Monday, September 30, 2013

WNU Supplement: Nicaragua Solidarity Back in the News

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Special Supplement, September 30, 2013

1. NYC Mayoral Frontrunner Was Nicaragua Activist: NY Times
2. The Right Reacts: Anti-Semitism and the “Marxist Playbook”
3. “Purely and Nobly American”: Times Writers
4. Solidarity Activists Deconstruct the Media Coverage
5. Who Were the Real Anti-Semites?

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. NYC Mayoral Frontrunner Was Nicaragua Activist: NY Times
On Sept. 23 the New York Times ran a 2,000-word front-page article by reporter Javier Hernandez about New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s work in solidarity with Nicaragua during the late 1980s and early 1990s. De Blasio, the Democratic candidate and the current frontrunner in the Nov. 5 election, has spoken a number of times about his activist past, but the Times article was the first lengthy treatment of the subject. It highlighted his work with Quest for Peace--a program of the Quixote Center, a faith-based Maryland social justice organization--and with the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York (NSN). The NSN was formed in 1985 as a coalition of local Nicaragua solidarity groups and sister city projects; its only activity now is the sponsorship of the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

Although the facts in the article were generally accurate, the tone revived the dismissive attitude toward solidarity activism that was common in US mainstream media during the 1980s, when the US government was sponsoring a war of attrition in which rightwing fighters known as “contras” tried to wear down support for Nicaragua’s ruling party, the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Hernandez described the young de Blasio as “scruffy,” characterized the Quixote Center by its offices “filled with homegrown squash and peace posters,” and referred to the NSN as “a ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists.”

Hernandez also recycled, with some qualifications, several of the charges that rightwing commentators made against the solidarity movement. “In the mid-1980s, the Treasury Department investigated whether the center had helped smuggle guns, but the claim was never substantiated, and the group’s leaders said the inquiry was politically motivated,” he wrote of the Quixote Center. The NSN’s primary focus was getting out accurate information on Nicaragua and protesting US government support for the contras, but instead Hernandez emphasized the group’s occasional sponsorship of dances and other activities promoting Friends of the Frente, a group that raised money for the FSLN after its candidates lost the February 1990 elections. De Blasio was “an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries,” Hernandez wrote, and he quoted longtime NSN activist and Update co-editor Jane Guskin as saying: “People who had shallow party sympathies with the FSLN pretty much dropped everything when they lost. Bill wasn’t like that.” (NYT 9/23/13)

*2. The Right Reacts: Anti-Semitism and the “Marxist Playbook”
Republican mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota, who was trailing badly in the opinion polls, quickly picked up on the Cold War-style innuendos in the Times article. “Bill de Blasio needs to explain himself—and explain himself now—to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who escaped Marxist tyranny in Asia, Central America, and from behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe,” Lhota said in a statement released on Sept. 23, the day the article appeared in print. “Mr. de Blasio’s class warfare strategy in New York City is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why.” (Politico 9/24/13)

Rightwing media had a similar reaction. Andrew Kaczynski, a former Republican National Committee intern and now a BuzzFeed editor, visited the NSN archives at New University’s Tamiment Library and photographed what he called “the 19 most revealing documents from Bill de Blasio’s socialist past”—mostly drafts of NSN fundraising letters and fliers against US military interventions. Only one of the documents appeared to have any connection to de Blasio: a fund appeal letter for which he was one of the signers. (BuzzFeed 9/24/13)

“De Blasio ignored Nicaragua anti-Semitism,” according to a Sept. 26 headline in the New York Post, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid empire. The article resurrected claims made by US president Ronald Reagan (1981-89) about what Post reporter Beth DeFalco called “the hatred spewed by the Sandinistas at Jews.” (NY Post 9/26/13) FrontPage, the website of leading neoconservative David Horowitz, himself a former leftist, claimed the Sandinistas attacked a synagogue and made its president sweep the street in “a scene reminiscent of Nazi behavior in occupied Europe.” The piece’s author, Daniel Greenfield, made it clear that he hoped to weaken de Blasio’s support among New York’s large number of Jewish voters, who generally vote for the Democratic ticket. (FrontPage 9/24/13)

*3. “Purely and Nobly American”: Times Writers
Articles in other media undercut the thrust of Hernandez’s Times piece. Two of these come from writers with strong connections to the same newspaper.

Current Times columnist Michael Powell derided Lhota’s claims about de Blasio’s “class warfare strategy.” “As a resident of haute bourgeois Park Slope and the owner of a rapidly appreciating row house, the middle-aged Mr. de Blasio seems unlikely to embrace property expropriation,” Powell wrote. “[A]s to those Sandinistas: This was a complicated revolutionary movement. A remarkably diverse coalition at first, it overthrew a cruel dictator. The leadership included some Communists, as well as social democrats and priests…. Whatever their failings, the Sandinistas did not impose a repressive regime on their impoverished Central American nation. There was no mass jailing of opponents nor mass execution of opposing soldiers.” People who supported revolutionary movements in Central America in the 1980s “may have been more than a touch naïve about the nature of these movements, but they at least realized that these nations had suffered terribly at the hands of United States-supported dictators.” (NYT 9/25/13)

Writing in the British daily The Guardian, former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer suggested that the attacks on de Blasio were part of a national Republican effort to “block the rise of a Democratic candidate in a strongly Democratic-leaning city.” Kinzer was frequently critical of the Sandinistas from 1983 to 1990, when he worked as the Times’ Nicaragua bureau chief, but in the Guardian piece he wrote favorably about de Blasio’s work with Nicaragua. Solidarity activists “saw violent injustice and sought to oppose it,” Kinzer wrote. “No impulse is more purely and nobly American.” Instead, he criticized de Blasio for “reticence” about his past activism. What de Blasio should say now, according to Kinzer, is: “Yes, I worked against the contra war, and I'm proud to have done so because that war was wrong. Did I turn a blind eye to the excesses of the Sandinistas? Maybe, and I regret that. But I saw poor people being killed and made to suffer because of decisions made in Washington, and I used my rights as an American to oppose that policy in a legal way.” (The Guardian 9/25/13)

*4. Solidarity Activists Deconstruct the Media Coverage
Former Nicaragua solidarity activists also responded to Hernandez’s article, although the mainstream media have generally ignored their comments.

