"The Observer" : a Nicaraguan day out for genocide’s Boswells

Tuesday 10 February 2009 by CEPRID

by toni solo

On January 11th, the UK’s Observer newspaper published an article on Nicaragua.(1) The Observer is one of a group of prestigious social democrat European newspapers who all tend to filter news on Latin America via fiction, half-truths and downright lies. The Observer article sticks faithfully to that habitual propaganda modus operandi, breaking into the truth about Nicaragua, rifling everything worth knowing, leaving the reader with nothing worth having. A quick review of the current international context will help, before looking at the article itself.

Right now, North America and Europe are in the process of losing the economic and political advantage they inherited from the colonial era. For more than fifty years, since 1945, they sustained that advantage via a neocolonial system of measureless brutality, hypocrisy and cynicism. The recent zionist massacres of Palestinians in Gaza are the latest in a long history of European and North American genocide against the peoples of the world, carried out either directly by their own armed forces or indirectly by client-aggressors like Israel in Palestine, for example, or Ethiopia in Somalia recently, or Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of  Congo.

Other writers have noted the massacres perpetrated by the French in Madagascar or in Setif in Algeria. One might also point to the massacres in Korea under the command of US Army General John R. Hodge who wrote in 1946 "our imperialism hasn’t been a bad imperialism". Hodge wrote just months after the US attacked defenceless civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Two years later Korean forces under US command massacred around 80,000 people on the island of Cheju. That genocide was all of a piece with the earlier US military record in the Philippines or in Nicaragua, for example.

Madagascar, Setif, Cheju are just a few instances of the systematic genocidal violence applied for centuries by the imperialist powers against populations who resisted them. In Latin America and the Caribbean over the last fifty years or so, that violence has generally been applied by imperialist clients. But the intellectual authors have always been the same : the North Americans and the Europeans. Their fundamental attitude never varies : they are superior, their lives are important, the lives of the rest are not important, because they are inferior.

Bloodthirsty servants of the imperialist powers, like Augusto Pinochet, the Argentinian generals who ran that country’s dirty war, the Central American oligarchs, narco-terror gangsters like Alvaro Uribe in Colombia - all of them have had at the very least tacit approval of the imperialist governments. By contrast, revolutionary governments never have. The North Americans and Europeans have collaborated for decades so as to maintain a status quo favourable to their corporate interests. Just in the last ten years they have overthrown President Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, tried to overthrow President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, attempted to foment civil war in Bolivia, supported a destabilizing strike in Argentina, actively promoted State terrorism in Colombia, ignored gross human rights violations in Mexico and Peru and maintained a permanent criminal blockade of the people of Cuba.

So it is completely normal for the corporate media of those imperialist countries to reflect the very same hypocrisy and cynicism as their governments. The two elements - government and corporate media - complement each other. They are part of the same global neocolonialist system that has sustained the historical privilege and domination of the old imperialist powers and their peoples since the Second World War. Here, we return to the Observer’s article on Nicaragua.

Most of the article consists of the reporter’s subjective impressions, false accusations treated as fact, minimal concrete data and no firm statistics. It is based almost entirely on comments from opposition political figures and anonymous sources. The mixture of truth and falsehood can be seen in remarks like "International donors have slashed aid and business confidence has collapsed." It is true that the Commission of the European Union, along with Holland and Finland have said they are suspending aid - the context of that is very instructive. Other important donor countries like Germany and Spain have explicitly not done so. But to report that business confidence has collapsed is completely untrue. The opposite is the case.

Business confidence in Nicaragua has recovered dramatically since 2006, with export growth of over 30% in 2007 and over 20% in 2008. The 12 hour daily power cuts that characterized the previous government of Ing. Enrique Bolaños - coddled and cosseted by the Europeans and the North Americans - have gone. There is more than sufficient electrical energy for the country now - a stunning achievement in just two years, due entirely to the vigorous policies of the FSLN government under its President, Daniel Ortega. The Observer’s reporters need to explain how it is that a leading right wing banker and economist like Francisco Mayorga, former head of Nicaragua’s Central Bank under President Violeta Chamorro, suggested recently that Nicaragua might well be better placed than other countries facing into the deepening international economic crisis.

The government has managed to control inflation at levels slightly less than in neighbouring Costa Rica. Foreign currency reserves are well over US$1bn - a good level for Nicaragua historically. Compared to the situation two years ago the economy is in incomparably better shape, despite the international crisis. For a more realistic perspective, one has only to ask where in North America or Europe business confidence has not collapsed. Looked at that way, one can see that Nicaragua is in relatively good shape to face the coming challenges. By contrast, for example, the British leader of the opposition has suggested that Prime Minister Gordon Brown may end up going begging for help to the IMF.

