reality imaging for Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and Ukrainian prosecuting lawyers.

The GIEI, the EAAF and SITU Research have all falsely claimed their documentary proves that Nicaragua’s police used unprovoked, indiscriminate gunfire to kill unarmed protesters. However, their video shows no footage of police or Sandinista supporters firing on protesters even after they admit having analyzed thousands of videos taken by opposition activists. It also omits well known video footage by opposition media outlets of opposition protesters carrying and using lethal firearms. It conveniently omits the essential context of armed opposition violence related to the events the video covers. Nor does it examine the strong possibility of false flag (shootings of the opposition by the opposition) attacks similar to those that took place at Puente Llaguno in Caracas during the failed coup attempt of April 2002 in Venezuela. The video was funded with support from funders including the Open Society Foundation, notorious for supporting the coup d’état in Ukraine and other regime change movements elsewhere.

The EAAF-SITU ‘Research’ video makes quasi-scientific claims attributing lethal gunfire to police or Sandinista supporters making questionable use of professional analysis by Knox Associates of the sound of the shots fired. As John Perry notes in his analysis of the video, the Knox report makes clear that opposition activists with firearms were among the protesters. Even the GIEI report acknowledges this.

Other readily accessible video footage shows opposition activists carrying automatic rifles and using automatic pistols in the same places and around the same times as the video claims the police fired their weapons. The EAAF-SITU Research video omits this inconvenient information. Likewise, the video’s imaging material, put together by SITU Research, seems purposefully to confuse the distances supplied by Knox Associates ballistics analysis from which the shots heard in the video came.

Photo credit: Screenshot from http://gieinicaragua-cartografia-violencia.org/

This confusion and inaccuracy by SITU Research has antecedents in their video on the shootings in Kiev’s Maidan in Ukraine in 2014. The SITU Research video depicting some of the Maidan shootings was carefully analyzed by Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa. Katchanovksi concludes “no expert knowledge or familiarity with the Maidan massacre or Ukraine is needed to see blatant misrepresentation of elementary data in that 3D model.” Among much else, he found that SITU Research’s 3D model had moved wound locations to suit the video’s conclusions. Katchanovksi’s analysis also draws on evidence omitted by SITU Research which contradicts their claims, just as SITU and EAFF have deliberately suppressed evidence contradicting the claims of their video on Nicaragua.

A still from EAAF/SITU Research video. The red radius incorrectly suggests the police were further from protesters’ barricades than they really were because the actual distances are much less than those in the graphic, which gives the false impression that the police were located at the distance which the firearms expert judged the fatal shots to have come from, which is not the case. (Research by John Perry)

With surprising frankness Brad Samuels, founding partner of SITU Research, has publicly stated : “…it’s about not allowing these narratives to become the reason that there’s no accountability… so that you can focus on what you do know and I just I think that that’s at play in all kinds of ways more than it ever has been,… this question of competing narratives, truth claims and facts and that’s really what we’re, this work is about.”

Samuels here straightforwardly acknowledges that SITU Research suppresses inconvenient competing evidence contradicting the narrative on which they choose to focus. They did this in the Ukraine video and they have now done so too in the EAAF-SITU Research video about the events in Managua on May 30th 2018. The video documentary on Nicaragua by the EAAF and SITU Research dishonestly reinforces the GIEI’s false reports used to justify attacks in the OAS against Nicaragua’s government.

Both the video documentary and the GIEI reports systematically exclude or suppress references to audio-visual material showing armed opposition activists available here and here, documentary evidence, witness testimony and press reports herehereherehere, and here, and an on-the-spot report by a veteran independent journalist, all of which challenge their version of events.

Nicaragua’s case is a text-book example of how genuine human rights research has been subverted in order to produce highly biased reports from organizations like the EAAF and SITU Research supporting the political agenda of neocolonial institutions like the Organization of American States which is totally influenced by the regional agenda of the US.

Western populations are practically defenseless against this kind of anti-democratic disinformation tyranny. Co-opted by corporate elites, North American and European non-governmental human rights organizations work closely with their counterparts in the corporate and media industry. They support broad NATO member-country foreign policy and purposefully corrupt the workings of international human rights institutions as needed to support that foreign policy.

