Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 23/33
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6. La Prensa 132

Through the 1980s, Nicaragua has been quite unusual in the openness of its society in a time of crisis. Hostile journalists who are hardly more than agents of the great power attacking Nicaragua travel and report freely throughout the country.133 Bitterly anti-Sandinista U.S. officials and other advocates of the U.S. terrorist attack are permitted to enter and deliver public speeches and news conferences, calling for the overthrow of the government, and to meet with the U.S.-funded political opposition, segments of which declare the same ends and barely conceal their support for the contras. Domestic media that identify with the attack against Nicaragua and serve its purposes, and are funded by the foreign power attacking the country, have been subjected to harassment, censorship, and periodic suspension; but neither they, their editors and staff, nor opposition figures with the same commitments have faced anything remotely like the repression of media and dissidents in the U.S.-backed "fledgling democracies," and the record compares favorably with that of other U.S. allies or the United States itself, surprising as the conclusion may be to people who have not sought to determine the facts.

Furthermore, in a most remarkable display of arrogance and willful ignorance, none of this is so much as noticed in the United States. Similarly, it is considered obviously appropriate -- and therefore requires no comment or even reporting in the national media -- for the United States to impose barriers to freedom of travel unknown in a weak and tiny country under U.S. attack: to bar entry of tortured mothers from El Salvador who have been invited to speak in small towns, or opposition parliamentarians from Nicaragua who oppose contra aid, or critics of the Vietnam war, years after it terminated.

Since its reopening in October 1987 under the Esquipulas Accord, the opposition journal La Prensa has made little effort to disguise its role as an agency of U.S. propaganda, dedicated to overthrowing the government of Nicaragua by force. The journal publishes bizarre tales about Sandinista atrocities (comparing the Sandinistas to the Nazis), virtually calls for resistance to the draft, and is full of praise for the contras, who are portrayed as freedom fighters in the Reagan style.134

I reviewed La Prensa from its opening in October 1987 through December 23.135 There is no pretense of meeting minimal journalistic standards. Rather, the journal follows the standard procedures of U.S. psychological warfare to a degree that is almost comical, presenting a general picture along the following lines.

The background theme throughout is that there is a close analogy between the current conflict and the struggle against Somoza. In the current conflict, the Sandinistas (FSLN) play the role of Somoza, but they are much worse, because at least he was a native Nicaraguan while the Sandinistas are agents of Soviet imperialism (the U.S. is a benevolent, if sometimes confused outsider). The contras are the guerrillas fighting Somoza, and the internal opposition is the opposition to Somoza, with La Prensa taking up the mantle of the journal with the same name of the Somoza years. For the most part the theme is insinuated; sometimes it is directly expressed, under such headlines as "Threats of FSLN Recall Somocism" (Dec. 15). The Sandinistas, the new Somoza clique, attack, torture, rob, and exploit the people, living a life of luxury while the people starve under their oppressive rule. The United States is almost entirely missing from the picture, though it does provide heroes: for example, avid contra enthusiast Jeane Kirkpatrick, who declares in the lead story of October 12 that "Nicaraguans are not alone," she is with them; and Elliott Abrams, who calls for "total democratization, or indefinite struggle" (Oct. 23, Nov. 11). Other heroes include the U.S. Senate, which provided $250 million for "democratic institutions" in Nicaragua, including La Prensa (Oct. 7); and parts of the U.S. press, for example, the editors of the Baltimore Sun, who call for contra aid as a "sensible and modest" means to maintain the "anti-Sandinista resistance" (Dec. 17). The visit of U.S. congressmen supporting the contras, with applause and ovations in public meetings, is hailed as a "historic moment" in the struggle for freedom (Dec. 16, 18).

The complementary aspect of this CIA construction is that the people "unanimously" oppose the Sandinistas, denouncing Ortega "unanimously" (all social classes, etc.) for failing to comply with the accords, all of this being reminiscent of the similar conditions under the Somoza dictatorship (Nov. 6). Ortega is also denounced for insulting Reagan (another hero) and American soldiers who died in foreign wars (including those who helped "liberate the USSR from Hitler," the editors add, in an interesting version of history). Through early December we read that peasants complain about Sandinista injustice, townspeople about the oppressive Sandinista officials, mothers about sons in prison and the army, prisoners about torture and terrible conditions, workers about suffering and oppression. There are fires, accidents, disasters, inflation, rampaging soldiers, protests against military service. Campesinos protest that government agencies are not selling them bread, there is hunger, they are too poor to buy on the black market. And so on, with no variation. In short, a picture of unmitigated oppression of the general population who unanimously oppose the foreign-imposed dictatorship, which tortures the suffering people for no reason apart from their own greed and service to their foreign master, while profiting from the drug racket (Nov. 24).

The line is precisely as laid down by the U.S. Embassy. Thus, compliance with the peace accords is defined strictly in the terms determined by the United States. The lead headline on October 30 reads "FSLN says no to peace," with an AFP story reporting that the FSLN refuses to dialogue with the civilian leadership of the contras and will maintain the emergency until the aggression stops -- both steps in conformity with the accords, as already discussed.136 The United States has defined the matter differently, and for La Prensa, as for the U.S. media, that is where it ends.

A summary review of the peace accords (Dec. 4) is entirely negative, blaming everything on the Sandinistas. There is only one good feature of the developments since August: the cease-fire negotiations "have legitimized the Nicaraguan Resistance" (the contras) and thus permitted the internal opposition to enter into "open negotiations with the Nicaraguan Resistance without danger of delegitimizing themselves." The program of the contras "coincides fully with the position of the fourteen political organizations of the civilian opposition in the national dialogue."

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132 Addendum to p. 127.

133 The CIA-appointed press spokesman for the contras, Edgar Chamorro, describes Stephen Kinzer as "like an errand boy" for the Reagan administration, "building up those stories that fit in with Reagan's agenda," "just responding to what the White House is saying." In his monograph on the contras, the CIA, and the media, Chamorro describes cases in which correspondents readily accepted contra manipulation, and quotes James LeMoyne as telling him: "The contra leaders won't invite you on trips, won't take you into their camps, and won't talk to you, if your articles are too critical" (Interview, Extra! (FAIR), Oct./Nov. 1987; Packaging the Contras).

134 Michael Massing, Columbia Journalism Review, July/August, 1987. Also Update, Dec. 29, 1987 (Central American Historical Institute, Georgetown University, Washington).

135 Eleven issues were missing in this collection.

136 There is no report of the endorsement by the International Verification Commission (CIVS), a few days later, of the Sandinista position that the state of emergency can be maintained until the aggression ends.