In an exclusive interview with The Canary, Wyatt Reed says he and Guardian freelancer Carl David Goette-Luciak were assisting anti-Sandinista opposition groups in Nicaragua, and that there was “a straightforward conflict of interest involved in what we were doing”.
Western support for regime-change journalism
On 1 October, Nicaraguan authorities deported Goette-Luciak, an anthropologist-turned-reporter who had published a series of factually flawed reports in the Guardian and Washington Post that reinforced the narrative of the country’s opposition forces.
Goette-Luciak had been on the radar of supporters of the governing Sandinista front for weeks; on Facebook, many outed him as an opposition partisan who had worked alongside key figures involved in the failed coup that rocked Nicaragua earlier this year.
On 26 September, I published an article for MintPress (a later version of which The Canary republished) that highlighted Goette-Luciak’s close relationship with the MRS, a US-funded opposition party that was intimately involved in the attempted coup against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. I quoted Goette-Luciak boasting of encouraging local opposition to the Sandinistas while he was working as an anthropologist on Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito coast. And I revealed disturbing video that showed Goette-Luciak filming opposition hooligans torturing and kidnapping an elderly squatter they accused of Sandinista sympathies, raising the question of why he did and said nothing about it. Indeed, he did not mention the incident in any of his reports for the Guardian or Washington Post.
In their coverage of Goette-Luciak’s deportation, BuzzFeed and the Guardian did not dispute any aspect of my factual reporting. Instead, these outlets falsely insinuated that my journalism was somehow responsible for Goette-Luciak’s removal from Nicaragua. While BuzzFeed has recanted its bogus innuendo in an official statement, the Guardian has not. Worse, the paper has refused to acknowledge the journalistic malpractice it committed by assigning an open partisan of Nicaragua’s opposition to cover the country’s crisis as a credentialed correspondent.
A longtime friend of Goette-Luciak speaks out exclusively to The Canary
Today, I spoke with a longtime friend of Goette-Luciak who traveled and worked alongside him in Nicaragua, and who has undergone a crisis of conscience since witnessing the US-backed coup ravage the country this year.
His name is Wyatt Reed and he has known Goette-Luciak since they were in grade school together in Blacksburg, Virginia. He first traveled in Nicaragua in 2011 with Goette-Luciak, then returned in 2014, and came back again in January 2016 for six months to work beside Goette-Luciak on the country’s indigenous eastern coast.
Reed told me he believed there was “a straightforward conflict of interest involved in what we were doing, and [his] coming to terms with that” motivated him to go public with his misgivings.
He said that, since leaving Nicaragua, he had begun “slowly realizing the way in which I was inhabiting the role of a foreign agent of imperialism in many ways, even if I wasn’t being paid or compensated for it”.
“A pretty clear conflict of interest”
The violent US-backed regime change attempt that began this April was a turning point for Reed. “Even assuming that it was the place of someone not from Nicaragua to go out and instigate a change, I don’t see a viable alternative to the Sandinista front,” he stated. “It’s not there. There is no coherent left faction that has any broad appeal or support to inherit this power vacuum. My main issue with Carl David [Goette-Luciak] in many ways is that he understands that but is still pursuing the path that he’s on regardless, which I think is either idealistic or — I hope not — malicious.”
Reed described Goette-Luciak as “definitely closely aligned and working with groups that were very much against the Sandinistas”.
“I think it’s a pretty clear conflict of interest,” he added. “At the very least, I think these kinds of things need to be divulged at some point because they do pretty thoroughly colour the way we see the world.”
Reed said he was shocked that publications like the Guardian assigned his friend to cover Nicaragua’s conflict:
It’s wild, because I think these publications have to be aware that you did just legitimise this figure overnight and that he’s pretty clearly getting along with the opposition and not making any pains to reach out to any of the supporters of the government, which is inexplicable. There are massive marches of tens of thousands of government supporters and you couldn’t find anybody to say something in support of the government? I find that difficult to believe. It makes it clear that [publications like the Guardian] are not interested in getting to the truth but in replicating a narrative that, if history is any guide, they’ve already performed in numerous cases in Latin America.
“I remember being asked… to get people in touch with the CIA”
Reed told me he first traveled to Nicaragua in 2010. He had gotten connected with a biologist who knew Goette-Luciak and his father, an academic named Ilja Luciak, and worked with the scientist outside Managua. “I traveled around with Carl David and saw a ton of the country and met with different people who you’d only read about in histories of the Sandinista revolution,” he recalled. “It shaped both of us in many ways.”
On his second trip to the country in 2014, Reed got to know leading members of the opposition at some of the protests he attended against the government’s plans to build a canal through the country. While among the anti-canal movement, he said he met Ana Margarita Vijil, a leader of the MRS party, and interviewed her on two occasions with Goette-Luciak for articles they planned to publish.
The MRS consists of former members of the Sandinistas who have dedicated themselves to undermining the governing Sandinista front. As I have reported, the MRS party has received direct electoral assistance from US government outfits in that effort. For her part, Vijil has been a Central American Leadership Initiative fellow of the Aspen Institute, a neoliberal American thinktank backed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Ford Foundation. When Reed introduced Goette-Luciak to Vijil, the latter’s relationship with the MRS began.
“It wasn’t that there were any particular acts of subversion [that we engaged in],” Reed told me. “It was just aligning with disparate groups, whether in academia or in Western media, where you’re gonna get grant money or interest. So in that sense, we understood on some level that our actions were assisting groups [like the MRS].”
Reed said his activities with Goette-Luciak took place throughout the first half of 2016 on Nicaragua’s eastern coast, where they worked with the Ramah-Kriol territorial government in the city of Bluefields.
