Interview With Max Blumenthal On Violent Undemocratic Uprising In Nicaragua
Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola welcome journalist Max Blumenthal, the editor of the Grayzone Project and co-host of the podcast, “Moderate Rebels” to “Unauthorized Disclosure.” Blumenthal recently returned from a reporting trip in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has experienced violence over the past months, as opponents of President Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas launched an insurrection back in April.
Blumenthal describes how he was shocked by the “extent of sadistic violence that was meted out against average supporters of the Sandinistas during the period in which the national police were ordered to stay in their barracks.”
He recalls meeting one person after another who was tortured, beaten, or kidnapped and how their stories were overwhelming.
Blumenthal also outlines what he found out about the students who Western media have treated as leaders of democratic uprising, when that is not really the case.
Later in the interview, Blumenthal breaks down how opposition groups set up roadblocks to establish zones of control and strangle the country economically.
Blumenthal goes on to discuss how right-wing Republicans, like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have helped meddle in Nicaragua, and the impact that U.S. sanctions have had.
To listen to the full interview, go here.
The following is a partial transcript of the interview.
KHALEK: You just returned from a reporting trip in Nicaragua. So Nicaragua’s been experiencing violent protests, and there’s been a lot of misinformation about those protests in the media. The U.S. has played a role in trying to overthrow the government in Nicaragua.
Let’s start out—since there’s been so little coverage—will you give a brief overview of what’s taken place? More importantly, these protests have been depicted as part of a democratic uprising, and you went there and found it wasn’t such a democratic agenda that the protesters had. So, talk about that as well.
BLUMENTHAL: That pretty much tees it up pretty well. The thing I was struck by the most was the extent of sadistic violence that was meted out against average supporters of the Sandinistas during the period in which the national police were ordered to stay in their barracks.
I would actually spend fourteen-hour days talking to one person after another, who had been tortured, kidnapped, beaten, had family members killed. I met a woman who’s husband—Sometimes I didn’t even realize who I was going to meet. I would just look for people who were involved in various events wherever there had been these roadblocks, which I’ll explain in a second. But I’m just giving my first initial impression.
I would be overwhelmed by their testimony. This woman, Karla Teresa Torres, I met, who does community policing—She’s like an anti-narcotics cop who works with at-risk youth in a city called Jinotepe. Her husband on his day off—he was a cop—on his day off he was kidnapped and burned alive at a roadblock on camera. A local Catholic priest gave verbal assent to the torture and burning alive of this person. He was dragged from a truck and then burned alive on camera. He was filmed in order to spread fear among Sandinistas. But I mean, this was just one of so many people that I met that it’s hard to even keep track of their names.
What struck me the most is that zero Western reporters had spoken to any of these people. These weren’t obscure people. I went out to Radio YA, which is the number one station in Managua. It’s a leftist station. They support the Sandinistas. They’re not funded by the government. It was burned to the ground with all of its staff inside, and the staff narrowly escaped with their lives. So I went there to talk with them. And they said yeah, you’re the first Western reporter to come here.
It’s not like these people are hiding or no one knows who they are or they are like in Syrian rebel territory under the control of Jaysh al-Islam and I’ll get beheaded if I can go and talk to them. They’re just there waiting for human rights groups to come and talk to them, and none of them have come and talked to them. So there’s there’s this completely deliberate omission in Western media of the pain and violence experienced by people, who support one of the largest progressive movements in Latin America, which has 2.5 million people.
That was my initial impression, and I can break down what happened and why.
KHALEK: First, I saw you tweeting about this. You had visited the university, where there had been protests, and you mentioned that a Washington Post reporter had embedded with the opposition and they had ransacked a bunch of stuff. And that was completely missing. They ransacked a clinic and destroyed a bunch of things, and it was included at all in the report.
BLUMENTHAL: The Washington Post had this reporter—I think his name is Joshua Partlow—basically fly in. He parachuted in. He was supposed to meet with some Sandinista officials, who were going to present their side of the story. But he went straight from the airport to that university and embedded with the “students,” who were not all students and were being reinforced by armed gangs. Then he helped the students publicize this sham video they produced, which was a version. It was actually inspired by the “Last Messages From Aleppo,” which you probably remember pretty well.
When the Salafi jihadi rebels were being flushed out of five neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo, the English-speaking freak show of Bilal Abdul Kareem and Mr. Alhamdo and Bana Alabed and that whole cosplay-influence operation that they created in eastern Aleppo. They got together—and Lina Shamy—did their last messages. I just want to say we’re all going to die.
KHALEK: They’re all still alive. All still alive.
BLUMENTHAL: They all are alive, and some of them are doing very well. Bana just got an award from the Atlantic Council. So like…
KHALEK: [Lina] was on the MTV awards or something. I don’t even know. She was on stage at some awards show.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, [Lina] was on stage at the Oscars with Common. It was the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen.
These students created the same video, where at the end as they were being pushed out by Sandinista paramilitaries they did this video where they all cried on camera. If you actually push play on the video and observe very carefully, the young women who appears first is waiting til she knows that it is recording until she begins expressing fear and anxiety. So you can see her with a completely normal expression for a brief second until she realizes it’s recording, and then she starts shrieking, momma, I’m going to die. They are coming to kill us. I love you momma.
