NicaNotes: NPR Should Ask Where Nicaraguan Non-Profits Get Their Money

By John Perry
(This article was originally published on May 24th by CounterPunch here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/24/npr-should-ask-where-nicaraguan-non-profits-money-comes-from/ )

Imagine what would happen if the US media discovered that a candidate in the mid-term elections was under investigation by the FBI for receiving money from a foreign government. Then, suppose it was one that’s hostile to the US, perhaps Syria or Iran, and that the same government was also covertly funding election coverage in, say, Fox News. How would the rest of the media respond? By claiming that the candidate’s democratic rights were under threat from the FBI? Or by expressing shock and horror at foreign interference in US elections and urging the FBI to arrest the culprits?

The answer is obvious, but why aren’t the shock and horror also evident when US media identify foreign meddling in an election somewhere else? If the meddling is by the US government, ever quick to accuse Russia if there’s any suggestion that it’s interfering in US politics, then there is also gross hypocrisy to be exposed. As a Scottish minister of justice once said (in relation to the US’s contorted involvement in Libya), ‘the US sadly often adopts a position of seeking to enforce standards on others that it will not accept or abide by itself.’ Time and again the US media also fail to hold the government to the standards they apply to other countries.

Take the case of Nicaragua. It has elections coming in November and has just introduced reforms to make its electoral process clearer and improve the tracking of the results so that any scope for fraudulence is further minimized. Another reform is a ‘foreign agents’ law which prohibits foreign funding of politicians and obliges NGOs receiving money from abroad to show how it is being used. It is similar too but less stringent than the US’s own Foreign Agents Registration Act (known as FARA), passed originally in 1938 and now accompanied by at least four other related laws. Despite these precedents, the US State Department, in full hypocrisy mode, said in February that the new law ‘drives Nicaragua toward dictatorship, silencing independent voices’. It has also criticized Nicaragua for suppressing political demonstrations when it merely requires organizers to get police permission, even while the US has itself been criticized recently by a United Nations expert for ‘the wave of anti-protest laws’ that is ‘spreading through the country’.

This week, a budding presidential election candidate and head of an NGO, Cristiana Chamorro, was under investigation by Nicaragua’s interior ministry for incorrect use of foreign funding. Chamorro was head of a non-profit, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, which she closed in February saying that she refused to comply with the foreign agents law. The US State Department cited this as evidence that Ortega intends to ‘take the country further away from free and fair elections in November’, describing the Chamorro foundation as a ‘bastion of free expression’. The Chamorros, one of Nicaragua’s richest and most influential families, also control the only daily newspaper, La Prensa, as well as the digital newspaper Confidencial; both are deeply hostile to the Sandinista government and are widely quoted by the international press.

The Chamorro foundation is being investigated because it has received over US$6 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2015, of which US$3.7 million is specifically to influence this year’s Nicaraguan elections. The funding is passed on to some 25 opposition media outlets, several owned by the Chamorro family itself. For example, Confidencial and Esta Semana, both owned by Cristiana Chamorro’s brother, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who is also under investigation, received about US$2 million. The Chamorros have received US money from other sources too: for example, both Confidencial and their think tank CINCO received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is a quasi-autonomous US agency funded by the US government, in the run-up to the violent coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018. Even in 2021, USAID money has been distributed to opposition media which were important players in the violence three years ago.

How was the announcement of the Chamorro investigation handled by the US media? NPR led the way by immediately following the State Department’s line. Its report from Mexico by correspondent Carrie Kahn, headed Ortega Targets Opposition Figures, called the investigation ‘the latest move by President Daniel Ortega to crackdown on critics’ ahead of the elections.’ Kahn seems to have written little about Nicaragua before except, ten days earlier, when she claimed that ‘citizens are working to expose Covid’s real toll in Nicaragua as leaders claim success’, without making it clear that the ‘citizens’ are small opposition political groups, or that her co-writer on that story, Wilfredo Miranda, also writes for Confidencial.

