Nicaragua and Libya : connivance and cant

Tuesday 5 April 2011 by CEPRID

Toni Solo and Jorge Capelan

Tortilla con sal

Routine self-serving distortion of world events by the corporate and alternative media exists in symbiosis with a willfully deluded narrative of Western moral authority and superiority. That narrative feeds off the systematic hypocrisy and insane vanity of the Western Bloc political leaders in the countries of North America and Europe and their Pacific allies. Majority world opinion no longer accepts the ridiculous pretence to moral leadership of Western politicians. Only their brutal readiness to use overwhelming military power to get their geopolitical way gets them a pseudo-respectful hearing in international forums.

The cases of Libya and Nicaragua, respectively, offer clear examples of the almost complete collapse of credibility of the Western Bloc political and media classes. No one familiar with the systematic, deceitful under-reporting and misreporting of events in Nicaragua over the last decade will take seriously for a second Western corporate and much alternative media coverage of events in Libya. As events unfold, what seems to be happening is that Western media in general are becoming more and more irrelevant except as propaganda sources of increasingly absurd false beliefs providing a spurious basis for imperialist intervention by the Western Bloc powers.

The developing military aggression against Libya confirms the perfidious folly of Western Bloc neocolonial ambition. The Arab allies of that aggression are precisely the regional governments responsible for repressing democracy and human rights in their countries. Libya’s government is one of the few Arab countries that has consistently and successfully applied a redistributive program to its economy in favour of the majority of the population. That is one of the reasons for the minority rebellion against the Libyan government, since at least some of the rebels seem to represent a clique greedy to get a bigger share of Libya’s wealth for themselves.

The Libyan government faces a rebellion from rebel forces who compensated for their self-evident lack of popular support with well-prepared armed violence and immediate calls for foreign intervention. That minority rebellion is supported by the same anti-democratic Arab regimes who have looked on with approval at the murderous repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain. It is hardly surprising that the much more broadly based African Union has explicitly opposed the imperialist aggression against Libya now under way.

Similar double standards prevail in Latin America. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Brazil, El Salvador and Chile is likely to come to symbolize declining US economic and political influence in that part of the world. The official US government narrative is that its policies promote prosperity and democracy in the region. But its key allies have been corrupt, murderous, narcotics-ridden regimes of dubious legitimacy in Colombia and Mexico whose social indicators are among the worst in the hemisphere. Similar double-talk characterizes US and European Union relations with Nicaragua.

The case of Nicaragua

Misrepresentation and false reporting of events in Nicaragua is routine in the international corporate media. Omission of readily available data, factual errors, deliberate distortion, reliance for information on unrepresentative cliques, have all helped construct the Western Bloc media caricature of a country stifled by a corrupt, undemocratic government. Consistent affirmation of Nicaragua’s dramatic social and economic progress by international organizations from the IMF to UNESCO to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the Panamerican Health Organization is regularly written out of the media record.

Events in Nicaragua are constantly reported from the point of view of a tiny, politically irrelevant elite who maintain undue influence by piggy-backing on right-wing political allies. Leading voices of that clique include the talented novelists Sergio Ramirez and Gioconda Belli, discredited former Sandinista leaders like Dora Maria Tellez, Victor Hugo Tinoco or Monica Baltodano, disingenuous journalists like Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his brother-in-law the politician Edmundo Jarquin. Jarquin is now a vice-presidential running mate for right-wing gerontocrat Fabio Gadea.

As the program of the Nicaraguan government under President Daniel Ortega progresses, the corporate media caricature looks steadily more demented. Only people resolutely determined to deny the facts can rationally accept dishonest news reports on Nicaragua in the supposedly respectable international media. The same is true of most of the Western Bloc alternative media. Nor should that fact come as any surprise, given that the consumers of alternative media in Western Bloc countries share narratives that largely share parallel assumptions of innate superiority to those of their mainstream corporate counterparts.

In the case of Nicaragua, the clearest example of that fact was the intervention by various intellectuals led by Noam Chomsky in support of a hunger strike by Dora Maria Tellez in 2008 protesting the loss of her party’s legal standing. The intellectuals called on the Nicaraguan government to engage in "dialogue" with the country’s opposition when the very opposition they supported were running an odious hate campaign including barely veiled incitement to assassinate President Daniel Ortega. Señora Tellez’ protest was in fact part of a murky political manouevre to clear the path for a united right-wing candidacy in the crucial 2008 municipal election in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.

