After reading a piece Jon Lee Anderson published recently in The New Yorker, an incredibly biased account of the recent crisis in Nicaragua, I set out to find out more about the famed war correspondent. I came to understand he was greatly elevated by his writing from Afghanistan, later he was in Iraq. There was little criticism, although someone took exception with a piece he had done on Libya which was also published by The New Yorker. “Damn near every paragraph of this Jon Lee Anderson piece on Libya is dubious.”
Eventually I came upon an interview Anderson had done with Robert Birnbaum which was compelling enough and they had even touched upon the topic of Nicaraguan politics. Still, his latest piece seems like a wart on what is otherwise considered, at least by some, to be a stellar career. Aside, that is, from a little scandal over Venezuela’s Gini coefficient (the most common measurement of inequality). I think that was in 2013 and led to so much criticism Anderson eventually responded to it.
In The New Yorker Anderson’s vision is high on flair but low on substance and loaded with toxic (opposition) antipathy for Ortega and Murillo. Reminiscent of another piece on Nicaragua that was published about a week ago which was written by an intern at The Nation , one person with whom I correspond noted, ‘I’m surprised the Editorial Department would have let that one pass,’ and another wrote, ‘It’s August and most of NYC is presently on vacation.’ Apparently, that includes fact checking departments.
Initially, I had intended to ask Mr. Birnbaum if he could shed some light on Anderson’s attitude as his previous comments regarding Nicaragua had struck me as sincere, sympathetic to the Nicaraguan people and highly critical of imperialistic goals. But a day later that request seemed foolish because I knew perfectly well what had occurred. Jon Anderson is close to Sergio Ramirez and quite possibly Carlos Fernando Chamorro and Giaconda Belli as well. Just last week they were all in attendance at an event sponsored by the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation and in 2015 Chamorro’s on-line media outlet El Confidencial featured a long-winded interview with Anderson.
Too often the outside world fails to realize where many former Sandinistas actually stand as they have purposefully referred to their revolutionary past in a way that lends legitimacy to the opposition view and which works to discredit the Ortega/Murillo government.
Too often the outside world fails to realize where many former Sandinistas actually stand as they have purposefully referred to their revolutionary past in a way that lends legitimacy to the opposition view and which works to discredit the Ortega/Murillo government. Sergio Ramirez left the FSLN in the 1990’s and formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista or Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). However, the party never gained any traction among the populace whereas Ortega’s star remained, distant but constant.
In the 1990’s the administration of Violeta Chamorro —Violeta herself was said to be the figurehead while her son in law Antonio Lacayo actually ran the government—imposed harsh austerity measures and many of the gains of the FSLN were reversed. Economically life was very difficult for most Nicaraguans and in that environment members of the MRS themselves renounced practically everything the revolution had represented including a more equal society. Given the circumstances had they any legitimate claim to Sandinismo one would have thought the reverse would be the case, so when they claim to be a center-left party it is entirely disingenuous and in my opinion the claim to represent the ‘pro-democracy’ wing of the Nicaraguan political scene is equally spurious.
Ana Margarita Vijil, the current president of the Sandinista Renovation Movement and Felix Maradiaga who may be facing criminal charges in Nicaragua presently have both been fellows at the Aspen Institute. The home page of the global think tank presently features Madeleine Albright with the caption, Former Secretary of State shared a to do list for the U.S. to defend democracy. Anand Giridharadas, himself a former member of the club and author of the book Winners Take All described, “The reality of the world outside kept getting worse and worse, and the people in the fellowship, and the sponsors, seemed to be the very people sucking most of the juice of progress.” (New York Magazine Aug. 26, 2018)
Regarding the social security issue Anderson gets it wrong as do most; even Democracy Now has failed to grasp that the protests were not anti-austerity, they were anti anti-austerity. It was José Adán Aguerri president of the private business sector organization known as The Superior Economic Council (COSEP) who walked away from the negotiating table. Aguerri’s position was in line with the recommendations of the IMF and a group called FUNIDES, an economic and development think tank headed by Juan Sebastian Chamorro. The IMF and FUNIDES had called for deeper cuts, raising the retirement age, cutting some benefit plans completely, (the little pensions) and the privatization of clinics. The Ortega government, on the other hand has, over the years, greatly expanded the health care system, refused to throw the families of veterans under the bus and maintained the two-tiered system.
