“You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.” – CIA operative discussing with Philip Graham, editor Washington Post, on the availability and prices of journalists willing to peddle CIA propaganda and cover stories. (from “Katherine The Great,” by Deborah Davis (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1991)
Thus Davis chronicles the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) official campaign to turn American newspapers, into conduits for its anti-communist ideology which began after World War II. It was called “Operation Mockingbird”. Perhaps the operation would have been more accurately named “Operation Cuckoo” as the cuckoo will lay its egg in another bird’s nest and steal the original. With this propaganda operation and spying operation, the CIA effectively threw objectivity out of the nest of American journalism and put CIA denominated news in its place.
The CIA was successful in capturing the nests of the biggest newspapers in the U.S., including the the “Washington Post”, the “N.Y. Times” , and the “Los Angeles Times”, among many others. They all still seem to be on team. During the years of the Contra war against the lawful Sandinista government in the 1980′s, the CIA employed similar methods here in Nicaragua. Is it still going on here?
When I first investigated moving to Nicaragua in 2012, I asked a friend there about which newspapers I should read there. I was told “none of them”. She said that the two biggest national Spanish language dailies, “La Prensa” and “El Nuevo Diario” were both strongly opposed to the current Sandinista government. Of the two, “La Prensa”, was the most virulently anti-Sandinista, akin in tone to Fox News vicious attacks on Obama’s bone fides.
Thus when I moved to Nicaragua, I began reading the lessor evil, “El Nuevo Diario”, on a daily basis. About three months ago, that paper changed radically. From being something akin to a neighborhood shopping newspaper, El Nuevo Diario suddenly expanded into four sections, in color, one section totally devoted to economic news, along with a large variety of reprints of stories from the New York Times.
Many of El Dario’s international stories now routinely take pot-shots at left wing governments such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, although largely avoiding La Prensa’s Fox-like screams against President Ortega.
“La Prensa”, likely the biggest national paper, is owned by Violeta Chamorro and her family. In the 1980‘s during the Contra war, her paper routinely attacked the Sandinistas and received U.S. funds for their efforts. She was, in 1990, the first of the three U.S. funded anti-socialist presidents. She ended the 11 year reign of the revolutionary socialist Sandinista party. Chamorro and her two U.S. approved and funded successors spent the next 16 years, allowing the U.S. government to once again call the shots in Nicaragua. Restored to power, the local capitalists’ representatives virtually demolished all the social welfare programs that the Sandinistas had put in place when they ousted Somoza family dictatorship in 1979.
In 1979, the Sandinista movement ( officially the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN).) had come to power after years of a revolutionary war that successfully ended the Somoza regime.
The Sandinistas, begun as a small, clandestine, Marxist anti-Somoza guerrilla group in the early 1960’s, was named after Augusto César Sandino, a revered national hero for successfully evicting the U.S. Marines from Nicaragua in 1932. Sandino’s rebel forces had made the continuation of the U.S.’s 20 year military occupation untenable. The FSLN was so-named by one of its main theoreticians and founders, Carlos Fonseca. Dying in a firefight with Somoza’s National Guards in 1976, he didn’t live to see victory. The FSLN’s heroism against the hated dictatorship, however, earned it massive popular support which culminated in Somoza’s ouster and the FSLN attaining power, first under the auspices of a ruling unity junta and then with Daniel Ortega’s election as president in 1984.
Upon defeating Somoza in 1979, the Sandinista movement introduced a vast socialist program of nationalizing land, creating worker cooperatives, both agrarian and industrial, and combating the then massive illiteracy by sending thousands of teams of students into the countryside and barrios to teach reading and writing, reportedly reducing the iliteracy rate from 50.36% to 12.94% in some five months The Sandinistas also set up a huge network of free, community based health clinics, providing health care to millions who had never before had access to such services.
The U.S., in the person of then President, Jimmy Carter, was politely civil to the new Nicaraguan government. But, with his loss to Ronald Reagan in 1981, the U.S. attitude turned openly and actively belligerent. (For an excellent and detailed account of Reagan’s anti-Sandinista efforts, see Stephen Kinzer’s “Blood of Brothers — Life and War in Nicaragua” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, N.Y., 1991)
Thereafter, the Sandinista efforts to bring economic and social equality to the nation, were viciously obstructed by Reagan, who set about using the U.S.’s vast resources, both legal and illegal, to create and maintain the “ Contra” war against the Sandinista government, forcing the fledgling government to divert needed resources to its defense against the armed might of the U.S. which had created a proxy army, based in Honduras, to destabilize and destroy the new government.
Funding the Contra army against the Sandinista government was only one arm of the Reagan government’s attack. According to the Inventory of Conflict and Environment’s case study by Ellie Klerlein on “Environmental Effects of Nicaraguan Armed Conflicts”, the U.S. blocked World Bank and other foreign development loans, imposed restrictions on U.S. trade, including reducing Nicaragua’s sugar quota by 90%, and canceled its Overseas Private Investment Corporation insurance, needed to attract international loans and investment.
Reagan’s attempts to destabilize the Sandinista government were ultimately successful. By the time of the 1990 Nicaraguan election, after nine years of fighting to survive as an independent nation, the economy was in ruins. Kler in her case study cited above, puts the number of war-related deaths at 43,000. Thousands more were crippled by injuries. Food supplies were insufficient due to the Contra’s disruption of normal farming. As a result, the social fabric was in tatters.