In practice, this means they make frequent opportunely scheduled attacks against Western government targets like Syria and Venezuela, and correspondingly less frequent, less critical attacks on, for example, Colombia or Israel. Human rights industry reports are essential reference points for press and media coverage as well as often extremely aggressive messaging on social media. They are also basic inputs into international human rights legal processes, as happened most notoriously in the case of Libya in 2011.

In this way, Western human rights organizations massively extend their market reach and scope, posing falsely as unbiased interlocutors in global human rights. The aura of their messaging influences an enormous number of people who never even read their reports. This messaging aura is a human rights industry product just as important as their actual research. It consolidates their institutional credibility, hugely enhancing their capacity to manipulate news and social media.

This marketing aura is more than mere inauthentic consumer advertising. It facilitates shaping international opinion in favor of the industry’s corporate and government investors’ agenda, reinforcing the power and influence of Western governments and elites. It radically delegitimizes opposition by implicitly setting limits to opinions and arguments that what will be tolerated and ones that what will not. Human rights organizations achieve this control not through bona fide research and intellectual rigor, but by accumulating mainstream prestige via corporate sponsorship and governmental acceptance expressed in grants and awards.

That corporate and government investment endows human rights organizations with money, status and goodwill facilitating two extremely cynical fundamental strategies. Firstly, the human rights industry markets itself dishonestly, but very powerfully, as if it were driven by humanitarian concern rather than ideological bias, effectively discrediting and marginalizing legitimate criticism.

Secondly, the human rights industry systematically excludes and suppresses evidence that discredits the pretexts for North American and European economic and military aggression against countries around the world, from Iran and Syria to Cuba and Venezuela.

The false EAAF and SITU Research video documentary on Nicaragua produced for GIEI group reporting to the OAS is the latest example of this self-serving disinformation. It is a pseudo-innovative, neocolonial reprise of conventional imperialist domination abandoning historical truth to favor a narrative serving Western elites. It bears out Rodolfo Walsh’s famous remark: “History ends up looking like private property whose owners are the very same people who own everything else”. How bitterly ironic that a human rights group from Argentina should collaborate in a project seeking to exonerate US government supported criminals while demonizing their victims.

Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

Nicaraguan Groups Receive Money from US
Nicaraguan opposition political organizations received thousands of dollars from the United States government in its attempt to overthrow the constitutional government of President Daniel Ortega in 2018 according to journalist William Grigsby Vado on the radio program “Sin Fronteras” and in a “Radio La Primerisima” web page article.  Grigsby said, “From 2018 to date, politicians and members of nongovernmental organizations involved in the 2018 coup attempt have pocketed and distributed among their criminal gangs at least US$30 million, and those are only official US funds.”Grigsby states that nearly US$12 million was used to pay eight American embassy officials, 15 Nicaraguans, and 562 others for which there has been no accounting. In 2018 the amount given was nearly US$28 million. Grigsby states that these people and their organizations also were funded by France, Holland, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Great Britain, among others.[Grigsby notes that one of the documents he presents is an unclassified open document from the US Embassy in Managua. The other figures that are consolidated into graphs for the article are from leaked information, according to Grigsby. The official web pages tell us very little. The USAID web page gives only a whitewashed version (with no numbers) of what it was doing during the attempted coup in 2018. Link: https://www.usaid.gov/political-transition-initiatives/nicaragua. The official web page for the National Endowment for Democracy shows that for FY 2019 a total of US$602,993 was given to unnamed persons or organizations under vague descriptions like freedom of expression, democratic ideas and values, political organizations and civic education. Link: https://www.ned.org/region/latin-america-and-caribbean/nicaragua-2019/]

The Nicaraguan parties and non-governmental organizations involved with the US-funded attempted coup in 2018, according to Grigsby, received money directly from the US government through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). Then they paid those who were at the roadblocks terrorizing the people, and they are still trying to destabilize the country.

