Trade union leader exposes what the media won’t about the latest US-backed coup attempt in Latin America

José Antonio Zepeda
Ed Sykes

A high-level trade union leader has spoken out exclusively to The Canary, saying what the mainstream media won’t about the latest US-backed coup attempt in Latin America.

Fighting back against media bias over the “coup attempt” in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has been in the news recently because of what the country’s president has described as a “coup attempt” backed by Washington. But most international coverage of events has consistently failed to tell the whole story, showing heavy bias against the current Nicaraguan government. A number of academics, journalists and activists recently accused the Guardian, for example, of “wildly inaccurate coverage”.

International organisations with strong links to Washington, meanwhile, have even boasted of “laying the groundwork for insurrection” against Nicaragua’s left-of-centre government. And they stand accused of manipulating the country’s recent death toll to justify a push for regime change and sanctions. The aim has apparently been to create a misleading image of an authoritarian government mowing down peaceful protesters. The truth is much more complex – with similar casualties reported among both pro-government and anti-government ranks, and the latter being egged on by the US hard right.

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In this context, The Canary reached out to José Antonio Zepeda – the leader of the main teachers’ union in Nicaragua (CGTEN-ANDEN) and vice-coordinator of Nicaragua’s union federation (FNT). And he gave us a perspective that people in the English-speaking world are unlikely to get from mainstream media outlets. In particular, he slammed international organisations, media outlets, and politicians for taking sides in Nicaragua’s recent conflict, and insisted:

We’ve lived through foreign intervention in the past. That’s not the solution. The solution is for us to understand each other, communicate, and make peace – a lasting peace based on development and justice.

You can read the full interview below.

Why do trade unions back the current government?

As well as being a union leader, Zepeda is a member of Nicaragua’s national assembly for the governing Sandinista Front (FSLN). And he explained:

The most important thing for us is that the government gives a space to different sectors. And that’s why you find teachers, agricultural workers, health workers, and self-employed people in the national assembly. Unions, women, farmers, and cooperatives have all assumed the responsibility of working for their country’s economic, social, and political development.

For us, this is our government. We defend it because we believe in free, public, quality education and healthcare for all. There’s also a policy of rural development – financing and support, like with education and healthcare, to help produce more food. As workers and sectors, we have determined that the government’s policies have one key purpose – to end poverty.

In the government, we have representation. We see the politics we’ve been advocating for a long time. We have seen the opportunities that consensus, dialogue, and alliances provide. And we believe fundamentally that the government has shown its willingness to listen. That’s very important – so that the different sectors can all raise our voices and have them heard. Full union freedom is another important element.

We will continue to support the government and the revolution in order to keep building alternatives to escape the poverty that previous neoliberal policies forced upon us and in which workers had no alternatives. Today, we have options – we have alternatives – and we have the space to build them.

Media coverage of violence in Nicaragua

Regarding biased coverage from the international media of the recent violence, Zepeda spoke of a “media war” against Nicaragua. And he said:

Social media and national establishment media have been preparing conditions for a coup for a long time. The opposition created virtual realities, which didn’t exist on the ground. And the national and international media – with their vested interests – reproduced these images. They created the image of an ungovernable country.

And it’s not the first time. It’s not just Nicaragua. Remember when the media reported that Iraq had WMDs and it had to be invaded, but no WMDs turned up? Then Israel murders Palestinian kids, and nothing happens. And they try to justify it.

One independent study in Nicaragua accuses partisan local groups of conflating all deaths since April (including accidents and the murder of government supporters) with killings by pro-government forces. And international media and political elites have been quick to take advantage of this misleading impression. In reality, the independent report claims, 60 pro-government citizens and 59 anti-government citizens died between 19 April and 25 June.

Whose human rights?

International human rights groups – from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International – have been critical of the Nicaraguan government’s actions in recent months. But it appears that there’s been little mention of casualties among pro-government ranks. And this is a topic Zepeda spoke about passionately:

Human rights are important. But the problem comes when people manipulate the term to cover up perverse actions against governments that are trying to bring progress.

When we talk about rights, we should ask: ‘which rights?’ In Nicaragua, the product of this coup is that private businesses have fired more than 50,000 workers. So I ask you – are workers’ rights not human rights? Who criticises businesses for threatening to fire over 250,000 workers if the government doesn’t do what they want?

