Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 24/33
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Throughout, La Prensa identifies with the contras, often quite openly. In an interview with Pedro Joaquín Chamorro on "his experience as a member of the Nicaraguan Resistance" (Dec. 12), he is identified as "the co-director of La Prensa who has chosen to fight from outside the country against the Sandinista dictatorship"; he was at the time a member of the CIA-established "civilian directorate." The interview describes his struggles in support of democracy and his international awards for his valiant struggle against the Sandinista dictatorship. He took the decision "to conduct the civic conflict at a different level, in a different context." In short, there is no difference between La Prensa and the contras, apart from tactical decisions.
Similarly, a November 13 article states that the Sandinistas "have recognized the contras" by agreeing to cease-fire talks. Conservative Party leader Mario Rappacioli, the same day, states that the agreement to negotiate with the contras through Cardinal Obando amounts to "recognition of their legitimacy," and makes the contras a "legitimate part of the Nicaraguan community with all rights," a matter of "enormous significance." The contras now have the right to act politically within Nicaragua, and the opposition can openly identify with them without delegitimization. In short, the internal opposition has been pro-contra all along, but now can be so openly, because of this "recognition of the contras" by the Sandinistas.
On November 30, contra leader Adolfo Calero is asked to comment on these remarks of Rappacioli, in an interview. He strongly supports them, and suggests that "the principal political currents that exist in Nicaragua" (which he identifies as the opposition political parties, the Sandinistas not being a political element but rather a foreign-imposed dictatorship) should work together with the contras for democracy and free elections; this is quite in line with Pedro Joaquín Chamorro's expressed view that after the contra victory, the Sandinistas should have no "representation in the governing junta" in the "democracy" that will be established.137 The contras and the internal opposition have the same objectives, Calero continues, and La Prensa obviously endorses this position, again identifying itself with the contras, in fact, their most extreme terrorist element. On December 3, the Secretary-General of the Social Christian Party makes the same point, emphasizing that the Resistance proposals correspond to those of the fourteen internal opposition groups.
It was hardly accurate for Stephen Kinzer to report subsequently that "For the moment, at least, it seems that virtually any criticism will be tolerated in Nicaragua as long as it does not endorse the one point of view that is still officially taboo: support for the contras."138 Such support had been quite open in La Prensa and in statements of the political opposition. It is scarcely imaginable that any Western democracy would tolerate a newspaper, or an internal opposition, that openly identifies with the proxy army of a foreign power attacking the country from abroad, maintained in the field with constant supply flights violating the national territory.
The war is barely covered in La Prensa, though this was a period of heightened contra attacks against civilians as the U.S. desperately sought to undermine the Esquipulas Accord by escalating the war. Sometimes fighting is reported with a twist that implies that the area is under attack by the Sandinistas, terrifying the population (lead headlines, Nov. 18; "Bombing terrifies peasants," Dec. 19; etc.). There are also allegations of use of cluster and phosphorus bombs against contras in Honduras. I found no mention of the increase in CIA supply flights, except obliquely in the context of the report of Ortega's O.A.S. speech in November.
All of this is not dissimilar to reporting in the United States. In fact, at times La Prensa is more honest. Thus, as we have seen, the New York Times simply falsified Ortega's and Calero's reference to supply flights; La Prensa reported it accurately. On December 17, there is an editorial condemning the United States for sending advanced F-5 jet fighters to Honduras; this was not condemned, in fact not even reported, in the New York Times -- right at the moment when they were denouncing the Sandinistas in article after article for allegedly requesting vintage 1950s jet interceptors to defend their territory from the illegal flights by the CIA and the U.S. military that provide arms and intelligence for contras attacking "soft targets."
La Prensa reported the facts more or less accurately when the Interior Ministry stated that "Radio Católica may broadcast news, but must apply for the legally required permission for the program and register the name of its director, the broadcast time and other information."139 In contrast, Stephen Kinzer reported falsely that "a spokesman for the Interior Ministry had no comment," in an article headlined "Sandinistas Ban Station's Plan for Radio News" which opens by stating that "the Government today forbade Nicaragua's newly reopened Roman Catholic radio station to broadcast news." Two days later, Kinzer reported falsely that "the Government refused to allow the newly reopened Roman Catholic radio station to broadcast news. The Government has given no indication as to whether it intends to open up broadcasting to dissenting views, although this is required by the peace agreement." In a Sunday "week in review" column three days later, Kinzer asserted falsely that "the Interior Ministry forbade the church radio station to broadcast news," again refusing to report the Ministry statement. The false claim was also reiterated by his colleague James LeMoyne.140
Presumably, those who prepare the material for La Prensa understand that the journal must maintain some degree of credibility within Nicaragua if the project of disinformation and disruption is to succeed. Within the United States itself the contraints are much weaker.
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137 AP, Nov. 24, 1986.
138 NYT, Jan. 31, 1988.
139 AP, Oct. 20, 1987; BG and La Prensa, same day.
140 Kinzer, NYT, Oct. 20, 22, 25; LeMoyne, Nov. 5, 1987.