NicaNotes: ‘Unreported World’ and the misreporting of Nicaragua

By John Perry

John Perry UK citizen who lives in Masaya, Nicaragua where he works on housing and migration issues and writes about those and other topics covered in the Two Worlds blog. This piece was first published in the Two Worlds blog responding to a “news” show in the UK. Unfortunately it applies equally to the disinformation propagated by the corporate and progressive media in the US.

Despite the violent protests of a year ago, Managua has largely returned to normal. While never the most attractive capital city in Latin America, it remains one of the safest. There are more police on the streets than there were before last year’s violence, but most people find that reassuring. A recent opinion poll shows that the government maintains close to 60% support and that 85% of Nicaraguans would oppose any return to last year’s protests. Nevertheless, if you buy a newspaper, you’ll find it full of anti-government rhetoric. If you watch TV news, there’s a good chance you’ll find the same. According to the world-wide Committee to Protect Journalists, opposition media are in a stronger position than they were before the crisis.

But this is far from the picture painted in the UK by the Channel 4 series ‘Unreported World’. In a programme from Nicaragua called Censored, its presenter Sahar Zand skulks around Managua by taxi, hiding from mysterious pursuers and from the police. She claims it’s unsafe for her to travel in the same car as local reporters, and she keeps telling her photographer to hide their cameras. Journalists in Nicaragua, she says, risk being deported or killed. She finds police at the roadside ‘unsettling’. Avoiding walking in the streets, she says at one point that ‘Nicaragua may be a nation at war’.

There is a reason for this odd behaviour. Zand seems not to have come to Nicaragua to listen to different political opinions, she’s evidently here to endorse the image of the country presented by the anti-government media. Of the half dozen major opposition newspapers and TV channels, Zand picks three: La Prensa (a right-wing newspaper) and Canal 10 and 100%Noticias, TV news channels. The whole programme is devoted to and steered by these opposition sources; no one speaks up for the government or challenges the picture that Censored presents.

The team from La Prensa take her to the Divine Mercy church, scene of a siege during last year’s violence. They show her bullet holes, evidence that the ‘students’ who had sheltered there had come under fire from government forces. What they don’t explain is that the adjoining university, the UNAN, was at that time completely controlled by armed protesters. They had burned down parts of it and a child development centre was completely destroyed. The day before the armed gangs retreated to the church, they had launched a fusillade against a passing group of government supporters, injuring and hospitalising ten of them. It was hardly surprising that they were being sought by the police, given the weapons they were using (and the violence to which some of them confessed afterwards). Hundreds of weapons were recovered by police when the university was retaken.

Unreported World uses a video clip of a student at the UNAN, supposedly sheltering from gunfire last year, appealing to her mother to forgive her for getting involved in the protests. This clip was shared worldwide, but it was quickly shown to be play-acting, as any examination of media stories about it would have revealed. Another video, made during the same incident, shows a student ‘saying goodbye’ to his mother while ‘under fire’, yet others stand around casually, apparently indifferent to the bullets.

Sahar Zand moves on, to talk about 100%Noticias, whose director Miguel Mora is in prison on charges of inciting violence. The charges are treated as ridiculous, yet stem from real events.  On May 29 last year, Mora made the false claim on air that his TV studio was under attack by government sympathisers. He appealed for opposition activists to respond by attacking the Sandinista station, Nuevo Radio Ya. They did, setting it on fire, holding over 20 radio staff under siege and then shooting at firefighters and police attempting to control the fire and rescue those inside. Only the bravery of the rescue services prevented severe loss of life. The building was destroyed. Not long afterwards, on June 9, it was the turn of the independent Radio Nicaragua to be set on fire: such is the opposition’s respect for the diversity of Nicaragua’s media. These incidents and other attacks on government-supporting media and journalists go unmentioned by Unreported World.

Zand’s final port of call is Canal 10 (Channel 10), and its reporter Valeska Rivera. She says she is in constant fear of being killed, and is seen assuring her daughter that she will come home every night. In fact just two reporters have been killed as a result of the protests, both by opposition forces: one was Angel Gahona, shot by protesters in Bluefields; the other was Eduardo Spiegler, killed in Managua when he was filming youths demolishing one of the brightly lit ‘trees of life’ that were attacked as government symbols.