According to Grigsby and the documents he shares, the organization of a leader of the failed coup, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, called “The Foundation for Economic and Social Development” “FUNIDES” received money. The group “Ética y Transparencia” of Rafael Solis, the International Foundation for Economic Development (FIDEG) of Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, the “Democratic Movement of Women in Nicaragua,” and the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE) all received financing.

Grigsby says that the funds described above were approved in 2017 to carry out the coup activities in 2018.

The Radio La Primerisima article states that in 2018 the Chamorro family foundations received a big piece of the cake: The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation received US$601,220; Carlos Fernando Chamorro and Sofia Montenegro’s group “CINCO” received US$3.2 million. So, between the Chamorro siblings (Cristiana and Carlos Fernando), and their cousin Juan Sebastian Chamorro of FUNIDES (see above), they received more than US$6 million.

The article in Radio la Primerisima states that “in 2018 the funds received by the “Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy” (IEEP) of the accused terrorist Felix Maradiaga were US$2.09 million dollars.” “Hagamos Democracia” received US$801,390 from USAID. This is part of the US$16 million dollars of which the coup leaders are being called to account by the US, according to Grigsby. The executive board of the “Civic Alliance” received US$212,554; the Autonomous Women’s Movement received US$154,384; the Ethics and Transparency Group received US$1,048,895.

Grigsby said that “The so-called Human Rights Association of Álvaro Leiva, denounced by his own board of directors for inflating the number of deaths in 2018 in order to get more US funding, received US$200,320. The Permanent Commission of Human Rights of Marcos Carmona received US$211,623. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), directed by Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, received US$1.8 million.”

Also on the long list is the Central American University (UCA) which received $43,259.

Monica Baltodano’s “Fundación Popol Na” received US$207,762 from the US government. Violeta Granera’s “Movement for Nicaragua” received funds of US$803,154. The Arias Foundation of Oscar Arias, former Costa Rica president, which received US$209,050, is also on that list.

All of this adds up to US$16,180,410.

According to Grigsby, so far in 2020 the National Endowment for Democracy (Fundación Nacional para la Democracia in Spanish) has distributed US$986,858. This included US$125,000 for Grupo “CINCO”, US$40,000 for the “Fundacion Violeta Barrios de Chamorro,” US$48,865 for the “Fundacion para La Paz y La Democracia (FUNPADEM) and the “human rights” groups that have been funded consistently by the US since the 1980s – CPDH – US$80,000 and ANPDH – US$50,000. (Radiolaprimerisima, 7/5/20)

Rio Coco Becomes First Geopark in Central America Declared by UNESCO
This July 7th, the designation of the new “Río Coco Geopark” to the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks was approved during the 209th Session of the UNESCO Executive Board. The Rio Coco Geopark becomes the eighth Geopark in Latin America, and the first in Central America. The UNESCO Geoparks Division states that the Rio Coco Geopark has twelve geosites of international geological and landscape relevance” and enjoys “a unique territory that integrates geological, aesthetic and cultural values to promote Sustainable Tourism, Education and Research.” The designation of the Rio Coco Geopark aims to strengthen the relationship of the local population to its natural environment, to stimulate the creation of innovative local businesses, to create new sources of income through Geotourism, and to give rise to sustainable territorial management of natural resources in special connection with Mother Earth. (19Digital, 7/7/30)

Safest Country in Central America
Nicaragua continues to have the lowest homicide rate in the region, by far, with 8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants during the first six months of 2020. Surveillance and patrolling have been strengthened in places where incidents have occurred frequently. Police blows to organized crime and international drug trafficking have been constant, carrying out 9,857 operations from January to June 2020. Commissioner General Jaime Vanegas said, “During the first semester of 2020, we have taken from organized crime and national and international drug trafficking 146 firearms, 158 land vehicles, three water vehicles, 120 million dollars. In the first half of 2020, twenty police units were inaugurated in Boaco, San Pedro del Norte, San Juan del Río Coco, in Madriz, Jalapa, in Nueva Segovia, in Managua, and a new regional delegation for the Autonomous Region of the Southern Caribbean Coast was opened.” (Informe Pastran, 7/6/20)

IMF Highlights Government Actions Against Covid-19
An recent analysis by the International Monetary Fund on the fight

against COVID-19 in Nicaragua highlights that confirmed cases have been treated in accordance with international protocols and that the government has implemented measures, including the declaration of a national alert state, the implementation of epidemiological surveillance protocols at the national level and sanitary control measures at land, air and sea entry points in accordance with international protocols.

