A group of 13 North Americans traveled to Nicaragua from March 14-24 in a delegation organized by Sanctions Kill! and Friends of the ATC to express their deep concern to the Nicaraguan people regarding the impacts of U.S. sanctions on the country. This delegation of journalists, activists and students met with grassroots groups that conform the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC – Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo) to understand the effects of the sanctions on ordinary Nicaraguans and how they are organizing to mitigate the impact on their day-to-day lives.
Latina Republic met with Teri Mattson of CODEPINK, one of the delegation’s leaders and an activist with the Sanctions Kill! Coalition. CODEPINK is a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect U.S. tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.
Teri Mattson is a Latin America Coordinator with CODEPINK. Her lifelong passion for Latin America has inspired 35 years of travel throughout the region. The last few years include organizing and/or participating on political and social justice delegations to: Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti (April ’16), Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua (Aug. “14, July ‘16, Mar 21) and Venezuela (June ‘13, July ’15, Dec. ’15, May ’16, Oct. ’16, Mar. ‘18, May ‘18, Mar. ‘19, Dec. ‘20). In June 2019, Teri returned from a March Anti-Sanctions delegation and 3-month visit to Venezuela to accept the position with CODEPINK. Teri is also a principal activist with Sanctions Kill as well as a board member of California based Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas.
Mattson believes that the human and economic costs of the sanctions on Nicaragua have been underreported. One of the goals of the delegation’s visit was to travel throughout Nicaragua to share the perspectives of Nicaraguans with U.S. audiences in the hopes of building bridges of peace. “As Americans, we need to fully understand the impact of what is being done in our name,” expressed Mattson.
Following is Teri Mattson’s testimony of the delegation’s findings in Nicaragua.
LR: Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. Why don’t we start with the topic of Sanctions. What are they? How are they used? What is their impact on everyday people’s lives? And then, let’s connect them to the case of Nicaragua and your delegation’s trip.
Teri Mattson: When the US government tries to impose sanctions to punish so-called oppressive governments and/or individuals US citizens don’t realize that the impact goes far beyond punishing that official. Sanctions have repercussions on the livelihoods of average people.
There are so few people in the United States who understand exactly this. Sanctions are a form of warfare. The US public has very little understanding of how difficult it makes life, day-to-day. Sadly, that’s the intent. To make life difficult so people become so dissatisfied with their government that they will want to overthrow it or vote differently.
LR: I think that in general, the American public believes that sanctions are a form of punishment for human rights violations.
Teri Mattson: Exactly. But these types of sanctions (aka Unilateral Coercive Measures) create human rights violations of their own. For example, the lack of food, lack of access to markets and capital, and lack of being able to survive.
LR: Teri, could you comment on sanctions in Nicaragua and why they are in place? How did the idea of the trip to Nicaragua come about?
Teri Mattson: So the whole idea for this trip came out of a project called Sanctions Kill, a coalition of over 100 national and international organizations that work to educate and raise awareness about the use of sanctions, what they are, how they’re used in foreign policy, economic policy and hybrid warfare. There are about 39 countries on the planet suffering as a result of unilateral sanctions, unilateral being the key word. These are sanctions composed solely by the United States because the United States controls the Global Currency and the banking exchange system and so the US can relatively easily define who can participate in the global economy and who cannot.
The US State Department defines sanctions as a diplomacy tool, but if anyone has studied at the very least Cuba for the last 60 years, it is clearly a form of hybrid war and this is what is so important for the U.S. audience to understand because it’s so easy for us in the United States to say well, ‘look at Cuba, look at Venezuela, look at North Korea. We’re not dropping bombs on those countries. There are no boots on the ground in those countries. How bad can it be, right?’ Well, it’s pretty bad and in some cases worse. It’s an inhumane form of warfare and the silence of it really makes it so.
You have 39 countries suffering some form of US economic sanction. Those 39 countries comprise one third of the world’s population. So imagine that number of people suffering in silence and out of view. When a country is declared a threat to US National Security, that is the first tool that the executive office uses to impose sanctions. We saw this with Cuba and Venezuela in March 2015. Once a nation is declared a national security threat, or a terrorist state, this allows for the adoption of a sanctions regime.
In the case of Nicaragua, this is a presidential election year for the country, so we wanted to come and see what an early sanctions regime looks like. The idea of visiting Nicaragua came out of Sanctions Kill!. I approached the coordinator of Friends of the ATC here in Managua, asked her if they would consider being our ground team and that’s how we started building this trip.
The intent was to come and study an early sanctions regime and also to understand, juxtaposed to several other countries suffering from sanctions, some of the projects and Sandinista philosophy existing in Nicaragua, which inherently buffers Nicaraguans from the really harsh impacts of sanctions. For example, Nicaragua is 95% food sovereign.
