By Tortilla con Sal, crosspost from Tortilla con Sal
Interview with Bismarck Garcia Zapata
journalist and coordinator of correspondents for Nueva Radio Ya
Tortilla con Sal : Many people don’t know what happened to Tu Nueva Radio Ya during the failed coup attempt of 2018. Can you tell us what happened, how it happened, what was the role of the coup promoters, for example from the 100% Noticias opposition media outlet and how you experienced it yourself?
Bismarck García Zapata: It was an orchestrated plan on the part of the right-wing behind the coup in Nicaragua. Everything was carefully planned and they tried to do away with the most popular and widely listened to media with which the Nicaraguan population most identifies. For years they had already been working from the universities, I am talking about the Central American University, with the students, getting it into their heads that we were a sensationalist radio station that made fun of ordinary people’s misfortunes. In fact, our role has been to inform at all times of all the relevant events in our country because our mission, besides serving the people, is to keep them informed of what is happening in our country and beyond our borders.
100% Noticias started a media campaign against Tu Nueva Radio Ya, against all the media aligned with Community and Family Power, saying that we were an official media outlet along with insults of one kind or another, trying to turn the people against us. However, from our beginnings, in the memory of all Nicaraguans is the great service provided by Tu Nueva Radio Ya, help with gynecological and other medical consultations, birthday celebrations and so on… so they wanted to cut off the affinity that Tu Nueva Radio Ya has always had with the population.
They were around five attacks involving gangs of criminals in many cases and also other people inflamed by the right-wing coup, who came to harass us. Remember we were in our own offices and studios and we had to keep the gates closed, because everyday bikers arrived brazenly taking photographs, taking videos of what time we left, what time we entered, what street stall we went to buy one refreshment or another, all of which they had observed, all of our movements were recorded by them.
We didn’t want to report it to the authorities. We tried to avoid that. We closed our gates. But on five occasions they attacked us. The cruelest attacks were on April 20th, May 28th and May 30th.
On April 20th we were working as usual, informing, entertaining the population, serving them, when a conflict broke out there on the main road in front of the then Tu Nueva Radio Ya facility and people wearing clown masks, with T-shirts covering their faces, just like any criminal, started throwing stones and Molotov cocktails against the main gate of Tu Nueva Radio Ya.
We called on the population because on April 18th, that failed coup d’etat had already been orchestrated, and we called on the population to be calm, to be sensible. How is it possible that among Nicaraguans we are harming each other, attacking each other? How is it possible that they come to attack a media outlet that is a bridge between the population and the institutions, when we have always wanted to serve.
However, the attack was indiscriminate. A large part of the main gate, the main entrance to the old installations of Tu Nueva Radio Ya, was damaged. This fact was denounced in the social networks. That’s what happened.
May 28th. On May 28th, I remember we were at least twenty or twenty-one comrades inside the facilities of Tu Nueva Radio Ya, when we heard mortars fired by people inside the facilities of the University of Engineering and other people who were on the other side. And they began shooting the mortars so they fell in a parabola.
We went out to see a little more of what was going on and suddenly more people on motorbikes arrived. We presumed that a group of young people wanted to retake the UNI which had been taken over illegally. So we thought it was a conflict between university students. However, everything was orchestrated so that people would believe that.
Later on, more bikers started arriving. Then they blocked the traffic lights at the UCA and also in the UNI sector through their main entrance towards the National Baseball Stadium and also towards ENEL Central because little by little they were putting together their jig saw puzzle for the main attack on Tu Nueva Radio Ya.
We closed the gates again. All the compañeros went inside and we closed the gates. We began to monitor the media and what they were saying about this conflict when suddenly the journalist Jackson Orozco from 100% Noticias said “They are attacking the New Radio Ya”. But nobody was attacking us. He was ahead of the curve. His unconscious gave him away. He got ahead of the facts. When he said that, in fact here nobody was attacking us. And then he started saying, “Oh, the students are saying that Nueva Radio Ya is armed. They’re putting people out via the back parking lot who are going to attack the college kids who are at UNI.”
