Global false witness - targeting Nicaragua
By Tortilla con Sal
Tortilla con Sal
Friday, Aug 4, 2017
|Global Witness is a well-established environmental and human rights non-governmental organization based in Britain. As with many other similar organizations, its reports often figure in news media as authoritative sources on international issues. Ever since the 1980s and, increasingly so, after the turn of the century, the status of NGOs as trustworthy information sources on foreign affairs has become increasingly untenable as they have been more and more co-opted by corporate interests and governments to promote the Western elites' neocolonial global policy agenda.
In the case of Nicaragua, in 2016 Global Witness produced a brief, flawed and unreliable account of land conflicts in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region in a report called “On Dangerous Ground”. In June 2017, they produced a report called “Defenders of the Earth”, with a section on Nicaragua even more poorly researched and false than the previous one.Three main reasons stand out to dismiss the latest Global Witness report on Nicaragua as unreliable and in bad faith.
Firstly, the report itself is clearly biased and flawed, from even a cursory analysis of its references and their sources by anyone familiar with Nicaragua. Secondly, the organization’s human and material resources all come from a very narrow managerial class and corporate funding base, overwhelmingly advocating the foreign policy positions of the United States government and its allies. Thirdly, the history of Global Witness clearly indicates its categorical bias in favor of NATO country governments’ policy positions in the countries that figure in its reports and too its systemic defense of the very corporate capitalism whose destructive effects Global Witness superficially and selectively criticizes.
Global Witness sources on Nicaragua
Before looking at the text of the false Global Witness attack on Nicaragua, it is worth looking at the sources they identify in their footnotes, of which there are 23, composed of a total of 44 references. For anyone familiar with Nicaraguan politics and society since the war of the 1980s many of the sources are wearily familiar and readily identifiable as anti-Sandinista, for example, the virulently anti-Sandinista La Prensa newspaper. Some of the references are duplicates and some disguise the fact that while apparently distinct, ultimately the information they provide comes from one single source. (Here’s a link to the relevant spreadsheet for anyone interested in a more detailed analysis.)
Of the 44 references, some of which are duplicates, not one represents the view of the Nicaraguan authorities or others criticized in the report or any source sympathetic to them. 16 references are to sources inside Nicaragua politically opposed to the Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. 25 of the sources are external to Nicaragua but with a long record identifying them as ideologically opposed to the Sandinista government. Of those 25 sources, one might argue that the Washington-based Interamerican Commission for Human Rights or the EFE Spanish language news agency are impartial, but their record is indisputably biased against Nicaragua's Sandinista authorities.
For all but imperialist ideologues, the Paris based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has been discredited in particular, most recently, by its flagrant partisan bias in favor of NATO country government policies attacking the populations of Libya and Syria. One source, a reference to the law authorizing Nicaragua’s Canal, is completely neutral. Only one media source, El Nuevo Diario, is generally independent. Two references are to sources within the Western environmental scientific lobby, which has its own set of highly questionable biases, prejudices and neocolonial hypocrisy.
As if by way of justifying this desperately unfair selection of sources, Global Witness also offer an account of what they call their “methodology”. They aver, “We have recorded data about the cases using the HURIDOCS Event Standard Formats and Micro-Thesauri, an approach which is widely used to manage and analyse material of this nature.”
That Global Witness claim is demonstrably untrue. Whatever their aspirations they certainly did not use the HURIDOCS approach.
HURIDOCS (Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems, International) is a European NGO established in 1982 to facilitate networking between human rights organizations around the world. HURIDOCS says its ‟specific role in this capacity-building process lies in improving access to and the dissemination of human rights information through more effective, appropriate and compatible methods and techniques of information handling. HURIDOCS recognises that we live in an age of tremendous advances in information and communication technologies. There is the need to master these technologies to aid us in our human rights work. At the same time, we must be conscious of the fact that the technologies to be applied should be appropriate and responsive to the main focus of the mandates of human rights organisation”
HURIDOCS exposition of their approach includes the following definitions:
“Fact-finding is the process of identifying the violations in one event, and establishing the facts relevant to these violations. Fact-finding and investigation are terms that are used interchangeably.
