NPR lies about Nicaragua… again!

U.S. corporate media is at again with its continued aggression toward the Latin American country which continues to defy imperialism and chart its own path toward regional sovereignty. Enjoy this transcript of a conversation on Nicaragua between Margaret Kimblerly of Black Agenda Report and Camila Escalante, editor at Kawsachun News.

Margaret Kimberley: You’re listening to Black Agenda Radio. I’m Margaret Kimberley. Camila Escalante is an editor for Kawsachun News, and a Latin America correspondent for PressTV. She joins us from Managua, Nicaragua, to discuss a recent segment of the National Public Radio podcast The Sunday Story, which featured an interview with Eyder Peralta, an NPR correspondent who reported on a recent visit to Nicaragua in which he made many untrue statements. We will talk about how corporate media serve state propaganda. 

Tell our listeners just an overview of what was wrong with this interview.

Camila Escalante: Well, NPR featured an interview and story as part of its The Sunday Story, which is a podcast segment. These air on NPR’s public airwaves and are available online. It’s a 40-minute long story produced by, as you said, Eyder Peralta who is a Nicaraguan citizen. He’s interviewed by host Ayesha Roscoe. They have this angle about how difficult it is for foreign press to enter and report in the country. They make the big claim at the start of the story that he is the “first journalist”, foreign journalist, of course, I would presume that he means ‘journalists working for a foreign outlet’ to be able to enter the country and report in over a year, which is factually incorrect just from the start without getting into any of the details of what sort of information is framed and inserted into this into this report. Also, Ayesha Roscoe, when promoting the segment on social media, says that they have exclusive reporting from NPR’s Eyder Peralta in Nicaragua, where foreign journalists have been banned, and human rights are under attack. 

It’s completely false from the outset that foreign journalists have been banned. I myself am a Canadian journalist. I work for different media outlets, both freelance and other capacities. I have my own outlet, none of the outlets I work with are Nicaraguan or have any ties to anything in Nicaragua, we are completely foreign. I’ve been here for a couple of months and during this time, I’ve seen a lot of foreign media come in and out and do different types of stories for broadcast journalism, both TV and radio, and I’ve seen a lot of foreign writers, some of them working for more mainstream outlets, including public radio in the United States but also different correspondents for state media outlets from around the world. 

We could review, point for point, a lot of the different claims that were made in this 40 minute NPR piece, and describe the actual conditions here in Nicaragua, which I think are very important to talk about. But I think ultimately what this demonstrates is that the approach that US state media is taking is fundamentally flawed in the ways in which they approach covering different countries like Nicaragua, a country that is under siege by the United States, which has a certain foreign policy towards Nicaragua. 

At the same time, we see the same press outlets, whether they be PBS, or NPR, or any of the other mainstream outlets in the US doing some really poor reporting in other parts of the world, but primarily the Global South, where they kind of use to their advantage, the fact that a lot of people in the United States have never been to some of these countries. So they don’t actually know what the conditions are in these different countries. 

For that reason, they’re able to make all of the outrageous claims that we hear made by the State Department, by the White House, and all of the other different departments and agencies of the United States government. They’re simply just reiterating them in the form of, this sort of storytelling approach to this reporter’s experience here in Nicaragua when he came in, starting with how he entered the country. 

Peralta, a Nicaraguan citizen with a Nicaraguan passport, entered through a border checkpoint by land entering in through an immigration checkpoint on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. He himself said that he had no problems entering. This is right at the start of the story if anyone wants to listen to it, and he wasn’t questioned at all. He was able to immediately enter Nicaragua without any problems whatsoever, which he seems to attribute to him being Nicaraguan. But as I can see here, and as anyone can tell you, there are a lot of foreigners here. There are a lot of people who come here on vacation, for cultural reasons, for different people to people exchanges, or to participate in events, or for business and foreign investment. All these people are coming in with their foreign passports without any problems. Also, like I said, a long list of foreign journalists. 

So he himself didn’t have any issue. I’m not sure what exactly he’s referring to in terms of who is being barred from entering the country. If he were to have to answer any questions about his occupation, I would expect that he would answer those, because in my case, I’ve had to as a foreign correspondent as a reporter, over the course of several years, I’ve had to travel as you know, Margaret, through multiple Latin American countries. These are countries with all sorts of different governments seated at the time and I’ve had to tell the immigration authorities, what my occupation is, what I do and what I intend to do. He didn’t even have to do that when he entered the country successfully to do his reporting.

MK: You know, you make many good points there. He makes these very dramatic statements about entering through a remote border crossing on the border with Honduras, and he was afraid he’d be turned away. And then he says, well, actually, five minutes later, I got in. 

