Latin America is in a revolt against neoliberalism and the austerity measures that go with it. Ecuador and Chile have had mass protests in recent weeks. Bolivia re-elected President Morales, who has put anti-neoliberal policies in place in his previous three terms. Argentina defeated its neoliberal president, Macri, in the recent election and Hondurans are mobilizing to defeat their current president. We speak with Camilo Mejia about Nicaragua where the US had a failed coup attempt last year and is continuing to try to overthrow President Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista Movement. Mejia helps us recognize the similar tactics being used in each of these countries and describes the real economic alternative that Nicaragua offers to the world, an alternative the capitalists don’t want people to be aware of.
Camilo Mejia was born in 1975 in Managua, Nicaragua and eventually moved with his family to Costa Rica and then to the United States where he finished high school in New York City. Mejia never applied or received for US Citizenship. Nevertheless, he went to college at the University of Miami on a military-funded scholarship where he intended to major in psychology and Spanish. But, in the spring of 2003, before he was done with college, the military sent Mejia to Iraq where he spent five months in active combat (some of that time was spent in the Al Asad detention center where detainees were routinely tortured) and then he was moved to Jordan where he spent two more months. In late 2003, he came home to US on furlough and realized he could not go back. He filed for conscientious objector status and told the military he refused to go back to war.
In May of 2004 Mejia was convicted of desertion by the US Military, a charge which can be punishable by death, and sentenced to a year in jail. He served his time at Fort Sill military prison in Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was recognized during his incarceration by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and was awarded the Courageous Resister Award by Refuse and Resist. He was released in February of 2005 and since that time has devoted his time to speaking out against the war in Iraq and encouraging others to understand that being a part of an immoral war was more cowardly than breaking the law: “I was a coward not for leaving the war but for being a part of it in the first place, “ he said. He has written a book called The Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sargeant Camilo Mejia published by The New Press in 2007 which details his experience. In August of 2007, Camilo Mejia became the chair of the board for the non-profit Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Mejia lives in Miami and spends a lot of time with his young daughter. He has completed his final semester at the University of Miami and received his Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Psychology. If given the opportunity he would like to become a US Citizen. In the meantime, he will continue to speak out against a war and a military policy that takes immigrants and poor people and obligates them to fight, even against their consciences, for the so-called American Dream. Mejia says that any of us can speak out, because being a hero does not take anything special, just the belief that one person, alone, can make a change: “Many have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I don’t believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things”
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Kevin Zeese.
MF: Clearing the FOG is a project of PopularResistance.org. You can subscribe to us on iTunes SoundCloud Stitcher Mixcloud and Google Play. You can also find us at PopularResistance.org and while you’re there, check out the store where you’ll find Clearing the FOG bumper stickers t-shirts tote bags and water bottles. So this week, actually, I interviewed Camilo Mejia because you were on tour in Illinois speaking about the Embassy Protection Collective defense committee.
KZ: That’s right. Looks like you did a great interview.
MF: Camilla Mejia is from Nicaragua. He’s a conscientious objector to the Iraq War in the United States who spent time in jail because of that but has been touring the country and really speaking out about what the US is trying to do in Nicaragua and there’s so many parallels between that and other regime change efforts, neoliberalism around the world that it’s important for us to be talking about that. But before we get to that interview, there’s a lot going on in the news. Let’s start out with the Kings Bay plowshares 7. We interviewed them back in April on Clearing the FOG. They were found guilty.
KZ: That’s right. They took a brave step and went into a nuclear weapons facility and were found guilty of violating that law. They’re facing up to 20 years in jail. Federal sentencing guidelines will be a key factor. There will not be a sentence for a couple of months, but there’ll be a pre-trial report, put forward federal sentencing guidelines, and we’ll see how this turns out. We’re hoping for as little as possible, preferably no sentence at all.
MF: That sentencing hearing is going to take place in January. We need to announce and we don’t have all the details yet on this, I don’t think, but the National Park Service because of public input decided not to go forward with their new rules to limit protest. Explain what that is.
KZ: The Park Service under President Trump put forward proposed new rules for limiting protest in Washington DC. They would have been dramatic changes in protesting around the White House, protesting really anywhere in the city that Park Service had impact on and that would have bled into other protests as well and very rapidly, thanks to the Partnership for Civil Justice, a big coalition came together and wrote comments and filed joint statements as well as individual statements opposing this proposed weakening of our rights to protest in Washington DC. I know we spent a lot of time on that. You can find on Popular Resistance our comments. I think it was well worth it. It seems like now the park service has decided not to go forward with this proposal and the right to protest continues to be protected in Washington DC.
MF: That’s right. I think knowing that the Partnership for Civil Justice has won some major victories around protests in Washington DC, seeing the size of the groups that came together and the fact that our arguments were so much in line with our first amendment rights and making the case that what they were offering was a real violation of our first amendment rights, I think all of that combined forced them to back down.
KZ: Solidarity works. Unity is power and you know even in this case, there was like the ACLU, which didn’t join the coalition and went the other kind of a different direction and we had some conflicts with them about that. They were going to allow some of these really absurd restrictions. But even with that, we still were able to win because we were unified, acting in solidarity and they knew from the people involved that we were serious about challenging any proposal to reduce our rights in Washington, DC.
MF: Another favorable court decision was in South Dakota where a law was put into place that would criminalize people who were supporting protests. Groups like the ACLU and Robins Kaplan Law Firm quickly sued the state over this law and they just reached a settlement.
KZ: Well, that was a law that was vague and would have been found unconstitutional. So I’m glad to see it is being restricted. It was really an overreach by the legislature to try to criminalize. You could tweet your support for a protest or a tweet urging someone to go to a protest and be guilty under the law the way it was written.