Documentation is the process of systematically recording the results of an investigation or fact-finding in relation to an event or number of events. Fact-finding and documentation are organically related and should not be viewed as separate processes.Global Witness is not in compliance with the HURIDOCS approach because their practice in their reporting on Nicaragua demonstrably violates all of these definitions.
Monitoring is closely observing a given situation in society over a long period of time to see whether human rights standards are met. To carry out monitoring, investigation and documentation of a large and/or representative number of events are conducted.”
Their fact-finding or investigation is so heavily biased as to make it impossible for them to establish the facts. Consequently, thanks to this gross fact finding bias, their documentation is partial, often inaccurate and categorically incomplete. Nor do they show any sign of having done due diligence in monitoring consistently over time via " investigation and documentation of a large and/or representative number of events" or the context of those events in Nicaragua.
Other theoretical considerations
Apart from these chronic procedural failures, other theoretical considerations cry out for clarification.
Global Witness says, “This report is based on research on killings and enforced disappearances of land and environmental defenders, who we define as people who take peaceful action to protect land or environmental rights”.
But in a bitter property dispute between competing communities, clarifying who is defending whose rights becomes a fundamentally important question. Certainly in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean Coast, unscrupulous Miskito community leaders are themselves involved in provoking these property disputes by illegally selling land to rural families migrating in search of a better life. Miskito gangs have attacked and murdered many such people, a factor not even mentioned by Global Witness. They completely evade the issue of identifying in a responsible, proportionate way whose rights are being violated.
Similarly, Global Witness states, “cases were identified by searching and reviewing reliable sources of publicly online information”. But Global Witness obviously used heavily politicized criteria for deciding what is a reliable source, because not one single reference in their report on Nicaragua gives the Nicaraguan authorities' side of the story and only one reference can fairly be described as ideologically independent. That renders completely incredible the phony Global Witness claim to systematic research.
They claim their investigation is systematic because “We set up search engine alerts using keywords and conducted other searches online to identify relevant cases across the world.” However, in the case of a small country like Nicaragua, a genuinely systematic search can readily be done covering a much wider range of sources than those accessed by Global Witness without recourse to modish, geeky “search engine alerts”. The poverty of sources evident in the report’s footnotes make Global Witness’s procedure look ridiculous.
Global Witness claims they "verify" the results of their investigation because “Where possible, we checked with in-country or regional partners to gather further information”. But they only cross-checked with ideologically and politically biased organizations, apparently using the same highly questionable, politically compromised sources they cite in their report.
Karl Popper, philosophical darling of the Open Society ideology embraced by Global Witness, explained over 50 years ago in "Conjectures and Refutations" that verification is essentially authoritarian. He argued that a truly scientific investigation requires conjecture and falsification, a search for errors rather than for justification.
If one goes along with Popper, it should surprise no one that Global Witness uses an essentially authoritarian methodology. Self-evidently, their job is not to discover the facts or to impartially establish the truth via a hypothetic-deductive Popper-style process , but to project a manipulative version of events justifying ideologically loaded interpretations favored by their corporate funders, an inherent bias understandably unacknowledged by Global Witness.
Nor is it surprising to learn from their account of their methodology, “While we have made every effort to identify and investigate cases in line with the methodology and criteria, it is important to add that our research mostly relies on public information and that we have not been able to conduct detailed national-level searches in all countries.”
That is not true either. Gobal Witness did not make “every effort” to investigate cases in line with their alleged methodology and criteria because they are flagrantly out of compliance with the definitions advanced by HURIDOCS.