Other leading progressive intellectuals have got things just as wrong as Noam Chomsky did. For example, James Petras said in 2009, "Nicaragua is little more than a liberal government in every sense of the word; the current Sandinista administration has not changed a single one of the economic policies of previous governments."(Pensar que Latinoamérica está encaminándose hacia la izquierda es una exageración triunfalista poco seria’, Entrevista con Marcelo Colussi, Argenpress, 21/05/2008).

Likewise, respected progressive economist Eric Toussaint describes Nicaragua as being among "the supposed ’left wing’ governments that carry out a neoliberal policy and support the national or regional bourgeoisie in their projects" including among these the governments of "Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and the government of Cristina Fernández Kirchner of the Argentinean peronists. They are governments that favour big capital, dolled up with a few measures of social welfare. In effect, they gild the neoliberal medicine with social programmes." (La izquierda llega al gobierno pero no tiene el poder, Eric Toussaint, Rebelión, 21-04-2009)

The absurdity of those positions taken by leading progressive intellectuals is self evident from even a superficial familiarity with the Nicaraguan government’s programme since January 2007 which from the start has radically prioritized Nicaragua’s impoverished majority. Successively, in January 2007, the Nicaraguan government cut the salaries of ministers and senior government officials by over 50%, joined the Cuban and Venezuelan led ALBA trade and development cooperation bloc, and reinstated free medical care and schooling, rights severely eroded over the previous 17 years of right wing neoliberal governments.

Subsequently, from 2007 to 2009 the government has prioritized a radical investment program to promote small and medium sized agriculture. Nicaragua can reasonably expect to be self-sufficient in food production by 2015. That policy goes directly against conventional neoliberal wisdom which argues for small countries to satisfy food needs by importing food from rich country surpluses.

The government’s physical infrastructure policy similarly goes entirely contrary to grand neoliberal schemes like those originally formulated in the Plan Puebla Panama framework. Those plans prioritised big business needs and projected ambitious road communications running North-South and East-West across Central America. The Sandinista government by contrast has prioritized local road building programs to benefit local business and in particular the country’s agricultural sector. Infrastructure investment has also prioritized small port facilities to support local fishermen and increase transport options for remote communities.

To cope with persistent price inflation in food and energy prices, the Nicaraguan government operates a system of subsidised food outlets offering basic foods at well below market prices. Urban bus transport in Managua has been subsidised since 2007. Interurban public transport and taxi cooperatives throughout the country benefit from subsidies both for fuel and for tyres and vehicle parts. The overall result has been to hold down prices both for ordinary transport users and for small businesses. This month the government announced that it would increase the subsidy available to keep electricity prices from rising throughout 2011.

At the end of 2006 the country’s electricity generating capacity had collapsed, barely meeting 80% of national demand - which stood then at a little over 500 megawatts - and causing daily power cuts for a much as 12 hours at a time. Within 6 months the government had eliminated those power cuts. By the end of 2010 with funding from ALBA, bilateral development cooperation agreements, loans from various development banks and relatively small private sector investment, the country had installed generating capacity of almost 1000 megawatts.

By 2015, the country aims to have reduced its dependence on oil fuel powered generating stations by 50% by promoting solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric power. By 2017 the country may well be self-sufficient in its electricity generating capacity. That massive effort to transform the country’s energy matrix is unprecedented in the region and seemed unimaginable in 2006.

Even this brief summary of key policies implemented by the Nicaraguan government makes the remarks made by Eric Toussaint and James Petras look completely foolish. It is long past time for the Western Bloc country intellectual managers who tend to control the production of news and information about international affairs to admit they have been hopelessly wrong about events in Nicaragua. They are unlikely to do so because they tend to share a similar neocolonial mindset to their counterparts in Western Bloc governments. The truth of that is very clear from Western analysis and coverage of events in Libya.

The propaganda onslaught against Libya

It seems undeniable now that events in Libya have served mainly to provide a mirror for observers in which to make out whatever image they choose to see. Concrete information has been very hard to get. Lies and rumours have been treated as facts. Inconvenient facts have been omitted and concealed.