The most obvious dishonesty of The Observer article is its use of comments from a group including the novelist Sergio Ramirez, the journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the politician Dora Maria Téllez and the feminist activist Sofia Montenegro. What unites these four individuals is their membership of, or enthusiastic support for, the social democrat political alliance led by the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS). In the most dishonest way possible, the Observer studiedly fails to mention that fact, which casts the comments of those individuals in a completely different, less plausible, light. They are not random individuals who all happen to think the same. They are a ruthless, close-knit clique of political losers trying to compensate for their domestic political failure by leveraging their professional prestige abroad.

Sofia Montenegro is the perrenial leader of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), part of the MRS political alliance. In 2008, an investigation by Nicaragua’s Office of Public Prosecution discovered that foreign governments had funded MAM under the table via donations triangulated via OXFAM and the CINCO non-governmental organization run by Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The annoyance of the foreign governments involved at having being caught red-handed funding part of the country’s political opposition probably had much to do with the hardening of their feelings against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

But none of that highly relevant context appears in the article in The Observer. It does not mention that Sergio Ramirez founded the MRS. Nor does it note that Dora Maria Tellez, as President of the MRS at the time, worked for years with the FSLN as part of the National Convergence political alliance. All this information puts a very different aspect on the remarks of these individuals against President Daniel Ortega and his FSLN government.

The most important information about the MRS, for anyone reading the Observer article, is that now the party’s national support is certainly less than 5% of the country’s electorate. It has progressively lost support since its humiliating defeat in the presidential elections of 2006. In fact, in 2008 it reached the point where it could not sustain its legality as a political party after repeated requests from the national electoral authority for the MRS to supply basic details specifying its departmental and municipal organizational structure. Just prior to the 2008 municipal elections both in Managua the capital and in various of the country’s provincial departments, important sections of the MRS party’s activist base deserted back to the FSLN because they resented the dictatorial imposition by the party leadership of a tactical electoral alliance with the extreme right wing.

Absolutely none of that vital context appears in the Observer report. By means of that dishonest omission, the Observer absurdly overrates the importance of remarks by MRS leaders and supporters whose influence dwindles almost by the day within Nicaragua. If they are influential, it is because Carlos Fernando Chamorro is a member of a family media dynasty that dominates the newspaper business in Nicaragua. Any mention of that fact by the Observer would have chimed ill with the MRS leadership’s bogus claims of a Sandinista dictatorship, which they have been putting about for two years now. So, despite admitting, reluctantly, that Nicaragua shows none of the signs of a police state, the Observer report implicitly sustains the false accusation that Daniel Ortega wants to impose one.

The MRS leadership still enjoy the prestige they earned as members of the first Sandinista revolutionary government in the 1980s. They also maintain friendships they forged in those years with leading intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, José Saramago, Salman Rushdie and others. These internationally famous personalities occasionally make ill-informed pronouncements about Nicaragua based on those friendships. Their remarks contribute no worthwhile information about Nicaragua but conveniently serve the propaganda requirements of media outlets like The Observer so as to smear the Sandinista government.

It is worth asking why the Observer is so ready to retail the crude personal insults and avowedly political accusations it quotes against Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. It quotes the opinion of Sofia Montenegro that Ortega is another Robert Mugabe or Papa Doc and that the FSLN party he leads is like the mafia. But, after all, it was Montenegro who was discovered, along with Carlos Fernando Chamorro, abusing the norms of financial transparency on development cooperation funding, with the aim of financing Montenegro’s organization, a part of the MRS political alliance.

The FSLN government has dramatically improved the situation in Nicaragua in very concrete ways. This is evident, to take a few examples of many, from the greater number of people with access to drinking water, much higher numbers of people receiving public health care, a dramatic decline in maternal mortality, a marked decline in scholastic desertion in the public education system, much lower figures for illiteracy, greater macro-economic stability, very important advances in Nicaragua’s food security, a decisive increase in credit for previously excluded economic sectors and the very high percentage - around 40% - of women in executive positions in the government.

The Sandinista government has achieved all that in just two years. But for power-obssessed individuals like Sofia Montenegro and their media accomplices, none of that exists. As Harold Pinter might have put it, it never happened. That denial of readily verifiable improvements in standard socio-economic indicators is to be expected from people like Montenegro and Chamorro. These are individuals who refused to cooperate with an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office because they were desperate to cover up funding for Montenegro’s party-politically aligned organization with money intended for development cooperation. In that context, the government emerges with more credibility than either Montenegro or Chamorro, which is presumably why The Observer failed to report the facts.