So they build up this story about an authoritarian regime. He then makes statements that contradict the premise of this story, calling it the most authoritarian government in the world. By what measure is Nicaragua authoritarian at all, first of all, and even if that definition fit, the most authoritarian government in the world? I mean, we have an elected president, an elected vice president, an elected legislature and yet it’s called authoritarian. And it seems to me it’s pretty clear that he is one of those journalists, I use the word loosely, quite frankly, who promote the narrative of the US state. 

The US has been hostile to Nicaragua ever since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. We had the Reagan administration spending, basically the entirety of his time in office trying to overthrow that government, giving money to people who were called the contra rebels. The current government, the Biden administration, passed legislation called the RENACER Act, renacer meaning rebirth in Spanish. It’s an awful term frankly, and it’s sanctions and its ways to punish Nicaragua and to make life more difficult for the people there, I wonder if that’s authoritarian or not. But at any rate, this is quite a problem when people who are journalists who are acting under a pretense of objectivity, spread state propaganda, what I would call war propaganda. Is that not the problem?

CE: Absolutely. Well, a lot of people would consider NPR among other outlets in the United States, including those that receive public funding, which many believe to be more progressive outlets. People are getting information from outlets which they believe are more progressive, and more neutral, more transparent, and more ethical sources of information compared to the other large corporate media. Of course, NPR is also corporate media. 

And so this is the problem. They are acting like any other psychological warfare outlet. And so what does this guy do in his reporting? He interviews one person who is actually a State Department official, who speaks anonymously and says all the things that we’re used to hearing them say quite publicly, but he doesn’t name this official. There’s another person who he interviews, who is among those who were convicted here in Nicaragua before being sent to the United States after the negotiations that took place between the State Department and Managua. They were released from prison and they’re able to live normally in the United States. Many of these people had lived in the United States previously, and a lot of their lives and everything else are there. This person who Peralta spoke to, describes himself as being anti-socialist, and anti-Sandinista. And this person is part of the narration of the story. He’s talking about his time in jail here but NPR’s reporter doesn’t actually speak to anyone in this story, whether it be to quote them or anything, who supports the government, which I find very difficult to wrap my head around, because this is a country that has huge support, in the 70% or higher range of people who support the government, particularly in this period, since President Daniel Ortega won the presidency in 2021. So a lot of false and inaccurate claims are made, a lot of really bizarre angles are taken. They claim that there’s a “political crisis” in this country, when there simply is no political crisis, I think we’re going to have to define what political crisis is because I’m here now and that doesn’t exist. 

Unfortunately, there are political crises in different parts of Latin America right now, namely, in countries like Ecuador, where we’ll see a new round of elections to elect a new president, because the situation there is so severe. Another one is the political crisis and neighboring Honduras, which is a country that has a leftist government, and they have had a very difficult time renewing the authorities of the Attorney General’s office in order to prosecute some of the people who carried out acts of corruption in the previous administration. Rather than report on those, NPR is making false accusations about Nicaragua. 

He says that the country has been in “constant turmoil”. He doesn’t mention repeated US intervention in this country over the last several decades, and actually the last couple of centuries, including US military interventions here in Nicaragua. Nor does he mention the US military bases and operations around Central America and the Caribbean. which serve as provocation.

He references a discredited UN Human Rights Report and another person is interviewed who claims that seven “presidential candidates” were barred from running when in fact, this is one of the most important things I’ve covered here during my time in 2021 in Nicaragua. I was not living here, I was based in Bolivia, but I came here and interviewed authorities of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), to get an idea of who was running, who was registered to run as candidate for the presidency and to get an idea of the electoral scenario. I interviewed them both months before the election and after the election.

Clearly, these were people who could affiliate themselves with a political party but not register or fulfill the necessary steps through the electoral authorities to be able to formally enlist in the election as a presidential candidate. It’s completely false, that anything happened to “pre-candidates” or candidates because they simply didn’t exist. You know, these words have meanings and the people referenced in the interview were not candidates.

This just points to a larger problem of how the press operates, particularly when news has to be sensationalized, or “click baity” particularly now, in the age of social media. The only way for him to be hired by NPR and to do this type of work is to have an angle that is sought after by US authorities or by a particular US audience, otherwise, there would just be no demand for it whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are many good stories about the different protagonists and struggles here in Latin America that news outlets, even the most progressive outlets, don’t accept because they are busy chasing stories that are sensational. They want to hear about coups, they want to hear about governments falling, they want to hear about hardship and misery, and disaster porn, quite frankly. And they want to see these different governments attacked and slandered as authoritarian dictators and so forth.

MK: Yes. And it’s, it’s always those governments that the US doesn’t like and I guess we could sum up by saying governments that are socialist, those are considered enemies. They are targeted. They are smeared. Last year in Los Angeles the US was the host of the Summit of the Americas and deliberately excluded leaders from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. It’s the Summit of the Americas. It’s not the summit of the United States, even if it’s in the United States. But it’s that kind of thing that the press follows without questioning. And it says a lot about the state of what is supposedly journalism in this country, doesn’t it? 

