La Prensa Continues To Amaze Us
Americas Watch described it in a 1988 report as "outstripping what can be found in the sensational weeklies at supermarket check-out counters in the United States." La Prensa, Nicaragua's opposition newspaper, continues in its task of discrediting the Nicaraguan government, using most of its space to criticize government economic policies, report accusations of "mysterious" armed and uniformed men committing robberies, and interview contra leaders in exile.
Since La Prensa reopened—uncensored—in October 1987, both its editorials and its news reporting have continued to be consistently biased against the government. In August 1988 La Prensa even accused the Interior Ministry of killing three men in the town of Quezalguaque for political reasons, claiming they were members of the rightwing CUS union and had been threatened earlier. Three men had indeed been killed, but all the other "facts" were invented by the staff at La Prensa—they were not union members (one was a member of the Nicaraguan army), they had never been threatened, and the MINT had not killed them.
While more recent issues of La Prensa have not so blatantly fabricated such incidents, their analysis of the riots in Venezuela as well as governmental actions taken since the presidential summit in El Salvador in mid-February prompted President Daniel Ortega to charge La Prensa with trying to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. Ortega made the charge in a March 2 meeting with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. According to Barricada, "President Ortega emphasized the importance of calling on local press to be sensible, [referring to] their intent to have the people sack and pillage businesses in an open campaign against government attempts at economic and political solutions."
Venezuela: Democracy at work or Castro's influence? Riots in Venezuela during the first week in March, touched off by a 30% rise in gasoline prices and subsequent public transportation rate hikes, left an official estimate of 300 people dead, many from police bullets. Some religious workers in Venezuela put the toll at 500. Nicaragua suffered far greater price hikes during the month of February and the first week of March, when gasoline prices jumped from 4,800 to 8,700 córdobas per gallon, and Managua bus fares rose from 100 to 300 córdobas.
La Prensa, while never drawing direct comparisons between the two situations, in a March 3 editorial first attributed the riots to its assertion that "a people who freely vote and choose their government feel that they have the right to take to the streets." In the same editorial it pondered the role of the extreme left in Venezuela, and even went so far as to say that "Fidel [Castro] himself was recently in Caracas [for the inauguration of President Carlos Andrés Pérez], and could have taken advantage of the visit to plant the seed to destroy Pérez." Within the same editorial La Prensa applauded the Venezuelan people's right to protest while insinuating that the ultra-left (and Castro) instigated the protests to pull down Pérez. The editorial failed to mention the official death toll of 300.
Whether or not La Prensa is trying to incite people to riot or is simply over-zealous in its reporting of Nicaragua's economic woes, it is clear that the March 3 editorial welcomed street protests as a legitimate exercise of democratic rights, while affirming Pérez' use of military force and curfews as necessary to contain ultra-left and "pro-Castro" elements. The contradiction of supporting both the rioters exercising their democratic freedoms and the government forces that killed so many of them seems to have escaped the editorial board. Would La Prensa welcome Nicaraguan street protests that included sacking and pillaging, and then praise the Nicaraguan police for killing several hundred of the rioters to contain the protest?
The Salvadoran summitAt other times La Prensa is less contradictory, but rarely less biased, in its interpretation of events. The day after the latest round of Central American accords were signed in El Salvador in mid-February, La Prensa's top headline ran "Ortega signs a new promise to democratize Nicaragua,” while a second front-page article proclaimed, "Contras affirm: Ortega suffered a political loss." The contras claimed that Ortega had lost out at the summit, despite the fact that the accords also pledged to come up with a plan for the demobilization, repatriation and resettlement of their forces. It may not have made much sense, but La Prensa made sure it got top billing.
In the following days, La Prensa continued coverage of Nicaragua's "non-compliance" with the new accords. Three actions—the release of imprisoned former National Guardsmen, the bilateral talks with political opposition parties and the February 1990 elections—were all subject to detailed criticisms. The Human Rights Commission of the Nicaraguan National Assembly recommended that 39 of the 1,933 guardsmen not be released, either because of the severity of their crimes or their behavior while in prison (see "A Pardon for Peace" in this issue). La Prensa soundly condemned the policy, ignoring the fact that Americas Watch, in an earlier report on compliance with the Esquipulas II peace accords, criticized the Salvadoran government for releasing all prisoners regardless of the severity of their crimes. Americas Watch sent a letter to President Ortega and National Assembly president Carlos Núñez, praising the review process for the prisoners and pointing out that while general amnesty can contribute to national reconciliation, prisoners who have committed "grave violations of human rights" should not be pardoned, although new trials are sometimes recommended.
In an interesting twist on its normally critical stance of all FSLN leaders, La Prensa reported on a press conference given by Minister of the Interior Tomás Borge on February 24. The article focused, not surprisingly, on the possible re-election of Daniel Ortega and Borge's role in that process. When asked about the re-election, Borge said, "Don't even speak of it." La Prensa commented, "Doesn't this phrase exhibit contained passions, logical ambition, evident frustrations? .... It will remain in history as an unjust memory that a man who fought for his cause (wrong though it may be), was refused the right to lead his Party," and added the challenge, "If not, then TOMAS should say so." "TOMAS" did not bother to reply.
Soviet planes, private rnterpriseSome La Prensa articles run based on inaccuracies previously printed in La Prensa or long put forth by the US State Department. A front-page March 7 article, with diagrams, said that a large Soviet plane had twice been seen flying low over Managua. The article then quoted a Pentagon source describing the II-76 plane as a military cargo plane, one of the largest and most common of Soviet planes. The article ended with a rhetorical question: "Why has this large Soviet military transport come to Managua?" Nowhere in the article does La Prensa ask authorities about the plane, nor say more than that it was seen flying over the city with "CCCP" written under the wings. Rather, through insinuations and refusal to seek out the facts, La Prensa raises the specter of the fabricated 1984 MiG crisis, in which Soviet tractors were accused of being MiG fighter planes, as well as the more recent false accusation of Soviet submarines docking at the Pacific port of Corinto.
In a similar reference to longstanding accusations against the government, a February 24 headline said, "`Mobs' to lead election: CDSs to intervene in voting." Resurrecting the image of the "divine mobs" and charging that the FSLN will use the CDS neighborhood committees to control the elections, La Prensa ignored the fact that despite its periodic announcement of the imminent return of the so-called "divine mobs" to harass the opposition, no such harassment has taken place. Predicting the future in this way may not make it happen, but it serves to raise unwarranted fears.
And so as not to forget that private enterprise is, after all, the last great hope of all that was beautiful in Nicaragua, La Prensa wrote a March 8 homily to the San Antonio sugar refinery (ISA), whose confiscation by the government because of ongoing decapitalization was finalized with a $12 million settlement to the Pellas family. The general assembly of Nicaragua Sugar State Ltd. met to officially accept the final settlement on Monday, March 7. La Prensa described the meeting as primarily a remembering of good times past, of the Pellas and Chamorros, and of Alfredo César, "once a great Sandinista, and now a great director of the Nicaraguan Resistance." Afterwards, continued La Prensa, "There was a small reception for the members and by 3 pm everything had ended. `San Antonio', the proud refinery of the sugar industry, had disappeared."
The current management of ISA estimates that sugar production will rise by nearly 50% for the first year following the confiscation, from 1.1 million quintals (one quintal=100 lbs) to 1.6 million quintals.
The Nicaraguan government continues to allow La Prensa to print, despite its distortions and half-truths. The outrageous claims, the haranguing of the government, the representation of contra and even US State Department views, continue unabated. And like the sensational weeklies found at US supermarket check-out counters, La Prensa's outrageous claims are too often believed.