Canal 10 is also well-known for its false news stories. In March, Valeska Rivera was reporting from an opposition demonstration when she suddenly threw herself to the ground, taking shelter from a police ‘attack’. The incident was filmed by a bystander, and the clip shows that while Rivera and her colleague are lying prone, others stand nearby or sit on steps in the background, unaware of the ‘gunfire’. She went on to report that she had faced not only bullets but contact bombs. Despite this repression, as Zand points out, Canal 10 still ‘manages’ to broadcast three news bulletins per day, every day.

There is an irony in Censored being part of a series called ‘Unreported World’. Rather than tell a story that is genuinely unreported, Sahar Zand repeats the messages already purveyed by the BBC, the Guardian, New York Times, and the rest. She could have challenged the distorted coverage of Nicaragua found in most of the international media. As the results of recent polls have shown, she would have been reflecting the opinions most Nicaraguans. It’s a pity that when Sahar Zand was in Managua she didn’t get out more.

 

For more on this topic, see the media chapter of the online reader on the Nicaragua crisis, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, published in April 2019.

 

A fuller summary of the events at the UNAN, with links to evidence ignored by the programme, is given in pp.33-37 of the report Dismissing the Truth which is available here.

 

BRIEFS

By Nan McCurdy

Forensic Medicine Institute Says Remains are Bismarck Martinez
On June 4, experts at the Forensic Medicine Institute reported that the remains found near the Jinotepe Stadium belonged to Bismarck Martinez, after extensive DNA tests comparing the bones with family members. They have yet to say how he died as the bones are somewhat deteriorated and incomplete. Martinez was kidnapped at an opposition roadblock, tortured at the Catholic San Jose School in Jinotepe and disappeared. Martinez was a municipal worker and member of a Catholic Christian base community in Managua. After his disappearance, his grandson, Daniel Jose, began carrying a large picture of him to the twice weekly Sandinista Walks for Peace held between July and November of 2018. People were very moved and followed the family and the news. On the phones of various detainees caught last year the police found the videos of Martinez’ torture. The San Jose school was used to torture a number of Sandinistas, as can be seen in videos taken by the torturers. (Radiolaprimerisima.com 6/4/19, Esto Es Noticia 13, 5/29/18)

Nicaragua Beginning to Vaccinate Against Influenza
In the city of Leon, the Ministry of Health launched a National Vaccination Campaign against influenza. The goal is to vaccinate 215 children and elderly with chronic illnesses in the city. (El 19 Digital 6/4/19)

Guerilla Commander Raúl Venerio dies at 74
Raul Venerio Granera, who was one of the leaders of the popular uprising in Managua against Somoza and one of the leaders of the Strategic Retreat to Masaya on June 27, 1979, died of a terminal illness on June 2. He was 74. Venerio Granera was the founder of the Sandinista Air Force (1979-1984), and vice-president of the Inter-American Defense Board in 1986 in Washington, DC. He retired from the Nicaraguan Army in 1990 and currently served as Coordinator of Historic Sandinismo and Executive Secretary of the Reconciliation and Peace Commission which was previously presided over by Cardinal Miguel Obando. Venerio reentered Nicaragua from the US clandestinely in 1977 where he worked with Camilo Ortega, Nicho Marenco and others. To read more of this very interesting article: http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/263895/muere-el-comandante-guerrillero-raul-venerio-granera/  (Radiolaprimerisima.com, 6/3/19)

New Documentary about the Massacre in Morrito
In the town of Morrito, Department of Rio San Juan, the opposition massacred four police and a school teacher on June 12, 2018. A new documentary about this was released June 4. This is the seventh documentary in the series Keys of the Truth. The title of this chapter is “Matar y Mentir, el Plan en Morrito” (“Kill and Lie, The Morrito Plan”). NicaNotes covered this extensively at the time as did journalist John Perry. To see the videos go to Youtube, put in “Juventud Presidente” and scroll down. The documentaries in this series vary in length from 15 to 30 minutes and are excellent. Four are now available in English. I am listing below only the ones in English: Searching Through the Ashes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myr9yYMpsbM ,  Fire at Carlos Marx: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz6kJ-tRNJI , Murder of the Journalist Angel Gahona: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfBiqo0oCxU, Mafias Exposed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONw1Y4UZ6Ek  (Canal 6, Youtube, Juventud Presidente, 6/3/19)