Having failed to grasp those facts Mr. Anderson goes on to embellish the narrative in a colorful manner: “Nicaragua is among the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, and the prospect of greater privation inspired outrage.” He fails to recognize or understand it was in the 1990’s, under the Chamorro administration, that the Nicaraguan economy suffered the sharpest decline. “ The years of Violeta Chamorro initiate a period of significant economic and social decline for Nicaragua. From 1990 to 2001, the country fell from 60th to 116th in the world in terms of human development.”
The truth is prior to April 19, 2018 life in Nicaragua had never been better. Due to the close relationship between the National Police and the communities they serve, Nicaragua has kept trans-national gangs at bay. Additionally, according to World Bank data , poverty has been cut nearly in half from 48 percent to 25 percent. That brings Nicaragua far closer to Costa Rica (20 percent), than Honduras (over 60 percent).
When Ortega was elected in 2006 Nicaragua was in bad shape for a number of reasons: the U.S. backed Contra war, amnesty granted to Nicaraguans at the time which encouraged the flight of the affluent with their capital and sixteen years of neo-liberal governments which had failed to deliver even the most basic services. I first came to Nicaragua just before Ortega’s inauguration, so I recall the condition of the roads, the lack of electricity which meant no water, refrigeration, fans, lights, internet. That was the norm in Granada every day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. while Managua experienced rolling blackouts.
The criticism that Daniel Ortega is too much of a capitalist is often made by the other clique who claim to be Sandinistas. The Movimiento Rescate Sandinista party or Sandinista Rescue Movement , splintered from the original MRS and claim to be more left than Ortega. Monica Lopez Baltadano and Henry Ruiz are often the ones who represent this party in the public sphere. But what discredits this faction and their acolytes, opposition apologists like Trevor Evans and Benjamin Waddell, is that, as is the case with the Renovation Party, they are aligned with the ultra-right, clans like the Chamorros and the Lacayos, oligarchs who are far more powerful than they are, as well as neo-liberals; Piero Coen Montealegre (Western Union, Chiquita, Master Card), Nicaragua’s wealthiest individual, and Michael Healy backed by big business interests in Columbia, all of whom are very much in line with U.S. interests via Nicaragua’s business lobby, principally COSEP and the American Chamber of Commerce AMCHAM.
Mr. Anderson may or may not understand any of this, but it is this attack from the left that was used in the coup-attempt which was very slick in terms of its messaging and promoted the idea that Ortega and Somoza deserve comparison. They created a sort of double bind and used the good relationship Ortega has had with the business community against him, glossing over the reality that he inherited a situation of economic decline in a country with power cuts of 12 hours a day and that by partnering with the business community Ortega was able to create a high-level of stability, necessary jobs and a much greater tax base which allowed the government to invest heavily in infrastructure, healthcare and education. GDP since Ortega took office has more than doubled .
And the outrage Mr. Anderson refers to? That was manufactured and had nothing to do with reforms to the social security system. The point of the protests was to provoke the police into responding and a police officer was one of the first to be killed. Meanwhile José Adán Aguerri encouraged the students. On April 18th the opposition claimed a death that never occurred. The following day, the message circulated by students on social media was, three students killed. There were three deaths on April 19, but they were not university students. One victim was a police officer who was shot in the head, another was a supermarket worker who may have been protesting. These two were apparently killed by snipers while another youth was shot in the back by a gang of opposition youth while on their way to burn the Alcadia (Mayor’s office) in the town of Tipitapa.
The mainstream media ran with the idea that the National Police had opened fire on the protesters and has remained so committed to the narrative nothing else seems to matter. Within Nicaragua, given the right-wing press owned by the oligarchs which has long reviled the Ortegas and human rights organizations, two of which originated with US financial backing and at the time had deep ties to the contras, the level of propaganda was overt and intentional. From the onset we were expected to dismiss as impossible the government’s claim that snipers were responsible for the deaths but over time even the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Amnesty International picked up on the pattern of shots to the head neck and chest, consistent with what sniper activity would produce. Had the snipers been agents of the government would they have been the ones to suggest as much?
