Raul Sandelin in a San Diego filmmaker, journalist, and educator. He first went to Nicaragua in the 1980s to support the Sandinista revolution and worked on several projects between Matagalpa, San Ramon, and Mulukukú.
DATELINE…Managua, Nicaragua (July 19, 1989) I was standing in the Plaza of the Revolution for the 10th anniversary of the Sandinista-led triumph over the Somoza dictatorship. The crowd spilled across the Plaza, in every direction, and down the side streets. I’d attended many stadium-size events in the U.S. and I remember estimating attendance in Managua around 100,000. For this reason, I was startled when I saw American newspapers declaring that attendance was low (Code for the Sandinistas are losing popularity). One paper even ran a photo of a scrappy, straggly crowd, a much smaller crowd than the one I stood amongst in Managua on July 19, 1989.
The accompanying headline asked, “Why so few people?” A snarky pun on the Sandinistas’ campaign slogan at the time. The photo was real and hadn’t been doctored. But, here’s the problem: It was taken an easy three hours BEFORE the Anniversary celebrations began! Unfortunately, the dominant image that the average American newspaper reader was left with was the anemic clusters of supporters who began to gather three hours early. This off-time (and tone deaf) photo from 1989 is a good metaphor for NPR’s September 2023 coverage of Nicaragua today.
The great jazz drummer Buddy Rich once said that the difference between brilliance and incompetence is only a fraction of a second. That is to say, the difference is split-second timing. So, if incompetence is determined in a fraction of a second, what would one call a photo that was taken three hours too early? Not the “money shot”!
This is a sampling error: Of all the photos taken in Managua that day, the U.S. major dailies chose to print a photo that was taken three hours too early. The photo wasn’t representative of the “reality of the event,” the fact that the event was attended by an overflow crowd of 100,000 plus.
It is not my intent here to teach Data Analysis or Journalism 101 to the producers of NPR’s Sunday Story. But their recent coverage of 2023 Nicaragua falls into the problems with “sampling errors” that the U.S. newspapers ran into in 1989.
In September 2023, NPR’s Sunday Story interviewed a Nicaraguan-American journalist Eyder Peralta about Peralta’s recent travels to his country of birth. Members of his family left Nicaragua for the U.S. during the U.S.-funded Contra War of the 1980s. In both Peralta’s NPR podcast interview and resulting transcript/article, he emphasizes that there is a pall of “fear” currently hanging over Nicaragua. He talks of slipping into the country via a “jungle outpost.” The transcript version included a poster of a kneeling person about to be executed by firing squad. (The poster is 50 years old from the early 1970s.) And just like the photo taken of the crowd in Managua in 1989, the timing was way off. But only the very astute insiders would notice. The NPR-listening public wouldn’t! The emotional damage was done: Nicaragua was a place filled with “fear” in 2023, according to NPR.
I’m not saying that NPR’s reporting is false. If NPR were to release 20 articles simultaneously, then the Peralta piece would help create a “total picture” as 20 different subjectivities coalesce to create something closer to the objectivity. (I’ll agree that Peralta’s reporting represents about 5% or 1/20th of the total Truth.) Unfortunately, there aren’t 20 media pieces about Nicaragua released simultaneously. Therefore, the duty of the Peralta’s journalism should be to be as objective as possible as a stand-alone! Instead of representing 5% of the Truth, he should be striving for some closer to 100%
Just as the photo taken in 1989 was REAL, I’ll trust that NPR’s “man in Managua” Eyder Peralta is reporting accurately what he saw and heard. All I can say is that I traveled to Nicaragua in August 2023, about the same time as Peralta. And what I saw was the complete OPPOSITE of NPR’s reporting. My eye-witness account is SO different from what NPR/Peralta observed that I’m forced to ask if we’re even talking about the same Nicaragua. (For the record, in August 2023, I visited the Nicaragua located in Central America, south of Honduras and north of Costa Rica.)
During my trip in August 2023, I traveled on buses, taxis, and private transport. I took over 300 photos…Evangelical preachers, friendly police officers, daily life in Mulukukú (another “jungle outpost”), volleyball games at the local gym, $12 lobster at a local restaurant, lots of political discussions with my extended family of 30ish on both sides of the Sandinista/opposition divide. I even took a photo of General Sandino INSIDE the international airport. (Peralta, a photo-journalist if I remember, had a hard time taking photos.) One of the things I didn’t do was see “Barbie” nor “Oppenheimer,” which were playing in the university town of Leon when I visited there.
