Blockades and a national dialogue in Costa Rica

The following report is produced from news and supplementary material from Jiri Spendlingwimmer, a Costa Rican anthropologist, Liz Richmond, a member of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA), and numerous news reports in Costa Rican journals and daily newspapers. We are grateful to Jiri and Liz for their work on this.

December 2020

Key words: IMF loan; national dialogue; blockades; selling of state assets; National Rescue Movement (NRM); international freight movement.

(Photo credit: National Association of Public and Private Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, ANEP)

In October 2020, the Costa Rican government led by President Carlos Alvarado began negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) seeking a $1.75 billion dollar loan to overcome the country’s fiscal deficit, projected to reach 9.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2020. The fall in GDP is due to high unemployment – on average 20% for men and 30% for women[1] – and the impact of the coronavirus.

To secure the loan, proposals included an increase in taxes, funding cuts to social programmes, selling of State assets and public institutions, some of which provide important resources for various social programmes.

In response, a National Rescue Movement (NRM) formed and commenced Blockade actions such as demonstrations and roadblocks, rejecting all aspects of the package, arguing that it would be detrimental to the poorest residents of Costa Rica, especially at this time of high unemployment and increasing social tensions. Blockade actions were intended to impact large companies, including those that pay no tax, and were an argument for the collection of unpaid or evaded taxes, which are 6-8% of GDP. The NRM also pressed for a ‘Tobin’ tax on financial conversions between countries.

The roadblocks were effective in preventing the movement of road freight along the Pan American Highway, thereby stalling the provision of goods not just for Costa Rica, but also for the other Central American countries. The agricultural sector reported losses of over $37 million because of the roadblocks with banana and pineapple producers being the worst affected, with losses of $29 million and $7.5 million respectively for transnational companies. Banana Link also reported job losses and other disruptions.[2]

Under pressure not just from within Costa Rica but also from the rest of Central America, President Alvarado withdrew from the initiative and negotiations. The roadblocks continued for a while and became associated with violence according to the Security Minister Michael Soto Rojas, who accused the protest organisers of being infiltrated by narco traffickers and delinquents.[3] The NRM organisers also claimed that organised crime was taking advantage of the situation by instigating violence.[4] Certainly there were acts of violence from which the protest organisers distanced themselves but Soto failed to provide any proof of the accusation.

In press reports, the delinquents were usually described as ‘local’. One local chapter of the NRM is the ‘Longo Mai, Tarise and Convento of Buenos Aires Blockade Commission’, situated in Southern Costa Rica.  As well as supporting the national agenda, they have a local agenda, which includes a demand for fibre-optics information and education, a request for police support within communities regarding the illegal hunting of wild animals and marijuana crops, drug trafficking and economic support and reactivation for local farmers – campesinos – with strengthening of agricultural production for food sovereignty, not for the transnational companies.  They also demand settlement of the historical debt of the government with Indigenous people, and a solution to the current conflict within Indigenous territories, including due processes of investigation and clarification regarding the murders of Indigenous leaders Sergio Rojas and Jehry Rivera, and immediate police action to protect the physical integrity of Indigenous land reclaimers following recent acts of violence in China Kichá,[5]

The ‘Longo Mai, Tarise and Convento Blockade Commission’ action took place 30 September to 15 October 2020, when it was forcibly ended by police intervention, with five people arrested and detained overnight, including two Indigenous residents and a child. They have subsequently initiated a counter legal claim against the state for their illegal detention by the police.

The Blockade took place daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with openings every 3 hours. Free passage was granted to emergency services, elderly, those with medical appointments and other special circumstances. Their petition has not been responded to, and the government’s condition was an end to Blockades prior to any dialogue.

Nationally, the government does not recognise the NRM as a socio-political actor and ordered Blockades to be forcibly lifted on occasions with the use of tear-gas. The government proposal for an IMF loan was withdrawn on 4 October 2020, with dialogues taking place between political, business, trade union and academic sectors to address the fiscal, economic and political crisis of the country.

The ‘Longo Mai, Tarise and Convento Blockade Commission’ continues to organise and participate in meetings with the NRM and will continue in the struggle with local and national proposals against the government’s negotiations with the IMF.

Although the Mintpress news referred to Alvarado’s withdrawal from the negotiations with the IMF as “a victory for the protestors”[6], since the ending of the blockades President Alvarado has said that he will have to enter into negotiations with the IMF again in the new year.


[1]   Continuous Employment Survey carried out by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC): for the second quarter of 2020, unemployment in Costa Rica reached 20% for men and 30% of women nationwide.

[2] –  07102020

[3]   Loaiza, V. and Chaves, K. (8.10.20) ‘Costa Rica: delincuentes locales y narcos toman mando de protestas y bloqueos’, La Nación, San José.

[4]   Annika Beaulieu, 23.10.20, ‘Trouble in Paradise: Violence at protests threaten to unhinge IMF agreement in Costa Rica’, Latin America News Dispatch.

[5]   Environmental Network for Central America, November 2020, ‘Land disputes in southern Costa Rica’, ENCA Newsletter 80, p.6.

[6]   Alan Macleod (25.10.20) ‘Protests Against Greed and Inequality are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America’, Mintpress News.

Political developments in El Salvador

A half-yearly comment and update on political developments in El Salvador by the El Salvador Network (ESNET), a UK-based solidarity network.

We are grateful to ESNET for permission to reproduce their latest Update (November 2019) in our website.