MF: There are a lot of states around the country that are putting laws in place to restrict protest. I think of Louisiana as one that has really criminalized protest and this just shows that you can win against these laws. I think it’s really important that people around the country mobilize to protect our first amendment rights. Let’s talk about some new findings around health care in the United States. One is a poll that was done by Emerson’s Polling and it found that 70% of people were opposed to employers being able to cancel their insurance and Matt Bruenig of People’s Policy Project writes that this really shows that people want stable insurance, something that only medicare-for-all can actually give them.
KZ: I think this whole ruse that people want to keep their private insurance is an insurance-created falsehood. People really just want access to healthcare and insurance is their vehicle for getting it now. So people say yeah, I want insurance but if they had an alternative that was full coverage paid for by a public insurance, improved Medicare, that would satisfy people even much more than the insurance. It would provide better coverage than even the best private insurance.
MF: I think this is something that we need to remember when we’re talking about National improve Medicare for all. I mean we’ve talked about the fact that it’s cradle-to-grave. Once you have the national health insurance you have it for your entire life, but I think we should probably be speaking about that point more because there is fear out there. And then there was an interesting study that came out of UC Berkeley, Zaid Obermeyer was the lead researcher on this, and they found that there’s an algorithm that health insurance’s use when they’re evaluating people and they found that there was a racial bias inherent in this algorithm that was actually operating so that black people were getting less health care, even if they’re equivalent to white people. It was interesting that we need to be aware that technology can have inherent biases in it. And so the researchers have actually identified the bias. They were able to eliminate it and then they found much better rates of healthcare for blacks under that but there are other companies out there who may have similar biases.
KZ: The reason it creates biases is because humans create the algorithm and humans have biases that are reflected in the algorithm they create.
MF: Right. So making sure that algorithms are equal is going to be an important point to remember as we move more and more towards using these types of tools. Let’s talk about the amazing strike going on in Chicago with the Chicago Teachers Union.
KZ: Chicago Teachers have been a leading union in so many ways. They really were the ones that started this whole new era of teacher strikes when they came out and they were the first to challenge charter schools. This current strike, they are actually building on the idea of not just striking about teacher’s wages and hours and working conditions, but striking about housing for the students who go to their schools, striking about immigration pressure on migrants who are going to their schools. So they’re focusing on how to uplift the community not just how to uplift their salaries and that thing is going because it’s going to become a model as well. I expect you’ll see more unions recognize that if they stand with the community, the community will stand with them,
MF: Right and that is happening and there are tens of thousands of teachers on strike. There are support staff for the school. I think 7500 support staff have joined them on strike. Some of them have set up programs for the children like a freedom school to go to while they’re on strike and they’re making some progress. Just this week Janice Jackson, who’s the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools…
KZ: Well, stop, the CEO of the schools? That is the first problem with the public school, that they have a CEO but go ahead. I’m sorry to interrupt.
MF: I agree with you. It’s using a market model for public education. But anyway, for all of the months that they’ve been trying to negotiate their contract, she finally agreed to sit down with the teachers. So that’s some progress.
KZ: And they have to make sure that the new mayor Lori Lightfoot actually follows through with the agreement because they’ve got to make it an enforceable agreement. The Chicago Teachers and their unions are very strong. They know what they want and they’re going to demand it and I think that the mayor and the CEO should recognize they’re going to have to give in to these strikers.
MF: Let’s talk about some international news. The Non-aligned Movement had its meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan. President Maduro of Venezuela will step down. He served three years as the leader of the Non-aligned Movement and he passed the baton to the head of Azerbaijan who will now take over. It was an interesting meeting because they really called out neoliberalism, the illegality of unilateral coercive measures and the fact that economic measures are economic war.
KZ: And this is the second time they’ve really focused on these illegal unilateral coercive measures. They did the same thing with the Caracas Declaration. That was this summer when the Non-aligned Movement met. The Non-aligned Movement is a very important force politically. It is a hundred and twenty countries covering 55 percent of the world’s population. Russia and China are observers, which makes it even larger. They are the alternative UN and they’re functioning in many ways that the UN can’t function. The UN is stuck with the Security Council, which the United States controls. The Non-aligned Movement is becoming a growing political force.
MF: Remember in September when the UN General Assembly was meeting in New York City another impediment from the US was not allowing certain members of international delegations into the country to participate in the United Nations. So yes, the Non-aligned Movement is a very important force and they recognize that and there’s a speech that the president of Cuba gave Miguel Diaz-Canal and we will probably post that on Popular Resistance soon because I really loved the ending of it was talking about how the Non-aligned Movement is dedicated to peace, to de-colonization, to everybody being able to have their basic needs met, you know economic equality and understanding their role as the majority of nations to come together and make sure that that happens.
KZ: Cuba’s voice is important as they were a founder of the Non-aligned Movement in the Castro era. So they continue to play an important role. I love the timing of this meeting, the same time we’re seeing all these revolts against neoliberalism. And so this is an opportunity for nations to be in coalition with social movements. And that’s another important aspect of the Non-aligned Movement, that they reflect the views of the popular movements.
MF: I think that’s something that Venezuela has really excelled at and they just held this past weekend, the first Congress of Communes, Social Movements and Popular Power where President Maduro announced that 80% of families in Venezuela participate in a commune and there are 48,000 community councils. Over 3000 of these communes. As part of those 48,000 community councils. 23,000 of them are in rural areas 22,000 are in urban areas and over 2,600 community councils are composed of indigenous families. They also have fifteen thousand registered cooperatives in Venezuela.
KZ: I think it’s important to understand for people these are basically, this is participatory direct democracy. In the end, Venezuela hopes to move toward this replacing representative democracy, a real people’s democracy where people make decisions. Community councils are a minimum of 200 families or households getting together and forming a council that’s recognized by the government. They make decisions for their community. Those councils are then linked together and form a community of the regional coalition of councils. And so this is a very hyper-democratic approach to people actually making decisions for their community and for their region. And as they develop this expertise, it’s going to expand and become even more important in Venezuela. We could learn so much if we weren’t busy calling Venezuela a dictatorship. We could really learn that they are a democracy that can improve our democracy. If we were willing to look at what they were doing.
