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How Washington and soft power NGOs manipulated Nicaragua’s death toll to drive regime change and sanctions

Did Nicaragua’s Sandinista government really kill 300+ peaceful protesters? A forensic analysis of the death toll exposes the claim as a dangerous lie.

by Max Blumenthal

Part 1

A detailed study of the death toll that has been recorded in Nicaragua since a violent campaign to remove President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista government shows that at least as many Sandinista supporters were killed as opposition members. The study, “Monopolizing Death,” demonstrates how partisan local NGOs conflated all deaths that occurred since April, including accidents and the murders of Sandinistas, with killings by government forces. Washington has seized on the bogus death count to drive the case for sanctions and intensify pressure for regime change.

The manipulated death toll was the centerpiece of a July 25 harangue by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the House floor. While drumming up support for a bipartisan resolution condemning Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for supposedly ordering the massacre of demonstrators, Ros-Lehtinen declared, “Mr. Speaker, four hundred and fifty! That is how many Nicaraguans have been killed by the Ortega regime and its thugs since April of this year.

The congresswoman’s portrayal of a dictatorial regime gunning down peaceful protesters like helpless quails in a canned hunt was designed to generate pressure for an attack on the Nicaraguan economy in the form of sanctions packages like the Nica Act. Her narrative was reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence, who condemned Nicaragua’s government for “350+ dead at the hands of the regime,” and by Ken Roth, the long-serving executive director of Human Rights Watch, who also suggested that Ortega had personally ordered the killing of “300 demonstrators against his corrupt and repressive rule.

Throughout the past two weeks, I have been in Nicaragua interviewing scores of victims of the US-backed Nicaraguan opposition. I have met police officials who saw their colleagues gunned down by well armed elements while being ordered to stay in their stations, Sandinista union leaders whose homes were burned down, and average citizens who were kidnapped at tranque roadblocks and pulled out of their homes to be beaten and tortured, sometimes with the assent of Catholic priests. It was clear to me that the Nicaraguan opposition was anything peaceful in its bid for regime change.

And it was also clear that many Sandinistas had been killed since the chaos began in April. The opposition’s victims include Gabriel de Jesus Vado, a police officer from Jinotepe, who was kidnapped, dragged from a moving car, and burned alive on video at the tranque in Monimbo this month, a neighborhood in Masaya that the opposition had violently occupied for weeks.


But according to the logic employed by Congress and the White House, which holds the government responsible for every single death that occurred between April and June in Nicaragua, the killing of Vado and as many as twenty other members of Nicaragua’s national police never took place — nor did the deaths of anyone killed by opposition paramilitaries. This is what you have to believe if you blame the Sandinista government for one hundred percent of the deaths.

The manipulation of the death toll by Congress and Western soft power NGOs is exposed in meticulous detail “Monopolizing Death.”

The author of this forensic study, independent Nicaraguan researcher Enrique Hendrix, describes his analysis as “evidence of a campaign that, in the absence of a just cause, uses the death of every citizen as a motive to manipulate the emotions of the population in order to counterpose ‘the government’ against ‘the people.'

Hendrix told me that he initiated his study, “Monopolizing Death,” two weeks after the anti-Sandinista protests began. “All the opposition media channels started claiming all these deaths were taking place [at the hands of government forces], and I was having a lot of uncertainties,” he said. “So I started researching the lists of the human rights organizations and really trying to figure out if these death counts consisted only of students, as opposition media was reporting.

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