Celebrate the Facts!
After some brief victories, the opioid epidemic has roared back like a lion. Overdose deaths, more than 400,000 since 1999, briefly dropped due to better control of prescription medication. Users diverted their purchases to illegal drugs, often loaded with fentanyl to enhance potency, and mortuaries and graveyards are crowded with the results. The United States has countered with old school interdiction efforts, but these methods have never worked, and a new strategy is required to manage this scourge.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever, formally approved for treating severe pain, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is usually delivered via transdermal patches or lozenges. Most recent cases of fentanyl overdose and death in the United States are linked to fentanyl sold through illegal drug markets and used to ‘spike up’ heroin leading to a potent mix; potent enough to stop hearts and lungs and fill mortuaries and graveyards with overdose victims.
In 2018, drug overdose deaths declined for the first time since 1990. The decline was almost entirely due to a reduction in deaths from prescription opioid painkillers as the management of prescriptions was the simplest and fastest way to impact the problem. High-profile prosecutions of drug companies raised alarms as to potential liabilities and the sales and distribution network throttled back on these drugs. Although no empirical data exists it is likely addicts diverted to illegal drug distributors, leading to the spike in overdose deaths.
China has a vast pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing capacity, making compounds sold globally for medical and industrial processes. International pressure compelled China to ban the production and sale of fentanyl and many of its variants in May 2019, resulting in a significant reduction in the country's licit fentanyl trade. Chinese vendors still sell and ship fentanyl, analogs, and the precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, illegally, to customers all over the world, but primarily to the United States and Mexico. Due to the potency, thousands of doses can be shipped in small packages using ‘stealth’ packaging making interception incredibly difficult.
The impact of opioids is immense as they cost the United States economy about $630 billion from 2015 to 2018. Mortality costs accounted for 40% of the assessed financial effect, mainly because of lost lifetime earnings for those who died prematurely due to drug overdoses involving opioids. Other costs:
America’s management of drugs has followed a standard pattern of criminalizing drug use and distribution combined with interdiction of shipments, with prison sentences. Cloaked with terms such as ‘war on drugs’ these efforts have been spectacular failures. Histories of criminalization and interdiction of substances in the United States have been failures, including:
Interdiction with opioids becomes even more problematic due to the small size of shipments – rather than cramming a ship with marijuana this is transported to distributors via common carrier concealed in small airtight packages. Interdiction may have a role in the management of the problem but relying on such measures as a primary method ensures the problem will never be solved.
Treatment for opioid use disorders includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which includes a variety of opioid surrogates such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, used to reduce cravings and allow the patient to resume some sort of normal life. These treatments are typically used to manage patients identified by the criminal justice system and are administered at community-based clinics. These are combined with 12-step programs, counseling, and therapy to provide some support for addiction management.
Drug addiction treatment has been shown to have remarkable cost-benefit advantages. Treatment is also much less expensive than incarcerating addicted persons. The average cost for one year of methadone maintenance treatment is about $4,700 per patient, whereas imprisonment costs about $24,000 per person. The ideal patient contributes then to society through some form of work rather than being a burden although there are a variety of outcomes. Every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to healthcare are included, total savings can reach a ratio of 12 to 1.
Authoritative empirical data on the effectiveness of various treatment regimes for his disorder is difficult to find. The lack of data allows continued churn in methodologies but it is clear there is no ‘magic bullet’ for treatment, rather a variety of ways of management, similar in concept to managing other chronic health problems such as diabetes or heart disease.
The existing data on opioid addiction management offers some conclusions:
This investigation provokes several observations:
Basic information about fentanyl was provided by https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html. The United States Congress report can be found at https://crsreports.congress.gov/search/#/0?termsToSearch=opioid&orderBy=Date. Information about federal funding was discovered at https://www.budget.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SBC%20Trump%20Budget%20Opioid%20Epidemic%20Fact%20Sheet%202-25-20%20FINAL.pdf and https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fy-2021-budget-in-brief.pdf. Data on positive developments in the opioid epidemic was obtained at https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html. Opioid treatment economic arguments were provided by https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-can-family-friends-make-difference-in-life-someone.
