UNC Alum David Craven, PhD 1979, Visits Central America: Meets with the President of Nicaragua, but is also tear-gassed by the military in Honduras two days before giving a public lecture to a capacity crowd in the National Museum of Honduras in Tegucigalpa

David Craven—Distinguished Professor of Art History at UNM and a Member of the Executive Committee of the Latin American Institute—had an eventful, even unexpected, time in Central America this summer from June 16th to July 8th when he spent two weeks in Nicaragua and a week in Honduras, while doing research in three quite different respects.

First, he went to Nicaragua as part of a team of twelve scholars linked to Nicaragua Network (based in Washington D.C. and directed by Katherine Hoyt) most of whom have published scholarly books on various aspects of Nicaraguan history. The aim of these scholars and labor leaders was to investigate whether the US Government was engaging in unethical or inappropriate intervention in the upcoming presidential elections slated for Nicaragua on November 8, 2011. Their concern was based on the fact that in past elections the US Government—as in 1990 under President Bush Sr. or in 2001 and 2006 under President Bush Jr.—had massively interfered in the Nicaraguan national elections in a manner that made local democracy all but impossible. These Republican Administrations did so each time to support a very rightwing candidate opposed to the Sandinista (FSLN) candidate, Daniel Ortega. For decades, US involvement to influence electoral results in Central America has thus been a byword for deeply anti-democratic behavior throughout the region.

In addition to meeting with several different parties, various political foundations, different human rights groups, and diplomatic personnel (see the attached photo of Professor Craven with the FSLN candidate for President Daniel Ortega), the scholars of Nicaragua Network were interviewed in one of the two main national newspapers (see: “Ciudadanos de EU fiscalizan ayuda a la democrácia,” El Nuevo Diario, 23 June 2011). These scholars also wrote a news release that was circulated internationally. Their report states their findings as follows, including the interchange below at the US Embassy in Managua, where they encountered Bush-era appointees (who were in office because the Republicans in Congress have blocked President Obama’s nominations): “Last week [June 24, 2011], a top official of the U.S. Embassy in Managua dismissed Nicaragua as no longer important to the U.S. and told the Nicaragua Network delegation from the United States that he wanted nothing to do with the country’s political parties, all of which he characterized as ‘feckless, corrupt, nasty, and worthless.”Despite these comments by Matthew Roth, the political officer of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding Nicaraguan groups [with around $20m in taxpayer funds] to provide training in “democratization” and media skills. Media programs, such as these offered by the International Republican Institute, are supposedly designed to play a “double role” as reporters and unofficial electoral observers. Jan Howard, the USAID officer for the Embassy, acknowledged, “Sometimes they [the people the Republicans are funding] get a little carried away.”

The second (of three capacities) in which Professor Craven was in Central America involved being a Human Rights Observer for the Alliance for Social Justice (based in Tucson, Arizona) in Honduras at Palmerola, the huge US Military base, on the second anniversary of the June 28, 2009 military coup in Honduras, when the democratically elected-government of Zelaya was overthrown. He and a dozen or so Human Rights Observers were a “shield” between the 200 student/activist demonstrators and the 100 or so Honduran military personnel and National police stationed in front of the US-funded military outpost, all of which was covered on national television in Honduras. For much of the day, the situation was calm until students tried to graffiti the wall in front of the military base and then a conflict occurred that led to students being beaten and tear-gas being fired at the demonstrators—and indirectly at the Human Rights Observers—many of whom were hit by the tear-gas (including Craven, though he was not hit directly as were some of the others). Fortunately, though the Honduran military, desisted from further aggression after this conflict—a fact that the demonstrators from Honduras attributed to the presence of the Human Rights Observers from the US at the demonstration in Palmerola. In fact, at least 400 political dissidents (labor organizers, journalists, student dissidents, and indigenous leaders) in Honduras have been killed over the last few months by para-military squads linked to the military junta in Honduras. (For more documentation on this, see the news reports on the internet of the Alliance for Social Justice and the Honduran Solidarity Network.)

The third capacity in which Professor Craven was in Central America involved that of being a visiting scholar who was invited to give a public lecture in the main national museum, the Museo Nacional para Identidad Nacional (MIN) in Tegucigalpa, on June 30th—two days after being tear-gassed by the Honduran military dictatorship. He spoke in Spanish to a capacity crowd of 150 people in the museum’s main auditorium on the topic of “El promoteo: un discurso anti-militar en la historia del arte de América Latina.” (See the attached electronic poster circulated by MUA, a Feminist artist collective in Honduras.) Revealingly, when the public lecture by Craven was covered in the two main newspapers of Honduras (both of the political right)—El Haraldo and La Tribuna—they misreported the content of his talk. Their reports suppressed any mention of the theme of anti-militarization (championed by opponents of the military coup) and they reported instead how his talk was about the “personaje griego” of Prometeo (Prometheus as “protector de la civilización humana.”)Yet those who showed up for the public lecture clearly understood how the content of Craven’s lecture did not confirm the conservative twist given to it by the rightwing press in Honduras. The enthusiastic interchange with the audience afterwards was linked to the actual substance of his talk and popular opposition to the military dictatorship. (On the misleading coverage in the Honduran newspapers, see the newspaper articles about Craven’s lecture in the June 29 edition of La Tribuna and that of June 30 in El Heraldo.)

After his stay in Honduras, Craven returned to Nicaragua for several days where he and UNM doctoral student Gustavo Larach of Honduras met with Mra. Magarita Vanini, Director of the Instituto Histórico of the University of Central America in Managua, and then with the Vice-Minister of Culture Luis Morales, along with novelist Sergio Ramírez and well-known art dealer Junita Bermúdez, critic/artist Raul Quintanilla, and artist Ernesto Salmerón, whose artwork was recently purchased by the Tate Modern.

Craven Ortega

Professor Craven with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Professor Christine Wade of Washing College, MD, in Managua, Nicaragua, June 2011

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