Nicaraguan Lady Gaga treehopper species discovery

This 11 March 2020 video is called New bug species named after Lady Gaga due to its “wacky fashion sense”.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau in the USA:

Grad student names new treehopper species after Lady Gaga

She represents a new genus and species of treehopper, one of the most diverse bug groups on the planet

March 10, 2020

According to Brendan Morris, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, treehoppers are the wackiest, most astonishing bugs most people have never heard of. They are morphological wonders, sporting bizarre protuberances that look like horns, gnarled branches, antlers, fruiting fungi, brightly colored flags or dead plant leaves. Treehoppers suck on plant juices. They sing to each other by vibrating plant stems. And they are an important food source for other forest creatures.

“I love outrageous forms and colors,” said Morris, who studies entomology at the U. of I. “It blows my mind that a group that is roughly 40 million years old has so much diversity of form — diversity, I would argue, that we don’t see in any other family of insects.”

To draw attention to this group, Morris named a newly discovered treehopper species after Lady Gaga, a musical performer who has her own flamboyant, shape-shifting style.

“If there is going to be a Lady Gaga bug, it’s going to be a treehopper, because they’ve got these crazy horns, they have this wacky fashion sense about them,” Morris said. “They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”

The insect, now known as Kaikaia gaga, also represents a new genus of treehopper, Morris and his coauthor, INHS entomologist Christopher Dietrich, reported in the journal Zootaxa. Her features — the bug is female — differentiate her from other treehoppers found with her nearly 30 years ago in a tropical forest near the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. She was one of about 1,000 specimens Morris borrowed from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh as part of his research.

Insect taxonomists look primarily at head and body shapes, leg and body hairs and genitalia to differentiate one bug group from another. When Morris looked at this particular specimen under a stereoscope, he noticed some unusual characteristics.

A part of the thorax — just behind the head — was horned, like many other specimens, but the leg hairs differentiated it from the other tribes of treehoppers he had seen.

“Also, the frontoclypeus, which is kind of like the face, was shaped totally different,” Morris said. “And the genitalia looked more like treehoppers from the Caribbean or this Old-World group, Beaufortianini.”

That last observation was strange, because treehoppers are believed to have originated in the Americas. More research — specifically genetic research — will begin to explain why K. gaga shares traits with Old-World treehoppers.

Morris has tried to extract DNA from his one, 30-year-old specimen, but so far has had no luck. He will travel to Nicaragua to see if he can find any living Kaikaia gaga specimens in the same forest where this one was collected.

In the meantime, he is working hard to share his enthusiasm for this largely overlooked bug group, which is found in most forested areas of the planet.

“Treehoppers are wacky, and I think that makes them especially suited to be spokesbugs for the wide range of habitats they use,” Morris said.

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. The National Science Foundation supported this research.

Bird friendly coffee, new research

This 21 February 2019 video says about itself:

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly® coffee certification program aims to protect the most quality habitat from the threat of deforestation under the Bird Friendly seal. While this video was filmed in Colombia, Bird Friendly coffee farms can be found in 12 countries, with more than 4,600 participating coffee producers and more than 31,000 acres of protected land.

From the University of Delaware in the USA:

Birds bug out over coffee

Research on coffee farm habitats can help both fowl and farmers

March 27, 2019

Summary: New research has found that birds are as picky as coffee snobs when it comes to the trees they’ll migrate to … Migratory birds prefer foraging in native leguminous tree species over non-native and many other trees used on many coffee farms. The findings will help farmers choose trees that are best for both birds and business.

Coffee grown under a tree canopy is promoted as good habitat for birds, but recent University of Delaware research shows that some of these coffee farms may not be as friendly to our feathered friends as advertised.

Working with geographer Robert Rice of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), University of Delaware Professor of Entomology Doug Tallamy and former UD graduate student Desirée Narango studied canopy tree preference of birds in shade-coffee farms with a particular focus on the implications for migratory birds that spend the winter in neotropical coffee farms. The research was published in the journal Biotropica.

Americans drink a lot of coffee — 64 percent of those aged 18 or over had at least one cup per day. That’s more than 150 million people in the U.S. and we all know one cup is a light day for many of our friends and family. This incredible demand for coffee means a lot of land in tropical zones is used to grow coffee beans in neotropical countries like Colombia and Nicaragua (where the UD study took place). Across central and South America, land converted to coffee agriculture occupies more than five million hectares of what was once prime overwintering natural habitat for migratory birds.

“Coffee grows right at the altitude that most of our neo-tropical migratory birds are spending the winter, particularly species that are losing one to two percent of their population every year like the cerulean warbler, Canada warbler and wood thrush“, said Tallamy. “A lot of this land has been leveled for coffee farms.”