A broader range of sources
Nor is is true that they were unable to conduct a detailed national-level search in the case of Nicaragua, because they could easily have included references from sources that contradict much of the information in the Global Witness report. The following is a brief sample of many other relevant sources, gleaned in a few hours searching on the Internet :
Even this very limited sample of sources, put together from just a few hours searching on the Internet, gives a very different picture to the one presented by Global Witness. So it is false of Global Witness to suggest they lack the resources to be able to stress test and falsify the version of events they have published in their report. Given the tremendous resources and the numerous skilled, experienced, talented people working at Global Witness, only abject intellectual dishonesty explains their failure to report faithfully on Nicaragua
Be that as it may, based on their cynically biased sources and their absurdly deficient methodology, Global Witness proceed in their report to make the following claims:
But, as independent journalist John Perry and others have pointed out, none of those people killed can fairly be described as having being killed for defending the environment. They were in property disputes and all of them were killed either directly or indirectly in the course of those property conflicts. This is true in particular of the case cited by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) , that of Bernicia Dixon Peralta, her husband Feliciano Benlis Flores and their 11 year old son Feliciano Benlis Dixon. Perry mentions some of the context. More context of the property disputes in the RAAN can be found here, here and here. Not a single person mentioned by Global Witness died in Nicaragua for defending the environment in the way that someone like Berta Cáceres did. Even so Global Witness have tended disingenuously to implicitly compare the situation in Nicaragua with that in Honduras, in particular with Berta's murder.
- 11 defenders killed in 2016 – making Nicaragua the most dangerous country in the world per capita
The bad faith with which they do so is clear from the second claim in their report on Nicaragua:
Global Witness fails to make clear that groups from the indigenous Miskito people, whom Global Witness inaccurately portray as defenseless environmental defenders, are themselves guilty of murderous attacks against migrants settling land which in many cases the migrants apparently believed they had bought legitimately. Furthermore, the Global Witness report deliberately and falsely confuses the very specific situation of these property conflicts in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean Coast with protests over the possible displacement of communities along the still to be exactly defined route of the proposed Inter-oceanic Canal 300 kilometers to the south. Global Witness unscrupulously frame their distorted version of events in the two regions to give the impression that in both cases the Nicaraguan authorities may in some way be directly or indirectly responsible for the violence.
- 10 of those murdered were indigenous people, with most killed in conflicts with settler communities over land. Meanwhile rural ‘campesino’ defenders faced threats, harassment and attacks, including for opposing the construction of an inter-oceanic canal.
In fact, even the New York Times has acknowledged in their otherwise generally hostile anti-Sandinista reporting that the Nicaraguan authorities do what they can with limited resources to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in the Northern Carribean Autonomous Region.
The situation along the route of the Canal is very different from that in the RAAN. Protests against the Canal are exploited by Nicaragua’s political opposition and groups participating in the protest demonstrations have damaged property and attacked police officers. In relation to this situation, completely separate from the property disputes more than 300km to the north, Global Witness claims:
However in the very next paragraph, the report quotes anti-Canal activist Francisca Ramirez saying, ““We have carried out 87 marches, demanding that they respect our rights and we have had no response. The only response we have had is the bullet.”
- Activists were increasingly criminalized: foreign environmentalists were expelled, community leaders arrested and legislation passed restricting freedoms of speech and association.
Thus, the Global Witness allegation that rights to freedom of association are restricted is immediately contradicted by Francisca Ramirez declaring her group has organized over 80 public demonstrations to express their views.
Similarly, Ramirez claims “The only response we have had is the bullet.” But, in the next paragraph, we learn “a member of her community lost an eye and another was shot in the stomach”.
Thus, after 87 demonstrations, some of which supposedly involved many thousands of participants and in which “The only response we have had is the bullet”, Ramirez cites precisely two people suffering serious injury and only one of them with a gunshot wound. Ramirez omits that the protesters on the marches she organizes go armed with machetes and home-made mortars. They block highways, intimidate ordinary people going about their business, damage property and attack police officers.
In no Western country would that be tolerated without, to put it mildly, a robust response from the police and security forces. Even so, Global Witness promote Francisca Ramirez’s account as if she and her movement were non-political and non-violent, which they are not. But Global Witness excludes those facts.
Likewise, as John Perry has pointed out, the foreign environmentalists expelled from Nicaragua were involved in a suspicious incident involving a small explosion. Again, a reasonable question to Global Witness is why they excluded this highly relevant information given that in Britain or the United States any foreigner, especially any non-white foreigner, involved in such a suspicious incident would face prosecution and a potential jail term under those countries wide-ranging anti-terrorist laws.