In a recently deleted interview with a podcast called Edge of Adventure, Goette-Luciak said, “I worked on informing the indigenous community of their rights at a time of crisis, when the government was attempting to depict to the international audience consent among the indigenous population for the sale of their land.”
Reed eventually got the sense that locals viewed him and Goette-Luciak as agents of the US government, even if they were not working for any US agency at the time. “I remember being asked on more than one occasion to get people in touch with the CIA and that giving me pause and being like, what am I doing here again?” he reflected. “It wasn’t a powerful person [asking me], but it was a pretty serious question.”
During that time, Reed said he and Goette-Luciak “were focused on trying to secure grants for ourselves and dissident factions among the Ramah-Kriol territorial government and assist them”.
“We didn’t secure any funding when I was there but I am fairly sure that he did,” he said, referring to Goette-Luciak. “I’m not sure from whom. USAID, NED, Open Society Foundations — they have their fingers in everybody’s pockets.”
“I’m not sure how you can present yourself as being that impartial”
Reed said Goette-Luciak was “very friendly with staff at Confidencial, which is an opposition magazine; he was very friendly with the editor.” Confidencial is funded by the Open Society Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy, an arm of the US government that funds opposition civil society and media in countries that buck Washington’s agenda.
In 2017, Goette-Luciak shared a byline with Carlos Salinas-Maldonado, Confidencial’s director, in an article for National Public Radio criticizing a World Happiness Report on Nicaragua.
When Reed provided Goette-Luciak with the contact information for Joshua Partlow, the Washington Post’s Latin America bureau chief, his relationship with the paper began. Goette-Luciak co-authored an article for the Washington Post on 23 June of this year that painted the opposition gunmen who rampaged across the city of Masaya as freedom fighters. “Several asked a reporter whether President Trump would send support to the resistance,” Goette-Luciak wrote.
This September, when Goette-Luciak fell under a sustained wave of criticism in Sandinista social media circles for his ties to the opposition, Reed saw a photo that shocked him: “I saw stuff on Twitter and saw this brazen photo of him with an opposition comandante. I’m not sure how you can present yourself as being that impartial when you’re very clearly palling around with an armed insurgency seeking to remove the government.”
Reed does not know how Goette-Luciak connected with the Guardian, but he considers that paper’s support of his work as symptomatic of the Western media’s culture of exceptionalism:
Even if it were the place of Westerners to come down to a place like Nicaragua and advocate for one group or another or actively agitate on behalf of some political faction, they are doing the exact sort of thing that mainstream media is freaking out about Russia or China doing to the US. And the way they call the [Nicaraguan] government a “regime” when their own president lost by three million votes to an opponent who openly manipulated the rules of her party to get the nomination — for anyone in this country to extend broader judgments about another state that has historically been victimised by the West is hypocritical in my mind.
Though he expects personal repercussions for voicing his misgivings about his work with Goette-Luciak, Reed is resolute. “As much as I hate to say it, I think now I’ll be seen as intruding on sensitive narratives that are being pushed at extremely high levels, much higher than you or me, and I’m not sure what to do about that,” he reflected. “But at the end of the day, my life isn’t worth as much as peace in Nicaragua.”
Reed has submitted a letter outlining his concerns about Goette-Luciak to the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the National Union of Journalists. These organizations have so far refused to publish it. The full text of the letter is below.
To the editor,
As a longtime friend and former collaborator of your correspondent with the Nicaraguan opposition, I feel compelled to make a few points clear in light of the recent media frenzy over the deportation from Nicaragua of Carl David Goette Luciak. I must be extremely clear: in the six months we lived and worked together in Nicaragua we were both very open about our plan to use our friendships with Nicaraguan opposition figures to push for the end of the Sandinista government and create careers for ourselves as journalists or consultants in the process. We were not CIA—but we were in many ways serving its same historical purpose.
I must stress that I wish no ill will on Carl David. I’ve known him since middle school, we were best friends for much of our lives, and I want only to set the record straight. Having already spent several years in Nicaragua, I had made connections with multiple prominent antigovernment groups at the time of our partnership. And since I introduced him to many of them, I feel compelled to state publicly that any notion we had of being impartial and objective journalists was simply a lie. We arrived together in Managua in January 2016 without prior journalistic experience but with a shared understanding that the Nicaraguan government represented a fundamental betrayal of socialist ideals, and the shared understanding that the ruling Sandinista party needed to be removed from power.
In the time since, I’ve come to understand that regardless of our personal feelings on the Nicaraguan president or government, any illusions we had of being uniquely capable of helping the Nicaraguan people achieve self-determination were ultimately founded in a kind of white savior complex. I left, realizing Americans cannot liberate the Nicaraguan people. Not thirty years ago, when the US government created the Contra army to fight a decade long war against socialist Nicaragua, and not now. Americans can only help destroy their government, and in the process hand power over to the same conservative neoliberals who seek to roll back the Nicaraguan safety net, privatize national resources, and undo a decade of improvements in poverty reduction and healthcare.
I have many disagreements with the Sandinista party. However, I do not feel that the violent overthrow of their government can in any way benefit working class Nicaraguans. I mourn with them the tragic deaths of the hundreds killed in the gunfights between police and armed opposition. But if the Sandinista government falls we must ask ourselves: how many tens of thousands more will die when the health clinics are closed? How many children will go barefoot, hungry, and uneducated if their welfare state is abolished? They can’t just fly back to the United States. Unlike them, the westerners who bring about “regime change” rarely have to stick around and suffer the consequences.
Featured image via Wyatt Reed and Wikimedia Commons