And what about the coup plotters who have been using a strategy of terror, kidnapping, and murder against Sandinistas, police officers, and ordinary citizens who don’t think the same way as them? The opposition killed three of our teachers. Who defends the families, the children, of those teachers – murdered by people who are supposedly ‘peaceful’? They also kidnapped 14 other teachers. Who defends the right to education, the right of peace for children, respect for life?

There’s been a media campaign to say that all the deaths here have been at the hands of the government – including the ones the opposition murdered, burned, and humiliated. I think this is the hypocrisy of all these organisations committed only to private interests or those of the imperialist master.

Resolving Nicaragua’s conflict

Zepeda clarified:

I’m not trying to say ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. What I’m trying to say is that these organisations talking about human rights are speaking in a biased way. They’re clearly not trying to deepen and promote respect. Instead, they take sides, they decide, they judge, they accuse, and they pass down sentences. That’s why we find it difficult to see objectivity in their approach.

We have insisted on respect for institutions, laws, procedures, dialogue, consensus – they’re the mechanism for resolving the conflict. There are always differences and problems in societies. We need to know how to understand each other to solve them. And we can only do that through dialogue and communication.

There’s a sector of the business community and political community which is allied with and financed by sinister forces and politicians in the US, who have a view of us as their backyard. But we’ve lived through foreign intervention in the past. That’s not the solution. The solution is for us to understand each other, communicate, and make peace – a lasting peace based on development and justice.

Reconciliation isn’t tolerance. It’s about understanding that we’re in the same country, that we can have different points of view, but that in the end we all have the common strategic aim of making Nicaragua grow. The people who still have resentment in their hearts will have to open up. They’ll have to understand that Sandinistas and non-Sandinistas share this country, live together, and have to build our homeland up together. People are free to go elsewhere if they don’t like it here, but that’s not the answer. The fundamental thing is to understand that everyone plays an important role in this society.

Solidarity and respect

Zepeda also insisted on the importance of international solidarity and respect:

We aspire to and dream of peace. We’re going to make it possible for Nicaragua to get back on track. And we hope the international community learns to respect us. We may not be a big, developed country with a large economy or a powerful army, but there’s no reason to humiliate us. We’re the same as you – the small countries and the big countries. We have the right to be treated with respect – as equals. The international community should not be driven by powerful vested interests.

The important thing is solidarity. When you most need support is when the presence of friendship is most important. This can also make you reflect and question where you can improve – but in a supportive fashion. Because solidarity isn’t about interfering in the affairs of a sovereign nation. It’s about expressing support in both good and bad moments. And in recent weeks and months, friends have been asking for information, explanations and clarifications. That’s very important. International solidarity has played a key role in fighting back against the disinformation and the media war against us.

Question everything you hear. Because there’s always an agenda.

Pro-government and anti-government forces both inside and outside of Nicaragua have very different takes on recent events. But you won’t see Zepeda’s words in the international media any time soon – because the press establishment has clearly sided with Nicaragua’s opposition. And this has made life a lot easier for powerful forces in the US and elsewhere that are looking to get rid of governments (like Nicaragua’s) which assert their independence and take a stand against neoliberalism.

Across Latin America, and the world, there are serious human rights issues. In Colombia and Mexico, for example, there are long-running humanitarian crises in which hundreds of thousands of people have died. But because the governments of these countries have not asserted economic and political independence from the US, there have been no high-profile international campaigns to overthrow their governments. Whenever governments have challenged the economic and political status quo, however, governments have been overthrown – almost always with US support. Washington has long used covert CIA operations to exert its influence abroad, supporting numerous coups and brutal right-wing dictatorships. And in recent years, this agenda has played out in ParaguayHondurasBrazil, and (so far unsuccessfully) Venezuela.

No government is perfect. And no country is perfect. But by failing to give objective coverage of crises in countries targeted for intervention by the US, the international media is (intentionally or not) playing into this regime-change agenda. By doing so, they don’t only do their readers a disservice – they also fail to serve the innocent civilians who get caught in the middle every time imperialism rears its ugly head.

To fight back, we must always ask for both sides of the story. And we must always question the agenda of the people providing us with information.

We deserve better. So we must demand better.

Get Involved!

– Join the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign.

– Read more from The Canary on Nicaragua and Latin America.

– Join the Stop the War Coalition. Support Veterans for Peace, who are fighting for peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. And take action with Campaign Against Arms Trade.

– Support The Canary if you appreciate independent, grassroots journalism.

Featured image via José Antonio Zepeda

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