Inaccuracies and falsehoods
Mixed in with these disingenuous, incoherent claims, Global Witness also allege, presumably as supporting context, that the proposed Canal “would force up to 120,000 indigenous people from their land”. This outrageous falsehood is sourced from the pro-NATO, right-wing dominated European Parliament, but is categorically contradicted by the relevant multi-million dollar Environmental and Social Impact report by the extremely prestigious ERM company based in the UK. The falsity of that claim is further confirmed by the Canal concessionary HKND company’s representative Bill Wild who argues that the route of the Canal has been altered to take local concerns into account in such a way that fewer than thirty indigenous families will be directly affected.
Overall, ERM reckons that up to 7210 families or around 30,000 people are likely to be displaced along the whole route of the Canal, over 270 kilometres. The scandalously untrue figure quoted by Global Witness is propaganda from Nicaragua’s political opposition who are exploiting Ramirez's quasi-celebrity status among Western environmentalists to amplify overseas the marginal support for their unpopular position against the Canal in Nicaragua. That fact is reflected in the incoherence of the arguments set out by Ramirez and her backers in Nicaragua’s political opposition.
If 120,000 people were really going to be displaced by the proposed Canal then the figure of 30,000 protestors from around the country the same political opposition regularly quote to describe national opposition to the Canal just does not add up. Quoting that same opposition figure, Global Witness state, “Francisca has rallied campesino groups from around the country who will be adversely affected by the canal to call for a meaningful say in its development. In June 2015, 30,000 people gathered for an anti-canal protest – Francisca organized 40 trucks so her community could attend.”
In Nicaragua, the cost of hiring a truck or a bus to carry 60 people or a similar amount of material goods on a round trip of 100km is around US$120, while a round trip of 300km costs about US$175. So hiring 40 diesel-guzzling trucks and buses with their drivers will have cost a minimum of US$4000. But Ramirez is an impoverished mother of five from a similarly impoverished community. Even if only one quarter of the more than 80 protests Ramirez says she has helped organized involved similar costs, the total amount involved runs into tens of thousands of dollars just for Ramirez’s community. Whatever the exact financial accounting, Ramirez is clearly supported by a great deal more than her own resources and those of her community.
Even so, Global Witness completely evade the obvious conclusion to be drawn from that incoherence implicit in their report. Namely, that Francisca Ramirez, far from being a simple altruistic community organizer defending her home is in fact a savvy political opposition activist promoting an inaccurate image of herself as well as concealing her real political agenda. Ramirez alleges that she and her family have been attacked and harassed. Supposing those accusations are true, no convincing evidence points to involvement of the government or the security forces and certainly not the HKND company in charge of planning and building the Canal. That contrasts with the situation of activists in Honduras or Guatemala who can in most cases offer reliable details with corroboration from witnesses to identify their assailants.
The press report cited by Gobal Witness contains no credible evidence from Ramirez except her say so, no corroborating evidence, no witnesses. Likwise the report’s reference to Frontline Defenders' advocacy for Ramirez links to a summary profile including the false opposition propaganda, repeated by Global Witness, that the proposed inter-oceanic Canal has been imposed without consultation. But in fact preliminary consultations took place in July 2014 and subsequently a continuing consultative process has developed both before and after the publication of ERM’s Environmental and Social Impact Study, which recommended improvements to the consultation process which both HKND and the government accepted.
The Study did also criticize the handling of the expropriation issue and recommended that international standards be applied to any expropriation of land (reckoned to total 1359km2 of dry land out of Nicaragua's total area of 139,375km2) that may eventully be decided. Those ERM recommendations were accepted by the government and HKND, and the subsequent consultative process has led to several important changes in the precise route of the Canal and to more detailed environmental studies which have been one reason for the delay in the Canal’s construction.
Frontline Defenders’ advocacy of Ramirez, cited by Global Witness, is based on her own account of events with no apparent attempt at corroboration despite the role of Ramirez as a front person for an anti-government campaign openly supported and facilitated by Nicaragua’s political opposition. In the course of framing their benign, heroic account of Francisca Ramirez, Global Witness present an account of the Canal’s origins and procedural progress which repeats virtually word for word the extremely hostile and systematically disingenuous interpretation of Nicaragua’s political opposition.