Upon my return to the States, I felt compelled to write both Eyder Peralta and Sunday Story’s Ayesha Rascoe. Peralta sent me a polite, curt response and pointed out that 400,000 NIcas have left Nicaragua. He didn’t provide a time frame. Ms. Rascoe and the Sunday Story failed to respond.
Here are my letters:
Dear Mr. Peralta:
I listened to your appearance on NPR’s The Sunday Show and read the subsequent article. And I need to say that … I was in Nicaragua in Aug 2023 and had the completely opposite experience from what you had. (Please see attached samples of my Facebook posts.) Like you, I have strong family ties in Nicaragua and first visited the country 35 years ago. Also, like you, I have a large, extended family in Nicaragua, including family members on all sides of the political discussion. So, I’m fairly certain I got an “objective” view of the current state of the country…which, as I said, is the complete OPPOSITE of the impression you received. Most sincerely…
PS- Also, I have 300 photos that I freely took in virtually every type of public space in the country. I’d be happy to share in the correct context!!!
Dear Ms Rascoe-
Would you be willing to let me or someone come on your show to provide some “journalistic balance” to your recent, very biased reporting on Nicaragua? Like the NPR journo Eyder Peralta, I too have longstanding personal and family ties to Nic. I vacationed in Nic in Aug 2023 (about the same time you interviewed Peralta). What I saw was the completely OPPOSITE of what Peralta saw. I traveled freely around the country, took 300 photos, including government facilities, and got lots of smiling hugs…even from the police (see pic). Let me know if NPR is serious about presenting accurate, unbiased reporting on Nicaragua. Most sincerely…Raul Sandelin
As I’ve said, Peralta saw a different reality than I did. Peralta saw fear. I saw giggling schoolchildren running across the new puentes peatonales (pedestrian bridges) that dot the highways. Peralta saw jungle outposts. I saw an AM-PM minimart and gas station franchise at what Hollywood might call a “jungle outpost.”
Another problem with NPR’s parallel-universe (parallel to mine!) is how Nicaragua reporting is framed and presented on NPR’s Sunday Story, a news program that both appeals to the Whole-Foods-Trust-Fund-Brat progs who listen to NPR while appeasing the Koch-Bro parents who created those Trust Funds and now help fund NPR, engaging the Gen Z Left while “getting tough on Communism” for Daddy.
This creates the scenario in which NPR-type news services have to say something bad about “Daniel Ortega,” the political Right’s singular straw man for a country of six million people. So just when NPR gets a little too bratty about gender pronouns and other “cultural issues,” the producers balance out their politics by sitting on Trust Fund Daddy’s lap to show that NPR can applaud the bombing of “Third World ” countries like the big Hawks.
Sandolin notes that churches are everywhere in Sandinista Nicaragua. Here is a Pentacostal preacher who boards the buses that stop in his small town. While people climb on and off, he gives a quick, two minute sermon before jumping off as the bus pulls away.
Full disclosure…This isn’t my first Nicaraguan rodeo. I was an “international brigadista” in the 1980s, working around Matagalpa and Mulukukú. Some may say this proves my bias. But I would counter that I have a VERY objective view of the country I’ve been intimately tied to for 35 years. I’ve done a lot of soul searching during those 35 years. And I must admit: I had my doubts about the Sandinistas (FSLN) at times, especially during the years (1990-2007) when the opposition UNO was in power. The low point was when the FSLN made a pact -of-convenience with remnants of Somoza’s old “Liberal” party.
Now, make no mistake: The FSLN is back! And yes, my vacation to Nicaragua indeed felt like I was visiting a tropical version of Switzerland. (The new Nica roads BTW feel like the Autobahn.) Too bad NPR reported on “another” Nicaragua.
Yet alas, there is one other thing I didn’t get to do in Nicaragua (I already told you I missed the Barbiheimer outbreak in Leon)… and that is: I couldn’t buy a Snickers candy bar. (And I love Snickers bars!) So did the lady behind the counter. Remember the AM-PM minimart by the “jungle outpost” of Matiguas?
Well, the lady behind the counter at the AM-PM used to live in Boston. (After years in the States, she decided to move back to Nicaragua and work at an AM-PM in the jungle…all the while wearing a Boston Bruins hockey jersey, which sort of started the conversation because I like hockey.) And she loved Snickers bars! I laughed and said, “You’re one of the supposed 400,000 who escaped ‘Daniel’s Dungeon’?”