“The Ministry of Health monitors and provides weekly reports on the status of outbreaks. Health personnel have received training on prevention, detection, containment and treatment of COVID-19 and have exchanged experiences on these issues with international experts,” the multilateral agency’s analysis states.

The IMF continues, “The government has continued to prioritize programs to strengthen the social safety net, including the provision of food packages among vulnerable families. Sixty thousand food packages were distributed in April.”

The IMF also notes that “on June 19, 2020, the Superintendency of Banks and Other Financial Institutions (SIBOIF) issued a temporary financial regulation, allowing banks and other financial institutions to negotiate, at the request of their clients, an increase in the maturity of their loans and/or a moratorium on monthly payments of up to 6 months on loans granted before March 31, 2020, subject to certain guarantees. Borrowers may request to benefit from this until Dec. 31, 2020.” “The SIBOIF issued another temporary financial regulation that reduced the minimum monthly payment for credit cards from 3 to 2% of total debt, including interest. This measure will be in effect until March 31, 2021,” notes the IMF. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/30/20)

Deaths from Covid Continue to Decrease
As of July 7 Nicaragua has had a total of 2,411 confirmed cases of Covid-19. 1,993 people are known to have recuperated from Covid. And there have been a total of 91 deaths giving Nicaragua a mortality rate from Covid-19 of 1.4 per 100,000.

80 Mobile Clinics Bring Health to the People
Vice President Rosario Murillo reported that Nicaragua has 80 new mobile clinics to bring health and life to families. She reported, “New mobile clinics have been renovated, others are completely new for a total of 80 that will be mobilized throughout the country in health fairs. Their interiors, the equipment and even the stretchers are beautiful.” (19Digital, 7/5/20)

New Equipment for 19 hospitals
The Government purchased new special equipment for intensive care units for the 19 public hospitals prepared to treat Covid patients including 70 new ventilators with monitors, 40 new ICU beds, stretchers for transporting patients and 40 ultrasound machines. The ventilators are important for very serious Covid patients as well as for other serious respiratory conditions. (19Digital, 7/6/20)

New Book to Be Launched Before July 19
The new book from international solidarity, “The Revolution Will Not Be Stopped: Nicaragua Advances Despite U.S. Unconventional Warfare,” will launch on July 15 in Spanish and English and will be on AFGJ.org and Tortillaconsal.com websites in honor of the forty-first anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution – July 19. Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton were interviewed on Channel 4’s Live Magazine with Alberto Mora and said that the book is a continuation of “Nicaragua 2018: Uprising or Coup” published last year and available in virtual mode on the same sites. McCurdy explained that the book builds on the previous book, which was an effort to raise awareness in the United States and Europe about what really happened in 2018. The objective of the new book is to share the advances of the Sandinista revolution including programs to end poverty and provide excellent health care, education, recreation and more; the Nicaraguan government achieved much of this in 2019 despite US unconventional warfare – a war made with lies spread through corporate media and Nicaraguan media, organizations and individuals paid by the US.

The book’s themes include economic and social progress, peace and reconciliation, the environment, tourism and development, environmental protection, achievements for women as well as US intervention in Nicaragua in 2019, and more. The chapter on the Popular Economy shows how a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist economic model is being developed. Transverse themes are the efforts to end poverty and improve the lives of those traditionally marginalized like women, Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean peoples. It is written by a collective of writers who are also investigators and activists dedicated to finding and sharing the truth about US intervention in Nicaragua.  Sefton added that it brings together different perspectives on issues of national interest, which will not be found elsewhere. McCurdy pointed out the great strides the government made in 2019 to achieve reconciliation and peace in order to have wellbeing for all the people. (19Digital, 7/6/20)