Placed under scrutiny it becomes clear that those who were students were not at the protests and those who were at the protests turn out to not be students. As I continue to comb through the records it is obvious that the IACHR did not perform the due diligence they claim to have carried out. It is also clear that while the Amnesty report of May 29 only focuses on nine cases, the arc of the narrative is a work of invention which leaps from one hypothetical to the next.
The willingness of Jon Lee Anderson to accept prima facie the contour of what every other mainstream outlet has regurgitated seems a departure from the sort of reporting upon which his reputation is based. The Lion’s Grave is a collection of correspondence between Anderson and his editor at The New Yorker which recounts his experience in Afghanistan. In December 2002 Michael Hedges reviewed the book for The Houston Chronicle. “They are not necessarily the notoriously revisable first draft of history produced by daily newspaper reporters,” Hedges wrote. He described Anderson as an ephemeral rather that concise fact-based reporter, a writer’s writer.
The book’s title was taken from a story about Ahmed Shah Massoud, a man who came to be known as the "Lion of the Panjshir". Massoud was a Mujahideen, anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban who was assassinated two days before the September 11 attacks. The culprits had apparently posed as journalists. Given that scenario one would imagine Anderson might recognize political subterfuge as a possibility in any conflict situation. Yet, where Nicaragua is concerned he did just the opposite and embraced the well-worn talking points of the opposition.
So it remains up to those of us on the ground to counter the hearsay. In that effort I resurrected my internet posts from the time of the attack on Granada (where I live) which compared to other locations experienced little violence. Masaya, only thirty minutes away was, for a number of months, said to resemble a war zone.
June 5 . (morning) Mercado was attacked last night, the livelihood of over 1,000 vendors and an additional 300 who roam around selling this or that. Vandalos, I was told. Hooligans, whatever one wants to call them. I thought they are through with Masaya and have moved on to Granada. I learned a fourteen year-old had been killed. That took place around dawn.
June 5 . (evening) We are in lock down. Mortars have been going all day. In the afternoon I saw smoke in the sky from the direction of the park. I was told it was the Alcadia. (mayor’s office). The stores are in the process of being ransacked. We know of four fires. We hear sirens and yelling. One of the buildings behind us was burning. The owner used the hose to spray the roof with water. We thought we might need to evacuate. Now, it seems we will stay here. ( One hour later ). The mortars are constant now and loud. I can smell the smoke.
June 6 . Just came in from the street. At the corner suddenly everyone was running and screaming. I saw a girl I recognized from a Zumba class I use to go to. She grabbed my hand and said, no this way. I said, my house is just here.
About an hour ago I ventured out to look around. The expressions of people on the street were full of anxiety, everyone in shock. In the park Sandinista supporters were helping to clear the debris of the Alcadia. Everything gone to ash and debris piled up. A girl on a park bench sat with her head down, her face buried in her hands. A bulldozer went back and forth. I had a Manilla folder and magic marker with me. On the folder I wrote, ‘golpe de estado de opposition y derechistas’. I walked through the small crowd showing people the sign, many agreed, at least one was skeptical.
I spoke with someone else and talked about the opposition’s goal to destabilize the country, how they hate Ortega and want to get rid of him at any price. Across the entire wall of a building was scrawled; Daniel vamos por vos. At the corner I looked up and saw a kid riding by on his bike. He looked utterly terrified. I wondered if his family owned one of the businesses that had been gutted. Over by Western Union there was a big line, maybe forty people. I saw two guys with press badges, I got their attention and held the sign in front of my body. They were interested and a minute later we were doing an interview.
They had burned the better half of a city block. The businesses were said to be Sandinista supporters and the mayor is also Sandinista. In addition to the fourteen year-old they had also killed a thirty-two year old male who apparently tried to protect one of the stores from looting.
