Media Fuels Economic War on Nicaragua with False ‘Conflict Beef’ Story

LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN, 14 Dec 2020

John Perry | Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)/Grayzone - TRANSCEND Media Service

Liberal media outlets are aiding a US economic war on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, calling for a boycott of “conflict beef” based on deeply flawed opposition accusations.

10 Dec 2020 – Reports by Reveal News and PBS NewsHour have called for a boycott of “conflict beef” from Nicaragua. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s website Reveal claims to be “fair and comprehensive,” and PBS says it is “trusted,” but their misleading and inaccurate reports could have drastic consequences for Nicaragua, at a time when the country is already struggling to deal with US sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the aftermath of two damaging hurricanes.

Their argument is that cattle farmers who produce the beef that is exported have in many cases illegally settled territory in the rainforest that belongs to Indigenous communities, and that the government does little to resolve the violent conflict that results.

There are some 40,000 Indigenous families in Nicaragua, and nearly a third of its territory is legally owned and administered by 300 Indigenous communities. Reveal and PBS focus on Bosawás, the largest tropical rainforest reserve in Central America, which has seven territories belonging to Mayangna and Miskitu Indigenous groups, whose land claims have been recognized by the government. (Since 2006, the governing party in Nicaragua has been the socialist Sandinista Front, a longstanding target of US hostility.)

For decades, non-Indigenous (or mestizo) settlers have entered these areas, some “buying” land from Indigenous communities, even though it cannot legally be sold, and others simply taking it. A history of legal, quasi-legal, and illegal land occupation, along with intermixing of mestizo families with Indigenous people, have produced a multifaceted, volatile situation, which occasionally causes violent disputes.

A local NGO, called CEJUDHCAN, in February 2020 counted 40 deaths of Indigenous people over five years connected to land disputes, with further mestizo deaths uncounted.

The remoteness of the area provides ample scope for reports of violence to be distorted for political purposes. For example, in January, Reuters reported an attack on the Mayangna community of Alal by 80 men, leading to six deaths, 10 people being kidnapped, and houses being destroyed.

Reveal Nicaragua conflict beef

Along with local opposition media, The Guardian and BBC repeated the story, apparently based on just two phone calls from people claiming that “the state is doing nothing.” Yet Nicaraguan police investigated quickly, finding 12 houses burned down and two people injured, but no one dead or disappeared.

Mayangna leaders condemned the false reports. Two days later in Wakuruskasna, seven miles from Alal, police found and identified four murder victims. They described a criminal gang responsible for both incidents, capturing one alleged member.

Reveal News journalist Nathan Halverson misrepresents a different incident. In February, a young girl bathing in a river in Santa Clara was reportedly hit by a bullet. Halverson repeats the uncorroborated claim that settlers were “sending a message” to the local Indigenous community: “Leave.”

Halverson dismisses the police’s conclusion that the injury was caused by another child shooting off a gun — a version corroborated by Lejan Mora, president of Santa Clara’s Indigenous government, who knows the family. Community leaders told Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) that the family had been bribed to lie about the “attack.”

Halverson claims the homicide rate in the area “soared so high… that it would rank among the most dangerous places in the world.” Lottie Cunningham Wren, who runs CEJUDHCAN, tells Halverson that the roughly 40 deaths in five years amount to “ethnocide” in which the Indigenous people will “disappear” — an improbable outcome, given that there are 180,000 Miskitu and 30,000 Mayangna people.

Misrepresenting Indigenous land disputes

To those unfamiliar with Nicaragua, news items about Indigenous groups conjure images of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon. Reveal/PBS calls the area “pristine jungle.” Yet these communities have good roads, access to schools, health posts, local municipal services, and government agricultural and technical support.

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