Key words: ARENA; FMLN; GANA; Nayib Bukele; gang violence; corruption; Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The former Marxist guerrilla army (the FMLN) demobilised, as Peace Accords were signed, in 1992 to bring the 12 year long civil war to an end in El Salvador. There was space for the FMLN to organise politically, and contest elections locally and nationally. This finally resulted in the first ever Left Presidency from 2009 – 2014. President Mauricio Funes is now in exile in Nicaragua after being charged with large scale corruption. Previous right wing (ARENA) Presidents have also been charged, conveniently died or been imprisoned for even greater corruption offences.

The second FMLN term, 2014 to May 2019, of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, saw little social progress as the FMLN tried a variety of tactics to tackle massive gang related violence, which has forced many into exile and resulted in many murders each day. Against this violent background it was clear that the historic opportunity so many had fought for – and many had died for – had not achieved a lot. Programmes to give out free school uniforms, and fund co-operatives to grow maize seed for food sustainability were a good start, but there was never a radical transformation of society. Ten years of the FMLN in government left them exhausted by the gang wars, mired in many accounts of favouritism, ineffectiveness, nepotism and worse.

In the February 2019 Presidential Election, the FMLN candidate came a distant third, with ARENA (extreme right wing) second and a clear first round victory with well over the necessary 50% for Nayib Bukele, formally of the GANA centre right party. 

An initial wave of euphoria that here was something new politically to move El Salvador beyond the 2 party paralysis of the post-civil war period has given way to a more nuanced reflection. Bukele has allied himself with Trump and against Cuba and Venezuela and has recently expelled Venezuelan diplomats. Some of his more left wing supporters hope this is to keep onside with the US in order to be left alone to initiate some social and economic progress. Announcing that all teachers will move to ‘flexible’ (in effect zero hours) contracts shows the economic direction of travel of Bukele. 

Who is Nayib Bukele? 

Son of a wealthy family and working originally in the family business, Bukele (now 38) worked as a PR specialist on the 2009 FMLN Presidential election campaign for Mauricio Funes, and subsequently joined the party. He was quickly elected Mayor of a small town, and then of the capital city, San Salvador. He proved to be dynamic, controversial, slick, a maverick who never fitted well in the FMLN. He was expelled from the FMLN for a number of acts against party rules, and then became candidate for President of the GANA centre right party in 2019. 

Bukele is a figure similar to Macron in France – a young dynamic outsider who has shaken the political mould – with no clear ideology, but clearly of the centre / right. Above all he is a ‘self-brand’, adept in using social media. He has had some early successes against the gangs, reducing the daily murder toll. El Salvador recently hosted the Latin American surfing championships, and Bukele encouraged all the surfers to go back home and tell everyone how wonderful El Salvador is for surfing, and how they should all come and stay a while! It seems that attacks on trade unions, public sector social programmes and the alternative press show that Bukele is going all out to attract US private sector investors.

Meanwhile Archbishop Oscar Romero (murdered while saying mass by a death squad in 1980) has been finally officially canonized by the Argentinian Pope Francis as ‘San Romero de las Americas’. The ceremony in Rome was a national celebration of Romero and his legacy – which is still disputed, since the right have tried to reclaim Romero as one of their own.  March 2020 will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Romero, which will be commemorated widely in El Salvador, and around the world, including here in the UK. 

Guatemala offers El Salvador a port on the Atlantic Coast.

Shortly after the inauguration of Alejandro Giammattei as the new Guatemalan President, he met with President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and offered a deal of potentially great benefit to El Salvador: namely a port on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala. Lucy Goodman translated articles about the deal from La Prensa Gráfica (by Melissa Pacheco, 28.01.20) and El Economista (29.01.20), and Martin Mowforth summarised and commented upon these for The Violence of Development website.

Key words: El Salvador – Guatemala integration; Atlantic port; security cooperation; domestic flights.

El Salvador and Guatemala plan to eliminate the border initially for the passage of persons and later for freight. They have also re-defined flights between the two countries as ‘domestic flights’.

Anuncio. En conferencia de prensa, los presidentes hicieron diversos anuncios entre ellos la eliminación de las fronteras para el tránsito de personas y mercaderías.
(Melissa Pacheco) The presidents share the announcements between themselves about the removal of the border for the transit of people and goods.

The Guatemalan president offered a concession to create a public-private partnership as the means to enable completion of a Salvadoran port on the Atlantic coast. Land from the Santo Tomás de Castilla National Port Company (Empornac) will be ceded to El Salvador for this purpose. The area to be ceded is known as El Arenal (or The Quicksand) and currently serves as a depot for containers. Last year (2019) Empornac carried out technical studies to determine the feasibility of constructing a pier to accommodate dredgers and cruise ships there.

“We have offered El Salvador something unprecedented in the history of Central American integration and today I want to announce it publicly because we’re going to explore, as soon as possible, the possibility of El Salvador having a port in the Guatemalan Atlantic. We will deliver this Project as a public-private partnership so that El Salvador can develop it. It is an offer that we have made to El Salvador, we consider it to be the right thing to do,” Giammattei announced at a press conference that took place at the Presidential House.

He added that he had spoken with the authorities of SICA (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana / Central American Integration System) in order to receive the support of the institution in the implementation of the project. He also announced that he made a firm pledge to officially de-categorise flights between Guatemala and El Salvador to ‘domestic’. This comes as part of the initiatives to improve integration in the region.

The Guatemalan Minister of Economics, Antonio Malouf, confirmed that a legal-technical analysis for ceding the land of Empornac will be carried out.

“Basically, it would be our entry to the Atlantic. Our goods will have the power to go from the Atlantic and enter from the Atlantic. I believe what we’re doing is making a real union that is going to spread to other countries in Central America that will want to unite and do similar,” declared the Salvadoran President.