1/24/2021 1 Comment
Large-scale international migration has been an external escape valve for Guatemala, a response to the country’s autocratic and corrupt governments. Unbelievable rates of poverty, hunger, and discrimination against indigenous populations have led to outmigration into the United States. Nativist United States movements have struck back against such but the United States is its own worst enemy and has caused its crisis. The solutions to these problems are clear but whether the United States government has the ability and courage to enact them remains in doubt.
Guatemalans are the sixth-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States; about 2% of the United States Hispanic population in 2017. The Guatemalan foreign-born population living in the United States grew by 171%, from about 320k in 2000 to 860k in 2017. Poverty demographics of Guatemalans in the United States trail that of the Hispanic population, which in turn trail that of white United States citizens.
Guatemala has some fundamentals that could make for better outcomes:
On its face, the Guatemalan income tax appears progressive but it is two-tiered, with 5% and 7% tax rates representing a flat tax, regressive by nature and functioning to increase the disparity of wealth. Low central government revenues, 11% of GDP on average in recent years, limit the quality and number of public services including welfare programs, education, health care, transportation, and access to clean water.
The results are a tragedy:
Long a client state of the United Fruit Company and the United States government, the Guatemalan government underwent a renaissance period from 1944 to 1954 when progressive governments attempted land reform and other broadminded actions to improve the standard of living for average citizens. In 1954 a CIA-led coup installed a government aligned with the interests of the United States – fierce anti-communism at any price combined with protection of United States business interests. Carlos Castillo Armas, a Guatemalan military officer and a member of the right-wing National Liberation Movement (MLN) party, was installed as President. Remnants of the progressives advanced a rebellion movement and picked away at the Guatemalan military resulting in a decades-long civil war.
During the 1980s the Guatemalan government acted as a patron state of the United States and in concert with the Reagan Administration’s support of an autocratic regime in El Salvador and against the Sandanista revolution in Nicaragua. Internally the Guatemalan government policy pursued a brutal and genocidal military pogrom in the Guatemalan highlands which heavily weakened the revolutionaries. By 1984, the revolutionaries had been pushed back to the hills and although the civil war would carry on until 1996, the fierceness was never the same. International pressure led to peace talks overseen by the UN commencing in 1990 and in 1996 a peace agreement was signed which essentially consisted of proforma democratic reforms.
The 1996 peace agreements, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, and Guatemala has pursued economic stabilization through free trade agreements. The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) entered into force in July 2006, encouraged investment and diversification of exports. While agreements such as CAFTA-DR helped improve the investment climate, concerns over security, the lack of skilled workers, and poor infrastructure continue to limit foreign ventures.
Guatemala’s political institutions have been known for being feeble, patchy, and anti-democratic. Political parties are wobbly and transitory. Politicians from various levels of government rely on quid pro quo relationships with both licit and illicit actors to remain in political power and gain the profits that shadow that control. Corruption scandals sparked extraordinary public protests in 2015 and led to the arrest and jailing of the President, Vice-President, and other high-profile officials. In 2016, the first public officials tied to these crimes, a national criminal court judge and former cabinet minister, were convicted and sentenced. The national Guatemala legislature passed reform legislation 2016 including the Law on Elections and Political Parties, the Organic Law of Congress and Law on Civil Service, and the Migrant Code.
Alejandro Giammattei, a right-wing favorite of then-President Donald Trump’s administration, was elected as Guatemalan President in 2019 with only about 40% of the electorate voting. Giammattei, nominally a physician, became the head of Guatemala’s prison system in 2006, and in 2010 was accused of being involved in an assassination within the prison while he was the acting director. Charges were dismissed in 2012 due to a lack of evidence. His platform included the creation of jobs to mitigate out-migration of impoverished populations but his major accomplishment as President was engaging in an Asylum Cooperation Agreement with the United States, in which Guatemala became a ‘safe third country’ for asylum seekers detained at the United States border. This agreement was the mechanism for the Trump Administration to off-load unwanted Central American migrants who were often misled about their destination when they boarded the aircraft bound for Guatemala.
Guatemala is a case study for what goes wrong when the United States interferes with sovereign countries and their evolution to democratic self-governance. A multi-pronged group of policies intended to foster democratic process, progressive tax policies, labor protections, and public health would encourage the generational stability required to bring Guatemala into relative prosperity. Such endeavors are much more complicated than building a border wall, however, and it is unclear the United States government has either the patience or the intellectual ability to comprehend these requirements.