MF: President Maduro announced that he’s dedicated to getting a hundred percent participation. So there’s a lot going on right now in Latin America to rise up against neoliberalism and austerity. We wrote two weeks ago about the pink tide returning to Latin America. There were a couple of very important elections this weekend. Let’s talk about what happened in Argentina first.
KZ: Argentina who kicked out the neoliberals and brought in the populists. And so it’s a major victory, a major turnaround to remove president Macri, and now to have incoming president Fernandez, it’s going to be a major transformation in that country.
MF: And Cristina Kirchner is serving as Alberto Fernandez’s vice president. She’s a former president of Argentina. They’ve been declared the winners.
KZ: Now that was a surprise to people. People before the first round of elections thought Macri would win re-election, but the first round showed he had very little support and this final round showed an easy victory really for removing him.
MF: And then in Uruguay, they also had elections this weekend. Daniel Martinez running for Frente Amplio, which has been the party in power. The second place finisher was Louis Lacalle Pou, a right-wing party representative.
KZ: Yeah a couple of interesting things about the election. First off, the party’s been in power for 15 years. They’ve done major progressive actions over that time period. Now 15 years is a long time for one party being power, so the second round of elections will be difficult. They won the first round by 10 points, so they’re off to a good start but they have to get 50% and they’re not there yet. The other thing, there was a referendum on the ballot at the same time as this election. First off, they had 90 percent turnout and the referendum included allowing police raids at night, creating a National Guard and clamping down on migrant rights and that lost. So a positive election result. The second round will be difficult. But right now it’s within striking distance for the left-wing popular front to stay in power.
MF: Let’s give an update on some of the major protests that we’ve been talking about. Chile continues to be in protest. Talk about what happened on Friday.
KZ: Chile had six percent of their population come out on Friday and shut down the capital and scared the president so much, he fired his entire cabinet in order to protect himself and said that he was hearing the people and was going to re-evaluate his policies. That’s hard to believe. He’s a neoliberal politician. His brother’s a big financier, so that it would be not just changing his policy but changing his stripes. I don’t think that animals change their stripes. And so I think the protests are gonna have to continue just like the Ecuador protests where there was success. I’m not sure that Lenin Moreno will change his stripes either. And so I expect we’re going to see these protests continuing.
MF: I think he probably didn’t like people comparing him to Pinochet who was a brutal dictator of Chile. So the people are not backing down. A hundred thousand people marched to the Congress on Sunday in protest as well as they’re continuing to call for ongoing protests throughout this week.
KZ: And that happened after he fired his whole cabinet. The protests continued after those actions were taken.
MF: Right. And then we talked about Ecuador a little bit, but I wanted to get to Bolivia because Evo Morales won the first round of elections, but the right-wing opposition supported by the United States is not accepting those results, protesting them and the OAS is calling the election fraudulent.
KZ: Bolivia has a very open and transparent electoral system. It’s very easy to do a recount. Bolivia has offered to the OAS to have them participate in an audit of the count. The protests have been violent burning of buildings, burning of facilities where ballots are being counted. It was an extreme reaction that was energized by the candidate who lost. He said go to the streets because they didn’t win at the polls. This is Evo Morales’s fourth term. He’ll go to 2025. His party, the movement for socialism, has been getting less support in the polls and they’re gonna have to do some regeneration in this last term of Evo Morales. They need to find a new leadership and new ideas to keep pushing forward because the right-wing the opposition is tired of being out of power. When a country is led by one party for as long as they have since Morales has been in, four terms, it’s very hard to to keep holding on to power so they will have to regenerate and recreate themselves if they want to continue being in power after this next term .
MF: And last week, we talked about the New York verdict against Antonio Hernandez, the brother of Juan Orlando Hernandez, the president of Honduras. Insight Crime wrote a good piece that we reposted on Popular Resistance talking about kind of what was discovered in that case, things like the extent of the drug trade in Honduras, the cooperation by police in that drug trade, the connections all the way up to the level of the president and how the United States has been supporting and training the police who are involved in this drug cartel as well as supporting presidents like Juan Orlando Hernandez and one before him that are involved in this drug trade.
KZ: I want to talk about Colombia for a second. Colombia didn’t have national elections, they had municipal elections and the good news was that in five major cities, the right-wing conservative party headed by Uribe, the former president, lost. This is bad news for Duque. This is bad news for Uribe. It is good news for a rising left and it’s hard to have a rising left in Colombia because Colombia has a habit of killing the leaders, the left leaders of social movements. leaders of unions, leaders environmental groups. So it’s a very difficult environment. But this last election was not a good one for the right-wing.
MF: And similarly in Honduras, the left parties are uniting led by the Libre party. They formed a coalition of united opposition. Ever since the coup in 2009 in Honduras, they’ve been trying to build a broad movement and unified movement against the coup president. Now, they formed an even bigger opposition, includes social movements, lots of different sectors of society including professionals and then also these left parties. They’re meeting. They’re talking about how they can get rid of Juan Orlando Hernandez.
KZ: And of course the US government now has a finger on Hernandez. The president has been implicated through testimony. And so if he doesn’t behave, the US can indict him as well. And so that’s a problem for Hernandez on the US control side. The people also see all this and the people are getting more organized.
MF: And so with that why don’t we take a short musical break and then we’ll come back with the interview that Camilo and I did.
MF: You’re listening to Clearing the FOG speaking the truth to expose the forces of greed. I’m Margaret Flowers. Our Guest today is Camilo Mejia. He is a Nicaraguan born in Managua and he served in the Iraq War and is a conscientious objector. He’s written the book “The road from Ar-Ramadi.” Thank you for joining us Camilo.
Camilo Mejia (CM): Thank you for having me on your show Margaret.
MF: So let’s start out. We want to talk about Nicaragua today and the State Department has declared Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, what they call the “Troika of Tyranny” and have targeted them for regime change. Can you talk about that?