Apart from the possible construction of the Salvadoran port on the Guatemalan coast and the re-categorisation of flights, the leaders announced that in one month they hope to have removed the border for the passage of people and within three or four months the barriers for goods between the two countries.

“We have to sign papers where we can eliminate the customs on goods respecting that goods entering El Salvador and destined for Guatemala have already paid taxes in El Salvador and do not have to pay them in Guatemala and those that have entered Guatemala destined for El Salvador do not have to pay them in El Salvador. We believe it will take us about three months,” the Guatemalan president declared to the media.

The elimination of the borders for the passage of people also requires the implementation of a bi-national arrangement on security. “If someone passes from Guatemala to El Salvador evading an arrest warrant, they will not be evading anything because we are going to have the same approaches in both countries,” Bukele stated.

Giammattei referred to their intention to apply similar security sanctions, one of which was to standardise the criminal codes in both countries. In the language he used to explain this part of the agreement, Giammattei betrayed his profoundly hateful and hardline understanding of crime in society. “Standardising the penalties, the sanctions, the punishments, so that when they spray ‘Baygon’ here the cockroaches do not go there because they think that there they will find it easier, and when they spray ‘Baygon’ the cockroaches won’t come here, as the law will be the same for the two countries,” said the new president.

Moreover, he said that they had been monitoring Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan (PCT), the main commitment of the Salvadoran Government to improve security conditions, and he (Giammattei) did not rule out implementing some of the same sanctions in Guatemala.

Guatemalan Congress Weakens NGOs

Key words: Guatemala; non-governmental organisations (GOs); human rights defenders; social activists; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Early this month (February 2020) the Guatemalan Congress moved to limit the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Human rights defenders and social activists criticised the Guatemalan Congress for passing a law that could be used by governments to arbitrarily control non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The ‘Law of Non-Governmental Organisations for Development’ establishes that NGOs will not be able to use foreign donations or financing to carry out activities that “alter” public order.

“If an NGO uses foreign donations or financing to alter public order, it will be immediately cancelled … its executives will be charged under criminal and civil legislation,” the new law states.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also expressed its reservations regarding what happened in Congress.

“The reform of the NGO law could affect the freedom of association, assembly, and expression, as well as democratic spaces for organised civil society,” the OHCHR said and added that “it is important to adopt laws and policies that guarantee spaces for democratic participation.”

In 2019, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern about the NGO bill as it introduces controls that could be used to arbitrarily limit social organisations.

The NGO law is based on proposals that lawmakers of the previous legislature made to avoid the fight against corruption promoted by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

With the new law, the government can “arbitrarily cancel uncomfortable organisations,” said Justice Now (JusticiaYa), an NGO which was born amidst the anti-corruption fight in 2015.​​​​​​​

The leftist party Winaq, whose most notable member is the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, said the NGO law is “a blow to freedom of social organisation and harmful to the majority.”​​​​​​​


  • La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador) 12 February 2020.
  • Impunity Watch

Nicaragua en paz – a pesar de los títulares falsos de los medios y las ONGs

El artículo siguiente es originario del blog Two Worlds por John Perry. Apareció originalmente en el – . Estoy agradecido a John por su autorización para reproducir el artículo en este sitio web.

John Perry

Two Worlds blog:  (

18 de febrero 2020


Aquí hay un titular que no verás: Nicaragua está en paz. Tras el violento intento de derrocar al gobierno en 2018, que costó al menos 200 vidas, el país ha vuelto en gran medida a la tranquilidad que disfrutaba antes. Esta no es sólo la impresión que recibe cualquier visitante de Nicaragua, sino que está confirmada por las estadísticas: Insight Crime analizó los niveles de homicidio en toda América Latina en 2019 y demostró que sólo tres países eran más seguros que Nicaragua en todo el continente.

Además, tres de sus vecinos, el ‘triángulo del norte’ de Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala, estaban entre los peores países. También tienen altos niveles de violencia mortal contra las mujeres. En los primeros 24 días de 2020, por ejemplo, 27 mujeres hondureñas sufrieron muertes violentas, mientras que el vecino Nicaragua sigue teniendo uno de los niveles más bajos de femicidio en América Latina.

Pero, espera. Un titular de enero denuncia la trágica epidemia de violencia en Nicaragua. Este mes la ONU censura al gobierno nicaragüense por permitir ataques repetidos contra los pueblos indígenas. Un ‘informe de situación’ de la ONU habla de un ambiente general de amenaza e inseguridad. A finales del año pasado se informó de la represión sistemática, selectiva y letal de los campesinos. ¿De dónde proceden estas acusaciones y qué significan?

Las últimas provienen de un incidente a finales de enero. Los campesinos sin tierra atacaron una comunidad en el gran bosque de Bosawás. Según la agencia Reuters, seis muertos, diez secuestrados y casas destruidas. The Guardian, el New York Times y el Washington Post repitieron la historia. El periódico local de derecha La Prensa citó a la ONG Fundación del Río, que lo calificó de ‘masacre’; la Alianza Cívica de la oposición nicaragüense se sumó a esta calificando el ataque de ‘etnocidio’. Amnistía Internacional condenó ‘la indiferencia del Estado’ ante el sufrimiento de los pueblos indígenas. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos dijo que el gobierno no estaba cumpliendo con sus obligaciones internacionales.

