Media bias against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is unremitting, and international NGOs are feeding it by misreporting a violent land dispute in the Bosawás nature reserve.
By John Perry
(This article was originally published by Graystone Project, Feb. 19, 2020
Here’s a headline you won’t see in the corporate media: Nicaragua is at peace.
After the violent attempt to overthrow the government in 2018, which cost at least 200 lives, the country has largely returned to the tranquillity it enjoyed before. This is not only the impression that any visitor to Nicaragua will receive; it is confirmed by statistics: Insight Crime analysed homicide levels across Latin America in 2019 and showed that only three countries were safer than Nicaragua in the whole continent.
What’s more, three of Nicaragua’s neighbors, in the ‘northern triangle’ of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, are all among the most violent countries. They are specifically plagued with high levels of fatal violence against women. In the first 24 days of 2020, for example, 27 Honduran women met violent deaths, while next-door, Nicaragua continues to have one of the lowest levels of femicide in Latin America.
But wait. A headline in January denounces the “Tragic Epidemic of Violence in Nicaragua.” This month the UN slates the Nicaraguan government for supposedly allowing “repeated attacks against indigenous peoples.” A UN situation report talks about a “general environment of threat and insecurity.” Toward the end of 2019 the purported “systematic, selective and lethal repression of peasant farmers” was reported.
Where do these allegations come from, and what do they mean?
Media and NGOs distort local land dispute
The latest smears are based on an incident at the end of January. Landless farmers attacked a Nicaraguan community in the large forest of Bosawás. It was reported by Reuters to have led to six deaths, with 10 more people kidnapped and houses destroyed. The Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Post all repeated the story.
Nicaragua’s right-wing newspaper La Prensa quoted the NGO Fundación del Rio, which called it a “massacre.” US-backed opposition group the Civic Alliance joined in by branding it “ethnocide.” Amnesty International condemned what it called the “state’s indifference” to the suffering of indigenous people. And the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights said the government was failing its international obligations.
Bosawás is the largest area of tropical rainforest north of the Amazon. It has few roads and mainly tiny communities, many relying on rivers for transport. Many local people belong to indigenous groups which have been granted land titles by the government and this land cannot be sold, only leased. Others are settlers (called ”colonos”) some of whom have leased land but others who occupy it illegally.
Disputes between established farmers and landless peasants are common, and for many years have sometimes resulted in violence. The problems of policing such places, with their history of conflict and corruption, are not confined to their remoteness.
What really happened in the recent case only became clear after the police arrived to investigate, having been called to the scene of two deaths, not six, late on the afternoon of January 29.
In the community of Alal where the attack occurred, the police found 12 houses had been burned down and two people had been injured. No one had disappeared. By January 31, local authorities had checked three more nearby communities and found no evidence of murder or kidnapping. Community leaders condemned the false news reports.
Then, at a completely different location 12 kilometers east of Alal, along the River Kahaska Kukun, near the community of Wakuruskasna, police found and identified four bodies; two in one part of the river and two in another part, apparently dead from gunshot wounds. Local people said they knew of no one who had disappeared or was missing.
Investigations continued and two days later senior police and government officials met with the community in the local school to explain the investigations and the enforcement work they were doing, as well as the help that people would get to rebuild their destroyed houses.
On February 5, the families of the victims met with Nicaragua’s Procurator of Human Rights, Darling Ríos, to denounce the crimes committed. The police are pursuing the criminal gang involved and, at the time of writing, have captured one culprit who was carrying a sub-machine gun.
The background to this story is important and is ignored by the international media and human rights groups. A significant proportion of Nicaraguan territory is legally held by indigenous groups and has been duly titled by the Nicaraguan government in each community’s ownership. The authorities that administer them are designated by the communities themselves.
In the indigenous territory of Mayangna Sauni, made up of 75 communities, there is an internal dispute over control of these communal lands. Some of the leaders have sold land to groups of outside settlers, which is possibly at the root of January’s conflict.
Sadly, despite a massive and ongoing process of land reform in Nicaragua, there are still cases of displaced peasant farmers who cannot buy expensive land in populated areas and seek to buy it cheaply, and perhaps illegally, elsewhere, or simply to occupy it. Sparsely populated areas like Bosawás are especially vulnerable.