CM: Well, yeah, definitely. It’s not very different from the Axis of Evil that they talked about, you know, in the lead-up to the global war on terror. So people can maybe get an idea of where this is going in terms of foreign policy with regards to Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. Something we already are seeing increasingly with both Nicaragua and Venezuela and for many decades in the case of Cuba. I think it has to do with the fact that these three nations have been at least for the recent past but in the cases of Cuba, Nicaragua, also, have had a history of resistance against US policies and US intervention. I believe that as the hegemonic power of the US as the sole superpower in the world begins to dwindle, Latin America is a very strategic region for the United States to assert its power and Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba present an existential threat to that hegemony. So it is understandable that whenever there are good examples, you know that could persuade or motivate other nations to have more independent policies and to actually be sovereign, the United States is going to try to portray that as demonic or evil. So it’s very much in line with the history of the relationship between the United States and nations that do not adhere 100% to its policies.
MF: And of course, I think Trump was heard saying in regards to Venezuela, “We need to get those foreigners out of Venezuela” and not recognizing that the United States is a foreigner in Venezuela. Yeah. So yeah, just tells you when the US says “Troika of Tyranny” who our main targets are. So let’s talk a little bit about Nicaragua. I do want to get into some of the history. But recently there was kind of a very overt coup attempt against the President Daniel Ortega in 2018. Can you talk about that?
CM: Yeah. Definitely. It’s not very dissimilar from what is happening in the rest of Latin America with the exception that in Nicaragua, we don’t have a neoliberal government. And so as often happens, you know, the protests were sparked by some kind of IMF reform or some kind of IMF string attached to a loan or to a credit or something like that. In the case of Nicaragua, last year in April, the IMF tried to convince President Ortega to basically cancel a program, a reduced pension program, that benefited some 53,000 Nicaraguans that had not been been able to contribute enough into the retirement system because of the shattered economy as a result of the 80s war between the Sandinista government and the US-funded Contras. So the IMF tried to get the President to do away with that program and to increase retirement age from 60 to 65 and then double the amount of contributions that would make someone eligible for retirement in order to balance the books and to remain in good shape, you know credit-wise, to receive loans and credits and whatnot. And the Sandinista government rejected that and instead said that it would remove a ceiling cap on Nicaragua’s highest salaries so that the richest people would pay in accordance with their income and that there would be a transfer of the cash benefit of 5% into the healthcare benefit and that there would be an increase in contributions by workers of approximately 0.75% and employers would have to pay eventually 3.25% compared to what they’re contributing now. This of course infuriated the wealthy in Nicaragua who basically called for a protest the next day. It was a very small protest of mostly private university students that was met with resistance from Sandinista youth who showed up at their protest and acted really violently.
MF: Did anybody question why private university students were protesting a pension?
CM: No, absolutely not and and this is also a pretty clear indication that you know, there’s something really strange going on but if people have been following this type of regime change operation, it’s usually the same format, you know, where you have like a group of students, you know, protesting something that basically has absolutely no impact on their situation, their livelihoods or that they don’t even understand. You know Hong Kong is a perfect example of that but also Venezuela and some other regions of the world in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But following that protest, a wave of social media reports of the Sandinista government murdering students and brutally repressing protesters basically started to bombard the Nicaraguan public and that basically snowballed into more and more protests and then a situation where people are being shot at, you know from both sides, that created a lot of confusion in terms of who was doing what. But the opposition media on the ground in Nicaragua, and then also global reach media, you know, the US and Europe, seemed to be prepared for that and basically to promote a narrative of basically the government being tyrannical and genocidal and just going out there and killing students. And so this situation basically devolved into a highly violent situation that was reported by not only media in Nicaragua and human rights organizations in Nicaragua and nonprofit organizations in Nicaragua and then also picked up by global reach human rights organizations and media and political groups that were basically in unison promoting the same narrative that the Sandinistas had gone crazy and had started killing everybody. And so at first people in Nicaragua, I believe, fell prey to this level of, it was actually really strong the level of propaganda that was taking place and I was one of the people who actually looked at this and said, whoa this is like really bad that this is happening and initially I supported people’s protests and marches and what not, not necessarily because I understood what was going on, but because it’s a matter of principle I’ve supported people’s right to protest and to march but then when I started hearing more and more about the massacres and 60 students have been killed and a hundred people have been murdered and massacred and whatnot, it seemed pretty unbelievable that a government that had been so progressive and that had done so much for the people would overnight turn evil and then start murdering, massacring people. So I began to pay closer attention and to request evidence of this massacre because one very curious thing about it is that it was all very social media driven with images and symbols and framed messages, SOS Nicaragua, very similar to what we have seen in Venezuela, very similar to what we have seen in the Ukraine, but there was no video evidence. There was no photographic evidence connecting the police or the Sandinistas to the killings. You would see people bleeding, you know people shot in the streets and then obviously like the same message being repeated over and over and over and over.
MF: Didn’t some videos come out actually showing students like practicing, acting like they were being terrorized and making cell phone calls. “Mom, mom.”
CM: Yeah, and so that was one of the first things that really got me to pay closer attention was when I watched one of those videos It was supposed to be a real-life situation, you know, it wasn’t a practice or a drill or anything like that, but it was students basically speaking directly to the international community and speaking directly to international press saying look we’re being massacred, we’re being killed and at the same time you could see in the background people walking around just milling around, you know, like nothing is happening at a time when supposedly they’re police officers outside murdering people with AK-47s and things like that. And having served in combat in Iraq, I can tell what a firefight does to people in an area. You don’t just mill around, you know, like nothing’s happening when there are people being murdered, you know, less than a block away on the other side of the building where you happen to be. There was also no blood anywhere. The people who were shot were not in shock. So it seemed like pretty fabricated. And so I began to pay closer attention and to do more research into who was actually putting out this information and it turns out that by and large was history repeating itself. The La Prensa newspaper, which had been an opposition newspaper that had been financed by the US back in the 80s to also portray the Sandinista government as evil was behind a lot of the reporting. Some of the same wealthy families, you know that were in charge of mainstream news media in Nicaragua, were also behind a lot of these reports and the human rights organizations as well were funded by the United States agencies like NED and USAID and at least one of them dated back to the 80s and it had been one of the original recipients of National Endowment for Democracy money, which was basically created by President Reagan at a time when he was portraying the Contras as the moral equivalent of the founding fathers in the US and one of those organizations that’s called the ANPDH, which stands for Nicaraguan Association Pro-human Rights, was created precisely to justify Contra atrocities to the world and try to portray the Contras as freedom fighters, which is again, like something that we see repeatedly, you know everywhere in the world where the United States is trying to overthrow a government.