El Nuevo Dario reported, “El incendio, los saqueos y la zozobra que vive la población granadina, son atribuidas, por algunas personas, a delincuentes originarios de pueblos al sureste de Granada, que también mantienen protestas contra Daniel Ortega.” (Translation: The fire, looting and anxiety that the people of Granada are experiencing is attributed by some to delinquents who are from another town southeast of Granada who have also been protesting against Daniel Ortega). In the same article others with whom the reporter spoke to blamed pro-government groups.
I thought the town referred to in the report must be Monimbo, a neighborhood in Masaya which was the site of much violence throughout the crisis. Video taken in Granada June 5 confirms the presence of youth from Monimbo. The death of such a young victim, a complete innocent, only served the interests of the opposition; it worked to incite others to their cause and fueled the rage which occurred later that night. I am presently looking into another incident which preceded the attack on Granada. Interestingly, this alleged assault on students in Managua also involved the Monimbo crowd and the circumstances bare a striking resemblance to what occurred in Granada, one death took place around dawn, followed by a night of escalated violence.
They left behind a lot of graffiti; Ortega Assesino, se vende patria and a stencil of a face I had originally believed to represent Lesther Aleman (big round eye-glasses), but recently realized refers instead to Alvaro Conrrado, one of the early victims who was shot in the neck, one of the many victims who fit into a certain pattern, shot by a sniper (which means he was specifically targeted), an adolescent too young to be a university student and not belonging to the business class or the upper classes, a youth more likely to be affiliated with the Sandinistas than an opposition party.
Over the course of the following weeks there were sounds of mortars fired at night and gradually that came to an end, but we never went out at night. I don’t think anyone did. In the mornings we did our errands and shopping and by three in the afternoon, four at the latest, we were all inside behind locked doors.
What happened to Granada was repeated in the nearby towns of Catarina, Diria and Niquinohomo as well as Masaya, Leon, Bluefields, Chinandega and Esteli; vandals arrived by the busload, stores were opened up for looting, fires were set which specifically targeted symbols of the government, FSLN offices or other public institutions and the businesses or homes of Sandinista loyalists.
One more detail of my own experience, at some point between the time Granada was attacked and the anniversary of the revolution which was July 19 th I bought a pilot. A pilot is a double-wide magic marker often used for graffiti. Calle Atravesada is one of the main avenues which bisects historic Granada. It has a tree lined median and wide sidewalks and numerous telephone poles all of which had been repainted from the red and black they had once been to light blue and white, the colors the opposition has claimed as their own. I imagine this make-over was done on the night of rampage. In addition to repainting the poles the city was left littered with anti-Ortega graffiti. Granadinos would never deface their own city in such a way, but the poles are used also, as they are in the United States, as free advertising space by businesses who regularly tape flyers to them.
One afternoon as I was either commenting on an existing message on one of the poles or leaving my own, two kids passed by on bicycle. I saw them go to the tranque (barricade) which had been erected very close to the police station. Then, they swung around and were coming in my direction. ‘No no,’ one of them cautioned, he wagged his finger at me. As they passed he said, ‘they kill.’
President Ortega has not betrayed the revolution. Those who formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS) of which Sergio Ramirez was a founder, jumped ship when the ship appeared to be sinking. In 1996 Ramirez ran for President on the MRS ticket and obtained less than 3% of the vote. That the members of the MRS and their allies have moved further and further to the right is in some ways a natural progression as they had always been the elite wing of the party. Like Sergio Ramirez, like Oscar Rene Vargas, like Bianca Jagger, most came from privileged backgrounds, spoke English and had forged strong ties with Americans and Europeans who visited Nicaragua in the 1980’s. That was the experience of Mary Ellsberg, daughter of Daniel Ellsberg and seemingly also holds true for the daughter of Noam Chomsky.
The MRS reject offers of compromise as their self-interest is better served if they can convince the world that Ortega really has become a dictator. And the international/corporate media has been willing to drink the Kool-Aid either because it suits their own self-interest, or because they trust their friends, or the sources provided by their friends, or because they can’t be bothered to do any real investigating.