This video, it’s now up on Huffington Post. It’s pretty much up on any online Western media site that writes about Nicaragua embeds this video to show the terror that the students are facing at the hands of the Sandinistas. The reality is that there were many, many students, who suffered because of what these students had done, and they weren’t just students. This was at UNAN [National Autonomous University of Nicaragua], which is one of two major public universities in Managua. The other one is UPOLI [Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua].
UPOLI is where the unrest began or actually where the coup began. It started with protests against social security reforms, and basically, Daniel Ortega’s government had proposed these reforms as an alternative to an IMF program that the business community had demanded. Their reforms were actually not an austerity program, but they were protested as such.
A lot of students went out. A guy I interviewed name Leonel Morales, who is a student union leader, opened the gates at UPOLI to a group of students, who many of them were from off-campus from a private university which is where a lot of the wealthier kids go called UCA [Universidad Centroamericana UCA de Nicaragua]. He opened the gates to let them on campus, and he began protesting with them. This is at UPOLI. This is April 18.
Fake news was spread on April 18 through Whatsapp and Facebook that one of the students had been killed by national police. This was totally false. The student turned up alive the next day, but it really set everything into motion. And Leonel Morales started notice, as many people who I interviewed who had been at UPOLI did, that figures from MRS—Which is the breakaway movement for the renovation of Sandinismo. These are the former Sandinistas, who have turned against the Sandinista movement. They write a lot of articles that are reproduced in highbrow Western journals.
They and other figures, including a criminal syndicate run by a character named Viper, who has been arrested and has admitted to all of this.
KHALEK: Ok, Viper. I’m just saying Viper sounds like you’re a criminal —
BLUMENTHAL: It sounds like I’m making it up except he’s been tried, and he has confessed to being involved in arming the opposition. They started arming up with homemade mortars, but there were rifles brought to campus. He ran a kind of operations room on the third floor of UPOLI. Felix Maradiaga, who is now in the U.S. and who just held a seminar at the Aspen Institute alongside David Brooks on moral leadership—This is crazy. [He] is the main channel for National Endowment for Democracy money to Nicaragua—He was at UPOLI and was heavily involved in taking what was initially a student protest and turning it into a violent rebellion.
He was filmed next to Pio Arellano, who is a member of Viper’s gang, while Arellano waved a pistol. It’s just completely unbelievable, and so Leonel Morales and another student, Veronica Gutierrez, did a press conference. They walked off campus and gave a press conference before the entire national media. This is days in, this is like April 23.
They said these aren’t all students who have taken over the university. There are armed people there. They are criminals, and we don’t support them anymore and we don’t support their call for regime change. Because they had gone from we want the social security system to be solvent to calling for Daniel Ortega to completely shut down and pretty much the end of Sandinismo.
Leonel Morales, days later, was kidnapped from his girlfriend’s house by truck full of armed men. He was shot in the face, shot in the stomach, stabbed, and thrown in a ditch to die, and he managed to kind of crawl out of the ditch. He was hospitalized. I met him in the hospital. He’s just begun talking again, and he is a casualty of this group that we keep hearing about as peaceful protesters simply because he spoke out and told the truth about them.
Veronica Gutierrez I also interviewed, and she has been living under 24/7 police guard. Actually, I went out to a coffee shop with her and some friends one day when she kind of went out from her compound. Because it’s the daytime. She’s with people. She felt safe. And we went out from the coffee house in separate cars—on the way to see Leonel in the hospital—and when we arrived, she was completely terrified because the car she was in had been followed by a man on a motorcycle, who then pulled ahead of the car and started taking pictures of her with his cellphone.
She had been doxed. She showed me some of the material that had been put online about her. People had put nude photos of women who were not her online claiming it was her. Her car and her license plate have been put online on opposition Facebook pages. They’ve basically done this to so many people.
This is how it began at UPOLI and then it spread to UNAN. In June, the students took over UNAN. An important detail is these are public universities, particularly UNAN, that were created out of the six percent movement of Sandinismo, which diverts six percent of the national budget from the military to public education and public services. So this is a really beautiful campus. It has Sandinista murals all over it, but it also has dormitories, where students from around the country who are mostly from poor families, live for free to get good education, and they have wireless access, which they don’t have at home. Many of the students who occupied this university came from UCA, which is the bougie school, the affluent school. These are students who do have wireless at home. So they can study at home and get their degrees. They proceeded to ransack the women’s dormitory and the reproductive health center, which served the local community by providing contraception, physical therapy.
Walking through this building, I was filled with rage at this Washington Post reporter, who had been there with students and didn’t even report how they destroyed a large part of a public university and now none of these poor and working class students can go to school for the rest of the year because of what these more privileged students had done alongside armed gangs.
The base of operations for the armed gangs was the child care center, which served two to three hundred children of the university staff. They burned it down to destroy all of the evidence of their presence, and I found homemade mortars lying around along with assorted armaments. Basically, peaceful students would wait at the gates and give interviews while these armed gangs would bivouac at the child care center.
That really is a microcosm of the whole situation there—how badly it was reported, how it is. One student at UNAN described it as a class war and how their school year has been sabotaged by more privileged students. That’s really what this coup was all about.
For the rest of the interview with Max Blumenthal, listen here.