In the same way, Montenegro and her MRS colleagues slander Rosario Murillo, who runs the Nicaraguan government’s public relations. Murillo is a constant target of insults and attacks. Montenegro, supposedly a feminist, instead of celebrating Murillo’s unarguable success as a talented politician and leading public figure, strings along with Nicaragua’s machista politicians and right wing media, who all hate Murillo. In the Observer article, Montenegro compares Murillo to Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate in the last US presidential election. But Palin is someone who supports the death penalty, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the genocide of the Palestinians - the very antithesis of Murillo’s humanitarian, anti-imperialist, democratic political positions. One has to stop and wonder at this irrational and absurd comparison. Here, one is very close to the deep psychological springs of the Nicaraguan opposition’s hatred for Daniel Ortega and his government.

If one looks at political life in the Central American region for a politician more talented, influential and capable than Daniel Ortega, it is hard to see a likely candidate. Neither Toni Saca of El Salvador, Manuel Zelaya of Honduras nor Alvaro Colom of Guatemala match up to Ortega in terms of experience or achievement. Possibly Oscar Arias. Oscar Arias can certainly compete with Ortega in terms of international prestige. But in the majority world of Asia. Africa and Latin America, Ortega probably enjoys more prestige than Arias, the darling of the Europeans and the North Americans.

If one tries the same experiment in the case of Rosario Murillo, it is impossible to find a woman politician in Central America more successful or influential in the political life of their country than Murillo. Like it or not, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo stand head and shoulders above their Central American counterparts, with the possible exception of Oscar Arias. That is why their enemies hate them so desperately. Mediocrity and failure loath talent and success. Ortega and Murillo have notched up political achievements their enemies cannot match. All this explains a great deal of the false and fictitious content of the article in The Observer which, despite the FSLN administration’s impressive record, fails to admit any significant achievement by the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

If one analyzes the coup d’etat in Haiti in 2004 or North American and European conduct in Palestine or perhaps in Somalia too, there is a common approach. The majorities in those countries choose a government not to the liking of the imperialist powers. Aghast at real demcracy in action, the imperialist powers then make alliances with ruthess local anti-democratic minorities. They feed them and build them up. They exaggerate their claims and influence. They fund them and help them consolidate. They even equip them with weapons. On the other hand, to the freely chosen governments, they deny resources and aid. They trash their achievements. They do everything possible to weaken and undermine them. If necessary they will attack them. That same pattern has occurred in Venezuela, in Bolivia, in Nicaragua.

Despite the efforts of the imperialist governments to date, the list of achievements by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is long and explains on its own the stunning defeat of the opposition parties in the municipal elections of 2008. The FSLN now controls 109 out of a total of 153 municipalities in the country. The article in the Observer touches on those municipal elections but offers no plausible facts on which to base its insistent suggestion that they were fraudulent.

That is to be expected. No such plausible facts exist. The same electoral authorities, using the same procedures, supervised the postponed elections in seven municipalities in the Autonomous Northern Atlantic Region that took place on January 18th this year. The area is traditionally opposition territory politically, but the FSLN still won four out of the seven municipalities. The opposition did not claim fraud. Just as there was no fraud in the elections of January 18th 2009 nor was there in the elections of November 9th 2008.

Not one concrete argument the opposition have offered to back up their allegations of fraud stands up against the explanations given by the electoral authorities. The opposition have failed to substantiate claims that legitimately accredited party officials were unfairly denied access to the count process, that there were no election observers, or that the election observers were biased, that the official results were corrupted. They have exploited ignorance and confusion about the country’s electoral law and the process of administrative challenges of results in specific voting stations to the electoral authorities at municipal and departmental level. They perpetuate the downright falsehood that the Supreme Electoral Council is controlled by the FSLN.

The Observer fails to note any of that context. Nor does it note other relevant incidents relating to the bitter conflicts between different factions of the Nicaraguan opposition. In one incident José Marenco an opposition magistrate of the Supreme Electoral Council was so enraged at comments by fellow party member José Pallais that he rang up the phone-in programme Pallais was appearing on and tackled Pallais’s falsehoods on air. Marenco accused Pallais and his colleagues of being hypocrites. His clear meaning during the exchange was that the opposition leaders admitted their electoral defeat in private but falsely denounced fraud for public consumption so as to justify their categorical electoral defeat.

There is plenty more context like that around the aftermath of the controversial elections of November 9th, all of it ignored by the Observer. The Observer came to Nicaragua with its script already sketched out. All it needed was some lines for its characters to speak. Another example of vital context ignored by the Observer is its assertion, "Téllez, a health minister in the first elected Sandinista administration, staged a hunger strike last year to protest at the banning of her party, a breakaway Sandinista group, from the elections." But the report does not make clear that it was the right wing PLC opposition party that initiated the legal administrative procedure culminating in the disappearance of the MRS as a political party. The Observer report implies government skulduggery. But the government did nothing.