An introduction to the profile of the country was provided by https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/Guatemala. Information on the economy of Guatemala can be obtained at https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/guatemala/#economy. Information on tax rates can be discovered at https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2011/12/guatemala-income-tax.html. Information on the political environment can be discovered at https://www.wola.org/analysis/corruption-in-the-guatemalan-political-system-and-the-2019-elections//. Additional political information can be discovered at https://www.ndi.org/latin-america-and-caribbean/guatemala. A discussion of the 2019 election can be found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/guatemala-awaits-presidential-election-results/2019/08/11/f8d70034-bc3a-11e9-a8b0-7ed8a0d5dc5d_story.html. The discussion of the third country agreement was provided by https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/the-us-is-putting-asylum-seekers-on-planes-to-guatemala--often-without-telling-them-where-theyre-going/2020/01/13/0f89a93a-3576-11ea-a1ff-c48c1d59a4a1_story.html.
Beer, the perennial alcohol favorite choice of Americans, has been changing as overseas firms have taken over American-born brews such as Coors, Miller, and Budweiser. The erosion of the market share of these behemoths by craft beers has been heartening but is threatened by COVID. The pandemic’s societal tsunami will alter the beer business by strengthening iconic brands as at-home consumers are tending to experiment less and economize more.
Despite sentiments to the contrary beer is and has been the alcohol of choice by American consumers. United States citizens 21 years and older consumed about 26 gallons of beer per person in 2019. Beer sold in cans accounted for 60% of all beer sold, glass bottles 30%, and draft beer 10%.
There were about 6,400 breweries in the United States in 2019, an increase of about 436 from 2018, and about 25% of these breweries were classified as brewpubs that only brew beer for direct-to-consumer sale on brewery premises. More than 95 percent of all breweries made fewer than 15,000 barrels (465,000 gallons) per year and only about 3 percent of the total volume of craft beer sold.
United States beer volume sales were down 2% in 2019, whereas craft brewer sales continued to grow at a rate of 4% by volume, reaching about 14% of the U.S. beer market by volume. Retail dollar sales of craft beers increased 6%, up to about $29 billion, and were more than 25% of the $116 billion United States beer market, meaning the craft beers are more expensive per unit.
The craft beer business has bloomed and provided a great deal of variety and uniqueness in a product selection formerly dominated by bland industrial lagers made from adjuncts. Classic beer was brewed by German national covenant with barley, hops, and water only but American mega-brewers used adjuncts -cheaper corn or other grains – much to the detriment of flavor. The rise of craft brewing provided American consumers with incredible variety and often superior quality, albeit at higher costs.
The effects of COVID on beer consumption have been substantial. The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) Beer Purchasers’ Index (BPI) is an informal monthly statistical release giving distributors an indicator of industry beer purchasing activity. The BPI is the primary forward-looking indicator for beer distributors to anticipate demand.
Interesting conclusions can be drawn from this information:
The impact of COVID on the beer industry has been marked with on-premises sales diving due to closedowns. Aside from traditional bars, this has affected brewpubs to the extreme and will put the survival of many of these in jeopardy.
Other changes include:
The classic definition of a brand is a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization. The industrial brewers spend over $1 billion each year in the United States to protect and extend market share.
The 10 most popular beer brands in the United States in 2019 were manufactured by two industrial brewers:
Regardless of the fragmented nature of the market, it is dominated by these two international brewing organizations. They can flex their muscles through traditional monopolistic practices including predatory pricing and distribution. Whether such dominance is a good or bad thing it seems depends on one’s tastes for beer.
The story of Pabst Blue Ribbon and other blue-collar brands such as Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and Colt 45 followed a dissimilar amalgamation to foreign entities. These brewers, along with other iconic brews such as Old Style, were crushed by better capitalized mega-brewers Anheuser Busch and Miller. Pabst closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996 after 152 years.
Pabst is now owned by a holding company comprised of a Russian brewer in conjunction with a venture capital fund. Pabst Blue Ribbon is now available in Australia, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, and China. This organization creates zombie brands through buying the brand and logo, then by contracting the brewing to Molson Coors Beverage Company.
