CENIDH's false human rights reporting

Submitted bytortilla onLun, 13/08/2018 - 16:57

Barbara Moore, August 13th 2018

Anyone who is well informed on what is going on in Nicaragua will be considered biased. That is the reality.
Kevin Zeese, co-director, Popular Resistance

On the question of snipers. Yesterday my taxi driver turned out to be an ex-soldier/francotirador. He was explaining the shootings with his other passenger, himself a former regular soldier.  I simply listened. He corroborated what you say point by point. He was quite clear - these are paid hit men, brought in to sow chaos. His most chilling phrase, "They needed deaths."
An international peace activist who asked his name not be used for fear of possible reprisal.

It is precisely the legitimacy of the government that has enabled it to defeat the opposition coup attempt, it's the opposition who lack popular support, a quick look at the leading figures of the civic alliance confirms that for anyone familiar with Nicaragua's political scene.
Stephen Sefton, writer, activist, educator; Tortilla con Sal

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) is considered the more respectable of the two human rights organizations within Nicaragua. The alternative, The National Asssociation for Human Rights or ANPDH, was founded by the U.S. State Department in conjunction with the CIA using money ear-marked for the contras and continues to receive funding from the US. Since the beginning of the crisis the former organization, the CENIDH has served as the reporting agency, the group trusted with the macabre task of keeping track of the body count. As a human rights organization it is expected to be neutral, unbiased and to report accurately; media outlets rely heavily on such organizations.

Unfortunately, the first report made available by CENIDH in early May is rife with shortcomings, errors and a pattern of deception. And yet considering the country’s internal dynamics it is not surprisingly at all that the larger assumptions and conclusions advanced by the group have been endlessly recycled both within Nicaragua and abroad.  The report also served as a template for NGOs like Amnesty International and most egregiously by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights.

The CENIDH report lists 45 deaths in chronological order, nearly all of whom were killed by bullet wounds. In most instances the entry point of the bullet is noted. The location of each death is also suggested, but details tend to be few and in no case is there evidence to support the stated conclusions. The report qualifies the response of the National Police in those early fateful days as, the exercise of brutal violence, and describes, repression and state violence. At the same time the report admits little ambiguity; it specifically charges the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo as well as the head of the National Police and the second-in-command with full responsibility for every death.

The organization has never provided any concrete evidence in any instance that it was the police who had fired on any protesters or any passers-by. Rather, they crafted a narrative which others used to advance a skillful campaign of propaganda through a mixture of sweeping generalizations and testimonials of family members who confirm what the CENIDH has itself suggested.

Back in time

Vilma Núñez de Escorcia became president of the CENIDH organization in 1990 the same year Violeta Chamorro became president and they had a close relationship. A former member of the FSLN or Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional and like many who have been touring the media circuit of late, Núñez eventually left the party and joined the Sandinista Renovation Movement or MRS. Another one-time Sandinista Carlos Fernando Chamorro left around the same time. According to a piece published in The New York Times Magazine in 2009, he had experienced a revelation regarding the path forward. Many former Sandinistas broke ranks in the early years of the Chamorro administration and according to an independent source, the exodus had less to do with any sort of collective epiphany regarding democracy than it did with the fact that things were looking bleak for the FSLN and no one expected the party to rise from the ashes.

“In the 1990s there was a vibrant civil society,” began an article published by the North American Congress on Latin America or NACLA. The authors failed to mention that conditions were terrible for most Nicaraguans during that time as the gains made in the preceding decade were reversed through painful austerity measures. Most of the former Sandinistas who formed the MRS took up positions in the realm of non-governmental organizations. They were largely from backgrounds of privilege and expected to occupy high-level positions. Núñez made her break with the FSLN a bit later than the initial migration, after she failed to become the FSLN presidential candidate in 1996. She lost out to Daniel Ortega and blamed Ortega for influencing the party’s internal governing body.

Since the fall of Somoza there have really only been two branches on the tree, one was the FSLN and the other was the contras which was converted into the Presidency of Violeta Chamorro. The founders of MRS possibly wanted to forge a third branch and so distanced themselves from the Sandinista Party, a turn that in time took them closer and closer to the far-right. In 1996 Sergio Ramirez was the first MRS presidential candidate and received less than two percent of the vote and in the years since the party has never gained more than ten percent. The reality inside Nicaragua is that aside from a platform of development and social progress there is only the converse, a return to being a client state of the United States because there are still only two branches.

