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Nicaragua: Fake news narrative as a function of ‘regime change’

“MOST of the clashes now are of extreme right-wing hordes attacking Sandinistas, but if we Sandinistas are attacked and defend ourselves, this is presented as paramilitaries attacking peaceful demonstrators; if we get ourselves killed, they add our names to their list of peaceful martyrs killed as a result of the massacres perpetrated by the government … that is the formula [of media narrative] they use,” Carlos Fonseca Teran, FSLN leader, July 7 2018, Managua.

The above quote sums up the simplistic take of the world corporate media on the rather complex crisis that since April 18 2018 has engulfed Nicaragua in a wave of extreme right-wing violence. 

The corporate media, as it did before with the foreign-generated wave of violence in Venezuela between January and July 2017, blame all the violence and the victims of that violence exclusively on the Nicaraguan government. 

They also blame the FSLN government of Daniel Ortega as being the main cause of the wave of violence by labelling it “dictatorial,” “authoritarian’ and “corrupt.” And they repeat ad nauseam that Ortega’s prestige and popularity are hitting rock bottom. 

They do all the above against mountains of irrefutable evidence to the contrary and, worst of all, being fully aware of this mountain of hard facts that belies the centre core of their narrative. 

The reason for such low levels of journalistic standards is that the exercise is not about informing readers or viewers about the intricacies of Nicaragua’s multifaceted and complex situation but about demonising the FSLN government. 

The Guardian/Observer editorial of June 17 2018 said: “It should be clear that change is urgently needed now [Ortega’s] people have turned against [him].” In other words, the media advocate “regime change.”

Ever since the crisis erupted in April 2018, the corporate media has sought to simultaneously demonise the FSLN, especially Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo, and falsely depict the wave of extreme right-wing violence as “spontaneous, unorganised, street protests,” triggered by Ortega’s social security reforms but brought about by deep discontent with Ortega’s “dictatorial rule.”

Thus the world’s corporate media has constructed myths, fake news, half-truths and blatant lies aimed at persuading the public, not very subliminally, that the ousting of the FSLN government in Nicaragua is desirable and beneficial for Nicaraguans, democracy, regional stability, freedom, liberty and every other imaginable cliche.

Tom Phillips, Guardian correspondent in Managua, for example, nonchalantly asserted: “Ortega’s stock has fallen since his 2006 re-election.” 

These kinds of assertions have been repeated by just about every major world corporate media outfit, although it is utterly false. 

In fact, since 2006 the FSLN’s electoral base has been steadily growing: Ortega was re-elected president in 2006 with 38 per cent, in 2011 with 62 per cent and with 72 per cent in 2016. 

The FSLN parliamentary vote has gone from 38 per cent in 2006 to 61 per cent in 2011 and 71 per cent in 2017. 

And the FSLN municipal electoral strength was 52 municipalities (out of 153) in 2000, 87 in 2004, 105 in 2008, 134 in 2012 and 135 in 2017. 

Another media myth is that it was the FSLN’s reform of the social security system that sparked the wave of protests were caused by FSLN mismanagement of the social security system combined with “the collapse of the economy in Nicaragua’s key ally Venezuela helped to reveal the brittleness of Ortega’s rule” (pumped out by The Guardian and The Economist on June 6 and July 16 2018 respectively). 

The media presents the reform as cuts in pensions and austerity. The social security reform took place due to demands from the IMF for the government to cut its spending and it included a rise in the retirement age to 65 and an increase to more than double the number of weeks that workers would need to pay in order to access benefits. 

In contrast, the FSLN proposal increased employers’ contribution by 3.5 per cent to the pension and health funds and that of workers by barely 0.75 per cent and shifting 5 per cent of pensions’ cash transfers to the healthcare fund. And it maintained the retirement age at 60. 

What is also utterly false is that Nicaragua’s economy was on the verge of an economic crisis. In fact, the opposite was the case.

Before the wave of extreme right-wing violence, Nicaragua’s average growth rate was over 5 per cent, poverty, extreme poverty, unemployment and social exclusion had been massively reduced, crime rates were low, illiteracy had been eradicated and it was one of the region’s most stable economies. 

Every correspondent knows this and yet they seek to depict economic developments negatively since otherwise their narrative would be incoherent. 

What is extraordinary is the corporate media’s insistence that all violence and the victims of that violence originate exclusively in the government: “Ortega’s response has been brutal. At least 170 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in violence involving police firing live ammunition, backed by ‘shock groups’ of armed paramilitaries,” said the Observer. 

The corporate media studiously avoids showing the “peaceful protesters” carrying firearms, even though there is an abundance of such photos and videos in the Nicaraguan mainstream and on social media. 

Furthermore, there is also a wealth of video footage, photos, and other material that prove irrefutably that sections of the right wing have perpetrated horrible atrocities: torturing people in public while being filmed, killing them after being tortured and burning their bodies once they have been murdered. Houses have been set on fire, ambulances and hospitals have been favourite targets, public institutions have been attacked, and police stations have been under attack with live ammunition and under siege for days. 

Yet corporate media writers on the ground, who are fully aware of this, avoid mentioning this uncomfortable but widely available information in their “reports.”  

There is also tonnes of information about the role of well-known armed delinquents in barricades perpetrating brutalities against Sandinista supporters and terrorising whole communities for weeks on end.

The corporate media also falsely affirms that the current wave of violence is spontaneous when they are fully aware that the current crisis is the result of careful and long-term preparations in the US for “regime change” in Nicaragua. 

The US Republican extreme right, led by the likes of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Ted Cruz, began a campaign against the FLSN government in September 2016 with the Nica Act, instructing the US government to veto any loan or international assistance to Nicaragua from multilateral bodies (IMF, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank) on condition of “improvements in democracy, human rights and battling corruption.”

Between 2014 and 2017, the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAid have generously financed over 50 projects for “democracy promotion” and “fostering the role of youth in defending democracy” to the tune of $4.2 million. 

The key organisations that have benefited from this US largesse have demanded Ortega’s resignation. Freedom House has also been involved in funding extreme right-wing activists to tour Europe to canvass support for “regime change” in Nicaragua. 

Thus, well before the wave of violence began in April 2018, Nicaragua’s right wing was well prepared, very well financed, certainly very well advised, highly trained and well supported, ready for “regime change.” 

But, as the 39th-anniversary celebrations of the ousting of US-supported murderous dictator Anastasio Somoza on July 19 show, the support for Ortega, the FSLN and the revolution is as gigantic as it is for peace and dialogue. Nicaraguans have overwhelmingly rejected the ousting of the democratically elected government by a violent US-funded minority.  

Who will determine who is the government of their nation? The people of Nicaragua, not Donald Trump.

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