Nicaragua : manufactured consent and the neocolonialist Left

Friday 22 May 2009 by CEPRID

Toni Solo

Feinting Left on certain themes and issues while in practice siding with the Right has long been a tactic of progressive or liberal people in the intellectual managerial classes that dominate information and debate. While the Internet may have expanded the membership of those classes of people, it has done little to change their patterns of behaviour. Recently, Nicaragua has provided a clear example of the kinds of contradictions that can develop when influential people find their status and prestige put to the question by outsiders.

To put the matter in some perspective in global terms, it has always been reasonable to talk about an aristocracy of labour in the rich countries, able to enjoy a higher standard of living as a result of their countries’ imperialist power and reach. Occasional bouts of working-class solidarity with oppressed peoples seldom disturbed the fundamental forced accommodation of labour in Western Bloc countries – those of North America and Europe and their Pacific allies - to the brutal and criminally inefficient global capitalist status quo.  Obvious examples of that abound in the history of decolonization in the 20th Century which threw up contradictions within the imperialist countries’ progressive sectors – for example, the French Communist Party voting “special powers” in 1956 for the colonial authorities in Algeria or the pre-war Popular Front government in France banning “L’Étoile Nord-Africaine”. In contemporary terms, it is certainly possible now to argue that Latin America’s growing liberation from imperialist domination is generating contradictions within the Western Bloc intellectual managerial elites. People disagree widely about supporting the FARC in Colombia, for example, or in their approval of Brazil’s President da Silva. Nicaragua is an especially interesting case in this regard.

The current mainstream corporate media consensus about Nicaragua is that the FSLN government is an oppressive authoritarian project dedicated to the aggrandizement of a corrupt clique lead by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. That version of reality is touted relentlessly by the right-wing Nicaraguan political opposition, despite the embarrassingly inconvenient fact that this opposition enjoys both a majority in the National Assembly and also overwhelming control of the country’s main news media. It is a version promoted equally relentlessly by the governments of the United States, Canada and their European allies.

One might have thought Western Bloc countries’ progressive intellectual managerial classes would be wary of stringing along with that right-wing consensus. In fact, to the contrary, various influential progressive figures have intervened to strengthen and promote it. Their motives seem to be ones of personal friendship with former revolutionaries, now social democrat members of the Nicaraguan opposition, whom they came to know during Nicaragua’s first revolutionary government of the 1980s. Those personal loyalties seem to have merged imperceptibly over the years with class loyalties.

The most recent issue in Nicaragua revealing the contradictions within those progressive intellectual managerial classes has been the claim that the recent municipal elections in Nicaragua involved massive fraud in favour of the FSLN government. The broader claim, whose logic the allegations of fraud follow, is that the FSLN government is not a progressive government and has betrayed people in Nicaragua by failing to deliver major social and economic improvements. From that false premise the FSLN’s pseudo-progressive critics seem to deduce that there must have been fraud in the municipal elections because the FSLN could not have mobilised such wide popular support if they are failing to deliver social and economic improvement.

This last argument is tacit and implicit, rather than explicit, in other arguments advanced by critics of the FSLN, and is completely contradicted by the facts. For specifics one can refer to a recent article by Roger Burbach and a point-by-point rebuttal of his article from us in Tortilla con Sal. Burbach’s article is only the latest in a series of interventions by people friendly with former revolutionary leaders like Dora Maria Tellez, Henry Ruiz or Luis Carrion. Through 2008 leading intellectuals, José Saramago, Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet and many others – who know very little in practice about the reality of daily life in Nicaragua – have intervened to comment critically on the policies of Nicaragua’s FSLN government.

Late in December 2008, a group of Nicaraguan and internationalist writers and editors coordinated a manifesto that demonstrated extremely wide international support for the FSLN government. The impressive and broad support for that manifesto contradicts the kind of false anti-FSLN propaganda promoted by individuals like Roger Burbach and numerous others. So very clearly something unusual is happening with regard to how political and economic developments in Nicaragua are reported by supposedly progressive media outlets and international progressive opinion in general.

If one asks a question like, “What do individuals like Roger Burbach or Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Ariel Dorfman and Ignacio Ramonet know about routine daily life in Nicaragua for the impoverished majority?” - the answer, clearly, is very little. Or if one asks, “which is likely to be more important to eminent individuals like these – the well-being of distant, impoverished people in Nicaragua or their own prestige and influence in the support networks of which they are a part?” The answer, equally clearly, is the latter.