The Washington friendly clan

Today the Chamorros are sort of everywhere. They have enjoyed a cozy relationship with the New York Times over the years and within Nicaragua they hold tremendous institutional power across many facets of society. Their presence is especially noticeable in the media landscape, they are most famously known as the family of the newspaper La Prensa and they also preside over two influential NGOs (The Violeta Chamorro Foundation and a The Nicaraguan Foundation for Social and Economic Development or FUNIDES). They have received funding from The National Endowment for Democracy or NED through a Carlos Fernando Chamorro media organization called CINCO and another media group, Invermedia which backs yet another Chamorro outlet called Confidencial. Members of the extended family continue to work at La Prensa. In the past decade there were two instances of alleged money laundering claims in which CINCO and FUNIDES were suspected of having received funds from NED and National Democratic Institute and, claimed sources, distributed the funds to various entities in an effort to undermine the Ortega government. http://tercerainformacion.es/antigua/spip.php?article6403 https://carlosagaton.blogspot.com/2016/10/nicaragua-funides-envuelto-en…

Connections between the Chamorro family and Washington have deep roots. Washington bankrolled the National Union Party or UNO which brought Violeta Chamorro to power in 1990. Another family member Edmundo Jarquín was the MRS presidential candidate in 2006. Indeed, what has come to be recognized as the opposition is clearly dominated by members of the MRS with Vilma Núñez leading the charge. Over the years, especially the past ten years of Ortega’s ambitious administration which has cut poverty in half, advanced the use of renewables at an accelerated rate, greatly increased access to healthcare and education, democratized the economy through the use of micro loans and by granting of titles to land, the political battle became something else, propelled by a collection of allegations, it became a smear campaign. Félix Maradiaga, Dora María Téllez, Vilma Núñez and Carlos Fernando Chamorro, these well-known public figures are united by their disdain for President Daniel Ortega and the Vice President, Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo. Without coincidence, they are also recognized as the architects of the coup-attempt along with high-ranking religious figures like Bishop Silvio Baez.

The NGO community has also been on the front lines in the push to remove Daniel Ortega from office: Alfonso Bermudez contributed to the New York Times, and Benjamin Waddell most recently to the Huffington Post. Mary Ellsberg (daughter of Daniel Ellsberg) penned a laundry list of opposition talking points for the on-line site Pulse, and her son Julio Martinez Ellsberg has become a paid consultant for the student branch of the opposition, which is currently undergoing a makeover and a name change in order to distance itself from the Washington trip to meet with Marco Rubio and fellow far-right representatives.

The crisis in Nicaragua has not been a matter of police repression or of a dictator, the crisis has been an attempt by one class to exercise its institutional and class power in convincing the world that the government of President Daniel Ortega has lost legitimacy. Since his election in 2006 the Chamorro owned La Prensa, like many of the organizations which claim to represent ‘civil society’ has turned animosity toward the Ortega name into a matter of personal Armageddon. Looking in the rear-view mirror, the right-wing Washington friendly crowd joined by the historic patrons of the oligarchs and a compliant corporate media forge a near-perfect parallel to the contra days of old, using various deceptive maneuvers like the staging of false flags, black propaganda and brutal violence.  

Given Ortega’s popularity, (in the most recent elections he gained 72% of the popular vote), a crisis was not inevitable, it was necessary if the former oligarchs were to regain power. It should have been shocking to anyone to notice that 80% of the body of the CENIDH report was based on articles from La Prensa. How many in the United States or Great Britain would accept as legitimate a human rights report that used Fox News as a primary source in the determination of any event and particularly an event which would perfectly suit the interests of the far-right and leave the adversary disgraced?

The claims against the Nicaraguan government

The carefully crafted claims of the CENIDH (peppered with a few concrete charges that happen to contradict statements made by family members or even what is claimed in different parts of the report) has been completely embraced by journalists—the police opened fire on demonstrators, used live ammunition, fired indiscriminately. The BBC, “Security forces and armed pro-government groups violently repressed demonstrators.” Elizabeth Malkin and Alfonso Flores Bermúdez for the New York Times, “The government responded to the protesters with a bloody crackdown firing into the crowds of demonstrators.”