“Yes, but I’ve decided to return!”
“So have I,” I said.
By Nan McCurdy
Nicaragua Joins South Africa’s Israel Case at World Court
Nicaragua along with Bolivia and Venezuela have joined South Africa’s genocide lawsuit against Israel for the war in Gaza. The Nicaraguan statement says, “Nicaragua considers that the legal action against Israel at the ICJ is a concrete step in compliance with the legal obligations that each state party to the Genocide Convention has the right and duty to take, and is also the first step towards accountability before the international community. As a State Party to the Genocide Convention, Nicaragua urges Israel to fulfill its obligations under International Law and to immediately cease its military assault against the Palestinian People. Nicaragua also calls for an end to the occupation and for the establishment of conditions for a lasting and permanent solution that respects the 1967 borders with a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.” See the official Nicaraguan government statement: https://www.tortillaconsal.com/bitacora/node/3292 and in Spanish: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/gobierno-sandinista-respalda-demanda-de-sudafrica-contra-israel/ (La Primerisima, 9 January 2024, Tortilla con Sal)
Nicaragua Has Best Structure for Investment
The former president of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), Dante Mossi said last week that, in practical terms, Nicaragua for many years has had the best structure to implement investment projects.
In a publication through his social networks, Mossi stated that Nicaragua is a partner of CABEI and an owner of 10.6% of the total shares. This entitles the country to an estimated US$600 to US$800 million per year in development loans. Mossi explained that the active portfolio is disbursed in a well-planned and financially ordered manner, with a very strong fiduciary filter, which avoids contracting with counterparties prohibited by international sanctions regimes. The object of the financing is to improve the lives of the general population. Mossi described a visit to a road project in the area of El Crucero municipality, in the Department of Managua, where a village was built adjacent to the road. Mossi said, “I asked a neighbor of the area who was waiting for the bus, what impact the road project had had for him, and he told me: “it changed my life.” This gentleman told him that before the execution of the project he lived in a precarious house and that now it is made of brick and cement, with access to electricity, water, sanitation, and transportation.
Mossi also recalled that he went to the city of Leon, where he visited what is one of the largest hospitals in the region and which has many specialties, evidently referring to the Oscar Danilo Rosales Hospital. He noted that a private businessman told him that his preference was this public hospital. He added that during a tour of Panama he was very surprised when he met a contractor who greeted him and congratulated him because CABEI was supporting Nicaragua’s rural electrification projects, and that Nicaragua became the second country in the region with the greatest attention to citizens providing them with electricity service.
Among his other anecdotes, he tells of his first experience in Nicaragua in 2003, when he worked at the World Bank. On that occasion and after a day’s work, he came to see Lake Managua and upon seeing the beautiful aquifer, he lowered the window of the car and was appalled by the foul smell coming from this natural wonder. However, he said that he returned to Managua in 2019 as president of CABEI for a meeting. In the evening, he visited a restaurant located on the shore of the same lake and detected no bad smell, but a refreshing breeze in the heat of Managua. One of his companions told him that many things had changed in Nicaragua and that CABEI has contributed to this. Several sanitation plants were installed to ensure that the lake did not receive raw sewage from Managua’s sewers and this restored dignity to the lake that bathes the city and the Momotombo volcano. (La Primerisima, 5 January 2024)
Pablo Ubeda Hospital Opens in Juigalpa
On Jan. 5 the people of Boaco, Chontales, Río San Juan, Zelaya Central and Bluefields will receive their new hospital. It is modern, fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and will function also as a Medical Clinic administered by the Ministry of Health in the city of Juigalpa. The hospital has been named after the legendary Sandinista guerrilla Pablo Úbeda, which was the nom de guerre of Rigoberto Cruz, who was born in 1941 in La Libertad, Chontales, and fell in combat in the Battle of Pancasán on August 27, 1967. With an investment by the Sandinista Government of 581 million córdobas, the Comandante Pablo Úbeda Hospital has 80 beds, an outpatient building, diagnostic and emergency areas, two operating rooms, and an intensive care unit, among others. It also has state-of-the-art equipment for laparoscopic surgeries, ultrasound, X-rays, mammography, electromyography, endoscopy, colonoscopy, electrocardiography, and others. The new hospital will serve more than 53,500 people from Boaco, Chontales, Río San Juan, Zelaya Central and Bluefields. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/este-viernes-estrenan-hospital-pablo-ubeda-en-juigalpa/
(La Primerisima, 4 January 2024)
Advances in the Use of Braille