The ensuing conflicts are portrayed by international NGOs as struggles between environmentally conscious indigenous people and destructive outsiders, abetted by the government. The reality is that poor people are in competition for land, sometimes violently. And the violence is spasmodic: there were few reported deaths in land disputes for the last two years, although there were several in 2015 and 2016, mainly affecting a different indigenous community, the Miskitu.
It is hardly surprising that the corporate media sides with indigenous groups. Inevitably, as in the Alal case, whoever can get a story out via a phone call will receive attention, and even an agency like Reuters is likely to accept such a report before the facts can be checked.
‘Human rights’ NGOs spread debunked fake news
To those unfamiliar with Nicaragua, any news item about indigenous groups conjures images of un-contacted tribes in the Amazon, which is far from the real situation. Corporate media sets the scene with romantic images of rainforests. Only rarely do they send reporters to investigate in depth.
If this is to be expected of today’s media, it shouldn’t be the case with human rights NGOs. Yet Nicaraguan-based “human rights” bodies are notoriously biased politically, and have long passed the point where they can be considered objective.
Their recent allegations of a government campaign of rural assassinations, for example, were shown to be completely false. All the local NGOs compete for donations from foreign governments, and as one admitted, exaggerate their death counts in order to get it.
Regrettably, the international NGOs are little better. Amnesty International’s reporting on Nicaragua has been shown as full of errors and misrepresentations. Global Witness was called out for biased reporting of the land disputes in the Bosawás area, in which it absurdly labeled Nicaragua the “world’s most dangerous country to be an environmental defender.” (Slain Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres is rolling in her grave.)
Despite many efforts to get Global Witness to listen to the complexities of the real story, it refused to withdraw its allegations even when some were found to be completely untrue.
This is why headlines like “A Tragic Epidemic of Violence” should not be taken at face value. Even the BBC, which said “six indigenous people reportedly killed in attack” was wrong.
Media bias against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is unremitting, and international NGOs are feeding it along with the US government.
Meanwhile, behind the headlines, the Nicaraguan people are successfully recovering the precious peace and safety they enjoyed before the violent events of 2018. Most are relieved that the real “epidemic of violence” ended just a few months after it began.
By Nan McCurdy
Ernesto Cardenal Dies at age 95
The Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal died March 1, 2020, at the age of 95, after four days of hospitalization in Managua. Cardenal was born in Granada, Nicaragua, January 20, 1925. Throughout his life he developed as a poet, priest, sculptor, theologian and writer. His poetic work transcended Nicaraguan borders; he received multiple international awards like the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize. Cardenal stood out as a promoter of Liberation Theology in Latin America.
The Sandinista Government decreed three days of national mourning for the death of Cardenal. “Upon learning of the death of the poet Cardenal, we recognize his contribution to the struggle of the Nicaraguan people. We also recognize all his cultural, artistic and literary merits and his extraordinary poetry in which he always knew how to praise God, in heaven, on earth, and in every place,” the note states. “Ernesto Cardenal, holder of the Cervantes Prize and many recognitions from governments and international cultural organizations, is a Nicaraguan glory and pride, who we deeply admire, giving thanks to God for his life, his merits and his tireless love for Nicaragua,” concludes the government’s message.