The Pabst umbrella now owns brands formerly brewed by these entities:
About half of the beer produced under Pabst's ownership is the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand, with the other half divided among the other owned brands, occupying a niche market that might be defined as urban grunge chic.
Pabst Blue Ribbon’s resurgence was due to its popularity with urban hipsters who appreciated the dollar-a-can promotion in certain bars and liked the beer's dissident understated image making it essentially a social protest brand. These were about freedom and rejecting middle-class mores, and Pabst Blue Ribbon was a symbol of this protest.
Pabst Blue Ribbon is not a product that relies on its merits as a beer. The authoritative beer rating resource is ratebeer.com which is a crowd-rating site for beers. Pabst Blue Ribbon has a cumulative rating of 2.06 out of five with 3,391 ratings at the time of this investigation.
By 2017 Pabst Blue Ribbon had become the 16th most popular beer, albeit in a fragmented market, as it had 2.5 million barrels sold, but only a 1.2% market share. Pabst Blue Ribbon and its sister brands are brewed under contract by the Molson Coors Beverage Company, a relationship that has become litigious as the Pabst brand family sales have grown, resulting in a recent court case intended by Molson Coors to end the relationship, settled at the 11th hour by an ‘amicable’ agreement.
The Pabst organization agreed to purchase Molson Coors Beverage Company’s Irwindale, California brewery and so will be back in the own-and-operate business model. Owning and not contracting offers some disadvantages including tying up capital, extended distribution requirements, and the inability to ramp up or down easily to adjust to demand. Inevitably this will lead to higher prices.
Statistical information on beer consumption can be found at https://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics-and-data/national-beer-stats/. The information about anticipated beer demand was obtained at https://www.nbwa.org/resources/beer-purchasers-index. The ABInBev brand line was provided by https://www.ab-inbev.com/. Information on the Pabst marketing strategy was obtained at https://archive.is/20130118070908/http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601094&refer=book&sid=a6ZkYz6vWDD0. Documentation on the end of Pabst in Milwaukee was provided by https://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/06/us/brewery-s-exit-leaves-a-bitter-taste.html. More marketing of Pabst information was obtained at https://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/22/magazine/the-marketing-of-no-marketing.html?pagewanted=all.
Recent riots at the United States Capitol Building were only the most recent ellipse in the Revolution – discussed in an earlier investigation – and the Revolution will continue. With the United States Justice Department now politicized and judged unreliable in its service of the people’s interests, progressive groups are using civil litigation to stifle the rise of White Supremacism and associated conspiracy theorists to great success. This the best available weapon to stomp out the brushfires of extremists who use the Internet to monetize hate.
The conspiracy theory industrial complex, led by the most prominent Internet influencer and conspiracy theorist Donald Trump, spreads implausible ideologies developed by duct-taping ‘alternative facts’ with conjecture. The Internet has provided the onramp for these personalities, who previously were unable to affect significant numbers of people, to spread disinformation and monetize their endeavors.
In a crowded arena, the most outlandish get the most attention, leading to an environment that rewards increasingly bizarre comportment, often crossing legal limits exposing these people to legal liability.
The White Supremacist movement is composed of loosely aligned fringe minority micro-groups engaged in fundamentally anti-democratic methods fomenting, and sometimes engaging, in violent acts. Historical litigation against the Ku Klux Klan and associated individuals provided a model of suppressing these entities in the absence of reasonable federal intervention, and such actions have become increasingly popular to counteract the asymmetric warfare of conspiracy theory and white supremacy.
The best example of an Internet agitator is Alex Jones. Jones runs a website called Infowars and publishes YouTube rants. Jones, a high-school educated 46-year-old man, monetizes his work by selling dietary enhancements tailored to the unique needs of his listeners including Infowars Life Super Male Vitality and Infowars Life Liver Shield.
To draw attention, Jones proposed the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, where a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 first-graders, six educators, and himself after having killed his mother, was a hoax. He has also claimed the 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the 2013 Washington Navy Yard mass murder were ‘false flag’ operations by our government or globalist forces planning to take over the world, among other insane conspiracy theories.