MF: Right like the moderate rebels.
CM: Or the mujahideen or you know, it was basically the same entities of the past that were basically behind the protests and that were behind the messaging many of the if not all of the organizations, the grassroots organizations, that were on the ground that are very progressive sounding, you know student groups, pro-democracy groups, environmental groups, etc had also been funded and trained by the United States and if you actually identify some of the main leaders of the opposition and then you do a cross-check with the Embassy Cables, you see that a lot of them had been meeting with US diplomats and US representatives of NED and USAID for years to try to keep the Sandinistas from winning before 2006 and then to keep them from becoming re-elected, you know after that so you see a lot a very high level collusion, financing, training and you begin to understand that what happened in Nicaragua in April of last year, which which was basically presented to the world as this very naturally spontaneously occurring righteous popular uprising was in fact, you know something that had been funded and planned and basically perpetrated over a period of many years. You know, when you look at the training and you look at the financing, you look at all these meetings. Eventually what happened was that when the President rolled back the reforms four days into the protest, he called for a national dialogue and one of the first demands of the opposition was for the president to send the police back to their headquarters, which he did and two things happened. One was that the situation devolved into an absolute chaos situation of extreme violence and extreme, it was like a fascist state basically, and there was a lot of political persecution, people being killed, tortured either for being Sandinista or for not being with the opposition and the unfortunate result for the opposition was that the people of Nicaragua were able to see that the ones behind the violence were not the Sandinistas, that were not the police but they were the people in the opposition themselves, not the faces of the opposition but like criminal elements, you know, some people from gangs in other countries of Central America, organized crime, even cartel elements were involved in the opposition and they were the ones who were doing the persecution and the killings and the torture.
MF: They were doing some pretty hideous things.
CM: Pretty horrible things. One of their main tactics was to basically erect barricades or Trancas is what they call them. They’re using basically the bricks that many of the roads are made with in a way that basically reminded people of the uprising against the Somoza dictatorship because like the regime change operation also, it’s very sophisticated and one of the things that they use is they try to erase the revolutionary legacy of the Sandinismo and one of the ways that they do that is by saying look we rose up against the dictatorship of Somoza and we erected barricades. Now, the people of Nicaragua are going to rise up against the Sandinista dictatorship. And so you started to hear a lot of the same battle cries, the same symbology with the Tranca, as you know, being erected these barricades. A child was killed and then he was also compared to a child who was killed, you know, during the dictatorship and so like you have like a lot of parallels in terms of the symbology and the messaging that was taking place. When people saw who was behind these Trancas and the police began to come out again, like some two or three months after the beginning of the violence, a lot of the people from the communities realized that these were not Sandinistas and a lot of people from the old militancy of the Sandinistas who were also people who understood what a dictatorship looked like and people who knew what living under Somoza was like began to work with younger generations to educate them as to why this is really not a popular uprising and like the difference between this and like the popular uprising led by the Sandinistas in the 60s and 70s prior to the overthrow. And then in about three months, I want to say that about 99% of the Trancas were dismantled and the Sandinistas began to reclaim the revolutionary legacy through marches, through commemoration of important dates leading up to the anniversary of the revolution on July 19th, which saw a massive show of force, you know from the Nicaraguan people in support of the revolution so you could say that the attempted coup was defeated. I believe that it was, but I don’t think it’s over. The international pressure continues to, just last week Amnesty International launched yet another campaign to basically demonize the Sandanista government. The NICA Act of course was passed and it’s in place right now. The Magnitsky Act also was passed targeting very significant people within the government you know to prevent loans and deals and treaties. And things like that. Economic war against Nicaragua basically, so like the international pressure continues. If you read mainstream news media from the US or the UK or you read the reports by Amnesty or the Organization of American States or the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN and you look at the way that they’re portraying Nicaragua where there’s a lot of stability and peace and you see how they’re turning a blind eye to other uprisings that have basically come out in rejection of neoliberal policies, you realize that there is a, in Ecuador or Chile in the case of Bolivia to try to get Mesa to basically beat Morales on a second round of elections. The war continues, economic war, PR War, political diplomatic war continues against Nicaragua and it will continuous as long as we don’t adhere to neoliberal policies, but the on-the-ground coup attempt has ended so far at least like in its first iteration. Something may be happening right now because a lot of the people who were in self-imposed exile have returned to the country and there’s another round of funding by USAID and NED and whatnot, which also has sort of backfired because it has led to a lot of stealing and a lot of infighting within the opposition because this is also very historic, you know, like the different factions of new money versus old money and church and NGOs and whatnot have always been at war with one another and so we’re seeing something like that. But it all seems to point to the possibility that they’re trying to organize themselves into a political party, into a coalition party, which is the way that they were able to beat the FSLN back in 1990.
MF: Well, so much to unpack there about that period in April of 2018 and then I hope we can talk about, you mentioned that it’s not a neoliberal government and I think we should definitely get into but there are a couple of things first. There was a report going ou by these human rights organizations saying that hundreds of people were killed. Can you talk about that?