Bosawás es la mayor superficie de selva tropical al norte del Amazonas. Tiene pocas carreteras y principalmente comunidades pequeñas, muchas de las cuales dependen de los ríos para su transporte. Muchos habitantes locales pertenecen a grupos indígenas a los que el gobierno ha concedido títulos de propiedad de la tierra. Otros son los llamados ‘colonos’, familias campesinas de las cuales algunos han comprado sus tierras pero también hay otras que las ocupan ilegalmente. Las disputas entre los agricultores establecidos y los campesinos sin tierra son comunes, y durante muchos años han dado lugar, a veces, a la violencia. Los problemas de la vigilancia de esos lugares, con su historia de conflictos y corrupción, no se limitan a su lejanía.

Lo que realmente ocurrió en el caso reciente sólo quedó claro después de que la policía llegó en horas avanzadas de la tarde del 29 de enero para investigar, tras haber sido llamada al lugar por motivo de un reporte de dos personas muertas, no de seis como se reportó en los medios. En el lugar donde se produjo el atentado, la comunidad de Alal, la policía encontró 12 casas quemadas y dos personas heridas. Nadie había desaparecido. Para el 31 de enero habían revisado otras tres comunidades cercanas y no encontraron pruebas de asesinato o secuestro. Los líderes de la comunidad local condenaron las noticias falsas.

Luego, en un lugar completamente distinto, a 12 km al este de Alal, a lo largo del río Kahaska Kukun, cerca de la comunidad de Wakuruskasna, la policía encontró e identificó cuatro cadáveres, dos en una parte del río y dos en otra parte, aparentemente muertos por heridas de bala. La población local dijo que no conocía a nadie que hubiera desaparecido o estuviera desaparecido. Las investigaciones continuaron y dos días después altos funcionarios de la policía y del gobierno se reunieron con la comunidad en la escuela local para explicar las investigaciones y la labor de aplicación de la ley que estaban realizando, así como la ayuda que recibirían las personas para reconstruir sus casas destruidas. Posteriormente, el 5 de febrero, los familiares de las víctimas se reunieron con la Procuradora de los Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua, Darling Ríos, para denunciar los crímenes cometidos. La policía cree haber identificado a la banda criminal involucrada y continúa la búsqueda de los mismos.

Los antecedentes de esta historia son importantes y son ignorados por los medios de comunicación internacionales y los organismos de derechos humanos. Una parte importante del territorio nicaragüense está legalmente en manos de grupos indígenas y ha sido debidamente titulado por el Gobierno de Nicaragua como tierras comunales de cada comunidad. Las autoridades que las administran son designadas por las propias comunidades. En el territorio indígena de Mayangna Sauni As, formado por 75 comunidades, existe una disputa interna por el control de estas tierras comunales. De tal manera que algunos de los líderes han vendido tierras a grupos de colonos externos, lo que podría ser la raíz del conflicto del mes pasado.

Lamentablemente, a pesar del proceso masivo y continuo de reforma agraria en Nicaragua, sigue habiendo casos de campesinos desplazados que no pueden comprar tierras caras en zonas pobladas y tratan de comprarlas en otro lugar a bajo precio, y tal vez ilegalmente, o simplemente las toman. Las zonas poco pobladas como Bosawás son especialmente vulnerables. Las organizaciones internacionales describen los conflictos resultantes como luchas entre pueblos indígenas conscientes del medio ambiente y forasteros destructivos, instigados por el gobierno. La realidad es que los pobres compiten por la tierra, a veces de forma violenta. Y la violencia es espasmódica: en los dos últimos años se han registrado pocas muertes en conflictos por la tierra, aunque hubo varias en 2015 y 2016, que afectaron principalmente a una comunidad indígena diferente, los miskitu.

No es de extrañar que los medios de comunicación se pongan del lado de los grupos indígenas y que los colonos rara vez tengan voz. Inevitablemente, como en el caso de Alal, quien pueda sacar una historia a través de una llamada telefónica recibirá atención, e incluso una agencia como Reuters parece ser dispuesta a basar sus reportajes en ese tipo de información antes de que los hechos puedan ser comprobados. Para quienes no están familiarizados con Nicaragua, cualquier noticia sobre grupos indígenas conjura imágenes de los tribus aislado de la Amazonia, lo cual está lejos de la situación real. Los medios de comunicación establecen la escena con imágenes románticas de las selvas tropicales. Sólo en raras ocasiones envían a sus reporteros para investigar a fondo los acontecimientos sobre que están reportando.

Si esto es lo que se espera de los medios de comunicación de hoy, no debería ser el caso de las ONG de derechos humanos. Sin embargo, los organismos de ‘derechos humanos’ con sede en Nicaragua son notoriamente sesgados políticamente, y desde hace mucho tiempo ya pasaron el punto en que se pueden considerar ser objetivos. Sus recientes denuncias de una campaña gubernamental de asesinatos en zonas rurales, por ejemplo, se han demostrado ser completamente falsas. Todas las ONG locales compiten por las donaciones de gobiernos extranjeros, y (como uno admitió) exageran sus cuentas de muertes para conseguirlo.

Lamentablemente, las ONG internacionales no son mucho mejor. Los reportajes de Amnesty International sobre Nicaragua se han demostrado estar llenos de errores y tergiversaciones. Anteriormente, varios individuos y organismos habían solicitado a la ONG Global Witness corregir la información sesgada en sus informes sobre de las disputas de tierras en el área de Bosawás, que caracterizaron a Nicaragua como el “país más peligroso del mundo” para ser un defensor del medio ambiente. A pesar de los muchos esfuerzos que hizo para asegurar que Global Witness escuchara las complejidades de la historia real, ese ONG se negó a retirar sus acusaciones, incluso cuando se descubrió que algunas eran completamente falsas.