In these and other countries in the tropical zone, forests are being cut down and turned into ecological deserts at an alarming rate. In traditional coffee agriculture, farmers clear-cut an area, remove all trees, and plant coffee plants in direct sun. In that case, the cultivated area provides almost no habitat for species of birds and insects. An alternative method for growing coffee is shade-grown coffee. The beans are grown in the shade of a mature tree canopy, which can also provide ecosystem services for the farmer (like shade) as well as habitat for local wildlife.

“Sun coffee produces more yield, but is not as sustainable”, said Narango, who now works for Advanced Science Research Center at City University of New York and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Shade-coffee farms can produce just as high quality coffee beans as the direct sun approach and with added benefits for people and wildlife. First, it’s more comfortable for the workers. Second, the tree canopy protects the coffee. Third, it provides critical habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.”

Important to note, the insects that are attracted to these trees (and attract the birds to forage) do not pose a threat to coffee plants because they don’t feed on them.

Most coffee farms are still sun-grown. Fortunately, some farmers have gone to the shade-coffee route. They can earn a Bird Friendly coffee certification from the Smithsonian through a combination of foliage cover, tree height and biodiversity to provide quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. SMBC has advocated the use of shade trees in coffee systems since the 1990s, when Smithsonian staff discovered the habitat quality of such systems in southern Mexico. But, until now, no one asked an overlooked question. Which types of trees are bird friendly? Tallamy’s short answer: Non-native, exotic trees do little to nothing for birds and the insects they feast on, but certain native plants do wonders.

“The research all started here in Delaware when we realized how different plants are in producing food that drives bird populations,” said Tallamy, who conducted previous research with Narango and SMBC on non-native plants on bird populations.

The Smithsonian’s Rice added, “We had yet to understand which trees actually provide the better food resources in terms of insects for birds. Doug Tallamy has researched the association of tree species and the insects that make a living on them in the U.S. After talking with Doug, we thought that investigating that association within the shade-coffee systems would yield valuable insight as to which trees are the most beneficial for birds. Diverse, native trees act very much like local forest and do so with the economic advantage of having coffee produced beneath the shade canopy.”

The researchers quantified bird foraging activity on 22 tree species in two coffee farms. Specifically, they used timed observations to determine tree preferences, foraging bird abundance, foraging time and species richness of birds using each canopy tree species. Results indicate that birds do not forage randomly, and instead exhibit preferences for particular native tree species, especially legumes. The UD-Smithsonian findings indicate that coffee farms can serve as habitat refuge for wildlife, evidence that agroforestry land can be improved for birds of conservation concern by prioritizing canopy tree species that not only help birds, but also farm productivity.

“Farmers often select tree species that are beneficial to them and produce other products to sell in addition to coffee,” said Narango. “Some farms might prioritize walnut trees because they produce lumber or mango trees to produce fruit. There are so many choices. The goal of this project was to get more information to help farmers make that decision.”

In an effort to get dual crops out of the land, eucalyptus trees are another popular choice as they are a great source of lumber. But these trees are native to Australia, not central and South America. And these non-native trees don’t jive with local insects in these critical migratory bird zones.

“A very common scenario on these farms is to have eucalyptus, pine, mango and citrus,” Tallamy said. “All of these are non-native trees that support few insects — critical food for birds — or not nearly enough insects to make a difference. If you have a substantial amount of land with non-native plants, we’re not helping the birds at all. Biodiversity-wise, it’s a real scourge.”

So farms with these non-native trees would not get certified as bird friendly, but are still growing shade-coffee.

“The public reads shade-coffee and thinks it’s automatically bird friendly. That’s not necessarily the case,” said Tallamy. “But the growers don’t know. It’s not that they are trying to pull a fast one. They think insects are everywhere. They don’t know that the type of plant matters, so of course they use the plant that produces the highest amount of income. We can now correct that misinformation.”

Attracting birds could also serve as a boon to coffee production because birds attracted to the canopy trees can also protect the coffee crop by providing pest control. The plants that tended to be highly preferred, native legumes, also simultaneously provide nitrogen to the coffee crops increasing production.

“The preferred tree species for birds’ foraging tended to be native, which makes sense from an evolutionary point of view,” Rice said. “Insects have co-evolved with native trees over millennia, so our findings that birds preferred the native species, while not surprising, is clearly confirming. Our challenge for future studies will be to determine which trees are providing the greatest diversity and abundance of insects.”

SMBC’s long-term relationship with coffee producers throughout Latin America positioned the researchers well to help find the countries and regions within countries to conduct this research. With funding from the Disney Conservation Fund, Rice found local collaborators in Colombia and Nicaragua.

The study points strongly to the recently publicized topic of global insect decline.