The Amnesty International report of May 29, however, acknowledges and even emphasizes the use of snipers and the pattern of shots to the head, neck and chest. They titled the report ‘Shoot to Kill’. Amnesty contradicts the CENIDH claim which has been echoed by every mainstream media outlet from day one. Amnesty maintains, on instructions from the government, police or paramilitary snipers sought out particular targets, zeroed in on certain individuals and executed them. But in asserting that they face insuperable difficulties to be able to sustain their claims because, not only did people die who were not where the CENIDH said they were, but also people died who had nothing to do with the protests.

According to Amnesty we are to believe that while the protests were taking place police or parapolice snipers randomly wandered around and arbitrarily decided to kill people uninvolved in the protests, just anyone—one here, another there. This story is simply unbelievable, not to mention that based on the information currently available not a single son or daughter from the business class or upper classes has been killed. The use of snipers would mean individuals were specifically targeted and yet in one case after another the deaths have affected families of limited resources and in fewer instances middle-class families. Had the government specifically targeted individuals would they not have selected those who would likely be considered anti-Ortega or right-wing rather than members of their own base.

Fuel on the fire

On April 18 the students had claimed on social media that one student had been killed. That was false and could be viewed as accidental were it not for a consistent pattern of deception. On April 19 another falsehood was circulated, “three students killed.”  Within the first few days the comments sections of videos on YouTube were suddenly, dubiously, filled with dictator talk; Mierda Ortegas, Ortega Dictador and Assesinos. Many have claimed the coup-attempt was a popular uprising and at moments it may have appeared as such, but much of the outrage was based on erroneous information and lies.

By Saturday a number of students called friends and relatives from inside UPOLI, (acronym of the technical university in Managua), claiming, “They’re shooting at us!” The body of the CENIDH report claims Jonathan Steven Valerio #38 (bullets to neck) was killed in the attack. An article in El Nuevo Dario claimed many injuries and one death but try searching his name now and nothing appears, possibly because he had not died inside UPOLI, his death was another caused by a sniper which occurred much earlier in the day outside of Hospital Manolo Morales. The phone calls and near one-hour assault by police on the students inside UPOLI was a complete hoax, theatre.

A similar scene was more recently enacted at UNAN, a public university, also in Managua. Students themselves were outside shooting weapons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb72PP4Td9E Two deaths occurred later when the police moved on a nearby tranque (barricade); they were not students. Every major media outlet got the story wrong:  The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and PBS, all claimed a massacre had taken place and that students had been killed.

Recently, Dania Valeska who has been a highly visible opposition member divulged a cache of information confirming MRS members and high-ranking religious figures have funded and organized the crisis that has claimed the lives of so many. Anyone who saw anything related to the ‘hostage, siege, under-attack-massacre that lasted 24 hours’ story will recognized her immediately. Mary Ellsberg used Valeska’s picture to substantiate her claims of a massacre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kA5-Ty4KN8&feature=youtu.be  

Evaluating a representative news report and its use by CENIDH

Below is a comparison of one article in El Nuevo Dario that dealt with eight of the deaths. It also contains comments of relatives effected.  Although the whole of the report is not analyzed, this comparison offers a representative appraisal of what one article reports, what the relatives have said and what the CENIDH report claims. The death of a police officer is also examined.

The number assigned to each fatality by the CENDIH is provided and a link to the report itself is available at bottom.  It should be noted that no matter what description any individual is given in terms of circumstances, the CENIDH report attributes all deaths to state repression including the deaths of two police officers and a number of Sandinista youths.

According to El Nuevo Dario's news report, family members of Jesner José Rivas, #32 (bullet to chest), stated he had nothing to do with the protests and yet the CENIDH specifically claimed the youth was killed in relation to looting, which family also denied. https://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/nacionales/463190-ocho-victimas-abril-…

Carlos López Martínez #19 age 24, (bullet to chest), and Nelson Enrique Teller Huete #45 (bullet to neck) were together when shot at night, two blocks from Teller’s house. Family of both denied they had anything to do with protests. The CENIDH however, report Teller as a victim of state repression and Martínez as someone killed during the protest.

Darwin Manuel Urbina #2 (bullet to neck), was killed when returning from work. The CENIDH report claims the bullet was seen as coming from the anti-riot police. Yet Amnesty’s ‘Shoot to Kill’ report attributes shots to the head /neck/chest as the work snipers, a direct contradiction.