CM: Yeah, definitel,y well death is actually a tool in these regime change wars. From the first day of the protest or maybe the second day, I want to say maybe April 18th or April 19th, they began to bombard people with social media reports of many students being killed that are at a march or protest. When you actually look at the people who were killed in reality, the vast majority of the people who were killed were not even opposition members, you know, but were, about a third of them were just innocent bystanders, you know apolitical people who happened to be on their way home from work or Sandinistas or police officers and then about a third of them are people from the opposition who were heavily armed and who were basically fighting the police when they began to dismantle the barricades. One thing that is very consistent, you know, when you look at this type of regime change operation, the way that it’s all reported always portrays the opposition as being peaceful and civil, victims of oppression, victims of repression, and it always silences the voices that are speaking with a different tune, you know that are basically promoting a different narrative and always hides the people who are killed on the other side and it always hides the fact that the police are also being killed because one of the main things that they want to basically get across is that the opposition is peaceful civil, it’s righteous, its pro-democracy. You hear it on NPR you hear it, you know Democracy Now, you know any time that you hear pro-democracy protesters basically means that you know, there is some kind of political interest behind them and financing and training and you know, like pretty standard messaging and symbology being used, you know to continue to promote that message that people on the other side don’t count or that they’re not being killed or there’s no political violence against the other side, but that it is all you know, peaceful uprisings, you know being like brutally crushed by the government.
MF: And some of those human rights organizations that were promoting this narrative that you know, the government was killing hundreds of people, they were relying on reports coming out of these NED-funded groups in Nicaragua. They weren’t actually doing the research themselves to look into it, is that correct?
CM: Right. So there’s an independent report of the deaths that was published and I can provide you with a link to that and it basically looks into every death reported by the human rights organizations on the ground in Nicaragua, which were then adopted by Amnesty and the UN without doing any fact-checking and when you look at the names and you do a cross-check with media reports in Nicaragua, including opposition media, you realize that a lot of the people that were basically added to the list of those who were killed in the context of the protest, one were not all opposition, two, included some people who were Sandinistas and three, included people who died of a heart attack or people who were run over by a car. So they grabbed everyone who was killed in any kind of situation and they basically inflated these reports. And this is something that anybody can check, you know by basically looking at the names and then looking at this report, which includes the methodology and includes the links, you know for people to go into the social media reports or newspaper reports or radio reports and things like that. And you start seeing that there’s an actual design play that is basically meant to convince people that you know, there are all these killings happening, you know that are the result of this horrible dictatorship taking place. There is a lot of evidence of killings and torture and things like that, but it’s on the Sandinista side, the Sandanistas have suffered. So like there are videos of Sandinistas youth being tortured by opposition members including a priest, you know who were 100% with the opposition. There are videos of Sandinistas being burned in the streets. There are videos of houses being burned, you know, there are documentary news reports that include interviews with the survivors of these acts of brutality. You actually see the person while they’re being tortured, while they’re in captivity. And then you see them basically talking to the camera, talking about the context, talking about, you know, providing dates, names and things like that completely ignored by the human rights organizations in Nicaragua, completely ignored by Amnesty or by the OAS and then when you look at their reporting, there is no context, no names, no evidence. Absolutely, nothing verifiable.
MF: And then another thing I think that was confusing for folks that were watching from the outside is that there is a proportion of former Sandinistas called the MRS that were also feeding the narrative of Ortega as a dictator and can you talk about who that group was?
CM: Yeah. So these were former Sandinistas, people who were part of the, what I would like to call the first phase of the Sandinista Revolution, which goes up until 1990 when the Sandinistas lost the election to a right-wing coalition supported by the US. It’s really important to stress the fact that the loss of the 1990 election was the result of a low-intensity guerrilla warfare against the Contras, you know, who were financed and trained by the US and an embargo, political isolation, PR campaign demonizing the Sandinistas. And actual direct threats by the US to the Nicaraguan people to say if you vote for the FSLN, the war will continue and things will only get worse for you. And so when the Sandinistas lost the election in 1990, it wasn’t just an election that was lost. The purpose of that was to basically erase Sandanismo as a political option and what happened was that a lot of the people who are part of the party and the people who are part of the government up until 199o wanted to shift their policies and wanted to shift the direction that the Sandanista Party was moving towards and wanted to make it more neoliberal friendly and you know more towards privatizing and you know cutting subsidies and whatnot and the side that stayed with Daniel Ortega was sort of like the more popular side and so the split was very much along class lines and a lot of the people who had been with the Sandinistas, you know, up until 1990 who tended to be wealthier and more educated, people who tended to be ambassadors and members of the National Assembly, deputies of the National Assembly, who are also the people who spoke various languages and who did a lot of the solidarity and international work, sort of gravitated towards this more neoliberal friendly posture. And when the Daniel Ortega section of the party said no, we’re going to continue with our program and Daniel Ortega will continue to be our candidate, they basically split and created their own party. And they took a lot of the National Assembly Deputy seats with them and yet another loss for the FSLN, the Sandanista Party, that nobody thought they would recover from and yet during the next election, I want to say 1995, the MRS, which stands for Movimiento Renovacion Sandanista, which is movement for the renovation of Sandinistasmo, only got about five percent of the vote. The Sandinista Front for National Liberation or FSLN realized that they retained their popular base of approximately forty percent of the popular vote, not enough to defeat the opposition but enough to remain a very strong political force in the country. And so the MRS became more isolated in terms of the popular base, but because they were gravitating more towards the neoliberal model and now many of them were also gravitating towards the nonprofit model and began to start their own nonprofits, you know, like very progressive sounding just like the National Endowment for Democracy. They lost completely their popular base. By the next election, they got less than two percent of the vote. They lost their legal status as a party and they began running with parties of the oligarchy and the bourgeoisie, which further isolated them politically from the original popular base of the Sandinistas. And those are the people who are now basically leading the charge against the Sandinista government and against the policies that have benefited the Nicaraguan people for the past now 12 years 12 13 years, you know since 2007. But however, they retain a lot of their political power internationally because they have the support of the US and because they are the heads of these organizations that are like pro-environment, feminist and they’re educated people and they were the ones who were like the lines of communication with other solidarity movements and internationalist movements and whatnot. And for a lot of people who were active with the Sandinista Revolution back in the 80s, who were connected to these former Sandinistas, the only thing that they hear is that these former guerrilla leaders and the former Ambassador, former National Assembly Deputy are all against the corrupt Sandinistas and corrupt Ortega and whatnot. It’s not hard to believe, you know, especially when you have like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and all these other entities and the corporate media echoing everything and so it’s like this bombardment of manipulations and lies, you know about what’s really happening on the ground while ignoring completely the many achievements of the Revolution in areas of healthcare, education, infrastructure, mortality rates, you know infant and maternal, basically obtaining food sovereignty, you know, 90% of the food that we eat is produced locally in Nicaragua. And so like all these really amazing achievements that are completely silenced and erased in the narrative, you know that Ortega is corrupt, that he’s a tyrant and so this has created a lot of confusion among progressives in the US that the only reference that they have to the revolution are the people who are now against it.