So the structure of sanctions, such as has been done in Venezuela in the form of a medieval siege on a city, where nothing comes in and nothing goes out, you’re not going to be able to starve Nicaraguan people into submission. They grow 95% of what they eat. That is part of Nicaraguan culture. The people have land and farms.
It’s part of the land reformation that’s taken place here. People have access to their own land and they produce on it as small farmers and most of the food is sold locally. In Nicaragua there was never a vast migration from the countryside to the capital for economic purposes. We came with the intent to study the early sanctions regime and during our trip we experienced the diversity and richness of this country, the food, the people, the political system and the geography of this profoundly beautiful country.
So the goal was to meet first with government officials to talk about the US sanctions regime on Nicaragua specifically, the NICA Act, which prevents the government from obtaining foreign investment.
We met with a number of government officials to talk about the sanctions on Nicaragua, how the government is responding to the current sanctions and what the government is doing to alleviate the effects on the people. We traveled as a delegation of 13. Nine of us are under 35. So a young delegation mostly of Latin American heritage. We left Managua after our governmental visits and then the delegation split up.
We went to two rural communities to experience farm/homestays. Some people stayed in La Virgen, Jinotega for 3 days and 2 nights. This being a coffee production region.. My group went to La Montanita, Esteli which is a tobacco for export growing region. So we saw regions that have two luxury export products. Exports to the United States that unlike the case of Cuban cigars have not (yet) been prohibited. The Nicaraguan products, coffee and cigars can still be sold. So I was outside of Esteli. We had classes and attended a lecture on the succulent known as Pitahaya and local fruits. We spent a day planting them on the farm.
We watched the whole process with the tobacco leaves coming in raw from from the fields and how they go through that and pound them out and prepare them for different sizes of cigars and how both men and women roll cigars. You don’t see that in every country.
So from there both groups returned back to Managua. The following day, we left as a complete delegation and traveled to the northern Caribbean coast, which is where the beef conflict started. There is a narrative by some sources in the United States that the cattle production on the northern Caribbean coast is being done on land stolen from indigenous people. This story is labeling Nicaraguan beef as conflict beef which is a form of economic warfare, not an overt sanction, but it is economic warfare. So we had the opportunity to go out there for three days. This was my 6th visit to Nicaragua. I’ve never been to the Caribbean coast. It is truly a completely different country.
So we were able to meet with the government and have a good conversation with leadership about the structure of the autonomous regions in the country, the people they represent and the history of the land and the formation of their constitutional rights. Land rights have been granted to people of African descent and to various indigenous groups as well. Thirty three percent of the land titles requested have been granted by the government so far and they’re still in process, something that was started by the second sandinista government.
We also went to three Miskitu communities: WaWa Bar, Karata and Tuapi all near the mouth of a Caribbean, and all almost completely decimated by the hurricanes Eta and Iota last fall. The government within 10 days of the hurricane sent sheets of tin to the affected areas. They also had electricity restored. So the people were very pleased with the government’s response. There is still a lot that needs to be done, but assistance was there within 10 days. They were back in their homes and the schools were restored first. During the pandemic, Nicaragua chose to keep their economy open. I can tell you it is thriving. It is the only country in the hemisphere that had significant economic growth the past year.
LR: Can you tell us about your passion for organizing delegations?
Teri Mattson: I focus on organizing delegations because, personally, I like the human connection. You do not have to build the delegation with the intent of converting people, right? But getting them to come and see through their own eyes without a mainstream media filter, seeing things for themselves, meeting people, visiting places. People are changed, even if it’s just an inch. And to me that is the most effective tool I have.
For this particular itinerary, the people at Friends of the ATC put together one of the most educational and adventurous trips I’ve ever been a part of. It had a great educational component. We had some tourism events. We had cultural events and just the diversity of people, places and things we saw and experienced was phenomenal.
LR: As you wrap up your delegation’s trip, how has the group been changed by the experience? What are some final words for our audience?
Teri Mattson: Part of what we learned is that life is very good here. It is secure and it is stable. They do not have the drug cartel issues. They do not have the MS-13 issues here. They don’t have the types of problems you see in Mexico or the Northern Triangle here. It is a secure and safe place to visit. The environment is secure and the economy is secure. This is a diverse and beautiful country. I want your audience to know how peaceful it is here. Travel to the country, meet its people and you will love it. Whether you come as part of a delegation or take the trip on your own, visit Nicaragua. I think the biggest message I would like your audience to hear is to come, visit and see the country for yourselves.
Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.