Cardenal was probably best known for his promotion of theology with the peasants of the Solentiname archipelago in Nicaragua’s Gran Lago. He published his congregation’s profound reflections on the injustices of the dictatorship, class conflict and needed actions based on their understanding of the gospels in The Gospel in Solentiname between 1975 and 1977. The book has been translated to many languages. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/1/20 and Nan’s notes)
Nicaragua Denounces US aggression at UN
On Feb. 27 at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Nicaragua condemned the US Government’s continued sanctions against the Nicaraguan people for violating the basic principles for respectful coexistence among nations. Nicaraguan representative Valdrack Jaentschke said that US aggression violates the human rights of the people. He called on the international community to demand that the US government suspend sanctions and aggression and in this way contribute to respect for the human rights of the world’s peoples and to peace. Jaentschke said that the Sandinista government continues to work in support of the political, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights of Nicaraguans, and that these efforts are recognized by the international community. (Radiolaprimerisima, 2/27/20)
Nicaragua Wins the Gold Medal and Classifies for Baseball’s World Cup U-23
Nicaragua won the Pan-American games (Pre-World Cup) in Nicaragua on March 1, and for the first time in baseball history, a Nicaraguan team triumphed twice in a row over Cuba, and did not allow Cuba to make runs in 14 innings. The 2020 Baseball World Cup will be held in Mexico in October. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/2/20)
International Reserves Increase
On Feb. 28 the Central Bank (BCN) reported that as of January 31, 2020, the country’s Gross International Reserves (RIB) were US$ 2.4 billion dollars, registering a US$ 22.1 million increase compared to the previous month. (Nicaragua News, 3/2/20)
Two Thousand Women to Receive Property Titles
The Attorney General’s Office will present two thousand new property titles to beneficiaries during celebration of International Women’s Day, announced Vice President Rosario Murillo. (Informe Pastran, 3/2/20)
Government Prioritizes Women’s Rights
The government, through different institutions, will work on women’s and family rights, continuing the national campaign “Women for Life” by holding meetings, encounters, and highlighting practices and lessons learned about justice, rights and security for women. In parallel, progress will continue in relaunching women’s police stations through the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the National Police, and with involvement of the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Offices, the Ministry of the Family, and the Ministry of Education. (Informe Pastran, 3/2/20)
School Improvements on the Atlantic Coast
Presidential advisor Salvador Vanegas announced that, in early March, the Ministry of Education began major improvements to schools in the Northern and Southern Caribbean Autonomous Regions to the tune of more than US$1.8 million. Moreover, 31 digital mobile classrooms will be installed in Zelaya Central, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Estelí and Managua. At the same time, 1,302 tablets and 31 computers, printers and projectors will be delivered. Vanegas also inaugurated the campaign “My beautiful life, my healthy life” whose objective is to generate awareness and promote healthy habits in schools and homes. Mendy Aráuz, director of the Educational Community Councils, says the campaign includes reforestation and beautification days, as well as promotion of healthy habits in food consumption and the practice of handwashing in early, primary and secondary education. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/3/20)
Achievements in Promotion of Indigenous Languages Recognized
The President of the Mayagna Indigenous Nation, Eloy Frank, in an event called “Building a Decade of Actions for Indigenous Languages,” held in Mexico, shared Nicaragua’s achievements in the recognition and promotion of indigenous languages through approval of the Autonomy Statute and the Law of Languages. This lawestablished the right to bilingual intercultural education and a judicial model that respects the traditions and customs of the Indigenous and Afro descendant peoples of the Caribbean Coast. The purpose of the event was to review the lessons learned during the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) and provide recommendations in preparation for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. (Nicaragua News, 3/2/20)
Government supports Sustainable Development of 38 Coffee Cooperatives
The Nicaragua Ministry of Family Economy (MEFCCA) is allocating US$1.4 million to 3,800 small coffee producers organized in 38 cooperatives in Nueva Segovia Department to strengthen production of premium coffee. The funding is part of the Strategy for Development and Transformation of Coffee Growing that the Government is implementing in support of sustainable development of the sector. (Nicaragua News, 2/28/20)
Fighting Xenophobia and Fake News
A Nicaragua delegation participated in the conference “Fight against Xenophobia in the Era of Misinformation and Artificial Intelligence” held February 26 and 27 in San José, Costa Rica. Organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the purpose of the Conference was to discuss the challenges faced by security agencies, governments and civil society in the fight against xenophobia and fake news, as well as to evaluate measures adopted to counteract misinformation campaigns. (Nicaragua News, 2/27/20)
British Magazine Highlights Nicaraguan Environmental Policies and Reserves
This week, the British magazine Wanderlust in its “Travel Green” edition published “Nicaragua, as Nature Intended It,” that highlights “Nicaragua as a sustainable ecotourism destination, not just for its lush jungles but for policies that guarantee the protection of natural and cultural resources.” The article states that “the Nicaragua Government has designated 30% of its national territory as natural reserves, making it the largest protected area in Central America. It is also a tourism destination that protects its native languages and traditional cultures through laws designed to preserve this vibrant multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural country.” (Nicaragua News, 2/27/20)
Nicaragua promotes Literacy and Music
The Ministry of Education began another literacy day in the country’s neighborhoods. According to official MINED figures, 8,177 adults and senior citizens have registered for this literacy day. At the same time, MINED already has 1,102 student choirs in 147 municipalities and 28 student symphony orchestras, with teacher trainers from Cuba and Venezuela. (Informe Pastran, 2/28/20)