The family of Eric Andrés Cubillo #21, also said he had nothing to do with the protests. This instance is so egregious it is worth quoting the El Nuevo Diario article where his wife explains he had gone to a hospital for a medical appointment and was in the vicinity of Metrocentro to catch a bus home.

“Erick Andrés Cubillo, un civil trabajador de Enatrel central, es otra de las víctimas de abril que no tenía nada que ver con las protestas. Katherine Álvarez, esposa de la víctima, “Él no era parte de las protestas. Había ido al Hospital Bautista para una consulta médica, de ahí salió hacia Metrocentro para abordar el bus,” contó.

CENIDH claims Erick Cubillo died inside UNI— a completely different story.

The case of Cristian Emilio Cadena #18 represents a glaring cover-up, his death another used to stack the body count. The CENIDH say only he died defending the CUUN which was the student union building of Leon’s main university. He was found with no teeth, no arms and no legs. El Nuevo Dario reported his body as showing some signs of torture. While the CENIDH went to great length to place as many of the fatalities as possible in the context of the protests; they were entirely content to white-wash the details of this gruesome case.

Additional Information

Police officer Hilton Rafael Manzanares #6 was one of the first deaths in the area of UPOLI and he was shot in the head, a clear provocation. Only one other person died in Managua on April 19, Darwin Manual #2 was returning to work. He was not a student and he was not protesting. The third death which took place on April 19 occurred in Tipitappa. Richard Pavón Bermúdez #1 is said to have died in front of the Alcadia (mayor’s office) from multiple bullet wounds. It is now known the Sandinista youth was killed by opposition members on their way to burn the building.

An additional three youth which the CENIDH report lists as having died on April 19 were killed the following day April 20. This included Harlington Raúl López who was only 18 years old #5 (bullet to head). The CENIDH claims this youth was a student at UPOLI and died in the protests there. But he was not a student and according to relatives after returning from work he went out with his brother. They had passed by the protest near UNI and were returning to their home in barrio 380 when the youth was struck. https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2018/05/20/suplemento/la-prensa-domingo/242…

The family of Franco Alexander Valdivia Machado #3 (bullet to head) had his body exhumed and an independent autopsy performed. The autopsy confirmed a sniper had been the shooter as the bullet had entered with a downward trajectory. The article also alludes to the possibility of matching the type of bullet to that used by the police. Had there been a match the opposition surely would have presented that evidence, yet there has been no mention of it.   https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2018/05/06/nacionales/2414738-autopsia-a-es…

The claim that the national police opened fire on the protesters and fired indiscriminately remained the prevailing narrative at the time of the May 30 march, Mother’s Day march. Tom Phillips writing for the Guardian, “The protesters were met by a shower of bullets.” Tim Rogers writing for The Atlantic, “The police sprayed the demonstrators with bullets.” According to El Nuevo Dario, June 2, the National Police met the end of the protest and opened fire. Only later was the story changed to claim there were one or more government snipers in the baseball stadium. However, over the course of events on May 30th twenty police officers were also shot, not mortally but wounded by gunshots. Details such as this which suggest a more complex narrative at work are completely overlooked.

Obfuscation, collusion, omissions.

Like Christhiam Emilio Cadenas, Kevin Perez Duarte was badly tortured and ultimately killed. He was last seen on May 23 and his body was found May 26. Kevin Perez was a third-year medical student from UNAN. His death has been linked to Christian Josué Mendoza Fernández, alias “El Viper”. This death was given so little significance there is some doubt even to his correct name. News reports sometimes name Keller, sometimes Kevin, sometimes Kenneth. It seems the protesters who came to be known as Movimiento de Abril 19 or M19 discovered he had belonged to the Sandinista Juventud.

A full confession by Christian Josué Mendoza Fernández, alias “El Viper” links Félix Maradiaga, who emerged as the leader of the opposition, to organized crime and a plot to overthrow the government. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCnz9bJccV4  Viper describes the plan to destabilize the government by channeling rage, attacking symbols of the Ortega government and the FSLN party as well as the goal of recruiting between 28 and 35 individuals with as many arms as possible. Another video shows Maradiaga in the company another underworld character named Pio Arellano. In the video Arellano has a gun which he takes out and waves around. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoGorunwJy0

Maradiaga traveled with the students on their trip to Washington and has been one of the man conduits for receiving funding from the US in his role as Executive Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy. It seems unlikely mainstream media failed to pick up on this connection as Maradiaga did not even return to Nicaragua with the rest of the group, ostensibly because he feared he would be arrested upon arrival. But despite some fairly remarkable connections which one would think any investigative journalist would have found tantalizing there has been almost no interest in the evidence which ties US funding to opposition leadership, organized crime and some rather grisly acts.  

