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  • A man sells kites alone the malecon in Managua, Nicaragua.

    A man sells kites alone the malecon in Managua, Nicaragua. | Photo: Reuters

Outside the Western corporate and alternative media bubble, the fake news controversy looks like a very contrived and double-edged propaganda exercise.

Anyone trying to understand current developments in Latin America and the rest of the world may well find it useful to consider how, throughout the 20th century, Western ruling elites agreed to a settlement with their working class majorities, and by default most of the Western left.

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Under that mostly tacit but occasionally explicit deal, the working class majority in the West collaborated with genocidal Western imperialism overseas and anti-communism at home. In return, the elites conceded more or less generous provisions in terms of labor rights, education, healthcare and social security. Now that deal has broken down.

The control of Western elites over access to global natural resources is in sharp decline, but conversely their need to defend their rate of profit becomes increasingly urgent. That is why Western governments, controlled by corporate elites, repress their own peoples ever more intensely by means of anti-democratic economic austerity and incremental restriction of civil liberties. Indispensable to that repression has been the role of both mainstream corporate and alternative news and information outlets, most of which long ago abandoned conventional journalism and reporting in favor of outright psychological warfare, especially in their foreign news coverage. 

That broad context shaped the underlying dynamic of the war in Iraq, the campaign against Iran and the attacks in 2011 against Libya, Ivory Coast and Syria and the subsequent coup in Ukraine. In Latin America, that same dynamic has provoked various crises at different times and in different ways across the region, always either directly controlled, or else heavily influenced, by the United States elites and their European allies. While China and Russia lead the emergence of a multipolar world focused on sovereign integration and peaceful cooperation, Western corporate capitalist elites foment divisive competition, neocolonial dependency and conflict to sustain their sinister global power and control.

Any government or political movement advocating political, trade, financial and environmental institutional frameworks favoring a multipolar world is regarded by the Western elites as hostile to their interests. That reality makes the governments of all the main Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas or ALBA countries — Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela — natural targets of U.S. and allied government foreign policy and its accompanying psychological warfare. It also reinforces U.S. and allied government support for repressive, corrupt, anti-democratic regimes in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico and their counterparts in Guatemala and Honduras. By contrast, Nicaragua's growing prosperity under its Sandinista government makes it a natural target for US destabilization.

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When Daniel Ortega again assumes Nicaragua’s presidency on Jan. 10, his government will begin another five-year administration starting from unprecedented stability, security and prosperity. But even since before his election victory, the psychological warfare attacks from Western corporate and alternative news media have been in high gear, reaching truly extraordinary levels of venomous disinformation, exaggeration, distortion and falsehood. Much of this material is self-serving, projecting a disingenuous image of the media concerned as brave, disinterested defenders of democracy protecting vulnerable, peaceful groups suffering repression.

But, without exception, the reports all regurgitate factually inaccurate propaganda from individuals and groups in Nicaragua opposed to Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government, spiced up with inflammatory rhetoric. Entering 2017, the attacks continue to emphasize the big lie that Daniel Ortega is a repressive tyrant trying to impose a family dictatorship in Nicaragua. Newsworthy events are all squashed and distorted to fit that false template. Reports from various neocolonial alternative media, like Democracy Now or TruthOut and other alternative media are developing a clear propaganda storyline attempting to portray the anti-Canal protests as similar to the campaign against the Dakota Access pipeline.

These media are now publishing quite regular reports whose overall effect is to link land conflicts in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region with groups protesting against the proposed Interoceanic Canal hundreds of miles to the south. The reports generally state that the Canal will displace hundreds of thousands of people, grab enormous tracts of land and deny displaced people fair compensation. Every one of those claims is a poisonous propaganda lie. The environmental and social impact report on the proposed Canal by the Environmental Resources Management company states “approximately 30,000 people (or 7,210 families) would need to be physically or economically displaced.”

Of the people likely to be displaced by the Interoceanic Canal, infrastructure developer HKND’s representative has stated that a total of 362 families will be moved from Indigenous lands. Of those families, only 25 are actually Indigenous people, whose community organizations have already signed a lease agreement with the Nicaraguan authorities. The other 337 families likely to be affected are outside, non-Indigenous people settled on Indigenous lands. The ERM impact report also states that the Nicaraguan government has approved expropriating 451 square kilometers of dry land temporarily and 908 square kilometers permanently along the whole route of the Canal. Article 12 of the relevant Law 840 approved by Nicaragua’s National Assembly in June 2013 explicitly sets out the process for any expropriation of land and the procedure for compensation. By comparison, the total land to which Indigenous people in Nicaragua have communal legal title is 37,000 square kilometers — an area larger than El Salvador.

Aside from the downright mendacity of corporate and alternative media psy-warfare attacks on the Nicaraguan government, they make it almost impossible to discuss rational criticism. For example, discussion of the uncertainty that may affect the construction of the Interoceanic Canal as a result of possible conflict between the U.S. government and China. Or in the case of the land conflicts in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean Coast, among other issues worth addressing are the role of unscrupulous commercial interests exploiting migrant rural families, of corrupt officials in the region’s different local authorities, of individuals among the indigenous people’s own leadership, or the perceived lack of security resources assigned by central government.

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But it is certainly a mistake to look for conventional reporting, with careful fact-checking and rational argument, in the psychological warfare attacks that are now the routine content of corporate and alternative news and information media, certainly in their foreign news coverage. Their rationale has nothing to do with a sincere attempt to give a true and fair view of events with an honest acknowledgment of their ideological and funding loyalties. The role of these media is to disinform people about foreign affairs, reinforcing neocolonial attitudes and opinions in direct or indirect support of their Western governments' foreign policy agenda.

That agenda aims to foment division and conflict so as to weaken target countries’ governments and economies and divert resources away from successful programs of national development. Venezuela is the clearest possible example of this agenda. But as the propaganda campaign against Nicaragua unfolds through 2017, the role of alternative media working in tandem with attacks from corporate media will become more and more clear. That developing reality is why, outside the Western corporate and alternative media bubble, the fake news controversy in the United States looks like a very contrived and double-edged propaganda exercise.

On the one hand, it creates even more phony justification for repressive domestic security legislation against genuinely dissident Western media. But it also gives undeserved credibility to alternative media whose foreign news agenda reinforces mainstream corporate media reports, supporting U.S. and allied government foreign policy. The effective collusion of avowedly progressive alternative media with the Western elites’ corporate news agenda reflects how broken, coopted and irrelevant what used to be recognizable as some kind of Western left has become for most people in the majority world.

Tortilla con Sal is an anti-imperialist collective based in Nicaragua producing information in various media on national, regional and international affairs.

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