David Lopez, national president of the Maricela Toledo Organization of the Blind of Nicaragua, said that the progress in the use of the Braille system in Nicaragua is significant. As of 2021, teachers who graduate from teacher training schools graduate with knowledge about the Braille System. Speaking as part of the commemoration of World Braille Day on January 4, Lopez explained that teachers also have the preparation to serve students with visual impairment in their own communities. Lopez said that, as of June 30, 2023, the government created the Carlos Fonseca Training Center for Public Servants, where teachers receive continuing education on issues related to people with disabilities, including basic knowledge of the Braille System. He said that it is important because it allows the public servants to know the reality of people with disabilities. (La Primerisima, 4 January 2024)
20,000 High School Students Pre-Registered at UNAN-Managua
The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in Managua now has more than 20,000 high school graduates pre-registered online for the academic year 2024. This year, UNAN Managua has 16,750 spots for students in the 73 specialties that make up the educational offer. The aptitude test evaluating the skills and knowledge of prospective students is scheduled for January 19, 2024 and the results of the admission process will be announced on February 2nd. UNAN Managua offers specialties including Environmental, Civil, and Industrial Engineering; Industrial Chemistry; Pharmacy; Psychology; Banking and Finance; Public Accounting; Business Administration; Tourism and Hotel Administration; and Agricultural Economics, among others. A highlight is that the education at this institution is completely free, thus providing equal opportunities for access to higher education. (La Primerisima, 8 January 2024)
Backpacks and Materials Ready for 2024 School Year
Vice President Rosario Murillo reported on Jan. 8 that the government is ready to start distributing backpacks and school materials for the 2024 educational cycle which begins soon. These will go to approximately one million students. Sixty thousand briefcases and other materials will go to teachers. Murillo explained that the school kits contain pencils, pens, colored pencils, erasers, notebooks, blocks, glue, cards, everything that is required for classes. (La Primerisima, 8 January 2024)
Tourism Grew in 2023
The Nicaragua Tourism Board (INTUR) reported that 1.1 million tourists visited the country in 2023, contributing US$600 million to the national economy, an 18.1% increase over the previous year. INTUR Co-director Anasha Campbell stated that “the results obtained reflect the level of recovery and growth that Nicaragua tourism is experiencing. This is largely due to an increase in the quantity and quality of the national offer and the expansion of air connectivity to Nicaragua.” (Nicaragua News, 9 January 2024)
Promoting Greater Female Entrepreneurship
The director of the government microloan program called Zero Usury, Leonor Corea, reported that, in 2023, US$73 million was provided to 156,500 women to install or expand small businesses in the 153 municipalities of the country, promoting female entrepreneurship and thus expanding the contribution of the program to the revitalization of the national economy. The Zero Usury program is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model, that the government is implementing in support of female entrepreneurship. (Nicaragua News, 9 January 2024)
Government to Build 428 Sports Infrastructure Projects
During 2024 the government will execute 428 projects to promote sports and recreation, including construction of new facilities and rebuilding of existing sports facilities. A report details that among the projects to be built, improved or repaired are 153 stadiums, 119 sports courts, 20 multipurpose sports centers, 77 sports fields, 13 gymnasiums, 29 sports centers, 6 swimming pools and water parks. Eleven plots of land will also be acquired to build new sports facilities. To see the complete list go to: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/gobierno-ejecutara-428-proyectos-en-la-promocion-del-deporte-en-2024/ (La Primerisima, 8 January 2024)
President Ortega Has Highest Approval Rating in Recent Years
The administration of President Daniel Ortega’s government reached the highest approval in recent years with 83.4%, according to the latest opinion poll released on Jan. 8 by the firm M&R Consultores. According to the company, Ortega has sustained a growth in the citizens’ approval, highlighting as positive the public policies promoted during his administration. “President Ortega in his second year, during his first term, in December 2008, had 34.5% approval; then in his second term, in December 2013, he had 65.3%, increasing by 30 points; in December 2018, despite the attempted coup, he remained at 54.6%, lower than the second term, down a few points, but he is always above 50%. And today in the second year of his fourth period, his approval rating is 83.4%, that is, it is the best rated government period of the last 30 years of the country,” highlighted Obregón, head of M&R Consultores. The poll indicated that 87.3% consider that the Ortega government works for the interests of the population in general and that 84.3% consider that the President seeks unity and reconciliation among Nicaraguans. (La Primerisima, 9 January 2024)