“The decline is not new. What’s new is that the public is beginning to recognize it. People are writing about it. They write about climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss, but they aren’t being specific enough,” Tallamy said. “The fact that humans are taking away the plants that allow insects to thrive and replacing them with plants that do not is something that has not been mentioned in any articles. Habitat is not just a location to live; it’s the food that you eat. Insects need particular plants. Taking those plants away is, in my opinion, a major cause of insect decline, which is what we are going to study next.”

Undergraduate research opportunity

Wildlife ecology and conservation major Kerry Snyder, who graduated in 2015, is also a co-author on the research paper. As a UD junior, she began working on undergraduate research with Tallamy and formed her honors thesis around the topic.

“Research gave me an opportunity to travel abroad and learn how environmental problems affect farmers in Central America. In addition to the technical experience the work gave me, set me up well for my assignment in the Peace Corps,” said Snyder, who studied for two summer sessions under Tallamy and works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “Doing research allowed me to connect what I was learning in the classroom with real environmental conservation issues and allowed me to learn about the importance of coffee certification programs. It would have been impossible to take a class that would have taught me everything I learned through this experience.”

Trump’s USA regime change moves against Nicaragua

This video from the USA says about itself:

21 May 2013

NBC and ABC news reports on the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal. The Reagan administration was guilty of selling military weapons to Iran … and then using the profits, without congressional oversight, to fund rebel fighters [supporters of the overthrown dictator Somoza, a CIA ally] in Nicaragua.

By James Tweedie in Britain:

‘Our backyard’ mentality set to return to US policy

Friday 19th May 2017

JAMES TWEEDIE speaks to Ricardo Carioni, the first secretary at the Nicaraguan embassy in London, about the grave social, economic and political consequences sanctions by the US government will visit on his country

THE US Congress has revived a bid to stifle Nicaragua’s economic growth and social progress by blocking loans from international development banks.

The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (Nica) was introduced into the US Congress last September — as the US was preoccupied with the election contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Its sponsors were Republican Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

infamous for her links to the Scientology ‘church’

and senator Marco Rubio — another Florida Republican who lost out in last year’s presidential nominations.

Both are prominent Cuban-American advocates for the hostile US policy towards Havana — still under economic blockade.

While Nica passed a vote of the House of Representatives, outgoing president Barack Obama failed to sign off on its progress to the Senate and the legislation fell by the wayside.

Then at the beginning of April the legislation resurfaced, this time with the added support of Democratic congressman Albio Sires and some 10 other Democrats and 15 Republicans.

Without making any specific allegations — that could be refuted — Nica strongly implies that the Nicaraguan government is corrupt, undemocratic and abuses citizens’ human rights, that elections are not free or fair, that the judiciary and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) are not independent, that there is no rule of law and that the there is no freedom of association or of the press.

The “investment conditionality” part of the NICA Act is its instruction to the US government to use its veto power at the World Bank and its 30 per cent shareholding in the Inter-American Development Bank to block loans to Nicaragua.

With Nicaragua’s foreign borrowing totalling £192 million in 2016 — for a population of just over six million — such sanctions would have serious consequences.

I asked Ricardo Carioni, the first secretary and deputy head of mission at the Nicaraguan embassy in London, about the wording of the Act.

He points out that Nicaraguan judicial appointments are approved by parliament, as was the extension of the mandate of the president of the CSE, Roberto Rivas, who was appointed by President Daniel Ortega’s predecessor Enrique Bolanos of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party.

There have been no formal corruption charges laid against any government minister. No organisations are banned and six electoral coalitions took part in the last general election in 2016 in which Ortega won by a 72 per cent landslide.

The two main newspapers, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, are both critical of the government — although unlike in much of Latin America this is balanced out by several pro-FSLN TV and radio stations.

Learning the lessons of the ’80s, the Sandinistas have integrated their socialist ideas with the values the Catholic church.

Nicaragua is the safest country to live in in Central America and the third-safest in all Latin America — but that could change if Nica goes through, Carioni warns.

Cutting off investment capital would threaten investment in infrastructure, energy, clean water, education, health, poverty alleviation and sexual equality.

Carioni warns it could seriously destabilise the country and sabotage the war on drugs — in which, he says, Nicaragua acts as a barrier between the narcotics-growing regions of South America and the organised crime syndicates of Mexico.

Some sources of investment would remain if the Act is passed. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration currently provides about a third of Nicaragua’s credit and the country has bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. But the shortfall would be hard to make up.

Only the most fringe elements of the Nicaraguan opposition support Nica, Carioni points out.

But the legislation could be the first new move under the Trump administration against anti-imperialist governments in the region — and a vote-winner in the electoral swing state of Florida.

The Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS), which late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro famously called “The US Ministry of Colonies,” expressed “concern” at the Bill’s reactivation on April 5.

Even OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro, who has led the regional offensive against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — to whom Ortega is a staunch ally — tweeted the same day that it was “not a constructive contribution to work.”