Por eso los titulares como ‘Una trágica epidemia de violencia’ no deben tomarse al pie de la letra. Incluso la BBC (seis indígenas muertos en un ataque) se equivocó. El sesgo mediático contra el gobierno sandinista de Nicaragua es incesante, y las ONG internacionales lo están alimentando (al igual que el gobierno de EE.UU., por supuesto). Mientras tanto, detrás de los titulares, el pueblo nicaragüense está recuperando con éxito la preciosa paz y seguridad de la que disfrutaba antes de los violentos acontecimientos de 2018. La mayoría se siente aliviada de que la verdadera ‘epidemia de violencia’ haya terminado unos meses después de haber comenzado para dejar a Nicaragua el país más seguro de la región.

A headline you won’t read

By John Perry

Two Worlds blog: (

February 19, 2020

The following article by John Perry comes from his Two Worlds blog. It originally appeared in The Grayzone, an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire – I am grateful to John for permission to reproduce his article in this website.

Here’s a headline you won’t see: Nicaragua is at peace. After the violent attempt to overthrow the government in 2018, which cost at least 200 lives, the country has largely returned to the tranquillity it enjoyed before. This is not only the impression that any visitor to Nicaragua will receive, it is confirmed by statistics: Insight Crime analysed homicide levels across Latin America in 2019 and showed that only three countries were safer than Nicaragua in the whole continent. What’s more, three of its neighbours, the ‘northern triangle’ of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, were all among the worst countries. They also have high levels of fatal violence against women. In the first 24 days of 2020, for example, 27 Honduran women met violent deaths, while next-door Nicaragua continues to have one of the lowest levels of femicide in Latin America.

But wait. A headline in January denounces the Tragic Epidemic of Violence in Nicaragua. This month the UN slates the Nicaraguan government for allowing repeated attacks against indigenous peoples. A UN ‘situation report’ talks about a general environment of threat and insecurity. Towards the end of last year the systematic, selective and lethal repression of peasant farmers was reported. Where do these allegations come from and what do they mean?

The latest ones come from an incident at the end of January. Criminals attacked a small community in the large forest reserve of Bosawás. It was reported by Reuters to have led to six deaths, ten people being kidnapped and houses being destroyed. The Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post all repeated the story. Local right-wing newspaper La Prensa quoted the NGO Fundación del Rio who called it a ‘massacre’. Nicaragua’s opposition Civic Alliance joined in by calling it ‘ethnocide’. For the opposition news channel Patriotic Communications it was a ‘war’ against indigenous people in which ‘the Ortega government is silent’ about the crimes committed. Amnesty International condemned ‘the state’s indifference’ to the sufferings of indigenous people. The Interamerican Commission for Human Rights said the government was failing its international obligations.

Bosawás is the largest area of tropical rainforest north of the Amazon. It has few roads and mainly tiny communities, many relying on rivers for transport. Many local people belong to indigenous groups which have been granted land titles by the government and this land cannot be sold, only leased. Others are settlers (called ‘colonos’) some of whom have leased land but others who occupy it illegally. Disputes between established farmers and landless peasants are common, and for many years have sometimes resulted in violence. The problems of policing such places, with their history of conflict and corruption, are not confined to their remoteness.

What really happened in the recent case only became clear after the police arrived to investigate, having been called to the scene of two reported deaths, not six, late on the afternoon of 29 January. In the place where the attack occurred, the community of Alal, the police found 12 houses had been burned down and two people had been injured. No one had disappeared. By 31 January they had checked three more nearby communities and found no evidence of murder or kidnapping. Local community leaders condemned the false news reports.

Then, at a completely differently place 12km east of Alal, along the River Kahaska Kukun near the community of Wakuruskasna, police found and identified four bodies, two in one part of the river and two in another part, apparently dead from gunshot wounds. Local people said they knew of no one who had disappeared or was missing. Investigations continued and two days later senior police and government officials met with the community in the local school to explain the investigations and the enforcement work they were doing, as well as the help that people would get to rebuild their destroyed houses. Then, on February 5, the families of the victims met with Nicaragua’s Procurator of Human Rights, Darling Ríos, to denounce the crimes committed. The police are pursuing the criminal gang involved and so far (February 12) have captured one culprit who was carrying a sub-machine gun.

The background to this story is important and is ignored by the international media and human rights bodies. A significant proportion of Nicaraguan territory is legally held by indigenous groups and has been duly titled by the Nicaraguan Government in each community’s ownership. The authorities that administer them are designated by the communities themselves. In the indigenous territory of Mayangna Sauni As, made up of 75 communities, there is an internal dispute over control of these communal lands. Some of the leaders have sold land to groups of outside settlers, which is possibly at the root of last month’s conflict.

Sadly, despite a massive and ongoing process of land reform in Nicaragua, there are still cases of displaced peasant farmers who can’t buy expensive land in populated areas and seek to buy it cheaply, and perhaps illegally, elsewhere, or simply to occupy it. Sparsely populated areas like Bosawás are especially vulnerable. The ensuing conflicts are portrayed by international organisations as struggles between environmentally conscious indigenous people and destructive outsiders, abetted by the government. The reality is that poor people are in competition for land, sometimes violently. And the violence is spasmodic: there were few reported deaths in land disputes for the last two years, although there were several in 2015 and 2016, mainly affecting a different indigenous community, the Miskitu.

