Letters From the August 27-September 3, 2018, Issue

Letters From the August 27-September 3, 2018, Issue

Letters From the August 27-September 3, 2018, Issue

In-justice… America’s war habit… Editors’ note… Nicaragua: where the truth lies (web only)…



David Cole’s paean to Anthony Kennedy outdid itself in being fair-minded and respectful toward this “moderating force” who “this term…voted with the conservatives in all 14 of the Court’s 5–4 decisions” [“Anthony Kennedy’s Legacy,” July 30/August 6]. However, looking back at Kennedy’s support for Citizens United, and his willingness to mangle the Affordable Care Act and dismember the Voting Rights Act, I am not at all surprised that the justice decided to retire well before the midterm elections this year. Surely he knew, with foresight and the courage of his primarily conservative convictions, that giving Trump another appointee on the Supreme Court will utterly destroy any hope of moderation in the Court for generations to come. Cole entirely missed referencing this most tellingly significant judgment of Kennedy’s entire career.

Joanna Bull
rensselaerville, n.y.

America’s War Habit

The articles in your special issue “Needed: A New Foreign Policy” [July 16/23] exaggerate the potential for a public challenge to militarism and the readiness of the public even to do so. Unfortunately, US exceptionalism and militarism have created an addiction to war, and the American public doesn’t seem to know or care about the need for cuts in defense spending and overseas bases and deployments. Twenty years ago, then–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was featured on a Time magazine cover in a flight jacket under the headline “Albright at War.” Albright personified this addiction when she arrogantly proffered: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Melvin Goodman
Senior Fellow
Center for International Policy
washington, d.c.

Editors’ Note

As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem “How-To” [July 30/August 6]. We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem, we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which the members of many groups are asked—or required—to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.

We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more important, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility 
seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.

Stephanie Burt
Carmen Giménez Smith

Nicaragua: Where the Truth Lies (Web only)

John Perry’s June 22 article, “After 2 Months of Unrest, Nicaragua Is at a Fateful Crossroads,” contains a shocking number of unsubstantiated claims and distortions that appear to be taken directly from the official propaganda networks of the FSLN (the Sandinista party). Perry deserves a line-by-line response from one of Nicaragua’s brave independent journalists, such as those risking their lives working for 100% Noticias or El Confidencial right now.

Also troubling is the incredible lack of sympathy for the victims of this violence. Apparently for Perry, teenagers armed with slingshots and “mortars” that shoot fireworks are an equal-level threat as riot police and paramilitaries armed with AK-47’s, shot-guns, and sniper rifles. The numbers indicate otherwise, as nearly all the deaths are of protesters, many shot in the head and chest, as backed up by the Organization of American States’s human-rights investigators.

Perry’s omissions speak volumes as to his trustworthiness as a guide to Nicaragua’s reality. The torture of captured protesters by police, for example, goes unmentioned. The same for the caravans of armed, government-aligned masked paramilitaries in pickup trucks; the censorship of and other attacks on independent news media. Then there are the details of pain and heartache that Perry ignores: a 15-year-old boy shot in the throat by police and who died after he was refused entry at a public hospital; a teacher in Masaya (though evidently not one of Perry’s “neighbors” or “friends” from whom he gets so much information) who lost his leg fighting to defend the FSLN in the 1980s but whose son was shot dead by police in the protests in April; the 96-year-old grandmother pleading at the infamous El Chipote prison for the whereabouts of her grandson; Carlos Mejia Godoy, the songwriter of the 1979 revolution, arriving at El Chipote both to sing to the mothers waiting for news of their children and to demand information on the whereabouts of his bandmate’s son-in-law.

There are other details that illustrate the people’s desire for change: crowds dancing for joy on top of fallen “chayapalos” (enormous metal trees that are symbols of the regime, erected on the orders of the first lady); crowds of women beating pots and pans and confronting riot police; a general strike in which the whole nation came to a stop in protest.

