Some of the local ‘human rights’ organisations in Nicaragua, which received foreign funding and operated as propaganda vehicles against the government, lost their legal status earlier this year. One of the these was CENIDH, run by Vilma Nuñez. Several of the staff, including a director, Gonzalo Carrión, left in February to set up a new body in Costa Rica, the Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Más, allegedly using money that belongs to CENIDH (The Grayzone has reported more widely on The Rise and Fall of Nicaragua’s ‘Human Rights’ Organisations and the recent conflicts within them).
Nicaragua Nunca Más is clearly well-resourced, as it now has an office in San Jose, publishes elaborately produced reports, and is able to present its arguments and hold meetings with the United Nations, the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), and other international bodies. Although there is nothing on its website to indicate where this money comes from, as was also the case with CENIDH, its Facebook page suggests it gets support from the UK embassy in Costa Rica and other sources. Nicaragua Nunca Más enjoys the collaboration of the Costa Rican government, which regularly condemns Nicaragua despite having its own considerable human rights issues.
Nunca Más was only set up in February but already it is having a considerable influence on international bodies. So far its most successful campaign has been against the ‘assassination’ of campesinos in rural areas of Nicaragua, allegedly by the Nicaraguan army or police, and supposedly focused on people who opposed the government during the protests in 2018. All of the key international bodies have treated this seriously. The OAS took evidence about it from Nunca Más on September 25, and on October 4 the IACHR issued a press release, denouncing the killing of ‘at least 30’ campesinos, the majority linked with the opposition or in political conflict with the government. In addition Andrew Gilmour, the (British) Assistant Secretary-General for human rights at the UN, travelled to Costa Rica to hear the allegations of ‘terrible repression’ from Nunca Más, and Gilmour also listened sympathetically to the similar views of the Costa Rican government.
In its campaign for international sanctions against Nicaragua, the opposition Civic Alliance has just presented the OEA with one of the glossy reports produced by Nicaragua Nunca Más. Entitled Situación de Derechos Humanos de la Población Campesina (‘Human rights situation of the rural population’) it accuses the government of systematic, selective and lethal repression of campesinos (peasants), with 30 of the deaths allegedly occurring in the first nine months of this year.
For a report which supposedly gives details of a campaign of terror in the countryside, it has an unusual structure. The first part is not about the present day at all, but deals with the protests against the interoceanic canal in the years leading up to 2017. Despite the allegations of repression, the anti-canal movement was able to hold around 80 large demonstrations in this period, and no one was killed (although there were clashes with police when protesters set up road blocks, which led to injuries on both sides).
The second part is about the roadblocks set up in rural areas during the failed coup attempt in 2018. But the report says nothing of the deaths which occurred in the roadblocks, for example the many people killed when they tried to pass them, or who died on the way to receive urgent treatment because ambulances were prevented from reaching the hospital in time. The report by solidarity activists, Dismissing the Truth, devotes a chapter (Chapter 5) to the deaths that occurred in Central Nicaragua in the first half of last year, showing that most of the victims were indeed local people, but killed not by police but by those controlling the roadblocks.
The third section of the Nunca Más report is about the arrest and trial of Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, men who were found guilty of organising the massacre in the small town of Morrito. The act of terror they led is barely mentioned, and it is stated inaccurately that two people died when the actual death toll was five, of whom four were police and one was a popular local teacher. The full story was told in January by Dick y Miriam Emanuelsson. The Whatsapp messages on the phones carried by Mairena and Mena when they were arrested, and testimony of people who heard the plans being made, provided the evidence that led to their conviction. Nevertheless they were released in the government’s conditional amnesty in June, and Mairena is now touting himself as a potential presidential candidate.
The fourth section is about displacement of campesinos who fled to Costa Rica when the roadblocks were dismantled. Hardly any people involved are mentioned by name, but in any case the report completely fails to point out that many of those who fled the roadblocks did so because they were guilty of crimes and were carrying weapons. Instead, it portrays them all as innocent victims of government persecution.
Only in the fifth section of the report are there details of ‘executions’ in rural areas, and most of these relate to the period 2008-2017, well before the recent protests began. The 2019 cases, supposedly a consequence of last year’s protests, take up only nine pages of the report. Of the ’30’ deaths, only seven are presented with any details. Most of these relate to members of one family, of which two deaths occurred in Honduras. In one of the seven cases, only the first name of the victim (‘Martin’) is given, making it impossible to verify the account.
The real stories behind several of the earlier and recent cases have been examined by the independent news agency Carta Boden, which often prints news stories favourable to the opposition as well as reporting government news. For example, the murders that occurred in Honduras, 25km distant from the frontier with Nicaragua, were attributed by the local police and press to family enemies, with no evidence of any involvement by the Nicaraguan authorities. In total, including cases dating back to 2008, Carta Boden says that the report claims that there have been 55 rural assassinations, but gives details only of 26 of these, and makes a clear link with the Nicaraguan army or police in only 18 cases. Even for these, the analysis shows that many were related to ordinary crimes such as drug trafficking, cattle rustling or murder. Carta Boden concluded that the deaths it investigated had nothing to do with the political situation.
In other words, Nicaragua Nunca Más has written a report claiming that the Nicaraguan government is carrying out a campaign of terror in rural areas, which contains little or no hard evidence that this is happening at all. Even where deaths or other incidents are documented, the report very often fails to explain the context which would enable the incidents to be properly understood. Of course, the opposition know that if they present a glossy, well designed 80-page report, the majority of the media who are sympathetic to their politics will produce headlines such as The Regime’s Repression against Campesinos.
What should be more surprising, but sadly isn’t, is the uncritical gullibility of the international organisations when they receive this material and their failure to do due diligence in checking the facts. Presumably, Nicaragua Nunca Más knows that administrators at the UN, OEA and IACHR are unlikely to do more than glance through a report of this kind and will take it at face value. Even if they look at the detail, they will have no knowledge of the local circumstances. For the opposition and their propagandists in ‘human rights’ organisations, the key aim is to give the impression that (as the report puts it) the rural areas of Nicaragua are suffering under a government-led ‘wave of crime’ directed against people who formed part of the opposition last year. The fact that few people in Nicaragua have observed this crime wave is totally irrelevant since the report’s overriding purpose is to offer false pretexts for unjust international condemnation of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.