In March 2018, the families of eight victims of the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, plus an FBI agent who investigated the massacre, sued Jones, Infowars, and others for defamation. The parents and the FBI agent were subject to harassment and death threats following the massacre, allegedly as a result of Jones’s politicization of the matter.
Last year a Texas judge ordered Jones to pay $100,000 in legal fees and refused to dismiss that lawsuit. In related activities, a jury in Wisconsin awarded $450,000 to one of the parents in his lawsuit against conspiracy theorist writers, not including Jones, who claimed the massacre never happened.
Platforms that have sponsored Infowars’ content have backed away, including Google Play Store, LinkedIn, YouTube, Apple App Store, Twitter, and various Internet hosting services. It is difficult to argue the potential liability of civil litigation did not play a role in these decisions.
Another example of how White Supremacists have used Internet platforms to monetize hate is the 'We Build the Wall' criminal fraud case filed in the Southern District of New York Federal Court. The Southern District of New York has long been renowned as being fiercely independent and appears to have remained so despite efforts by the Trump Administration to hollow it out.
'We Build the Wall' was a crowd-funded movement to privately fund the construction of a border wall along the United States and Mexico border that harvested about $25 million in private contributions. GoFundMe, the platform used to crowdsource the funds, was concerned about the ultimate destination of the funds and decided to back away from the effort, removing access to the money by the founders.
Steve Bannon, renowned racist dog-whistler, Donald Trump cohort, and Breitbart News pot-stirrer, quickly swooped in and assisted the founders of the organization in creating a not-for-profit organization ostensibly to manage the funds.
If the criminal filings were correct, they managed a lot of those funds right into their pockets. Court filings allege Bannon illegally harvested $1 million from the nonprofit organization under his control. Brian Kolfage, the We Build the Wall founder, was accused of pocketing more than $350,000 from unsuspecting donors. Bannon and his co-defendants, Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The status of this criminal case, on the docket for May 2021, rests in the pardon pen of Donald Trump, who will almost certainly reward Bannon and his colleagues for their fealty to his favorite cause with a pardon.
In a rational political administration, hate crimes would be penalized by criminal prosecution, but the recent control of the United States Justice Department by an authoritarian President has modulated these prosecutions, further emboldening outrageous behavior. The best example of the flaccid response to hate crimes was the Charlottesville White Supremacist’s Unite the Right on August 11 and 12, 2017, attended by thousands of white supremacists. The rally included a riot and the murder of a young woman but resulted in relatively few federal criminal charges.
A formative group for progressive litigation against white supremacists is Integrity First for America (IFA), a progressive organization founded in the wake of the Charlottesville carnage. They represent themselves as being a nonpartisan group advocating against anti-democratic and racist groups.
IFA filed a case called Sines vs. Kessler in Federal Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September of 2019, against the Ku Klux Klan, Richard Spencer (a prominent United States Neo-Nazi who planned the Unite the Right rally), the Fraternal Order of AltKnights (also known as the Proud Boys), and several other defendants, asking for damages as a result of their role in fomenting and performing violent acts at the Unite the Right rally.
The defendants' motion to dismiss was denied and the case is proceeding. On November 30, 2020, the court found one of the defendants, neo-Nazi leader Elliott Kline guilty of civil contempt, jailed him, and ordered him to pay thousands in monetary sanctions.
While the outcome is unknown, the costs of defense of a federal case are immense, and the example will likely moderate the actions of white supremacists.
The recent riots at the United States Capitol Building further emphasize the politicization of the United States Justice Department and perhaps the entire Federal policing apparatus. The violence, telegraphed by Donald Trump, coordinated by participants on Internet platforms such as Parler, proceeded unencumbered by federal security. It is too early to comment on whether mobilization of the National Guard was inhibited by federal action or inaction.
A recent lawsuit in which the NAACP sued Donald Trump as an individual and the Republican National Committee (RNC). The complaint alleges the campaign and RNC violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act’s prohibition against ‘preventing by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from legally giving his support or advocacy, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President’ in its actions to limit votes in majority African American areas.
While Donald Trump is certainly not averse to litigation, a civil judgment against him of sufficient magnitude would be enforceable against his assets and would get his attention, and serve as a warning of potential liability to those who might engage in similar behavior.