Just a minute now. That’s a very serious accusation, he’s inflaming things, inciting, inciting the people involved in the confrontation they had with each other to kill us. So I spoke to Dennis Schwarz, our director, and he told me to go out to the back parking lot and make a broadcast on Ya Live through our Nueva Radio Ya Facebook page. So I went out with Jonathan Morales and he started panning our parking lot while Orozco is saying that people are coming out of our parking lot to attack the university students. There was absolutely no one except Nueva Radio Ya staff.
From that moment on, they started shooting parabolic mortars so that they fell on the roof or in the parking lot of Tu Nueva Radio Ya. We went back inside the studios and from the front the attack was indiscriminate and now I am not talking about how it was the first time, only mortars and stones. There were also gunshots, there were Molotov cocktails. We were alone. The only thing we had to defend ourselves was, first, our trust in God and, secondly, our microphones to denounce nationally and internationally that aggressive attack our journalists were receiving.
We started to report that. We also did another Facebook broadcast, but there came a moment when they started firing at the main gate. I went out to the front and managed to take some videos of just ten seconds, because I feared one of the bullets could come through the gate and the glass door and hit me. I managed to make a few videos of about ten seconds, short ones and send them to our director. Our director shared them with other media and there began a mass denunciation by the media aligned with Community and Family Power so that through radio and television the people would realize the cowardly attack we were suffering.
It was no longer just at the front. Also, behind Tu Nueva Radio Ya on the side of the parking lot there were already bikers, motorcyclists, other kids too, who knows where they came from and they were throwing rocks and firing mortars. On the side of the National School of Dance, on the northeast side of the radio, they were also trying to get over the wall to enter our parking lot. And on the western parking lot, which is an inter-municipal bus terminal for transport to Granada and Carazo, they stole crates, whole crates of bottles from the beverage vendors in the bus terminal and began throwing them as Molotov cocktails against one of the doors, so that we wouldn’t get out so that we would burn to death inside our studios.
I repeat. About twenty-one of us were there on the morning of May 28, 2018. The smoke was advancing inside. It was becoming very difficult to breathe in the whole reception area and along the corridor and the broadcasting area, our cabin, our controller was using a wet T-shirt to be able to breathe because the smoke was so harmful.
Some people tried to look for an escape and there was a moment when they run out of Molotov cocktails. So some of us, like our colleague Carlos Alfaro, a sports reporter, and Miguel Angel Espinoza, also a sports reporter, and myself managed to get out to the bus terminal parking lot. We got into Carlos Alfaro’s car and other comrades managed to get on one of the inter-municipal buses that go to Granada, I think. And we managed to get out a little way towards ENEL Central, but one of the attackers, shirtless because his shirt was covering his face, managed to spot us.
He hit the vehicle and called on other attackers there to follow us. We managed to get out on the main highway and head for ENEL Central when at least ten bikers, ten guys on five bikes, followed us. We drove to the Journalist’s Roundabout and Carlos asked, “Shall I go straight to the Sumen district?” We told him no, and took a turn off the roundabout.
We proposed heading towards Plaza España because our intention was to at least get to the parking lot of the bank in Plaza España because we supposed that there would be security cameras there and at least if any of us were murdered the crime would be registered in the security cameras there.
What saved us? That when we turned into the bank’s parking lot, that area south of the Plaza España roundabout, at least a hundred meters south, is quite a commercial area. There are self-employed people there selling cell phones, chargers, all kinds of technological equipment. So when those ten guys on five motorcycles aggressively, with the clear intention of causing harm, surrounded our vehicle, what the people there did was start recording with their cell phones.
They came up to us and saw how we were being pulled out of the vehicle by guys in sweaters and with their hands inside them, suggesting that they were carrying firearms. One of them got out and took us out of the vehicle and started searching us, accusing us of supposedly carrying weapons. No. Absolutely no weapons were involved. We just got out to protect our lives.
Then when they saw they were being recorded, they decided to abort their plan. Because they weren’t going to murder us when all their faces were recorded. And they left.
We rushed at that moment, each of us going our own way to a safe place where we can be without others noticing for a while so as to protect both our own lives and the safety of our families.
This is referring to May 28th.