Although the U.S.’s Contra army never succeeded in defeating the Sandinista movement militarily, the war so wrecked the economy that the U.S., by pouring a million of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars into the anti-sandinista opposition’s electoral efforts, were able to elect the U.S.’s approved unity candidate, Violeta Chamorro.
Virtually the first act of the Chamorro-led government was to grab back the land from the small farmers cooperatives that the Sandinista government had allocated to them from the nationalization of the Somoza family and friends ‘ holdings. The majority of the previously nationalized companies suffered the same fate.
Before their fall in 1979, two generations of the Somaza family dictatorship and its friends had acquired the majority of the assets of the whole country, including most of its arable land and virtually all its industries.
The first Somoza dictator, General Anastasio Somoza García, had taken presidential power in 1936. Formerly, he was head of the U.S. trained and equipped National Guards, which he employed to assassinate Augusto César Sandino in 1934. (See Kinzer, above,for details on General Somoza’s nasty history.)
General Anastasio Somoza ruled, officially and occasionally by proxy, until assassination 1956 by a young rebel poet. Thereafter Somoza’s eldest son took over until his own death, of natural causes, in 1956. Then the next eldest son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, took over the presidency. The Somoza family ruled with an iron and greedy fist through the force of its personally controlled National Guard. After Somoza Debayle fled the country in 1979, remnants of his National Guard formed the nucleus of the U.S. created Contra force. (Kinzer, in “Blood of Brothers” gives a detailed account of Reagan’s military creation and maintenance of the Contras.)
Under the Somoza regime, the majority of the Nicaraguan population had owned nothing and lived in brutally poor conditions, without access to health care, education or land. Electoral votes were bought wholesale. It was a sham democracy controlled by the Somoza’s and their brutal and thoroughly corrupt National Guards. These were the conditions which gave rise to the Sandinista guerrilla group in the early 1960‘s and to the wide-spread hatred for the dictator.
During the 60’s and 70’s, even the upper class Chamorro family were vocal anti-Somoza opponents, even losing one activist publisher son, Pedro Chamorro, to assassination by the dictator in 1978. Perhaps that was one of Somoza’s most critical mis-steps. Thereafter even the U.S. withdrew their support.
By early 1979, virtually the whole country was supporting the Sandinista revolutionaries, who had taken control of most of the cities and towns. By July, even the National Guard had disintegrated. Somoza and his followers hurriedly left the country, taking millions from the national assets with them. The Sandinistas had won and would remain in government for next 11 years.
After the 1990 election, however, Pedro Chamorro ‘s widow, Violeta, was elected to office and she and her neo-liberal opposition supporters, set upon dismantling the vast community health care and free public education system that the Sandinistas had put into place. They simply diverted its funding.
In 2006, after 16 years of going backwards economically and socially, the FSLN’s Daniel Ortega, was again voted into the presidential office.
President Ortega immediately began re-building the shattered Sandinista social welfare programs, but he softened many of their previous socialist economic policies, successfully walking a fine line between cooperation with many of the U.S. controlled International Monetary fund and World Bank policies and those of Chavez’s Bolivarian socialist inspired programs of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) a progressive Latin American cooperation and development organization which has funded many large projects in Nicaragua.
Much to the distaste of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Ortega has been a strong ally of Venezuela’s Chavez government and now that of Nicholas Maduro, but he has also managed to juggle the World Bank and IMF investment demands with those of ALBA’s Bolivarian idealism to win re-election in 2011. He dances very well on thin ice.
During President Obama’s recent visit to Costa Rica, President Ortega joined other Central American leaders for a polite dinner meeting with Obama, but immediately left the group to fly to Venezuela to attend a memorial for his former close ally and friend, President Hugo Chavez. There he was outspoken in his support for the socialist Maduro and critical of U.S. meddling in Venezuela’s post-election politics. Unlike the most Latin American countries, the U.S. has refused to recognize Maduro’s victory.
The Sandinista government of today definitely pursues a “mixed economy” program, actively expanding social programs, such as health care, education, housing for the poor, micro-credits to small businesses, and job training, while encouraging foreign capitalist investment and providing sizable tax benefits to privately owned local and foreign industries.
President Ortega has seen, in the dead flesh of his own people, the dire effects of too openly flaunting U.S. capitalism’s economic hegemony. One suspects that Ortega will continue to quietly improve social conditions while courting more U.S. and foreign capitalist investment, thus hoping to avoid reawakening the active wrath of the North American colossus. If one is to judge by Nicaraguan national dailies, however, the U.S. is still maintaining its CIA funded propaganda war on the Sandinistas.
Perhaps Ortega is only waiting for his fellow Latin American countries in the Chavez-inspired CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) group (the U.S. and Canada were expressly excluded) to carry out their plans for a Latin American defensive military alliance. The U.S. and Canada were excluded from CELAC membership. Hopefully one day such an alliance might give socialist-minded countries like Nicaragua a better chance to thrive without U.S. interference. In the meantime, I expect President Ortega will keep on ice dancing, despite the fact that the the U.S.’s Operation Mockingbird may keep on singing its anti-socialist tunes in the Nicaraguan media.