German Correspondent Assaulted in Nicaragua by Armed Land-Invaders

Sandra Weiss during a previous visit to Nicaragua. Photo: courtesy / Confidencial

 

She was covering the Chinandega Maracuya (Passion Fruit) Company Project for Nue Zürcher Zeitung of Switzerland.

Her camera, tape recorder, cell phone, notebook and credit card were stolen, and the latter used to buy two thousand dollars in fuel at a Petronic gas station.

 

By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – German journalist Sandra Weiss was detained and assaulted by armed land-invaders on August 10th, when she went to report on the situation at the “Chinandega Maracuya Company (Chimaco)” Project, owned by a Swiss Company and the Coen Group, located near kilometer 125 in Chinandega, Nicaragua.

Weiss is a veteran journalist based in Mexico, and a correspondent for several German and Swiss media outlets. She was covering the land-takeover of the Chimaco Project for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper from Switzerland.

The reporter was only accompanied by a taxi-driver she had hired in Managua. “We entered through a dirt-road and suddenly heard a shot, and four hooded-men, then joined by others with 9mm pistols and a shot-gun shouting at us not to approach and insulting us,” stated Weiss.

The land-grabbers asked her what they were doing in Chimaco and later a woman joined the hold up and she ordered them to get out of the car. The woman, whom the reporter identifies as the leader of the robbers, spoke constantly on the cell phone.

“You could heard that the woman was being given orders; that we should get out of the car, to take all our things out…I had to empty my bag on the floor: the camera, tape recorder, pencil, everything I had, my notes. Then we had to put our hands on our head. Our pockets were searched. During all this time we had guns pointing at us, they yelled at us, interrogated us, and they held us there for a long time,” stated Weiss via Skype to “Esta Semana” (This Week) after leaving Nicaragua.

“Immediately I got out of the car and told them: I am a Swiss journalist, I want to know what happened with this land that belongs to Swiss investors, because it has been taken over. Can we speak to your boss?”, said Weiss. The land-invaders ordered the reporter to shut up. She was not given any explanation and along with her taxi-driver was held at gunpoint. They were detained for about an hour.

“The young people that attacked us, insulted us. They were not, let’s say, well educated. The lady yes, she reassured us, and she even said: ‘I can search you, because I am a woman,’ as if she was following a certain protocol,” stated Weiss.

“She made me put my hands on my head, took photos by cell phone, and it seemed to me that she was trained in this sort of thing. Maybe a police officer, I do not know. But the orders always came from the cell phone, from above, from a boss that I don’t know who he was,” added the reporter.

An hour and a half later, the land-takers let Weiss and her driver go. The taxi-driver received all his belongings, but not so the reporter. According to her story, the land-invaders told her that they would not return her things, because she was a “coup-monger”.

Two thousand dollars in fuel at Petronic

“Absolutely nothing was returned to me. They kept everything. They also kept my credit cards,” said Weiss. When the reporter returned to Managua, she cancelled her credit cards, but in the meantime the attackers had already charged two thousand dollars in fuel at Petronic in Chinandega, the gas station chain owned by DNP Petronic, linked to people close to the presidency.

“They filled up a whole fleet of cars, because otherwise it would not be possible to spend two thousand dollars in a few hours,” denounced the journalist. “If they had been normal civilians or even criminals, well, they would not fill up with fuel a whole fleet of cars. They would have done something else with the credit cards. Or to put it another way, here there was clearly complicity with the government. Because, they also used a gas station owned by the State. And, in any normal country, if you charge for two thousand dollars, the seller will request your identification. More so if you buy with a foreign card, as occurred in this case. This clearly implies complicity,” she confirmed.

Weiss denounced the attack at the German Embassy in Managua and before various national and international human rights organizations. But, instead of leaving Nicaragua immediately, she decided to stay and finish her job as a reporter. “I wanted to finish my work, and after consulting several people concluded that I could finish the job being very careful,” she stated. Her article was published on Sunday by NZZ of Switzerland.

For Weiss, what happened to her in Chinandega was an act of intimidation because she was held against her will for about two hours. “I don’t know if I should call it kidnapping, but it was clearly a threat, and act of intimidation, and clearly theft. That is, there was criminal side to it. And to have them use my credit card to fill up a bunch of cars, that tells you how far they have come…,” she said.

Until last March, the Chinandega Maracuya Company (Chimaco) Project was the crown jewel of the government investment promotion agency, PRONicaragua, which had chosen them as “project of the year”; and as such, submitted them to the international contest Global Investment Award, in Dubai, where it won second place.

Now, this project that involved an investment of 19 million dollars to plant 1,200 hectares of maracuya (passion fruit) and employ 1,500 people, is only a mechanism of revenge against the private sector, for supporting the April Rebellion.

The invasion of the farm happened on July 28th when several pick-up trucks filled with armed people arrived at the property and occupied 19.72 hectares that Chimaco rented from the Coen Group to develop the plantation, and another 21.13 hectares—also owned by Coen Group—that were not covered by the rental agreement.


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