By Richard Kohn, Ph.D.
From Columbia, MD
Eric Alterman’s article in The Nation on September 28, 2021 told us rhetorically, “Why the Media No Longer Cares About Nicaragua.” The Nation is becoming nothing more than mainstream propaganda when it comes to US foreign policy.
Neoliberal governments that let their people starve while shipping their resources north for a pittance are “free” and “democratic” and what we all want. Governments that try to improve the lives of their own people are corrupt Marxist dictatorships.
He acknowledged that indeed the CIA broke US and international law waging war on Nicaragua in the 1980s, and US propaganda was distributed by the US Office of Public Diplomacy whose role was to “concentrate on gluing black hats on the Sandinistas and white hats on the UNO [US-backed terrorists]”. He says they spent a $935,000 annual budget (nearly $2.4 million in today’s dollars) plus 8 staffers of State Department, US Information Agency, and US Agency for International Development. Yet he forgot to mention the CIA involvement, and the organization they created called the National Endowment of Democracy (NED). But the greater omission is that he didn’t mention that the same agencies are pushing the same stories today with a lot more money behind them.
In the 1980s, Stephen Kinzer corresponded for the New York Times writing some of the most virulently anti-Sandinista lies that were dutifully repeated by most other outlets. The Nation was one of the few outlets that occasionally reminded us that the Sandinistas supposed human rights violations were exaggerated, and that they did improve the lives of many Nicaraguan people early after overthrowing the dictator Somoza and before the US sanctions and war had their full impact. They had reduced illiteracy and poverty and built health clinics throughout the countryside, all achievements that were systematically attacked by US-backed terrorists (Contras).
Ortega returned to power in 2007 and Alterman claims he “proved himself not to be a Sanders-style democratic socialist”. That may be true. The Sandinistas build 21 hospitals, hundreds of health clinics, and low-income homes. They supported women’s rights and now Nicaragua is fifth in the world (among Nordic countries) for gender equity. They did not legalize abortion because most of their population would not support it. They re-introduced free public education to everyone from primary school through university. I don’t recall Senator Sanders accomplishing anything like that. See the article and video here.
What the Sandinistas didn’t do is arrest people for running for office or speaking out against President Ortega. Some people were arrested for laundering money from the US to promote violent protests, but none of them were candidates for office, although some became candidates after being arrested. The police eventually used force against violent street protests that had killed many bystanders and police officers in 2018. They did not censor the press or kill or torture journalists (that’s the US). The US press including the New York Times and pro-corporate “human rights groups” accused the Sandinistas of all the same atrocities in the 1980s as they do today, but sometimes The Nation didn’t comply back then.
The Nation should be embarrassed for publishing such right-wing drivel and CIA propaganda.
Richard Kohn is a professor of Animal Science at the University of Maryland. His research interests include evaluating the environmental impacts of animal production systems. He has considerable personal and professional experience on Nicaragua.