The reason for that right wing opposition manoeuvre vis-a-vis the MRS was to clear the way for an undivided opposition vote in the all important municipal election in Managua, so as to favour the extreme right winger Eduardo Montealegre, preferred candidate of the US embassy and the European Union. It was only to be expected when Tellez and fellow MRS leader Edmundo Jarquin then brazenly urged their supporters to vote for right-winger Montealegre, since that had almost certainly been strategy all along. The Observer explains none of this context , essential to even begin to grasp what was going on in Nicaraguan politics around the municipal elections.

All of this gives some idea of the really deep dishonesty, the mendacity, the truly fictional nature of The Observer’s journalism in its report of January 11th. And it is important to realise this when considering the issue of foreign development cooperation in Nicaragua. A faithful report of that issue would turn on the thoroughgoing hypocrisy of European and North American governments. They know they are dealing with a highly competent, disciplined and determined government in Nicaragua. They are desperate to stymie successful outcomes for that government’s programme. All through 2008 the European Union and other foreign donors used delaying tactics hoping to be able to use the pretext of electoral fraud in the November municipal elections to justify not releasing long agreed funding. They had no solid reasons to withhold that funding right through the period up to the elections. As soon as the fake-fraud trap was sprung by their proxies in the Nicaraguan opposition, they acted.

Now, after the elections of the new Executive Committee in the National Assembly one can see that one faction of the opposition - the PLC faction loyal to corrupt ex-President Arnoldo Aleman - only used the false allegations of fraud so as to pressure the FSLN government into not opposing the reversal of Arnoldo Aleman’s conviction on extremely serious charges of corruption. Once that was achieved and Aleman was free once more, everything returned to normal. The crisis vanished. The fraud has been forgotten, except for moments when, like a malingering dog that fakes a limp looking for sympathy, the opposition remember it and hoping to squeeze out yet one more political concession.

Given The Observer’s flagrant dishonesty in omitting highly relevant context, it is understandable their reporter had no difficulty finding anonymous sources from foreign development cooperation programmes to criticize the government. The outfits – governmental and non-governmental - involved in those programmes failed to achieve in 16 years what the Sandinista government has achieved in two. The various elements of the governments poverty reduction programme benefit hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans every year now, even without taking into account the benefits of dramatic improvements in access to education and health care.

One has to remember that the European and North American governments repeatedly praised the previous administration of Enrique Bolaños for its anti-corruption struggle : blackguards puffing up poltroons. Clearly, what they meant to praise was the Bolaños administration’s implementation of styles and varieties of corruption more to the taste of its North American and European patrons. The government of Enrique Bolaños was deeply corrupt in the best hypocritical European style paying its officials and all those foreign consultants grossly inflated salaries and per diems, along with all kinds of superfluous perquisites.

People in Nicaragua had to wait for the Sandinista government in order to get an administration determined on cutting to reasonable levels the massively inflated salaries paid under previous governments. Daniel Ortega implemented that measure the very day he and his ministers took office. Nicaragua’s Comptroller General’s office, a politically independent body, announced in September 2008 it had not needed to process any government functionary for corruption in over 18 months. None of that information appears in The Observer’s reporting on Nicaragua.

The horrifying events in Gaza over the last while, in Lebanon in 2006, in Haiti in 2004 and over so  many years in Palestine, Somalia, Iraq, and Africa’s Great Lakes region, all demonstrate beyond argument the anti-humanitarian, anti-democratic, sadistic and cynical nature of the North American and European imperialist powers. If their behaviour has changed over the last 50 years it has been for the worse. It makes sense that their corporate media, like The Observer, operate with the same mendacity, the same cynicism, the same hypocrisy. These are exactly the qualities of its January 11th report on Nicaragua.


1. The original article appeared on January 11th in the Observer section of the guardian.co.uk web site with the byline "The Observer". Subsequently the byline changed to "Rory Carroll, The Observer". Personally, I think various hands wrote the article because it bears some of the stylistic touches one might expect from the Observer’s Foreign Affairs editor, Peter Beaumont. I don’t refer to Rory Carroll here because it seems to me that he and people like himself or Peter Beaumont are mostly ciphers operating a systemic process of industrialized ideological reproduction. It’s hard to credit people working in such a mindless system with any semblance of authorship. They slavishly produce what they are under contract to produce within the ideological narrative framework preferred by their employer. Real responsibility for the false and deceitful material published by the Observer lies with its management, who could hardly care less.

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