Garbage in – Garbage out
Winding up their version of the falsehoods, disinformation and propaganda copied from Nicaragua’s political opposition, Global Witness assert, “Resistance to the canal takes place against a terrifying backdrop of multiple murders in indigenous communities elsewhere in the country which have stood up against the arrival of agricultural settlers and demanded the government guarantee their land rights. Even requests by the Inter-American human rights system haven’t spurred the government into protecting community activists from being disappeared, mutilated and murdered.”
But, as is clear from reviewing a wider selection of sources of information in relation to the complicated land situation in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean Coast, indigenous people themselves are responsible for murderous violence and their own leaders are implicated in corrupt land dealings. It is simply untrue to label the murders as being generically the result of attacks on community activists in the sense in which that term is commonly understood. The general consensus is that the Nicaraguan government has done more than any government in the region, with the possible exception of Venezuela, to protect indigenous people’s land rights with almost a third of the national territory designated as indigenous peoples' communal land. Global Witness’s allegations on that score are demonstrably inaccurate and grossly unfair.
Similarly, the suggestion that the Canal protest movement is vulnerable to the kind of murderous violence prevalent in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region is egregiously false. The protesters themselves have used violence and intimidation against the general population to carry out their protest actions, so far, thankfully, with no fatalities.
In summary, the Global Witness report in its section on Nicaragua uses politically and ideologically prejudiced sources which could readily have been supplemented with sources offering a contradictory account. The sources used themselves do not always corroborate the claims made in the report. Apart from the ideological bias, various substantive inaccuracies render the report extremey unreliable. The report’s conclusions are flawed because its initial premises are false – Garbage In, Garbage Out.
It remains true that there are serious property conflicts in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region which the government is attempting to address despite a lack of administrative, judicial and security resources, against an intricate social, economic and political context and also the constantly changing opportunistic interaction of corrupt business interests with local indigenous peoples’ leaders, and unscrupulous local officials.
In the case of Nicaragua’s proposed Interoceanic Canal, it is true various issues, including the issue of expropriation, have to be clarified. Protestors claim they want dialog, but Francisca Ramirez sets the precondition that the Canal be scrapped.
The Canal's critics never acknowledge that Nicaragua is already suffering chronic environmental degradation. The government and many environmentalists argue that the Canal will provide Nicaragua with the resources it needs to reforest deforested areas, better manage its water resources and reverse the current deterioration in Lake Nicaragua, while at the same time helping to reduce poverty.
Foreign and national environmentalists offer no viable proposals to enable Nicaragua to reverse the socio-economic and climate processes already driving accelerating environmental degradation in the country.
Protestors against the Canal exaggerate the number of people likely to be displaced by its construction and often dishonestly claim people affected by displacement will not be compensated. Meanwhile, they themselves are among those responsible for the environmental degradation that will definitely get progressively worse without the resources the Canal is projected to provide.
Corporate funders and the elite NGO revolving door
Few plausible explanations except intellectual dishonesty offer themselves for the desperate failure of Global Witness, firstly to adequately research the issues involved or, secondly, supposing they in fact did so, to acknowledge the complexity of the issues they examine. Global Witness frankly explain in their financial statement for 2016, they had income of over US$13 million. So they do not lack resources. Similarly, their Board, their Advisory Board and their CEO are all very experienced, smart, talented people. So even if they depend on younger inexperienced staff to do the research, their senior staff presumably review the product before publication. Lack of experience is not a reasonable explanation for the report’s glib dishonesty and inaccuracy.
A review of Global Witness funders reveals that for 2016 the two biggest funders were the Open Society Foundation of George Soros associated with the numerous so called color revolutions in support of NATO country government foreign policy objectives and the Omidyar Network of Pierre Omidyar whose links with US intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton are well known. Less well known is Omidyar’s support for NGOs that fomented the successful right wing coup in Ukraine. The complete list of Global Witness funders is available in the financial statement for 2016 on their web site. That document reports that in 2016 Global Witness received US$3.4 million from the George Soros Open Society Foundation, US$1.5 million from Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network, US$840,000 from the Ford Foundation and over US$3 million from various European NATO governments plus Sweden.