Government Promotes Family Celebrations of Children’s Week
Parents and children joined in the fun in parks all over Managua with activities the government carried out as part of Children’s Week. “Today we are commemorating Children’s Week. Here we are doing face painting and there are piñatas, popcorn and more. We are taking good care of the children,” said Karen Boniche. Nicaragua’s children’s activities promote family unity and peace. To see pictures: https://www.tn8.tv/managua/477376-gobierno-promueve-buena-celebracion-familia/  (Canal 8, 6/3/19)3

50 More People Imprisoned for Coup Violence sent Home
Last week fifty more people found guilty and imprisoned for violent activities during last year’s coup attempt were sent home on house arrest. With these fifty people now serving their sentence in their homes there are only 84 coup-related prisoners left. All of them will be freed by June 18. (La Sandino, 5/31/19)

Sandino’s Daughter Honored on Her 86th Birthday
Members of the Sandinista Youth Organization led the celebration of the 86th birthday of Blanca Segovia Sandino, daughter of national hero Augusto Sandino. The Reuben Dario Children’s Choir sang songs like Flor de Pino, about her father’s love for her mother.  Her children and grandchildren expressed their gratitude for the recognition. “Today we celebrate the birth of our grandmother; she always likes to feel the affection of the people. Also today we remember our great grandmother Blanca Estela Arauz; we are proud to be among her descendants because we have been taught that we have to be consistent, defending people’s rights, and being the best in the tasks assigned to us,” said granddaughter Blanca Segovia Castillo. Blanca Estela Arauz was the wife of General Sandino and died in childbirth with Blanca Segovia. She also was the telegraph operator in San Rafael del Norte and a shrewd military strategist. (El 19 Digital, 5/31/19)

Health Advances for Women and Children
The expansion of immunizations in Nicaragua against five diseases, the reduction of chronic malnutrition rates from 21.7% to 11.7%, as well as the reduction of cases of HIV transmission from mother to child in recent years, are reasons to celebrate Nicaraguan children on the International Day of the Child, said Dr. Sonia Castro, Minister of Health.

The official, in the midst of a festive atmosphere of face-painting, dances and exhibitions, announced the advances in health that benefit children in the last 12 years in the country. She said that from 2007 to 2018, 14 neonatal units have been built and three breast milk banks have been created. She added that more than 700 heart surgeries, 37 kidney transplants and more than six thousand treatments for cancer have been performed. (Canal 2, 5/31/19)

Travel Website Says Nicaragua Great for Adventure Tourism
The “Fearless Female Travels” website last Monday carried an article stating that Nicaragua is one of the best places in the world for adventure tourism. “In seven spectacular days we visited traditional colonial cities, beautiful coffee farms and 100% organic chocolate factories. During the day we enjoyed the best beaches for surfing and at night we observed an amazing volcanic lava crater,” the Fearless Female Travels article states. (Nicaragua News, 5/31/19; https://fearlessfemaletravels.com/nicaragua-travel-itinerary/#more-4446)

National Assembly Passes Law for Integral Attention to Victims of Coup Violence
With 69 votes in favor the new Law for the Attention to Victims of Coup Terrorism was passed. Although the government has been attending to the needs of victims, this law will assure healthcare, including emotional health, social attention and more to all victims. (La Sandino, 5/30/19)

Police Find War Weapons in Property of Carlos Tunnerman’s Son
Last week, the Police found high-powered weapons in the warehouse property of the son of Carlos Tunnerman, a member of the opposition negotiating team and leading opposition figure. The weapons were found in the space between the drop ceiling and the roof on the second floor of a warehouse in the Eastern Market owned by Tunnerman’s son, Alejandro Tunnerman. The police detained Víctor Núñez Madrigal, 59, the business administrator, who declared that the weapons of war were hidden by Alejandro Tünnermann, owner of the warehouse, before leaving the country on Sept. 11, 2018, for the United States. (Radio Ya, Esto es Noticia 13, 5/29/19)