In her latest piece, Kahn found no reason to mention that in the United States a similar NGO to Chamorro’s would have to comply with similar legislation. Nor did she point out that the US government has made numerous recent investigations of foreign funding under FARA and related regulations, while this is believed to be the first use of Nicaragua’s new law. The US government has also been accused of using these investigations to ‘attack’ non-profit bodies whose work appears to challenge government policies, for example on environmental issues. In other words, Nicaragua is simply making the same checks on foreign influence on its elections that would be made in the United States and in many other countries.

Even more bizarrely, NPR never thought to ask where the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation’s money actually comes from. Unsurprisingly, when the State Department praised the foundation, it failed to mention that the US government gives it millions of dollars each year. Yet an independent journalist such as Kahn should surely have asked this very basic question, especially as this was the reason for the interior ministry’s investigation and the funding sources can be found in public documents.

Instead of investigating the source of Cristiana Chamorro’s money, NPR unquestioningly repeats her claim that ‘she has always been honest and transparent in her foundation’s accounting’. NPR goes on to say that ‘the police raids and the allegations of money laundering against Cristiana Chamorro are the latest moves by Ortega to quash the opposition and close avenues for valid candidacies in the upcoming presidential race’. It gives no credence to their being legitimate investigations of the kind that might be carried out in similar circumstances in the US. Instead, it is taken for granted that Nicaragua’s interior ministry is simply up to no good. NPR is committed to ‘accuracy’, ‘fairness’ and ‘completeness’ in its reporting. Yet its failure to ask basic questions in this case has produced a one-sided picture that reinforces the false image of Nicaragua portrayed by its opposition politicians and by the US State Department.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

Foundation Investigated for Money Laundering
On May 20 the Ministry of the Interior (MIGOB) which investigates possible crime, summoned Cristiana María Chamorro, daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and legal representative of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, to answer for inconsistencies found in the group’s financial reports from 2015 to 2019. The public prosecutor is investigating the Foundation for money laundering. And on May 24 Chamorro’s banks accounts were frozen as part of the investigation. The Foundation received millions in recent years from the US and European countries.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided US$5.99 million to this foundation since 2015 that was then distributed to 25 opposition media outlets, active in the attempted coup of 2018. More than US$2 million was provided to media outlets belonging to the Chamorro family such as the only Nicaraguan daily newspaper, La Prensa, where Chamorro is vice president and part owner, and an online outlet, Confidential, which belongs to Chamorro’s brother, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. More than US$3.67 million was provided to opposition media in 2020 and 2021 to help them influence the elections scheduled for this November. Chamorro says she is a presidential candidate but no legally recognized party has yet named her as its candidate.

In February, Chamorro said she was closing the Foundation because she did not want to report what it received and how it was spent. This requirement is part of the new Foreign Agents Law which requires nonprofits that receive money from abroad to file reports on the money. It is similar to the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) in the US. This action by the Ministry of the Interior is based on the control, regulation and monitoring of non-profit organizations, granted by Law 147 General Law on Non-Profit Legal Entities, Law 977 Law Against Money Laundering, Financing of Terrorism in its Article 37 and Decree No. 15-2018 Regulation of Law 977 in its Article 13. (Radio La Primerisima, 20 May 2021)

New Poll Finds Broad Support for Sandinista Government
An M&R Consultores survey released on May 25 found 68.9% of the population approves of President Daniel Ortega’s administration. The same study indicates that 73% of the population say that the Sandinista government generates hope and 75.9% consider that the situation in the country is better than 14 years ago. Sixty-one percent consider that Nicaraguans would be better off with an FSLN government. FSLN Party political sympathy at this moment is 46.7%, and soft sympathy is at 22.6% for a current total possible of 69.3% in the elections. Four percent support an opposition organization and adding in their soft sympathy of 17.4% they could reach a total support of 21.4%. Just over 92 percent of those consulted have a voter identification card. Ninety percent say that under no circumstances should economic and social stability be sacrificed. Regarding presidential reelection, 85.7% say that in a democracy if the people decide in favor, politicians can be reelected to a new term. Report in Spanish: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/ENCUESTA.pdf (Radio La Primerisima, 25 May 2021)

