By Courtney J. Parker*
HAVANA TIMES – The following is an interview with Nicaraguan Kriol leader George Henriquez. He discusses his work in community radio and the new “Gag Law”, the Covid-19 situation in his Atlantic region of the country and the Russian vaccine and more.
First of all, I want to ask how coronavirus is affecting your community of Bluefields and the various communities in La Moskitia. As a public health academic, I also have to probe a little further and question whether the FSLN government has done anything to contribute to public health there.
George Henriquez: The virus issue is new, and a very strange disease.
Most diseases have natural medicines, which healers can treat by the symptoms — but instead we’re seeing lots of death.
We are still dealing with the symptoms of COVID-19 with herbs and traditional medicine.
At the national level, Ministry of Public Health campaigns were made in Spanish about masks, gloves, and alcohol. Yet, aside from the language issues, the issue also remains that we [in La Moskitia] lack access to such items which are readily available in some other places.
We have no supermarkets, drugstores, etc…
So, there are barriers to following the government public health campaigns’ advice?
Henriquez: Yes. Lack of access. Too expensive.
We’ve created multi-language campaigns about how to make masks and wash hands to the elbows. We’re taking care of each other.
Locally, we have a permanent radio program each Saturday which gives broadcasts in Kriol to help bridge measures and means of security and public health.
Publicity campaigns on local and national TV channels are more limited.
Journalists don’t cover the Moskito Coast.
For years I’ve been reading about the Russian vaccine plant initiated in Nicaragua. Now there has been some confusion about the need for randomized clinical trials on humans with the new Russian coronavirus vaccine being distributed around South and Central America.
And, the hacktivist group, Anonymous hacked into the FSLN government and appeared to find a much higher disease incidence and deaths rate than were being officially reported.
What is your take on all of this?
Henriquez: We deal with malaria and dengue epidemics in regular times, so people often don’t know which virus it is; symptoms are similar.
There are no clinics; and blood samples are required to be sent to Managua.
And, it takes a whole week to get results
The vaccine campaign has started…
I heard about Anonymous breaking into the Ministry of Health and exposing the amounts of cases hidden from the people.
The Russian vaccine was going to be tested. Rosario [Vice President Ortega] said they were open, but the people were not willing to be guinea pigs…unless they did it secretly.
There was a public campaign for it, but it was met with resistance.
So, it’s been a long, slow burning, journey since 2018 when the civic uprising really started. Of course the situation in Moskitia was already urgent. What do you think is the biggest difference in the two struggles?
Henriquez: The issue is the Mestizo ideological opposition in the FSLN political party toward Kriol and Indigenous autonomy in La Moskitia.
Do you find it similar to when the Moskito basically had to align with the Contras at points during the 1980s? Or, are there more overlapping interests and unity with the blue and white movement?
Henriquez: Civic Alliance is just a small portion of the opposition, but they got the most publicity.
They get too much attention. People supported them from their grassroots organizing, but they did not fulfill what was expected.
The National Coalition is the expression of civil society started in 2018. In February and June of 2020, it was founded.
The National Coalition is a combination of all the different human rights civil organizations.
Can you describe your role in community radio there in Moskitia?
Henriquez: I’ve been doing a radio talk program once per week for the last 15 years in Kriol. We cover national, regional, and international news; and we interpret it in our own language and culture. Economics, politics, human rights…
We have managed to survive the banning of two other radio stations in the region, and two other stations shut down by the government. They tried to buy and pay for transmitter space, but the owner did not accept the bribe.
What about other media? I’ve heard about the government takeover of TV stations and remember them trying to burn down one of the radio stations in Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas prior to recent crackdowns on press freedom. How does media suppression affect the situation? Do you feel it unites or divides people struggling for justice?
Henriquez: Living in a dictatorship is a first-hand experience which is almost impossible to describe — being in the position where you cannot walk your kids to school or to the park.
National police aiming a gun at you and your wife’s head in front of your children…
Waking up at any hour of the day having the AK 47’s in front of your house…
Receiving solidarity of any sort is uplifting and positive…
As a community activist who is routinely targeted, I can’t have a normal home and it also comes with very limited opportunities.
It makes it difficult to be employed because you are a risk for the organization.
The opposition blocks you from moving, mobilizing, and focusing on education.
I’ve been broke, persecuted, threatened, my family has been threatened; and we’ve been living like this for the last 2 years and a half.
In April of 2018 the issues became more public in Nicaragua and the world began paying attention to what was happening. So, it’s finally been getting attention that complimented previous issues.
You are a leader of sorts in the traditionally Indigenous-led political party of YATAMA. Can you describe your role within this?
Henriquez: I am one of the 3 delegates from YATAMA to represent Moskitia on the National Committee of the National Coalition.
Our position opposes Mestizo colonizing culture of the Pacific Coast.
Through both dictatorships, we’ve held the same position within the left or right — as a legit, visible political party.
What about the new law which requires anyone who receives money from outside of the country to register as a foreign agent? This seems like it could be or most certainly will be rampantly abused.
Henriquez: The law is just another move from the dictator to control people and try to bring down the spirit of the people.
Cuba, Venezuela, Russia also have this…
The 2021 election is very uncertain; it’s not going to be easy. It is uncertain and a challenge for democracy in Nicaragua,
It’s also a challenge for the OAS to support democracy and human rights in all of Latin America. It’s a challenge for the U.S. to support democracy.
The local and nationwide movements are aiming for a nonviolent change of regime based on the basic knowledge of international democracy standards.
Switching gears a bit, what do you think the environmental impact will be of the FSLN encroaching on the territories of La Moskitia
Henriquez: The impact on the environment is that their abuses and uses of our legal territories come to the point where the Indigenous and black community loses.
Their economic culture is extractivism-based, and resource driven; it is within the capitalist ways of doing business… there is no business of social ideology or socialism involved.
*** After this interview took place, the Russian government controlled media outlet, Sputnik, released an article describing their COVID-19 vaccine’s role in South America in support of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” Revolution.
*Courtney J. Parker holds a PhD in public health from the University of Georgia.