All of these funding sources are unrelenting ideological opponents of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. A broad pro-NATO bias is very clear in the composition of the Global Witness Board and Advisory Board and CEO. Their profiles make clear they are almost all luminaries from the Western elite neocolonial non governmental sector, while many have a strong corporate business background as well. Just as there is a revolving door between government and corporate business and finance in North America and Europe, so too there is also a revolving door within that region’s elite NGO sector, a sector very clearly serving NATO country foreign policy goals.
Cory Morningstar has exposed the pro-NATO global political agenda of organizations like US based organizations like Avaaz and Purpose. In the case of Global Witness, their Board member Jessie Tolka is also a board member of Purpose and too of 350.org: Current Global Witness CEO Gillian Caldwell was also a very successful Campaigns Director of Sky1, now merged into 350.0rg. Cory Morningstar argues, “the most vital purpose of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) has not been to destroy the ecocidal economic system that enslaves us while perpetuating and ensuring infinite wars. Rather, the key purpose of the NPIC is and has always been to protect this very system it purports to oppose from being dismantled. Hence the trillions of dollars pumped into the NPIC by the establishment.”
Confirmation of Cory Morningstar’s argument can be found in the history of Global Witness itself. For example on Libya, despite their superficial anti-corporate gloss, Global Witness relentlessly apply NATO country government criteria here and here. Also on Ukraine, Global Witness project the same anti-corporate message while simultaneously reinforcing NATO country government propaganda. Global Witness has also received US National Endowment for Democracy grants in Cambodia and in Liberia.
Also, a decade ago, writers Keith Harmon Snow and Rick Hines questioned Global Witness’ corporate links in relation to the “Blood Diamonds” controversy and the organization’s role in relation to De Beers and also Maurice Templesman’s diamond companies. No doubt more thorough research would reveal information casting similar doubt on Global Witness’s integrity and independence.
This latest Global Witness report in relation to Nicaragua is important because it is so readily falsifiable. It thus presents a clear litmus test : no news and information media can use the Global Witness report's material in relation to Nicaragua without compromising their credibility.
The bias and inaccuracies in the section on Nicaragua in the Global Witness 2017 report call into doubt the integrity of the whole report. No news or information media interested in accuracy or honest reporting can conscientiously rely on Global Witness as a source without thorough cross checking and systematically comparing, contrasting and evaluating information from sources giving a different account of the events and issues in question.
Global Witness is neither independent nor trustworthy. It clearly has a strong but unacknowledged neocolonial political agenda promoting the regional policy goals of NATO country governments, while, conversely, attacking governments and other regional actors opposed to those goals.
NGOs like Global Witness, International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and so many others, self-evidently fabricate psychological warfare inputs serving NATO country government policy, itself shaped by the same corporate elites that fund the class of NGOS of which Global Witness is a part.
They operate as the soft, extramural arm of NATO country governments’ foreign policy psychological warfare offensives, targeting liberal and progressive audiences to ensure their acquiescence in overseas aggression and intimidation against governments and movements targeted by NATO. To that end, they deceitfully exploit liberal and progressive susceptibilities in relation to environmental, humanitarian and human rights issues.
Their psychological warfare role supporting the NATO government’s aggressive destabilization of Ivory Coast, Libya and Syria in 2011, of Ukraine in 2014, and the NATO country government's low intensity war against Venezuela ever since 2013, as well as the campaign against Cuba over five decades, has been unmistakable.
More broadly their systemic ideological role is very obviously to protect and defend global corporate capitalism while superficially and selectively questioning and criticizing some of its worst abuses. Cory Morningstar’s insight bears repeating “the key purpose of the non-profit industrial complex is and has always been to protect this very system it purports to oppose”.
The coverage of Nicaragua in the latest 2017 Global Witness report is a text book example of that sinister fact.
If you appreciated this article, please consider making a donation to Axis of Logic.
We do not use commercial advertising or corporate funding. We depend solely upon you,
the reader, to continue providing quality news and opinion on world affairs.Donate here