Criticism of the organisation Global Witness and the coverage of Nicaragua in its latest report on ‘environmental defenders’ has so far failed to shift its stance, or even to persuade it to look in detail at the arguments. Here are the latest developments.
The Two Worlds article published on July 16 was accompanied by emails to GW and to the Guardian (who have given the GW report extensive publicity). Two UK-based organisations with lengthy experience of environmental issues in Central America then sent detailed criticisms to GW – the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign’s Action Group and the Environmental Network for Central America. GW sent a lengthy reply on July 20, but failed to address the detailed points about their characterisation of Nicaragua, their confusion of two completely separate issues (the planned interoceanic canal across the south of Nicaragua and land disputes in the extreme north) and whether they had properly described and registered the deaths of people involved in the land disputes. The Guardian was more forthcoming: their environment editor and former Latin America correspondent, Jon Watts, has promised that they will not mix the land disputes with the canal issue.
Because of GW’s poor response, a more detailed critique of their report was compiled by the NSCAG, ENCA and this author (John Perry) and sent to GW on July 25. Then on July 27, Helen Yuill from NSC and Sheila Amoo-Gottfried from ENCA attended a presentation by GW in London, at which they were able to ask questions about its coverage of Nicaragua, although the time available was very limited. A new blog, based on the new set of criticisms, was published by the environmental news site Mongabay on July 28. Completely independently, the Nicaraguan website Tortilla con Sal published its own criticism on August 2, a version of which then appeared on Venezuela’s Telesur website. The NSCAG and ENCA criticisms were also circulated in the United States, and my earlier blog was posted by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington and by the US Nicaragua Network’s Nicanotes.
Global Witness’s response to the additional criticism was short, bland and dismissive. On August 3, they simply wrote to say:
‘We appreciate your engagement on this issue. As previously stated we believe that our initial detailed response broadly covers the issues you raised. We appreciate your recognition that the Nicaraguan government should be doing more to protect both the Miskutu communities and those defenders who have faced threats and reprisals for their work. We also appreciate your recognition that the people we included in our reporting were not engaged in violent acts. We would urge you to publicly condemn the threats and the lack of a sufficient response from the Nicaraguan government. Many thanks for taking the time and effort to engage on this important issue.’
The detailed criticisms sent to GW on July 25 remain unanswered. NSCAG and ENCA are considering how to take this forward, given the unfair damage GW has caused to Nicaragua’s international standing. Apart from the Guardian publicity, GW’s report was separately launched in Washington, attracting a press release from Reuters which highlighted the Nicaragua accusations and provoked further ill-informed commentaries such as this one.
It comes at a time when right-wing senators in the US are trying to push forward legislation (the ‘NICA Act’) which would impose sanctions on Nicaragua, and when the US has criticised Nicaragua for its continuing support of the Maduro government in Venezuela (support that is hardly surprising, given that Venezuela is a long-standing ally and source of assistance towards Nicaragua’s ambitious anti-poverty programmes). Global Witness seems oblivious of the wider impact of its criticisms of Nicaragua, but they are all too apparent to those aware of the long history of US intervention in the region and the damage it has caused.