Omissions seem intentional.

The claim that the third floor of UPOLI was used as a torture site is not only in the Viper confession it has been corroborated by Verónica Gutiérrez another UPOLI student and Jenner Lenín Barrios Paíz who was himself tortured there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDOooIM7cWg

The elaborate work of right-wing organizations and collusion of international media had another effect. With all the blame heaped onto the Ortega government and no interest in recognizing the destruction carried out by the opposition, (kidnapping, assault, torture, arson, harassment, intimidation, the theft of automobiles, medical supplies, motorcycles, and the rape of a female police officer and of a ten-year-old girl) the media black-out certainly contributed to the violence. Meanwhile, the use of snipers stacked the death toll and the CENDIH did what was necessary to create the appearance of a ‘student massacre.’ The snipers were most likely organized crime members as described by Viper, (a member of the El Salvadoran Gang Mara 18 was arrested in June). The snipers targeted mostly youths (many of whom turned out to be students). These were the deaths needed in order to call for regime change.

Another report completed by Enrique Hendrix is far more extensive than the short comparison carried out here. (A link to his report provided below) Then there is the report carried out by the Organization of American States, the CIDH report covers the period of April 19 to June 19. For that two-month period nine names are listed twice and an additional fourteen names are listed which had nothing to do with the crises; theses are instances of fatalities related to other crimes such as robberies, traffic accidents, natural deaths and a suicide. https://v4.simplesite.com/#/pages/440496470?editmode=true#row_f2f66414-…

The absence of critical analysis by the mainstream media itself suggests a conspiracy. Carl David who has written for  The Guardian appears arm-in-arm with opposition members on social media. Mary Ellsberg is Facebook friends with Dora María Téllez and bishop Silvio José Báez. Tim Rogers has literally made a career of hurling gratuitous insults at the Nicaraguan government. Tom Phillips seems to delight in describing President Ortega as, “a brutal ruthless tyrant,” and refers to the sculptures of trees which grace Managua’s horizon as Rosario Murrillo’s, “oddball vanity project.” Bianca Jagger who is on the board of Amnesty has been photographed with Alex Hernandez one of the organizers of the nights of rampage which terrorized the towns of Catarina, Daria and Niquinomo. Aljazeera recently interviewed Hernandez who was presented as an innocent member of the opposition who is now in hiding due to fear of repression.

That is the opposition strategy of late. As videos and evidence of the opposition crimes against the Sandinistas circulate, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QxjQm2fbTI   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_lnu7DA1OM members of the opposition are once again the victims. As reported by the AP August 10 and picked up by The New York Times, individuals claim to have been abducted and claim to have been tortured. And yet they do not offer a photograph of a bruise, nor a photograph of a cut. Rather, it is asserted, ‘they know how to hit us, so it leaves no mark.’  A new version of the story now appears with a male showing a scar where a bullet was removed. The photograph does not seem related to the story at hand but given the title, ‘Arbitrary Arrests, Abuse the New Normal in Nicaragua’ who is going to question how one relates to the other.

To the consternation of some President Ortega continues to enjoy wide-spread support and the vast majority of citizens are greatly relieved to have peace restored. Since the last of the tranques were dismembered nearly three weeks ago there has been little violence aside from those the opposition has targeted for death. They include Reyneia Gabrielle Da Costa Lima Rocha, killed July 23 on her way home from her work at the Police Hospital; Police Captain César Martín Blandón Urrutia assassinated in Department of Carazo on August 5; Luis Enrique Montano died on August 3, after he had been severely wounded July 14. Most recently Lenin Mendiola was also targeted. He was an icon among many Sandinistas. None of these deaths have garnered the attention of foreign journalists. And while the only known casualties of the past three weeks have been those targeted by the opposition, according to the international press the deaths which the government is responsible for has magically jumped by more than a hundred. Unsurprisingly, the torrent of propaganda continues.

CENIDH report here Deaths are listed 1-45Analysis of the CENIDH report by Enrique Hendrix, here