MF: They’re speaking as if they represent all Nicaraguan people, but they’re actually a small minority of Nicaraguans and a higher class subset, similar to what we see with the Venezuelans here in the United States who say they are…
CM: Exactly. Yeah, very similar.
MF: representing all Venezuelans. You mentioned some of the changes, major changes that have been made in Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega and the Sandanista, I mean, he’s basically representing this huge movement, the Sandanista Movement. Can you talk a little bit more about that like, what were things like for people under the neoliberal government and how has that improved over the last 12 years?
CM: Sure. So a lot of the policies by the Sandinistas, you know from back in the 80s, which were poorly invested in because of the war that we were fighting against the US-funded Contras, but that nonetheless were amazing in nature like the land reform, literacy campaign, cooperatives, support for education, support for health care and things like that were completely rolled back when the UNO Coalition, the National Opposition Unity Party, basically led by the widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro who was a very well-known oligarchic leader against the Somoza regime, he was a journalist basically not in the same way that the Sandinistas were against Somoza necessarily because what they were upset about was that Somoza took too much of the wealth and left very little for the wealthy, for Nicaragua’s wealthy. Whereas the Sandinista Movement were actually also advocating for a shift in the distribution of wealth and the power dynamics and whatnot. But anyway, his widow basically became the face of this movement, this right-wing coalition and immediately when she took over the first order of business was to forgive the fine that was imposed on the US by the ICC, the International Criminal Court of 17 billion dollars in reparations, you know, because of the Contra war and sabotage that the CIA had carried out against Nicaraguan seaports and harbors. Following that you know, they undid the land reform, there were massive firings in the public sector, divestment in education, divestment in energy.
MF: It’s amazing. Did they think that they were going to just get away with that, people were not going to see what was happening?
CM: And we’re seeing, we’re basically seeing exactly that in Chile right now, you know like the huge success story that Chile has been for neoliberalism and we’re seeing it in Ecuador and you know, we saw it in Costa Rica last year. We’re seeing it in Honduras. But this was basically the reality for the next 16 years, you know from 1990 to 2006, when the FSLN was able to win the presidency once again and began to implement a lot of the same programs that had been implemented before as a government. Now prior to that, when President Chavez traveled to Nicaragua to meet with President Bolanos, one of these right-wing neoliberal governments, he offered President Bolanos to be a part of ALBA and President Bolanos said no, we’re not going to be a part of that. We are neoliberal. We’re obedient to the US, of course, he didn’t use those words, but that was…
MF: How would you describe Alba?
CM: It’s more about creating sort of like an economic alternative. And so ALBA was more about providing oil subsidies, loans and things like that that are outside of the IMF and that represent an alternative to neoliberalism because it emphasizes on countries’ sovereignty, countries’ independence, their economic development, education, healthcare, basically the same things that you see in Venezuela, you know. It’s basically what you’re seeing in Nicaragua and this is very much an ALBA trend is like the investment in the public sector and the people and when President Bolanos said no to that, President Chavez turned to the Daniel Ortega who was not the president at the time but was the leader of the FSLN and Ortega said,absolutely and so the party took ALBA money and started implementing a lot of programs to eradicate hunger, to invest in cooperatives and like a lot of the food sovereignty programs that are now implemented by the government were implemented by the Sandinistas as a party while they were not in power. And so when the Sandinistas took over back in 2007, now these became government policies and so what we saw was that we went from about 50% of Nicaraguans having access to electricity because that had been privatized, now we have like about 95% of Nicaraguans have access to energy, to electricity and a big chunk of that is actually renewable clean energy. The roads, of course because the neoliberal model does not want the infrastructure of a poor country to be built. All they need is to go in and go out with the wealth, you know, take out the natural resources. The roads were rebuilt, infrastructure upgrades like never before. Schools, hospitals clinics, parks for the poor, sports stadiums and things like that. We produce about 90% of our food. So, you know, that’s a huge advantage, you know, when you’re being sanctioned. Like in the case of Venezuela that relies largely on imports for a lot of their basic needs, in Nicaragua, we have 90% of our food and that wasn’t the case during the 16 years of neoliberalism where we basically became a market for transnational companies and you know mono crops and things like that were basically predominant. Whereas now we have a very, a diversified agricultural industry that’s driven by small family farms, cooperatives, micro businesses, you know, this is like basically like the heart of the popular economy in Nicaragua is like the micro lending and like the support that’s provided from the government to basically like the poor.
MF: Same thing with like the tourist industry. It’s not these big Mega Resort kind of things.
CM: Exactly. Yeah, and so like there’s a lot of programs like that that have allowed the country to develop economically infrastructurally. In terms of education, education is subsidized. Children receive a food bonus, you know when they go to school, so there’s an incentive for parents to send their kids to school because they’re able to eat when they go to school.