On May 28th there was still a group of comrades there because the order given by the Supreme Chief of the National Police, Commander Daniel Ortega, accepting the request of the bishops, who only had to remove their religious dress to be an outright political party, said that the police should stay in their stations, so Commander Daniel, wisely agreed to that and so there was no one to ask for help.
The fire service was called to put out the fire at Tu Nueva Radio Ya, but the coup activists hijacked a bus to block the road near the national baseball stadium so the firefighters could not reach our studios and so that everything would be destroyed by fire. On the other route coming from ENEL Central, there were roadblocks, everywhere there were roadblocks, I remember well on that day of May 28th even a comrade police officer was killed and the world should know this officer of our national police was killed by a bullet to the head and from a long way off. What does that mean? It means that among the attacking opposition activists there were snipers. Snipers were involved.
TcS: So on that day of May 28th they shot at the firefighters and at officers of the national police who were accompanying them?
Bismarck: That same 28th of May when they were setting fire to the installations of Tu Nueva Radio Ya we made a distress call to the firefighters who were also listening to our live broadcast on the radio. There was an order to the police authorities from the President of the Republic not to leave their stations. However, when they saw that the flames were too advanced and that there were still comrades inside the radio station, the national police were told to protect our lives.
So there were roadblocks by the National Stadium, in the ENEL Central sector and at the traffic lights of the UNI, and when the police tried to get to us all the hordes of coup activists started with everything they had, attacking the national police so that they couldn’t get to our installations allowing the coup activists to continue the attack on our studios. And it was then, unfortunately, when, I repeat, a comrade of the national police was shot in the head by a sniper from among the hordes of attackers that May 28th.
Some comrades still remained, at risk to their lives. They could not manage to get out. They endured the smoke, the dense, noxious smoke inside our studios but finally, the police did arrive, the bus was removed and the firefighters arrived to prevent the flames from spreading to a nearby building. But they could not save the radio offices because the main part of the building was already consumed by the flames.
That same day we all left Tu Nueva Radio Ya. As soon as the police arrived everyone left, going to different places, and by the orientation of Comrade Rosario Murillo, the Vice President of Nicaragua Radio Sandino has hosted us since May 28, 2018. This means that we are about to celebrate two years of the solidarity we have received here at Radio Sandino.
The Nueva Radio Ya building was left without electricity, without any security, without any of the comrades of the radio staff, and that same night the same opposition hordes left us unarmed as a radio, stripped of our equipment. Our computers were stolen. They stole all the consoles, microphones, furniture, documents, they ransacked the different offices. They took everything they wanted, everything because there was absolutely nobody there. We weren’t going to risk our lives.
On May 29th a team from Tu Nueva Radio Ya met here in the facilities of Radio Sandino, a group of colleagues, and we agreed this project, Tu Nueva Radio Ya, is a family, a solid team and we are going to continue to work with our very fingernails… someone brought a computer, another brought another machine, someone brought a fan, another brought a small table and so we were able to set up this improvised studio, an improvised broadcasting cabin, but always to serve the population.
On May 30th, the Civic Alliance of Nicaragua, which is made up of the different coup movements, including businessmen from our country who travel to the United States to ask for economic aggression against Nicaragua, they called for a march for Mother’s Day on May 30th. That march was an excuse to start on the road to Masaya and finish up in front of Tu Nueva Radio Ya’s offices because it wasn’t enough for them, that they could not assassinate us and because Tu Nueva Radio Ya was still broadcasting they believed in their minds that there were still people inside the radio’s installations.
Because since you need an antenna to transmit, a transmitter, and nothing could have been moved elsewhere, they thought we were still there. Imagine that even Miguel Mora turned up, Miguel Mora the director of 100% Noticias himself came out to report that 30th of May. This man who never went out to cover anything but he wanted to gloat. And on this point, I call on the entire international community to understand that they should not be fooled just because in his studios he had images Jehovah, or some other Christian image, when a true Christian will never murder their neighbor. They never will.
But Mora wanted to gloat at the damage he had done to Tu Nueva Radio Ya. Because they have never been able to compete with the great support of people for our radio station. Or all the followers we have through social media.
And I remember that afternoon, I was at home at about five thirty in the afternoon, he asked on-air, from in front of the studios of Tu Nueva Radio Ya and he asks, “And so Lucia? What about the people from Radio Ya?” “No”, she says, “They’re at Radio Sandino”. So they already knew that we were here at Radio Sandino.