Some 237,500 COVID-19 Vaccines Applied
The Health Ministry has applied nationwide more than 237,500 doses of vaccines against the Coronavirus since the beginning of national vaccination with the immunization of people over sixty years of age or with kidney, heart and cancer diseases. The head of MINSA, Dr. Martha Reyes said that the population over 55 years old and employees of institutions that directly serve the population are also being immunized. The government intends to vaccinate the largest number of people possible as it continues to purchase vaccines. (Radio La Primerisima, 20 May 2021)

Nicaragua Approves Sputnik Light
The Health Ministry (MINSA) announced on May 19 that Nicaragua has authorized the Sputnik Light vaccine for emergency use against COVID-19. Health Minister Martha Reyes explained that “MINSA has approved the Sputnik Light vaccine manufactured by the Gamaleya Research Center of Russia for emergency use.” The Minister noted that the single-dose vaccine is 79.4% effective in preventing the disease, has shown high efficacy against new strains of SARS-CoV-2, and increases immunity for people with pre-existing antibodies when they have already contracted the virus. (Nicaragua News, 20 May 2021)

Nicaragua Continues to Take Health Care to the People
The Health Ministry announced that as part of the “My Hospital for my Community” Health Campaign, medical brigades and mobile clinics from departmental hospitals will carry out 90,060 medical consultations and surgeries in 840 communities this week, benefiting at least 90,060 inhabitants. This is part of the Family and Community Health care Model implemented throughout the country. (Nicaragua News, 19 May 2021)

World Bank to Invest in Peanut Production
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group announced that it will invest US$65 million annually in the Nicaragua Peanut Marketing Corporation (COMASA). The IFC Central America General Manager, Sanaa Abouzaid, explained that “IFC investment in the largest peanut processing and exporting company in Nicaragua is intended to safeguard rural livelihoods, improve agricultural resilience, preserve the competitiveness of the country in this sector and protect thousands of jobs.” For his part, the COMASA General Manager, Joaquín Zavala, stated “the financing will allow COMASA to continue strengthening operations, exports and access to global markets.” (Nicaragua News, 19 May 2021)

400,000 Agricultural and Livestock Packages Provided this Year
The Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), is providing 400,000 agricultural and livestock production packages this year. This is to improve productivity levels and yields with seeds, animals, equipment, training, etc. The impact that all policies have had on production has been remarkable. From 2007 to date, agricultural production has grown by 76%, the agricultural sector has grown by 86% and livestock 65%. Last year, despite the pandemic and hurricanes, the 2020-2021 agricultural cycle was very positive with growth rates between 6% and 9%. (Radio La Primerisima, 24 May 2021)

Nicaragua Awarded for Innovative Project in Solentiname Islands
The Viva Plastic Free Solentiname sustainable tourism project received the “2020 Excellence in Tourism” Award, during the “2020 Excellence Awards” at the International Tourism Fair of Spain (Fitur 2021) held the week of May 10. Created by the international communication conglomerate “Grupo Excelencias,” the Award evaluates innovative projects in the fields of tourism, art, and culture. Solentiname is an archipelago of 36 islands in Nicaragua’s Lake Cocibolca. (Nicaragua News, 24 May 2021)

