How US govt-funded media fueled a violent coup in Nicaragua

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton investigate how the United States funded violent far-right groups and media outlets that published fake news to fuel a 2018 coup attempt against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

(Puede leer o ver este informe en español aquí.)



Transcript

When the socialist-oriented Sandinista Front returned to power in Nicaragua through democratic elections in 2006, Washington began pouring tens of millions of dollars into the creation, training, and funding of right-wing opposition groups in the Central American nation.

Millions of dollars have flowed from the US Agency for International Development, or USAID, into the bank accounts of anti-Sandinista groups.

These US-funded organizations were at the heart of a failed coup d’etat that ravaged Nicaragua in 2018, leading to hundreds of deaths and destabilizing the country.

USAID placed a special emphasis on cultivating media outlets to bombard the country’s citizens with disinformation and deception that served the right-wing opposition’s agenda.

To support the media ecosystem it sought to establish in Nicaragua, USAID channeled money through an entity run by Nicaragua’s most powerful oligarchic family, the Chamorro Foundation.

Among the most prominent recipients of the millions USAID plowed through the Chamorro Foundation was the opposition media outlet 100% Noticias.

In July 2018, The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal visited the offices of 100% Noticias in Managua. There, he met with Miguel Mora, the station’s director, who declared openly that he wished for a US invasion of his country to remove its elected president, Daniel Ortega:

Miguel Mora: And what I see in the United States is it doing a Noriega-style operation, in Panama. They come, they grab the [Ortega] family, they take them out. And the army is not involved. In two days, 24 hours, this is solved, if this US intervention took place.

So what I see, instead of the US giving weapons, like what it did with the Contras, they come, and do a Noriega-style operation. That is a scenario that you can’t rule out.

While Mora called for a US military invasion of his country, his US government-funded network sent its reporter Lucía Pineda Ubau out to the barricades, known as tranques, where she provided armed opposition activists with a national platform to call for the death of Nicaragua’s president and vice president.

US media and elite press freedom NGOs have not only overlooked the open calls for violence and assassination by US government-funded media activists in Nicaragua; they have lionized these coup-plotting propagandists as heroic front-line journalistic freedom fighters.

During its 2019 awards gala, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) excluded jailed Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange from its list of jailed journalists.

At the same ceremony, the CPJ gave its international press freedom award to Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau of the right-wing Nicaraguan TV outlet 100% Noticias.

Before the awards ceremony, Mora and Pineda were granted a special meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

In celebrating Mora and Pineda as courageous truth tellers persecuted by a repressive government, the Committee to Protect Journalists left out a few crucial facts.

In reality, the two played a key role in the chaos that rocked Nicaragua in 2018, relentlessly spreading fake news, while calling for insurrectionist violence against the government and its supporters.

During the 2018 US-backed coup in Nicaragua, 100% Noticias was the main propaganda channel of the violent elements that attempted to overthrow the country’s elected Sandinista government by force.

Early on in the coup attempt, Mora went on air to spread fake news, claiming President Ortega had already given up and was fleeing the country, and that leftist Sandinista supporters were also going to be forced into exile or face legal persecution:

Miguel Mora: He [Ortega] already surrendered! He already sought protection for him and his family. Only them. Not the others. The others are going to be prisoners. The others are going to have to leave the country. They are going to have to face judgment.

Mora’s call for a US military invasion was echoed on air by Oscar Renee Vargas, a popular opposition pundit who clamored for the US Southern Command to orchestrate a coup against President Ortega or invade to overthrow him through a Panama-style operation:

Oscar Rene Vargas: But there’s another third exit that can be done. Here we always have to remember that there is not just pressure from the US, or from the different governments from Latin America and Europe, against the government, against the executive power.

It is also against the army. The army is also pressured, And we have to remember that the army has a very privileged relationship with US Southern Command.

And the letter, we have to remember the letter from Humberto Ortega (Daniel’s brother), before this crisis began, which called on US Southcom, saying we have to find an exit here.

Here, this exit can be a coup d’etat. And the coup d’etat is going to require that the army disarm the paramilitaries. And that is also immediate.

And the fourth possibility that I see, which is always immediate, is the Noriega-style exit, that they (the US military) comes, they intervene, there are deaths, etc., wounded people and all that, to resolve the problem in Nicaragua.

Because the problem in Nicaragua is not just a problem in Nicaragua, but has transformed into a regional problem. And there are statements by different US senators, among them Marco Rubio, they have said that the problem in Nicaragua is a problem for US national security.

On 100% Noticias, Vargas even urged anti-Sandinista forces to storm the presidential residence, kill the president, die by the hundreds doing so, and hang his body in public:

Oscar Rene Vargas: But an immediate removal [of Ortega] can also be the following, the second option that can happen, is that the people, in one of these marches, which we participate in, they say, let’s go to El Carmen (the presidential house), and even if there are 200, 300, 400 deaths, it resolves it.

That would be another immediate exit, because we don’t know what is going to happen. That is, that they grab him [Ortega] and hang him, like what happened with Mussolini. Or they are able to kill 500 of them…

While Mora manned the broadcast studio, Pineda went into the field to provide anti-Sandinista elements with their own regime-change reality show, complete with a soundtrack of action music droning in the background.

And here she is in Monimbo, a Masaya neighborhood that was blockaded by anti-Sandinista elements, including armed men.

It was in Monimbo where an unarmed community police officer named Gabriel Vado was kidnapped, dragged to death from the back of a truck, and burned on camera by opposition hooligans.

Vado’s wife, Karla Torres Hernández, declared in a public complaint against Mora that she personally held him responsible for her husband’s death.

Blumenthal interviewed Vado’s wife in July 2018, just days after his murder, at the Jinotepe police station where she worked as a community officer:

Karla Torres Hernández: They dragged him through all the streets, lacerating part of his body. They tortured him; they shot him in the legs several times. His hands, all cut… That is not done by a normal person. That is never justified. I hope God brings us justice.

Nora McCurdy: Have any human rights organizations talked with you?

Karla Torres Hernández: Not one. Nobody, not one.

Max Blumenthal: Not one human rights group?

Karla Torres Hernández: None.

Max Blumenthal: Not one talked with you?

Karla Torres Hernández: Nobody.

Max Blumenthal: Why?

Karla Torres Hernández: I would say, they only do what is good for them. That could be why. They aren’t truly fair.

Mora and Pineda were ultimately jailed for six months on charges of inciting violence and hatred. They were released thanks to heavy pressure from the US government and NGOs like the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In 2012, Pineda was a guest of the US military at its Southern Command base in Doral, Florida, known as Southcom. The base is responsible for contingency planning and military collaboration in Central America.

Southcom was a central node in the training of the US-backed Contras that attempted to destabilize and overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s.

Pineda visited the US military base as part of a larger group of Nicaraguan opposition journalists who were invited by Southcom and accompanied by the US embassy.

But don’t expect elite press freedom NGOs or the US media to scrutinize these extremist political arsonists. Anti-Sandinista media propagandists like Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau are funded by the US government, which means they are above criticism in the eyes of Washington’s proxies in the human rights industry and media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is itself backed by billionaire foundations and big corporations to celebrate coup-plotters like Mora and Pineda as persecuted heroes, while ignoring the plight of Julian Assange, one of the most high profile prisoners of the UK’s national security state.

Shepard Smith: Earlier this evening we celebrated the release from prison of our colleagues from Nicaragua. The award that CPJ gives to imprisoned journalists has a remarkable success rate, but the record isn’t perfect. There’s more to do.

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