It is hardly surprising that news media side with indigenous groups and that the settlers rarely get a voice. Inevitably, as in the Alal case, whoever can get a story out via a phone call will receive attention, and even an agency like Reuters will (it seems) accept such a report before the facts can be checked. To those unfamiliar with Nicaragua, any news item about indigenous groups conjures images of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, which is far from the real situation. News media set the scene with romantic images of rainforests. Only rarely do they send reporters to investigate in depth.

If this is to be expected of today’s media, it shouldn’t be the case with human rights NGOs. Yet Nicaraguan-based ‘human rights’ bodies are notoriously biased politically, and have long passed the point where they can be considered objective. Their recent allegations of a government campaign of rural assassinations, for example, were shown to be completely false. All the local NGOs compete for donations from foreign governments, and (as one admitted) exaggerate their death counts in order to get it.

Regrettably, the international NGOs are little better. Amnesty International’s reporting on Nicaragua has been shown as full of errors and misrepresentations. Global Witness was earlier called out for biased reporting of the land disputes in the Bosawás area, in which it called Nicaragua the world’s ‘most dangerous country’ to be an environmental defender. Despite many efforts to get it to listen to the complexities of the real story, it refused to withdraw its allegations even when some were found to be completely untrue.

This is why headlines like ‘A Tragic Epidemic of Violence’ should not be taken at face value. Even the BBC (Six indigenous people reportedly killed in attack) was wrong. Media bias against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is unremitting, and international NGOs are feeding it (as, of course, is the US government). Meanwhile, behind the headlines, Nicaraguan people are successfully recovering the precious peace and safety they enjoyed before the violent events of 2018. Most are relieved that the real ‘epidemic of violence’ ended a few months after it began.

A version of this article appears in: The Grayzone and also in Tortilla con Sal and here in Spanish (en Español).

New Salvadoran President appoints more women than ever before

A summary by Martin Mowforth

June 2019

Nayib Bukele who assumed power as President of El Salvador on 1st June 2019 has appointed more women to his government’s cabinet than have ever been appointed before in El Salvador’s history. Amongst these he has appointed an ex-mayor, an ex-guerrilla fighter, an expert on drug trafficking and a former union member with the Social Security Institute.

Bukele made almost daily announcements on Twitter in the weeks running up to his inauguration. He has now appointed seven women to top ministry posts where two previous Presidents (Francisco Flores, 1999-2004, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, 2014-2019) had each appointed three women to cabinet positions. Those appointed by Bukele are as follows.

Ministry Appointee
Education Karla Hananía de Varela
Foreign Ministry Alexandra Hill Tinoco
Health Ana Orellana Bendek
Tourism Morena Ileana Valdez Vigil
Local Development María Ofelia Navarrate (María Chichilco)
Culture Suecy Callejas Estrada
Housing Irma Michelle Martha Ninette Sol Schweikert

Additionally, Egriselda López has been nominated as El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Karla Hananía de Varela.

Karla Hananía de Varela.

Minister of Education. Consultant to UNICEF 1992 – 2010. A member of the Advisory Committee to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Wants to have internet in all schools.

Alexandra Hill Tinoco.

Minister of Foreign Relations. Formerly Executive Director of the Anti Drugs Foundation of El Salvador (FUNDASALVA). Expert consultant to the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on the Control of the Abuse of Drugs (CICAD). Wants to strengthen relations with the United States and does not want to deal with ‘undemocratic governments’.

Ana Orellana Bendek.

Minister of Health. Doctor of Medicine from the Evangelical University of El Salvador. Member of the Medical Workers’ Union of the Salvadoran Institute of Social Security. She has promised to review the funding of hospitals.

Morena Ileana Valdez Vigil.

Minister of Tourism. Has experience in the promotion of exports, investments, marketing and communications. Wants to promote El Salvador like the Dominican Republic.

María Ofelia Navarrate (María Chichilco).

Minister for Local Development. Teacher of Social Sciences and Mathematics. Member of the guerrilla, 1980 – 1992. FMLN Deputy in the Legislative Assembly, 1997 – 2000. Vice Governor of Chalatenango. Vice Minister of Government in the FUNES administration, 2009 – 2014.

Suecy Callejas Estrada

Minister of Culture. A former ballerina. Formerly Culture Secretary in San Salvador City Hall, during which she was mentioned in a corruption case involving audiovisual productions associated with President Bukele.

Irma Michelle Martha Ninette Sol Schweikert

Minister of Housing. Formerly councillor and mayor of Nueva Cuscatlán. In 2003 involved in a people trafficking prosecution, but not convicted.

Egriselda López.

Salvadoran Ambassador to the United Nations. A career diplomat with experience in international relations and human rights. She has so far laid much emphasis on getting the UN to strengthen the rights of Salvadoran immigrants in other countries.

President Arévalo Acts to Remove Attorney General Consuelo Porras

In the February 2024 additions to The Violence of Development website we included an article describing the award of ‘Corrupt Person of the Year’ to María Consuelo Sánchez, Guatemala’s Attorney General. The award was made by the OCCRP (the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) for 2023. In its most recent of its regular updates on happenings in Guatemala, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) gave more information on the battle of the new Guatemalan President (Bernardo Arévalo) to dismiss the corrupt Attorney General (appointed by the previous administration of President Alejandro Giammattei, himself accused of being “involved in significant corruption” by the USA).

We are grateful to the GHRC for their regular updates on the situation in Guatemala and for its generalised permission for the reproduction of its information.