Trump enabler and attorney Sidney Powell, a 65-year-old Texas attorney, claimed a polling support company called Dominion Voting Systems was established with communist money in Venezuela and assisted in rigging the election in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Powell’s main claim to fame was representing executives in the Enron scandal. Later in her life, she devolved into conspiracy theory – insinuating a conspiracy involving the Clinton Foundation, George Soros, and the ‘deep state’ along with Dominion were involved in illegally throwing the election. Powell monetized her efforts by establishing Defending the Republic and the Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, organizations to collect donations to support her election-related litigation.
Dominion has sued Powell in federal court for $1.3 billion alleging her allegations were false and they impugned the value of the company. Her representations were demonstrably false no doubt and the litigation will crush her financially regardless of the outcome, likely to result in a monetary judgment against her, good warning for similar conspiracy theorists.
The civil litigation process is raising the awareness of potential monetary liability to platform service providers and is the main avenue to suppressing conspiracy theory and white supremacy. Twitter’s recent cancellation of Donald Trump alienated him from his 83 million Twitter followers. Donald Trump then moved to the smaller platform Parler, but AWS, the Internet arm of Amazon, informed Parler it was declining service as of early morning January 11, 2020, due to liability concerns. Donald Trump then swiftly moved to Telegram. The fate of that platform is yet to be determined as of this publication date.
Interesting conclusions from this investigation:
Information on Alex Jones can be obtained at https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/alex-jones. Information on the We Build the Wall case was obtained at https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/08/31/trial-date-set-for-steve-bannon-and-we-build-the-wall-leaders-in-sdny-criminal-fraud-case/. Information on federal charges resulting from Charlottesville was provided by https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-arrests-made-connection-violent-charlottesville-rallies-n915851. Information on James Fields was presented at https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-charlottesville-attacker-james-fields-hate-crimes-20190327-story.html. Additional information on Charlottesville can be obtained at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/white-supremacists-plead-guilty-to-rioting-in-charlottesville. The website for Integrity First for America can be found at https://www.integrityfirstforamerica.org/our-work/case/charlottesville-case. The federal court filing against Trump and the RNC can be found at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.dcd.224322/gov.uscourts.dcd.224322.8.0.pdf. Information on the Dominion Systems legal action can be found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/dominion-sues-pro-trump-lawyer-sidney-powell-seeking-more-than-13-billion/2021/01/08/ebe5dbe0-5106-11eb-b96e-0e54447b23a1_story.html.
Nicaragua, once a crossroads of a proxy war, is now square in the cross-hairs of the United States empire. Media accounts of the situation in Nicaragua are highly variant and dependent on the source. Given the history of the United States in Nicaragua, there is cause for skepticism of the corporate-media accounts, and so the rationale for isolating the country is baffling. Regardless, people are suffering, and the costs are real. Such cruelty deserves further investigation.
Evaluation of the economic statistics suggests the economy of Nicaragua is tied to that of the United States in many ways. The sanctions of the Reagan administration resulted in an extreme economic contraction in the late 1980s, but since then the Nicaraguan economy has grown and contracted in cycles correlated to the United States, like other Latin American countries.
Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the world’s leading authority on COVID, on January 3, 2021, reported 6,046 COVID cases in Nicaragua, with 4,225 recovered, and 165 deaths. This rate suggests the Nicaraguan government’s health care system has been extremely efficient in containing the virus. The same is true of other socialist governments around the world. Cuba has provided a good example of public health practice with its progressive health system, and Venezuela, Viet Nam, and the Indian state of Kerala have also had success restraining the spread of the virus.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and is bigger in area than the state of New York. Honduras borders Nicaragua on the North and Costa Rica to the south, while the Caribbean is on the East with the Pacific on the West. Nicaragua is not particularly dense in population with about 6.2 million citizens, is dominantly Christian, with mixed Indian-European racial profiles, and poor, though with great disparities in wealth.
Over the last century, Nicaragua has largely been dominated by the United States. The biggest name in governance in Nicaragua is Somoza. Anastasio Somoza García came up through the U.S-trained National Guard and overthrew a democratically elected president, Juan Sacasa, in 1937. Somoza helped the United States to establish a military base in Nicaragua during World War II and facilitated the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to champion a coup to overthrow a democratically-elected Guatemalan president, Jacobo Árbenz.