MF: There’s one school district in the US that’s trying to kick students out of school if their parents don’t pay for their lunch or they’re not allowed to go on field trips if their parents owe anything.
CM: Or in some cases are being denied lunch because they don’t have money or because they have a debt. In Nicaragua, like all of that changed, you know, with the return of the Sandinistas. The mortality rates, you know, dropped significantly, poverty was reduced by two-thirds and extreme poverty went from like 14 percent to 6 percent. The roads were rebuilt and new roads were created, bridges and things like that, which have allowed these people who are organized through cooperatives and were receiving all this land and farm animals and seeds and technical support to basically have a business that they can conduct trade and commerce with other towns. And so there’s regional commerce, and there is internal commerce and there’s regional commerce, that has allowed a lot of Nicaraguans to be able to you know have a life with dignity. There are housing programs, you know, that are helping a lot of people who have always lived in shanty homes and things like that. There are you know, like the the participation of women is top in the world, you know, even the World Economic Forum has placed Nicaragua as the closest country to achieve gender neutrality up there with Iceland and France and other countries like that. So like the benefits are incredible and in my opinion, that’s one of the reasons why the US has to go after Nicaragua because it’s a terrible example. Nicaragua at the same time it’s one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. So if you’re a slightly wealthier country and you look to Nicaragua and see how they’re able to rebuild their infrastructure and feed everyone and you know educate everyone with so little why should they adhere to neoliberal policies? So it’s a terrible example for neoliberalism. So in a way it is an existential threat to a highly unjust economic model, they don’t want people to learn about that, they don’t want people to get any funny ideas about sovereignty or you know, developing your own economy, healthcare, education, all those things. I mean we could talk all day about the the benefits and like the achievements but I think that they represent an existential threat to neoliberalism, which already is on the ropes, you know, as we are seeing in the uprisings to neoliberal reforms everywhere in the world.
MF: So just quickly if you could comment about the NICA Act, what that is and what impact you think that might have on Nicaragua?
CM: Right. So the NICA Act had been championed by former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and you know, like her company of extreme right-wing Republican legislators, but had not gained any traction because of the stability that was obvious in Nicaragua and the peace and the progress that was incredibly evident and it wasn’t until they were able to create this image of repression and genocide that she was able basically to convince the US Congress that you know, Nicaragua had to be punished. The NICA Act really it’s a political tool to get Nicaragua to become more neoliberal and what it does is that it prevents the IMF and World Bank and other transnational neoliberal financial entities from providing loans to Nicaragua unless they are for public sector investments, which is the vast majority of the investment. The government investment is mostly education, infrastructure. So in theory, it shouldn’t really, you know have such a huge impact because of the level of public investment of the government, but it’s definitely, it’s not an honorable act. You know, it’s not an act that is going to be applied to the T, but it’s just a means to enforce, you know, a policy and because Nicaragua has diversified its economy and its food production, it’s not as severe as in the case of say Venezuela that relies so much on, you know other countries’ imports, you know to basically meet basic necessities and then also because Nicaragua is a non-aligned nation, it has been receiving loans and investments, you know from other countries that don’t necessarily obey the United States, you know, like China, Russia, Taiwan, India and other countries that have been dealing with the Sandinistas that have not stopped doing so, so it won’t crush Nicaragua. And then the other thing that I like to point out is that countries like Honduras and El Salvador and Argentina and Chile, they’re not punished. You know, there’s no Chile Act or Honduras Act and yet the vast majority of the investment basically goes right back into transnationals or the security apparatus to basically crush dissent to neoliberal reforms and land grabbing and you know, the privatizing of natural resources and things like that. So it’s not like these investments were going to go to the Nicaraguan people in the first place. Right, I think that more damaging than the NICA Act would be if Nicaragua became a 100% neoliberal country. That would be like the real tragedy there and it’s not to downplay also the importance of the NICA Act. Obviously we don’t want the NICA Act. The NICA Act is bad for Nicaragua, but all things considered, I think that we have a government that’s committed to the well-being and the development of the Nicaraguan people, especially the poor and the power dynamics are changing on a global scale. The United States does not have the same power that it had before economically, politically and China just opened its markets, you know for public investment and Russia has been saying, you know, like the dollars are being used as a political, economic weapon of war basically and you know, like there are major emerging powers that are basically saying, you know, we really don’t want to adhere to this economic world order that’s very belligerent and that’s very unfair, you know that has basically destroyed, you know, not only our economies but our sovereignty.
MF: So just in closing for folks that are listening, what’s a good way for them to get information about what’s actually happening in Nicaragua when they you know, because we know that the US is in this for the long haul but 2018 is not the end of their efforts to overthrow this, how can people get information when things happen?
CM: Right. Well, I mean, I think Popular Resistance, actually, it’s a great source. It’s true. And then also I think it’s important for people to look at other regime change operations that are happening elsewhere in the world because it’s very similar to what’s happening in Nicaragua. So your reporting on Venezuela, your reporting on Hong Kong, when people are able to understand that, they can understand what’s going on in Nicaragua. I think the Grayzone is also another great source of information and analysis and you know firsthand also because they actually go to Nicaragua and other Latin American countries.
MF: And Latin American publications?
CM: Well, Telesur is also a really good source of information, RT, you know, all the networks that are demonized, you know by mainstream news media in the US are actually rather objective in their coverage of the Nicaraguan situation. I think Nica Notes as well, Nicanotes.com and there’s Tortilla con Sal.
MF: And then you have a book or you’re part of a book…
CM: The reader, we have a reader. Yes, that they can find that also on AFGJ. The Nicaraguan reader is in both English and Spanish. There is also a critique of Amnesty International’s report on Nicaragua and how biased and politically driven it is. The Nicaraguan Reader goes into the history of US Nicaragua relations and intervention. Well, I mean, I think that’s a pretty good start.
MF: Yeah. Yeah. No, that’s great. Well, thank you so much for taking time with us.
CM: Thank you so much for bringing attention to Nicaragua.