By the Guatemala Human Rights Commission
By the Guatemala Human Rights Commission
Ghrcusa, May 7, 2024

As the four-month mark of the Bernardo Arévalo administration approaches, the battle between the president and Attorney General Consuelo Porras has intensified. In recent weeks as Porras has remained in office, the criminalization of human rights defenders and others has increased. A prosecutor who was shot at and injured in March and whose mother was killed in the assassination attempt has been arrested; criminal cases against Indigenous environmental leaders have been reactivated; and violence against defenders has increased. The young son of an Indigenous environmental defender was gunned down and killed by assassins in mid-April. On May 6, Arévalo took a bold step and submitted to the Guatemalan Congress a proposal that would allow the law governing the Public Ministry to be changed so that he can remove Porras from office. Porras has asked the Constitutional Court to block the action. More details are given below.


Arévalo Makes a Bid to Remove Attorney General Porras

On May 5, in a televised message, President Bernardo Arévalo announced that he would ask Congress for a reform so that the Attorney General can be removed from her position. He said the proposed law would re-establish parameters already in the Constitution for the removal of the attorney general. He pointed out that she is stalling investigations of corruption, such as the purchase of Sputnik vaccines and the relationship of former government officials with confessed drug traffickers, while prosecuting and jailing those who denounce corruption. He also noted that she led the attack against democracy by attempting to question election results without having the competence to do so. He had already invited Consuelo Porras to resign, and she had refused. Hours before his announcement, Consuelo Porras filed an appeal before the Constitutional Court to try to avoid her removal, alleging that the president was exceeding his authority and that his actions represented a true and imminent threat to the rule of law. On May 6, a crowd of supporters accompanied Arévalo to Congress to present the bill.

Arévalo’s First Hundred Days Focus on Corruption but Fall Short of Hopes

On April 23, President Bernardo Arévalo held a ceremony to mark his first hundred days in office. Speaking to the crowd gathered in Guatemala City, he outlined seven areas that his administration has addressed, including security, education, wildfire response, health care, and transparency. He announced he was lowering the president’s salary by 25 percent and signed the decree before the crowd. Prior to this, as Jeff Abbott points out in The Progressive, the Guatemalan president was one of the highest paid heads of state in the hemisphere, earning nearly $20,000 dollars per month prior to the decrease by Arévalo.

In February, Arévalo’s administration launched the National Commission Against Corruption (CNC), which worked with ministries to expose acts of corruption linked to former president Alejandro Giammattei’s cabinet. The CNC reviewed over 1,400 public works contracts, most of which were left incomplete by the previous administration. During Arévalo’s initial hundred days in office, the CNC has filed 17 allegations of government corruption with the Guatemala Attorney General’s office.

In the first 59 days of Arévalo’s presidency, Guatemalan authorities reportedly seized nearly 5 tons of cocaine, doubling the amount confiscated in the entirety of 2023.

María del Carmen Aceña, associate researcher at the National Economic Research Centre (CIEN) and former Minister of Education, stated that the first hundred days have been complicated and this is due, in her opinion, to the fact that Guatemalans forget that in the first days of government, progress is slow. A chief complaint is that Arévalo has been unable to oust Attorney General Consuelo Porras, recognized as corrupt by the European Union, the United States, and now Switzerland, as well.

On April 10th, Switzerland announced sanctions against Porras, as well as against the Secretary General of the Public Ministry, Ángel Pineda; head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity Rafael Curruchiche Cucul; prosecutor Leonor Eugenia Morales Lazo de Sánchez; and Judge Fredy Orellana.

On the occasion of President Arévalo’s first one hundred days in office, the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán held a press conference to address the primary concerns affecting the Maya, Garífuna, and Xinka communities. Edin Zapata Tzul, the president of the 48 Cantones, described the presidential period as “one hundred days of a spring that has yet to bloom.”

The 48 Cantones emphasized the rising prices of basic necessities such as food and gasoline, increases which disproportionately affect Indigenous groups. Additionally, the 48 Cantones called for the immediate dismissal of prosecutor Consuelo Porras and allied judges due to concerns regarding impunity and corruption. They also stressed the importance of inclusion in the decisions of the government. “It is important that the Maya, Xinka and Garífuna peoples be included in the decisions of the current government for the betterment of our peoples, in economic, agricultural, natural resources, energy and mining, education, health, infrastructure and the priorities of the nation’s budget,” said Zapata Tzul.

Ricardo Martinelli, ex-President of Panama, sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption

Summary by Martin Mowforth

Key words: Ricardo Martinelli; Panama; money laundering; ‘New Business’ case; Odebrecht corruption case.


In February this year (2024), Ricardo Martinelli, ex-President of Panama from 2009 to 2014, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for corruption. The Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the sentence passed on Martinelli last July after his last legal appeal had been rejected.

This makes Martinelli, 71 years old, the first ex-President to be sentenced for corruption in the democratic history of Panama. This prevents him from running as a presidential candidate in the elections next May. He had already declared his candidacy for his newly created party, RM or Realizando Metas.

Martinelli (pictured) was charged with money laundering in a case known as ‘New Business’ which involved the purchase of public funds. New Business was the name of a front company which collected approximately $43 million from firms that received lucrative government contracts. Those funds were then used to buy a media conglomerate with control of several national papers.

The ex-President has also been ordered to pay more than $19 million in fines. He also faces charges of money laundering and bribery associated with the case of the Brazilian Odebrecht construction company. Additionally, he is under investigation in Spain in a case of corruption by bribery involving a Spanish Construction company and in a case of spying in Mallorca.

Two of Martinelli’s sons previously served prison sentences in the United States for their involvement in money laundering schemes, and they also face trial in Panama. Martinelli and his sons are banned from entering the United States. The US has also barred former President Juan Carlos Varela from entering the country due to his role in “significant corruption” while in office.


