Nicaragua’s Protestors: “Peaceful Students” or Enemy Combatants?

Lauren Smith
Internationalist 360°

As a United States citizen, confirmed Catholic and liberal, I want to believe the prevailing news media’s glowing narrative about Nicaragua’s protestors – since this narrative has garnered support from the stalwart Catholic Church as well as “liberal” news media outlets such as the Guardian and Democracy Now. Essentially, I want to believe all Nicaragua’s protestors are “peaceful students” and that the Ortega Administration is just another “repressive and violent dictatorship.”

Only, I’m having a problem with this story line since it is contradicted by facts, history and accompanying photos that blatantly expose it to be a bold faced lie. Simply put: photos of flaming-mortar-wielding enemy combatants shown firing upon Nicaragua’s police do not look like “peaceful student protestors”. Perhaps the news media should suppress the circulation of these contradictory images that are cluttering up my news feed or consider writing the truth about a socialist country for a change.

Let’s just admit it’s the 1980’s all over again. With Venezuela, a key supporter of Nicaragua, destabilized, the United States sees Nicaragua as low hanging fruit when it comes to regime change, and it’s turning up the heat every which way on the Ortega Administration. This time around its trained and funded mercenary forces have just swapped their battle fatigues for civilian clothes, and guns for mortars. It doesn’t matter if the mortars are creatively painted; they still are deadly weapons. But the strategic naming of things to support the prevailing narrative in the news media is everything. As long as armed, violent and dangerous men are dressed like civilians and called “student protestors” by the complicit news media,  no one is the wiser that they are in fact and deed,  enemy combatants.

If anyone points a loaded weapon at a police officer in the United States (an Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery, according to former President Jimmy Carter in his 2015 Rolling Stone interview,) they are going down fast and hard – even if the weapon they point is not smoking and flaming from being recently discharged the way the mortars are in Nicaragua. Even if a black man has his hands up and is kneeling on the ground in surrender, he will still get riddled with bullets in the United State.

In contrast, the news media and Catholic Church believe Nicaragua’s police should instead genuflect to enemy combatants.  They infer that plastic shields offer sufficient protection against mortar fire and Molotov cocktails and that there is no need to fire back in defense. In the U.S. our police are militarized and protected by tanks and body armor. They fire stun grenades, tear gas, metal and rubber bullets, sound and water cannons without retribution against United States protestors.

Why doesn’t the news media demand regime change in the U.S. due to its use of deadly force against its citizens? And, why doesn’t the news media demand regime change in neighboring Honduras, despite the death of thirty-one people protesting election fraud? Where is the Catholic Church when it comes to similar issues in the United States and Honduras? Why isn’t it offering to mediate on behalf of the protestors in these countries the way it is in socialist Nicaragua? Is it because the government in Honduras is supported by the United States? Is it because the news media is controlled by the oligarchy?

For details, the news media tells us that students from two of Nicaragua’s Christian religious institutions, Polytech (UPOLI) and Central American University (UCA), were leading the protest against cuts in social security benefits and increases in wage contributions. Odd, but Social Security adjustments are not a typical issue “students” get fired up about, especially in the United States. It seems suspiciously like a red herring on face value alone. Now, we are told the protests are over police violence and the deaths of “student protestors”; a change in presidential term limits; the vice-president’s wasteful taste in public art (large metal trees installed along major avenues and traffic circles require the use of electricity) and a canal project. The opposition is really grasping at straws here!

Also, there’s a problem with logistics: did the UPOLI and UCA schools teach their “students” weaponry? Doesn’t every family in Nicaragua have access to steel cylinders and the tools necessary to cut and forge them into weapons? It’s far more likely the mortars were manufactured in a foreign factory and the combatants were trained in how to fire them in Honduras, just like in the 1980’s. Sorry, but “students” don’t set up military field hospitals, war rooms and stockpiles of mortars and Molotov cocktails in their classrooms virtually overnight. Maybe this widespread and well-coordinated insurrection is just an ambitious homework assignment? Who then are the planners, teachers and financiers? Couldn’t possibly be the CIA again, right?

When research is done to find the root of the proposed cuts in the social security program, it’s learned that even more draconian funding cuts were “suggested” (demanded) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and supported by Nicaragua’s business leaders (COSEP) than the ones actually proposed by the Ortega Administration. When this IMF demand is taken along with the U.S. passage of the November 2017 block to Nicaragua’s multilateral funding, nicknamed the Nica Act, they together seem more likely to be components of a well-orchestrated destabilization plot that sets the stage for regime change.

Even regressive tax changes and deep cuts to social security and other social programs taken simultaneously in 2017 by the Trump administration didn’t cause a United States “spring” uprising. Perhaps it’s because U.S. students are too busy protesting the sale of automatic weapons used in school shootings to kill their classmates. According to the New York Times, in February 2018, more than 200 school shooting resulted in 400 deaths. As long as the United States students are killing themselves there’s no perceived problem. If the students focus on the capitalist elites (oligarchs and their private CIA army), the real enemies of the state (domestic and abroad), only then will the Catholic Church become engaged to protect the status quo of the elites, certainly not the students. Pope Francis, as then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is still haunted by Argentina’s “Dirty War.” Between 1976-1988, over twenty thousand opponents to its right-wing dictatorship were “disappeared” by Argentina’s U.S. supported military government.

Remember the Iran/Contra scandal of the 1980’s where the CIA trained, paid, and provided weapons to mercenaries (Contras) so they could illegally invade and occupy Nicaragua and gruesomely murder its citizens to destabilize the only socialist economic model in Central America? In it, CIA operatives went so far as to sell cocaine and weapons to fund former President Reagan’s “freedom fighters” – his incongruous pet name for the ultra violent Contras. Just because this is old history, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again. Matter of fact, the precedent for invasion by United States forces into Nicaragua is long standing and dates back to 1927.

Why should socialist Nicaragua or Cuba continue to enjoy freedom from cartels and gang violence that plague capitalist countries? Why should Nicaragua continue to enjoy growth in GDP and tourism or a decrease in poverty under the Ortega Administration’s adept stewardship?

So, news media either purge the enemy combatant weapon brandishing “student” photos from the Internet or just admit that the United States is angling for regime change in Nicaragua again. Stop insulting our intelligence with the irreconcilable.

Lauren Smith, author of historical fiction, has a BA in Politics, Economics and Society from SUNY at Old Westbury and an MPA in Development Administration from New York University. Her novel on Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution is due out in 2019.