One sees this in the support given to privileged members of Nicaragua’s oligarchy like Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Chamorro’s false reporting and completely self-serving account of  politics in Nicaragua is promoted  by leading writers on both the Right and Left internationally. The version of victims of the Chamorro family media dictatorship - like one of Nicaragua’s leading investigative reporters Eloisa Ibarra - gets erased. The same distorted version of events in Nicaragua, long retailed by mainstream corporate media like the New York Times, El Pais, or the Guardian, now appears too in leading progressive web sites like Counterpunch or ZNet. Much of the coverage is based on a bogus argument from authority - if leading progressive intellectuals think that is the truth about Nicaragua then it must be so. Fact-based contrary accounts are now effectively censored.

Within Nicaragua, it is impossible to take seriously interventions by internationally renowned intellectuals in favour of a Nicaraguan political opposition which is almost completely aligned with the great powers of North America and Europe. Outside Nicaragua, these progressive critics of the FSLN government base their criticisms on the version of events in Nicaragua they get from oligarchy propagandists like Carlos Fernando Chamorro and from former revolutionaries like Dora Maria Tellez, Hugo Torres and Victor Hugo Tinoco, for example. Within Nicaragua the political party those people lead – the Sandinista Renewal Movement - has never won more than 7% of the vote. Unless they overtly support the Nicaraguan right-wing, progressive foreign critics of the FSLN in practice work to represent the views of a privileged elite rejected by most ordinary people in Nicaragua.

So when an article like Roger Burbach’s gets published in Counterpunch or Carlos Fernando Chamorro gets a prominent praise-piece in the New York Times, those outlets are publishing information that is at best extremely misleading and at worst deliberately false. The same is true when Le Monde Diplomatique publishes articles by disingenuous pseudo-progressive Nicaraguan politicans like Monica Baltodano, who persistently misrepresents Nicaragua’s FSLN government’s record, for example, on the economy. A contrary view is no longer represented – false information about Nicaragua favouring the right-wing opposition therefore now goes unchallenged in the progressive media that publish it.

So the issue is not just one of the facts about what is happening in Nicaragua but a wider one relating to the integrity of the intellectual managerial class that dominates Western Bloc left-wing information networks. If they are dead wrong about Nicaragua, there is less reason to trust what they publish about current affairs in other countries. Likewise, one is entitled to question their integrity if the information they spread, in this case about Nicaragua, is based on the personal friendships of influential individuals in the Western Bloc progressive intellectual managerial network with people now aligned, for all practical purposes, with the imperialist powers. (These and other issues also recur in arguments about the reliability of information resources like Wikipedia. The Eloisa Ibarra case demonstrates the utter futility of relying on newspaper accounts as sources of reporting on Nicaragua.)

Obviously, a tiny fraction of one percent of people in Central America read, for example, Counterpunch or Le Monde Diplomatique or Z Communications. There is a deep sense in which, for the global majority, what the Western Bloc progressive intellectual managerial classes produce is totally irrelevant. But on another level, these classes enjoy the inheritance of neocolonial privilege. They tend to dominate and manipulate the creation of a publicly falsifiable record of accurate and reliable information that people internationally can use for reference. On that level, the issue of facilitating free debate from knowledgeable and authoritative sources is far from trivial.

At Tortilla con Sal, our experience has been demoralising and disappointing in that regard. In fact, one can reasonably argue that debate on Nicaragua – and perhaps on other issues as well, since one cannot really know - is being stifled because influential people in the Western Bloc intellectual managerial class resist being shown up as ignorant and baselessly prejudiced. One has to ask what difference there is between this kind of behaviour and the kinds of socio-economic behaviour in the media analysed in books like Chomsky and Herman’s “Manufacturing consent”.

While repressive, manipulative behaviour by people ostensibly avowing radical or progressive views may perhaps be disappointing, it is hardly surprising. Managers always behave like that. The more serious matter is that this corrupt intellectual and moral behaviour amounts in practice to neocolonialist collaboration with governments like that of the United States and the countries of the European Union. When the Western Bloc intellectual managerial classes facilitate false attacks on the FSLN government in Nicaragua they are helping the right-wing Nicaraguan opposition - and that opposition’s masters in the powerful imperialist governments of the United States and Europe - destroy the first chance people in Nicaragua have had for nearly thirty years of major, sustained improvements in their lives.

Toni Solo writes for www.tortillaconsal.com

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