Somoza was assassinated in 1956 by a young poet but his son Luis assumed power instantly. Another son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, headed the National Guard, the internal military force and backbone of the government, and imprisoned political rivals. The CIA-backed Cuban exiles left from Nicaragua on the way to their failed Bay of Pigs invasion. After the 1972 Managua earthquake, which killed 10,000 people, the Somozas pilfered much of the international aid sent to Nicaragua. By the mid-1970s, Somoza stood out as one of the worst human rights perpetrators in the Western Hemisphere.
The Nicaraguan Revolution was an evolutionary movement that overthrew the Somoza autocracy and distanced Nicaragua from its status as an economic enclave of the United States. It started in the early 1960s with the Sandinista National Liberation Front (known as the FSLN) but accelerated with the overthrow of Somoza and his National Guard in 1979 when the FSLN routed the autocracy and exiled Somoza. The Sandinistas ruled from 1979 to 1990, when they were turned out of power in an election.
Ronald Reagan, the most dogmatic of the United States Cold Warriors, determined the Sandanista Revolution was a Cuban-sponsored Soviet-style Marxist-Leninist movement and took substantial steps to contain it. Between 1980 and 1990 the United States provided funding and substantial diplomatic and military support to former National Guard counterrevolutionary groups known as Contras. At times this terrorist group grew to an army of 12,000, with a mission of interrupting all aspects of the governance of Nicaragua including assassination, rape, plundering the goods of peasants, and general mayhem. The United States also funded opposition political groups, through the CIA, and levied economic sanctions strangling Nicaraguan economic growth.
Reagan’s obsession with the Contras ultimately became a stain on his legacy, as his henchmen, likely with his support, engaged in illegal activities in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair otherwise known as Arms for Hostages. The United States at large, unconcerned with the human rights violations of its agencies, chooses to unremember this era.
The Sandinista Revolution succeeded in bettering the worth of life for Nicaraguans, the FSLN was in power only a little more than a decade, not enough time to truly transform society. Defending itself against the CIA-backed Contra aggression required substantial spending on the military which could have been spent on social programs. The Sandanistas assumed power again in 2006 under the leadership of Daniel Ortega.
With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, outdated actions against progressive governments commenced again, not unlike the activities in the Reagan Administration. Some media accounts indicated there was social repression of protesters in Nicaragua and perhaps even a massacre of Sandanista opponents.
The ‘Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018,’ passed with bipartisan ratification, was intended to throttle the Nicaraguan economy, and so compel the Nicaraguan government to conduct ‘free and fair elections’ and improve human rights conduct. Donald Trump’s surrogates drafted Executive Order 13851 published November 27, 2018, which further sanctioned Nicaragua. As a result, the contraction of the Nicaraguan economy commenced in 2019, with the attendant public health and welfare consequences.
The paradox of attempting to collapse the economy of a neighboring country, encouraging emigration for economic welfare, while being staunchly opposed to such immigration appears lost on the Trump Administration.
Nicaragua’s assets include substantial natural resources, an undeveloped tourism industry, a well-developed agricultural sector, a sophisticated private sector committed to a free economy, access to shipping and transportation, and a young, low-cost labor force. The United States is Nicaragua’s largest trading partner with about one-quarter of Nicaragua’s imports and two-thirds of Nicaragua’s exports.
For now, the story is determined by the media source. Traditional corporate media routinely publish diatribes against the Ortega regime, indicating it is engaged in repression and human rights violations. Socialist publications indicate the state of Nicaragua is determined by economic sanctions and otherwise, matters are well-administered.
The truth is somewhere in between these polarized accounts. Daniel Ortega, the head of the Nicaraguan government, has a long history with the United States and is not a big fan. Like Donald Trump, he is 74-years-old and is a dinosaur with a limited future.
Basic information about Nicaragua can be found at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/nu.html. Documentation of the Contras was provided by https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/n-contrasus.php. United States economic sanctions against Nicaragua information was obtained at https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/nicaragua_eo.pdf. The information related to the ‘Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018’ can be discovered at https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/nica_2018.pdf. Information on trade in Nicaragua was obtained at https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-investment-climate-statements/nicaragua/.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.