Following the first day of the initial dialogue Michael Healy, representing the private agricultural sector stated, “We’re tired of calls for peace and the cessation of violence, we want a new government.” At that time the opposition could have extracted any number of concessions were they interested in doing so. Some for example would like the Social Security fund to have more transparency. They want to see how the money is invested. I thought, that’s fair enough. I don’t think I know how the United States is investing our Social Security money, but it sounds like a legitimate demand. But of course, that wasn’t the point. The point was to collapse the talks, walk away from the negotiating table, accuse the government of intransigence, up the violence, call the human rights organizations, claim to be the victims—just as they did over the social security issue.
The problem for the opposition is that since the 2006 elections President Ortega’s popularity has only increased due to a program of development that has been popular, effective and highly democratic. The coup failed for exactly these reasons. The majority of the population understand not only what group represents their interests, they are aware of the deep hostility and bitterness of an opposition comprised of a clique of business and intellectual elites, attenuated by a few other groups said to represent peasants or women, but who in fact do not represent any segment of civil society in any meaningful way.
I suspect the recent wave of propaganda and especially the recent statement of condemnation by the United Nations is intended to give political cover to the architects of the coup-attempt and those who carried out some of the worst crimes. Here is Felix Maradiaga who very recently addressed the United Nations. That Maradiaga has had dealings with organized crime in the lead-up to the crisis is undeniable, a fact which was elaborated on in what has come to be known as the ‘Viper confession’ which as journalist Max Blumenthal, (one of the few to report accurately on the Nicaraguan crisis) noted, might be viewed as suspect if it didn’t completely dove tail with various aspects of the crisis as it unfolded.
This is the present state of affairs in Nicaragua, as criminal agents target, torture and murder government workers or those affiliated with the FSLN, the authorities are expected to do nothing. The last seven deaths and the only deaths since July 22 were all carried out by the opposition.
July 22. Adolfo Rosales Rodríguez was shot in Los Milagros in the Northern Caribbean autonomous region after he and his brother who was also shot and killed (below) were kidnapped with six others by armed men. He was an FSLN leader in the community.
July 22. José Ramón Rosales, a former FSLN secretary and community leader was shot by an armed group, (described above).
July 23. Reyneia Gabrielle Da Costa Lima Rocha, a Brazilian national was killed on her way home from work at the Police Hospital.
July 31. 20-year-old Dariel Steven Gutierrez Rios passed away. He was shot in the head May 30 when an FSLN peace caravan was ambushed in La Trinidad, 21 others were injured.
August 3. Luis Enrique Montano died after he was severely wounded July 14 in Somoto by an opposition member who rode by on a motorcycle.
August 5. Police Captain César Martín Blandón Urrutia was assassinated in the Department of Carazo.
August 11. Lenin Mendiola was shot near an opposition march at 3:50pm. Mendiola, a Sandinista, was the son of Benigna Mendiola and Bernardino Diaz Ochoa, historic union leaders who had been jailed and tortured by the Somoza National Guard.
Because of a law which forbids the police or military from entering the grounds of any university, UPOLI, the technical university and later UNAN, the public university were used as bases of operation by elements of organized crime.
Leonel Morales was a student at UPOLI and the president of the student union. He has not been interviewed by The New York Times or the BBC, although like the opposition’s Lesther Aleman he had also taken part in the first round of the negotiations, but for the government . On April 28, he stated : “La universidad esta tomando por personas que no son estudiantes que andan con armas 9 milimetros”. (Translation: The university has been taken over by people who are not students and they are walking around with nine-millimeter guns.” The organizers of the coup intentionally chose UPOLI and UNAN as bases for their criminal activities because they knew the police would not enter.
After the group of opposition students who would come to be known as the April 19 Student Movement read the list of those killed, (a number of whom turned out to be Sandinistas who were unquestionably killed by the opposition and others who had nothing to do with the protests), Morales said, “I can’t believe these lies.” On June 13, he was abducted by opposition criminals, tortured, shot three times and left in a ditch. The crime was not reported by either of the major newspapers, La Prensa or El Nuevo Dario.
Miraculously, Morales survived. I suspect Jon Lee Anderson has never heard of him. To conclude in ephemeral fashion, in the words of Frank O’Hara, “you don’t get crabs that way and what you don’t know can hurt someone else; how low the moon, flat the sun, etc, etc.”
Tortilla con Sal