Lou Proyect, who headed the New York chapter of the technical aid group TecNica in the 1980s, questioned the idea that de Blasio was ever a serious solidarity activist. Writing on the CounterPunch website, Proyect described de Blasio’s “occasional appearance[s] at NY Nicaragua Solidarity steering committee meetings nearly 25 years ago” as “an investment that could pay future dividends.” Later, de Blasio “was careful to retain his liberal coloration even though he became an ally of Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn pol who once belonged to Meir Kahane’s terrorist Jewish Defense League,” Proyect claimed. (CounterPunch 9/25/13)

Proyect didn’t work closely with de Blasio, and there was less doubt about de Blasio’s sincerity among people who knew him from the solidarity organizations where he was active. Instead, these activists responded to what they considered the media’s misleading representations of the Nicaragua revolution and the US solidarity movement.

Times reporter Hernandez found out about the Treasury Department’s investigation of the Quixote Center from documents in the center’s archives at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Current Quixote director Tom Ricker initially couldn’t find staffers from the 1980s who remembered such an investigation, but eventually he uncovered documentation of at least one case: an inquiry that the US Customs Service, then under the Treasury Department, started in late 1986. But the Quixote Center never took the investigation seriously. “The Customs Service, after barreling in just before Christmas looking for ‘gun shipments to Nicaragua,’ closed its review of our humanitarian shipments in February, finding no fault,” the center wrote in its June 1987 newsletter.

“I do wonder why of all the things that could have been mentioned about the Center ($100 million in humanitarian aid collected and delivered in one year is a pretty good tidbit as well) this was the item chosen” for the Times article, Ricker wrote. (Quixote Center blog, updated 9/26/13) Another question would be why the Customs Service would suspect that a humanitarian organization founded by Jesuits would be smuggling guns to Nicaragua, or why anyone would even think of smuggling guns to the Sandinista government at a time when the Soviet Union was massively supplying firearms and missiles. In fact, the Reagan administration regularly accused the Sandinistas of smuggling their excess weapons to the rebel Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) in El Salvador. “The alleged Sandinista support [for the FMLN], dating back almost a decade, is a principal reason for the US decision to provide generous military support for the Salvadoran government,” the Associated Press wire service noted in November 1989. (AP 11/20/89)

NSN member Guskin challenged Hernandez’s characterization of the NSN’s attitude toward the FSLN. She wrote in a Sept. 23 Facebook post that Hernandez had misquoted her, making de Blasio look like “a party hack for the FSLN. What I actually said--at great length, several times, so I don't think the reporter could have misunderstood--was that the people whose commitments were shallow, and who were focused on supporting the FSLN as a party, dropped out when [the Sandinistas] lost. Those of us who stayed involved--including Bill, I believe--cared more about the PEOPLE, and the grassroots base of the Sandinistas who had been struggling for a better world while our government tried to crush their dreams, than we did about the party.” (Facebook 9/23/13)

*5. Who Were the Real Anti-Semites?
The claims about Sandinista anti-Semitism were conclusively refuted in the 1980s. Rabbi Balfour Brickner of New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue “investigated charges of anti-Semitism by the Sandinista Government during a visit in July 1984,” the Times wrote in March 1986, but found no evidence that Nicaragua’s tiny Jewish community was being persecuted. (NYT 3/19/86) The claims were also “refuted by five separate (Jewish and non-Jewish) fact-finding investigations--as well as by the US State Department, former US ambassador to Nicaragua Anthony Quainton and ex-contra Arturo Cruz,” according to Robert Siegel, who investigated the issue while working with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) in the 1980s and early 1990s; he was quoted in a media alert released by the national Nicaragua Network on Sept. 26 about the New York Post article on “Nicaragua anti-Semitism.”

“This lie originated at a spring 1983 meeting in Coral Gables, Florida, attend[ed] by contra leader Edgar Chamorro and three CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] agents,” Siegel wrote. “The CIA plan called for inviting two Jewish exiles from Nicaragua, Abraham Gorn and Isaac Stavisky, to the White House to denounce the Sandinistas for persecuting them.” The three CIA agents at the meeting “knew full well” that Gorn and Stavisky left Nicaragua because they were allies of the 1937-1979 Somoza family dictatorship, “not because they were victims of anti-Semitism.” According to Siegel, “the CIA agents said to Chamorro: ‘The American media is controlled by Jews, and if we could show that Jews are being persecuted in Nicaragua, it would help a lot.’”

The Nicaragua Network’s media alert advises activists to “[u]se your own knowledge and experience in Nicaragua plus the information [from Siegel] to write a letter to the editor of the Post at and send a copy to the Nicaragua Network at” (Nicaragua Network media alert 9/26/13)

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