Hardly anyone in the Western Bloc propaganda media reported the lynchings and attacks against black Africans in the parts of Libya controlled by the monarchist rebels and their ad hoc salafist allies. But reports by Turkish and Somali people who have left Libya confirm that the rebels have murdered at least one hundred Africans in Libya while many thousands have suffered ill-treatment and abuse at the rebels’ hands.

Now the first black President of the United States has authorized US military attacks in support of groups of murderous racists and numerous salafist fighters who sympathise with Osama bin Laden. It remains to be seen how many innocent Libyan civilians will be blown to bits by Western Bloc bombing supposedly carried out to prevent the bombing of innocent Libyan civilians.

Almost all progressive opinion in the Western Bloc countries has applauded the rebels without having the least idea what those rebels stand for or the prosperity that people in Libya have experienced over the last few years. Much progressive opinion has ended up on the same side as the same repressive Arab regimes that Western progressives allege they oppose. The opinion of the African Union has been largely ignored. Nor have many advocates of intervention paused to consider what might happen to women in Libya should a reactionary Islamic regime take power following the current Western Bloc miltiary intervention.

In particular in their coverage of Libya, the Western Bloc corporate media have shown more clearly than ever that they are merely propaganda outlets for their respective governments. Likewise, highly regarded writers like Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar and Rene Naba have pushed their own propaganda narrative demonizing the Libyan government without providing relevant context or offering an honest account of conditions in Libya for the country’s people. The contradictions and hypocrisies thrown up by Western and Arab responses to events in Libya are obvious. Action is demanded in Libya but not in Bahrain, or the Ivory Coast, or Gaza, or Western Sahara. Western and Arab cynicism is complete.

The response of the ALBA countries

By contrast the ALBA countries have taken a very similar line to that of the African Union. Led by Cuba and Venezuela, the ALBA countries (including Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines) have insisted on fundamental principles of international law, non-aggression, territorial integrity and self determination. They too have called for a peaceful solution to the crisis respecting the basic rights of people in Libya.

Nicaragua’s statement to the UN on Libya was typical : "Nicaragua is enormously concerned at the loss of human life, of innocent civilians and in this case we deeply regret the loss of life in Libya, a country with which Nicaragua has maintained close relations. We trust in the capacity and wisdom of the Libyan people and their leadership, headed by Muammar Ghadaffi, to resolve their internal problems and find a peaceful solution in a sovereign way without interference or foreign military intervention, of any kind under any justification."

On March 4th ALBA made a declaration proposing an international commission to mediate between the two sides and carry out humanitarian action to end the situation of civil war in the country. The ALBA proposal was received positively at the time by the Libyan government, by the Arab League and, with some reservations, by Russia. Once the Libyan government began to defeat the rebels, the Arab League then began calling for foreign military intervention.

The day before the decision of the United Nations to expel Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, 65 civilians in Afghanistan were killed in bombing by NATO warplanes. A little earlier, 9 Afghan children were killed by NATO missiles. No NATO member of the UN Human Rights Council will be expelled either for those massacres or for the carnage of over a million Iraqi civilians dead and wounded by US and allied forces. Nor will any NATO country ever be subject to sanctions for these and innumerable other crimes committed in the name of democracy and civilization over the last few decades.

Progressive people in North America and Europe have never - with the possible exception of the French suitcase carriers for the Algerian FLN - directly and unconditionally helped peoples struggling for liberation. They have always offered their solidarity conditioned by their own priorities and criteria. Progressive people in the Western Bloc countries often seem more afraid of political power in majority world countries than of the deeply corrupt elites that have betrayed their own societies to years of lower living standards and cuts in public spending in health care and education..

Those elites persist in massacring and starving the rest of humanity while steadily turning the screw harder and harder on their own peoples. Even so, progressive people in the Western Bloc countries have facilitated a democracy and human rights alibi for the rich country onslaught against Libya. It is only a matter of time before people in the majority world remind themselves that Frantz Fanon had it right. The self-serving cant of people in North America and Europe connives with the sadistic application of indiscriminate violence by those regions’ governments.

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