CE: Yeah, absolutely. In the run up to the Summit of the Americas that was held in Los Angeles last year, no one really questioned why those three countries were not receiving an invitation to participate in the summit. Of around 35 in our region, why exclude these three? Reporters were just regurgitating the same lines that we were hearing from the OAS, the State Department, and the White House. 

This is not the first time that NPR has put out bad reporting on Nicaragua. In recent years, it has lent itself to this sort of anti-Sandinista propaganda, an example being a piece they published on Nicaragua’s response to COVID-19, and framing it as a failed response when in retrospect, the government managed the situation quite well.

A lot of other claims were made that were simply bizarre, he says that “Daniel Ortega only understands the language of violence”. He ought to mention that this is a country that is completely safe; there’s a very low level of violence in the country, people are able to walk, go to work, go to school peacefully, with very few robberies, assaults, and a very low level of homicide, particularly compared to other countries of the region. He doesn’t say that. What he does say is that when you enter the country, you see that oddly calm or normal. He himself says that the things which are supposedly wrong with the country are not visible at first sight. But the reality is, they’re not visible, because these things simply don’t exist and for that reason, a lot of foreigners have been buying homes here, or have been trying to come here for vacation and for other purposes. It’s just a more pleasurable experience for them compared to some of the neighboring countries. It’s simply the most peaceful country in the region. 

The reporter actually tries to attend the celebrations marking the 44th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, which was on July 19. He paints a picture of security measures being set up ahead of the official central act. And he’s making it seem like some very mysterious event is supposed to take place but it is a very important event that its watched on television by the entire country, and where there are many high ranking officials, like presidents of parliaments, representatives of from foreign governments, all of whom come here from all continents, in order to participate in these celebrations. So there is some level of security in place there and some preparations are needed. But he doesn’t say anything about the fact that all sorts of activists and people who are not screened in any way, who were just in the audience, ran up to President Daniel Ortega to shake his hand and give him gifts during this event. They did so without going through any sort of security barrier. It’s clear that he has a disposition of liking to shake hands and get to see the people. They claim that President Daniel Ortega doesn’t want to hold big public rallies. Until COVID-19, they had been holding massive rallies that only had to change for known reasons, in 2020 and thereafter, but a lot of public acts are taking place, including the parades in the last two weeks. There have been two large police and military parades in commemoration of their anniversaries, as well as the parade marking the anniversary of independence from Spain, which went down a central avenue with the attendance of the public. Obviously he didn’t stick around to see them happen.

MK: I just want to tell our listeners, I also have been to Nicaragua and written about my observations and my experiences there. And, of course, the President has security. What head of state doesn’t have security? And, you know, as far as he doesn’t like to hold large public events, he appears in public like anyone else who runs for office. So, these things are clearly untrue. But there’s a larger purpose being served here. And I believe it is to get buy-in from the public so that when Nicaragua is sanctioned, or there’s some sort of interference in the affairs of that country, that people will go along with it, because they have been told that it’s an evil authoritarian state. And this is, frankly, it’s nothing but war propaganda, in my opinion.

CE: Absolutely. So what is the objective here? Well, right now we’re going to continue to see more of these sorts of propaganda hit pieces that take aim at Nicaragua, and this government, because for the time being Nicaragua is being singled out by the State Department and by US legislators who are trying to pass a new piece of legislation, which is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio and Tim Kaine. This is a new piece of legislation to amend the RENACER Act and the NICA Act, two pieces of law that were passed in recent years, which make it very difficult for Nicaragua to access loans from international financial institutions, as well as technical assistance, things that are very much needed. There are a lot of different things which are shoved into the text of this legislation, which have very little to do with the human rights or democracy premise. It mentions Nicaragua’s strengthening relations with Russia and China. I’m not really sure what that geopolitical and diplomatic aspect has to do with the domestic policies of a government. They also talk about religious freedom, because after so many years of trying other angles with limited success, they now are seeing if anyone will buy into the allegation that there is repression towards a religious faith, the Catholic Church specifically. This is a country where people are practicing many different religions, but primarily, they are Christians of different denominations and Catholic.

What’s worrying about this new piece of legislation is that they want to impose sanctions, and they want to ensure the standardization of sanctions among US-allied countries. In the RENACER Act, it says that the United States will work with the UK, the EU and Canada, to set the same designations and sanctions against Nicaragua, and now they intend to continue working within the multilateral system, using the United Nations system and its different bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and even the General Assembly in the form of a draft resolution vote, to try to attack the country even further. Such sanctions could potentially be very far reaching, particularly given that it’s such a small economy, a developing country, just like the majority of countries that are illegally and unilaterally sanctioned right now.

MK: And that was Camila Escalante, discussing a biased NPR report on events in Nicaragua.


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Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.