Nicaragua Pyramid May Be One of the Oldest in the Americas
The discovery of the pyramid of Garrobo Grande in the department of Chontales more than 35 years ago by archaeologist Jorge Espinoza Estrada, may be one of the oldest in the Americas and others may stem from a common trunk here. It was built long before Tenochtitlan in Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru, according to studies. It is a pyramidal construction of three tiers that are 30 by 40 meters in diameter and 6 meters high. It is the most rustic structure in America, because the other pyramidal structures use some substance to hold the stones together. In this one there is no such cementing substance and Expinoza Estrada says it is the only one with these characteristics in America. For the Nicaraguan archaeologist, the first time that steps were built in all America was there in Chontales. Espinosa Estrada believes it is the oldest in Mesoamerica. He discovered the pyramid at the beginning of the eighties, thanks to a map elaborated by Fermín Ferrer, a cartographer who was provisional president of Nicaragua for 21 days in 1856. Years later, in 2003, the same Espinosa Estrada returned to the site, this time accompanied by a team of 45 people. (Radio La Primerisima, 25 May 2021)

Opposition News
Former Liberal presidential candidate, Enrique Quiñónez maintains that the UNAB-MRS Coalition [The MRS is the Sandinista Renovation Movement that broke off from the FSLN in 1994 together with other opposition members], is now pressuring CXL (Citizens for Freedom Party), to let them use their political party spot. “What we see is a pitiful situation for them, the problem is not the Sandinista Front, the problem is those who don’t admit their own problem and blame others. This is an opposition that has left much to be desired; they are clumsy and they are demonstrating it until the last moment,” commented Quiñonez.  Quiñónez, of Radio 800, went on to say, “Ms. Cristiana Chamorro, this is a serious accusation of money laundering. I have been hearing for some time about the dances of dollars in different nonprofits through the channels mainly of the US government, USAID. With all the money that came to them in 2018 – there was a great deal. Logically, when this government says give me a report there are going to be inconsistencies related to bank transfers, bank reports and financial reports of the nonprofit accountants. Or inconsistencies in what was given to whom because there are some so-called independent media that receive a lot, a lot of money to keep a lot of people’s nerves on edge.”

Former advisor of the UNAB-MRS, Bonifacio Miranda said on May 24 in a local TV channel that the opposition is still dispersed. One group continues attacking another. “There is a lot of noise and no action, no strategy, just dirty attacks one against the other,” he commented. José Antonio Peraza of the UNAB-MRS Coalition said on a radio program that the Coalition is analyzing alternatives such as talking with other parties in order to run in the elections, such as the PLC, ALN or PLI, parties which they have been attacking for years. (Informe Pastran, 25 May 2021)

COVID-19 Report Week of May 18 to 24, 2021
The Health Ministry had 102 new registered cases of Covid-19; 77 people recuperated and there was one death. Since March 2020 there have been 5,833 registered cases of Covid, 5,516 people have recuperated and there have been 186 deaths. (Nicaragua News, 25, May 2021)

Report Finds 209 Million More Poor in 2020
In a new annual report, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, estimates that the number of poor people in the region rose to 209 million by the end of 2020, which is 22 million more people than in the previous year. In addition, it calls for creating new welfare state measures in each country. Poverty and extreme poverty in Latin America reached levels in 2020 that had not been seen recent decades, while the indices of inequality in the region worsened along with unemployment, among women above all, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and despite the emergency social protection measures that countries have adopted to halt it.

The Executive Secretary of the United Nations regional commission, Alicia Bárcena, presented a new edition of the annual report Social Panorama of Latin America 2020. According to ECLAC’s new projections – as a result of the steep economic recession in the region, which will notch a -7.7% drop in GDP – it is estimated that in 2020 the extreme poverty rate was 12.5% while the poverty rate affected 33.7% of the population. The total number of poor people rose to 209 million by the end of 2020, affecting 22 million more people than in the previous year. Of that total, 78 million

The report indicates that the pandemic’s adverse impact on people’s income mainly affects lower and lower-middle income strata. Inequality in total income per person is expected to have grown in 2020, leading to the average Gini index of inequality being 2.9% higher than what was recorded in 2019. ECLAC urges moving towards a care society that would allow for guaranteeing an egalitarian and sustainable recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean.  https://www.cepal.org/en/pressreleases/pandemic-prompts-rise-poverty-levels-unprecedented-recent-decades-and-sharply-affects (ECLAC, 4 March 2021)