Disastrously, Perry’s article has been published in The Nation, without evident quality control, and could influence Americans to turn their backs on Nicaragua’s young people, who, following in the footsteps of their forefathers, are attempting to free themselves from a dynastic government sustained on the basis of shocking levels of corruption. Upon receipt of Perry’s article, did The Nation’s editors consult any other Nicaraguans they know (other than government functionaries)? Did they use Google? Did they consult noted Nicaraguan left intellectuals like Sergio Ramirez, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Oscar Rene Vargas, Monica Baltodono, or Julio Lopez Campos to hear their views? All these individuals have been vociferous supporters of the protest. (Or was the fact that Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio appear to be on the side of the protests enough to convince The Nation’s editors that Perry’s views had to be worth publishing? I hope this is not the case).

Perhaps Perry still imagines Daniel Ortega to be the leftist hero of old. Times change, and people must use their critical-thinking skills to learn to adjust to new circumstances. There is nothing leftist about the Ortega government except the rhetoric. His government does not operate on the basis of ideology, but personal loyalty, clientelism, and personal enrichment. The real leftists and Sandinistas support the barricades, as they did in 1979, in opposition to a dynastic project that has lost its legitimacy because it has turned massive amounts of firepower against the population. The barricades serve not only as an instrument to pressure the government, but as a practical defense against the masked police-supported gunmen who ride with impunity through the streets terrorizing the population.

Half my family is Nicaraguan, many of them Sandinistas (I have to say this or Perry may say I am a rightist agitator), and it is enormously painful what is happening right now, as the streets are being taken over by masked gunmen protected by the police, and the achievements of (apparent) safety and stability, for which Ortega deserves some credit, are undone by his perverse addiction to power and total contempt for the lives of his people. It is hardly as serious, but nevertheless quite awful, to see Nicaragua’s dreams of freedom and justice, as valid today as in 1979, attacked in the pages of this magazine.

pleasantville, ny

John Perry Replies

D.B. essentially makes a plea for me to follow what I called in my article “the consensus narrative” on events in Nicaragua, one that is being set by the very media he mentions, such as 100% Noticias, El Confidencial, and others. The commentators he encourages me to quote are all, without exception, opponents of the Ortega government. Of course, they put forward a version of events that fits within the consensus that I was trying to challenge. I was arguing for a more balanced assessment of the situation, and I believe that The Nation was right to encourage this.

To illustrate my point with recent evidence, let’s take an incident that has occurred in the time since DB wrote his letter. On Thursday July 12, four police and a teacher were killed in the small town of Morrito, when a “peaceful” opposition march was used as cover for an assault as it passed the police station. The pictures of the dead policemen make clear they were unprepared for combat. Yet the opposition initially said it was the police who opened fire on the march, and some marchers who happened to have weapons fired back. When this story led to questions as to why the peaceful marchers were actually armed, it was changed. Then it was alleged that it was workers from the adjoining town hall who fired on their colleagues, the police. This is in a town so small that practically everyone must know each other.

Nine police were kidnapped after the killings and taken away by the attackers, only for some of them to be mysteriously videoed confirming the opposition’s version of events (while they were being held captive and no doubt being threatened). This was not a very clever tactic, as no one explained why, if the marchers were peaceful, they kidnapped the police officers, nor how they did this without using weapons. Later, the reporter from 100% Noticias (one of the “brave independent journalists” whom Barron recommends) tried to give a true version of events and was censured for doing so. His brother was one of the policemen who had just been killed.

This story shows that there are violence and deaths on both “sides” of what is happening in Nicaragua and also that getting a true picture of any incident is almost impossible: all channels of communication are, in effect, propaganda, and of course social media are worse still. That was why I attempted to give an alternative view based, to the best of my knowledge, on the facts.

I also attempted to consider how this terrible situation might get resolved without there being a lot more violence. Thankfully, since the piece was written, there are signs that this is happening and the barricades have been removed almost everywhere, often by local people collaborating with police. The government, which (contrary to the consensus narrative) still has the support of a good proportion of the population, appears to be committed to the “national dialogue.” If the opposition were to be similarly committed and gave up its dangerous demand for the government to resign, which would create a political vacuum and probably worse, progress might be made.

John Perry
masaya, nicaragua

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