But why were they broadcasting that we were at this sister radio facility? Because they wanted to come and attack this facility as well, which they would have done on what was supposed to be a march fro Mothers’ Day. But there were a lot of criminals there too and there are the videos to prove it. They finished breaking down the gates of Tu Nueva Radio Ya and took away the roofing, ripped out the electrical wiring, the power sockets, everything they could find of value that the people who looted the radio on May 28th had left behind.
It’s very sad, because everything we lived through, everything we suffered, everything we went through, for them never happened, those reports that they gave to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, we arrived, the team from Tu Nueva Radio Ya with a report of several pages proving all the aggression we had received and they ignored it. They never took into account what we suffered.
TcS : Did anyone from the United Nations or Amnesty International come to ask you or anyone from Your New Radio Now about what happened?
Bismarck : Not at all, they turned a deaf ear, they never watched the videos or saw the photographs of the attacks, they never listened to the recordings, they never saw the reports on social media like Twitter or Facebook, about what we suffered, it’s as if nothing ever happened, as if nothing was done to us. No international or national human rights organization sought us out.
TcS: So what is your opinion of these organizations that issue reports saying that all the protests were peaceful?
Bismarck : What happenend here in Nicaragua is that they started to confuse people with false news by getting people to think that international organizations favoring military aggression, economic aggression that the United States imposes against nations, mainly countries with a leftist model, a Christian, socialist and solidarity model, they got people to think those organizations were going to come and “save” Nicaragua.
But it was only to prepare the way for those organizations to come into our country. To eat well. To get to know our tourist spots. To get per diems and then return with a preudiced report even before the OAS at the international level presenting a “truth” that is fictitious. So, for us as journalists, it makes us very angry because how is it possible for people to go around using the prestige and the name of an institution to tell lies to foreign ministers, to ambassadors, to the representatives of all nations, telling them so many lies about what happened in Nicaragua, so many that who knows where they were invented from. They do not support us. They do not represent us. It’s as simple as that. Even international organizations of journalists, no communication has been made to support us who were left without our media facilities.
What if all 21 of us had been killed? Well, thanks for nothing. Remember, even if they had killed us they would still have recorded us as victims of our government, imagine! They would have just added us to the list of their inflated death toll, their toll of non-existent deaths during their failed coup attempt here in Nicaragua.
TcS: And how do you feel personally about that disastrous event?
Bismarck : The truth is that Tu Nueva Radio Ya is not just four walls. Tu Nueva Radio Ya is not just a microphone or a place of work. No. Tu Nueva Radio Ya is a family. We have shown the world that we have a vocation for service. Everything that has happened and all the solidarity we have received from our brothers and sisters has made us a more solid team, more united, more disposed to help each other.
And here we are with our difficulties, difficulties over equipment, economic difficulties, because the order given by the business supporters of the coup was to cut all advertising to us so that we drown economically, so we can’t pay salaries, or can’t pay electricity or internet and other costs. But all this has made us strengthen our conscience, our awareness that we have to fight for peace.
The principle agitators of the irresponsible May 28th and 30th aggression against Tu Nueva Radio Ya were taken to court and found guilty. However, the government during the first negotiations that took place at the wrongly named Dialogue Talks, which were a circus set up by the Catholic Church and representatives of private business and NGOs only so as to make one demand after another with the country’s Catholic bishops who were unable to demand that the coup activists’ roadblocks to let through ambulances with pregnant women or sick children. The bishops here in Nicaragua were not even able to do that.
In any case, here, we continue to work with our sights set on the future and also to support the Christian Socialist and Solidarity model developed by the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity presided over by Comandante Daniel Ortega and Compañera Rosario Murillo and their Council of Ministers of the Citizen Power which, as the President of the Republic recently pointed out, is the only one with that commitment. All those hospitals that were burned down and set on fire and looted, all the Casas Maternas that were damaged and stripped of everything, all that has already been rebuilt because it is easy to destroy, but only people with consciousness of love and service to others can rebuild as the Sandinista government has done after the failed coup attempt in Nicaragua.