November protests and blockades bring Panama to a standstill

By Martin Mowforth

22 November 2023

During late October this year, we began to receive reports of major troubles in Panamá. The troubles have largely taken the form of road blockages where massive protests have brought much of the country to a standstill. The protests are against the government’s approval of a contract with a Canadian mining firm (First Quantum Minerals, or FQM) for the operation of Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine.

Photo credit: Americas Quarterly

Headlines in a range of newspapers include: ‘Panamá’s Road to Ruin’; ‘Panamá explodes with protests against Canadian copper mine’; ‘Blockages and protests in Panamá due to Canadian mine contract’; and ‘Protests against mining concession given to company intensify in Panamá’. Four deaths have been reported at the demonstrations, two of them shot by a Panamanian American who in early November raged against the protests according to the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

The contract gives the company a huge land concession (almost the size of the city of Miami), is a threat to the environment, takes away sovereignty from the country and grants the company the right to prevent flights over the mine up to a height of 3,000 meters. According to a report in the Tico Times (an online Costa Rican English language weekly newspaper) which cites the Panamanian National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), the road blockages over 25 days (to the 14th November) have caused losses of 1.7 billion dollars.

Groups taking part in the protests include Indigenous peoples, trade unionists, schoolteachers, students, and environmentalists. Dozens of people have been arrested and the police have been heavy-handed in their response to the road blockages using tear gas in their attempts to dislodge the protesters who in some cases have blocked roads with burning tyres and piles of rubbish.

The Panamerican Highway has suffered numerous blockages which have affected not only the distribution of goods within Panamá itself but have also begun to affect distribution and supply in other parts of the Central American region.

According to the organisation Eko, FQM plans to build ports and power plants to service the expansion of the mine and the government is keen to benefit from the promised royalties which amount to a minimum of $375 million a year under the contract. This is a major improvement on the $35 million which it received from the first contract signed in 2019.

In an effort to appease the protesters, President Laurentino Cortizo, who has been criticised for inaction on the issue, announced that his government would use the funds to lift pensions for retirees to a minimum of $350 dollars per month, a 75 per cent increase over the current minimum. Many Panamanians saw his announcement as an attempt to buy off retirees whilst ignoring the main demands of the protest.

But Eko calls the deal “a classic tale of modern-day colonialism: Panamá’s government receives a tiny fraction of FQM’s massive profits while the mine will continue damaging communities, forests and water supplies.” And the Construction Workers Union, Suntracs, claimed that “this is the handing over of our land and our country to a multinational company,” which many Panamanians are reluctant to agree to having wrested control of the Panamá Canal away from the United States at the turn of the century.

Another related issue perceived by some environmentalists is the large-scale mining industry’s propensity to contaminate large swathes of the country surrounding the mine as well as causing devastation in, under and on the area of the mine itself.

At the time of uploading this batch of articles to The Violence of Development website (November 2023), the protests are ongoing and the issue of the mining concession contract is in the hands of the Supreme Court.


  • People’s Dispatch, 30 September 2023, ‘Protests against mining concession given to company intensify in Panamá’.
  • Eko Petition, 11 October 2023, ‘First Quantum Minerals: No expansion or extension of the Cobre Panamá mine’.
  • AFP, 23 October 2023, ‘Bloqueos y protestas en Panamá por contrato con mina canadiense’,
  • AFP, 30 October 2023, ‘Gobierno panameño insiste en consulta popular sobre mina pese a rechazo de Tribunal Electoral’, Redacción Universidad.
  • Michael Fox, 30 October 2023, ‘Panamá explodes with protests against Canadian copper mine’, The Real News.


Public hospitals and public health in Central America

The following indicators of public health provision in the seven Central American countries is taken from Nicanotes which is an online weekly newssheet about Nicaragua produced by the Alliance For Global Justice (AFGJ). The particular edition of Nicanotes (dated 11 October 2023) from which the map and information were taken was headed ‘NicaNotes: Spectacular Advances in Health in 2023!’ and was researched and written by Nan McCurdy and Katherine Hoyt. The full article can be read at:

Nicaragua has by far the most public hospitals in Central America, especially if compared by population. Nicaragua, with a population of 6.61 million, has one public hospital for every 85,844 people. However, Guatemala, with a population of 18.71 million, has one public hospital for every 418,604 people; Honduras has one public hospital for every 331,935; El Salvador one for every 204,516 people; Panama one for every 274,375 people; and Costa Rica one for every 180,344.

(Sources: Vistazo Alternativo and


Belize – Guatemala border disputes

On 20th May, the online newspaper ‘Breaking Belize News’ carried an item by Aaron Humes entitled ‘European Union provides further support for activity in the Belize-Guatemala border area’. We are grateful to Aaron Humes and Breaking Belize News for their report which is summarised below.

A new European Union funded project aims to support the political and diplomatic processes in the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala – see ENCA 73 (June 2018)[i]. The Organisation of American States (OAS) is charged with implementing the conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy activities that are funded as part of this project.

The project funding covers activities ahead of the International Court of Justice ruling on the border dispute case between the two countries. Ambassador Marianne Van Steen (EU Ambassador in Belize) said, “we recognise that peace and security are essential for sustainable development and regional stability. This is why we remain committed to continuing our support for the implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala.”

The EU says it upholds a peaceful resolution of the Belize-Guatemala Territorial Differendum to help the economies, trade and cooperation in both countries and as a way to enhance security and development in the region.

[i]   Mowforth, M.,June 2018, ‘Guatemalans vote ‘YES’ for ICJ Resolution of Belize Dispute’, ENCA 73, p.7, London.