Anti-imperialist alternative regional bloc Alba condemned the “perverse intention of placing an economic blockade on the people and government of Nicaragua, attacking the right of this brother country to welfare, security, work and peace.”

And on May 8 the general secretaries of British, Irish and international trade unions including Public Services International, Siptu, GMB, Unison, NUT, RMT and BFAWU said: “This legislation is a violation of international law and the UN Charter and reflects a pattern of historic interventionist policies in Nicaragua and Latin America by the United States.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also taken an interest in Nica.

Defense Secretary James Mattis announced at a press briefing on Friday that President Donald Trump had approved a new Pentagon plan that would escalate the war for US domination of the Middle East and North Africa: here.

Protecting endangered jaguars in Nicaragua

This video is called THE JAGUAR: YEAR OF THE CAT.

From Wildlife Extra:

New protection for endangered jaguars in Nicaragua

The jaguar, American continent’s largest wild cat, has been awarded new protection with the recent signing of a conservation agreement between the government of Nicaragua and Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation.

The Nicaraguan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Panthera’s CEO, Dr Alan Rabinowitz.

Through this agreement, both parties have committed to undertake conservation initiatives to identify jaguar distribution and travel corridors in Nicaragua, allowing for the connection and protection of the species and its habitats.

Panthera and MARENA additionally pledged to implement initiatives focused on the mitigation of human-jaguar conflict and support of agricultural and other land developments that are both ecologically sustainable and economically profitable for Nicaragua.

Dr Rabinowitz says: “The establishment of this agreement with the government of Nicaragua is a huge step for the long-term survival of the jaguar. Nicaragua represents a critical home for the jaguar, and a stepping-stone in the Mesoamerican Jaguar Corridor.

“Panthera will work together with the Nicaraguan government to strengthen efforts that conserve the nation’s wild habitats and provide opportunities for the safe passage of jaguars and other wildlife through the Nicaraguan landscape.

“With this signing, Nicaragua becomes the seventh jaguar range country to commit to the conservation of this iconic species, helping to forge a future for the jaguar, its habitats, and the other species that inhabit the forests with this magnificent cat.”

According to Panthera, Nicaragua serves as a vital home and conduit connecting jaguar populations to the north in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, to all jaguar populations south of the country.

The Atlantic region of the country, inhabited by many indigenous communities, is the only existing passageway for jaguars to move south through Nicaragua to Costa Rica, and beyond.

Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative, launched in 2008, spans nearly six million square kilometers and seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations within human landscapes from Mexico to Argentina to ensure the species’ genetic diversity and survival.

Panthera’s jaguar conservation efforts in Nicaragua so far have focused on verifying jaguar presence in the country, from Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in the north, to Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve in the south.

Results from these surveys will allow for a clearer understanding of the status of jaguar populations and connectivity in Nicaragua, as well as on the overall connectivity of jaguars in Central America.

The Vice-Minister Ing. Roberto Araquistáin Cisneros adds: “I applaud the hard and efficient field and scientific work that Panthera has done in the country over the past six years. Many of its studies and mapping are being used by this ministry.”

In recent years, Nicaragua has effectively protected extensive swaths of its forests that are home to the jaguar and other wildlife.

As the country continues to develop, additional considerations will have to be made to allow for jaguar passage through agricultural landscapes and infrastructure development.

Good turtle news from Nicaragua

This video is about hawksbill turtles.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Major comeback for sea turtles: Highest reported nest counts in Nicaragua

December 11, 2014

Summary: Scientists noticed a dramatic increase in nesting of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles including the highest nest counts since a conservation project began there in 2000.

A WCS team in Nicaragua reported today a dramatic increase in nesting of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles including the highest nest counts since a conservation project began there in 2000.

The total nest count for hawksbill turtles in the project area in Nicaragua’s Pearl Cays region has increased some 200 percent from 154 in 2000 to 468 in 2014.

Of the areas monitored, poaching rates have decreased by more than 80 percent. Poaching in 2014 was one of the lowest in project history at approximately five percent. Nest success has averaged approximately 75 percent this season, with over 35,000 hatchlings going to sea as of the end of November.

Before the project began, a preliminary study of the Pearl Cays showed that almost 100 percent of nests laid were poached and most eggs were removed for human consumption.

WCS established the Hawksbill Conservation Project in 2000 to reduce poaching and create awareness. In 2010, it helped contribute to the establishment of the Pearl Cays Wildlife Refuge, which safeguards nesting, foraging, breeding and migratory areas for sea turtles, while protecting other marine species and important habitat types.

“These recent nest counts show that by working with local communities, we can save sea turtles from extinction,” said Caleb McClennen, WCS Executive Director of Marine Conservation. “Communities partnering with WCS are directly involved with safeguarding their own natural resources. Without their help and commitment, this project would fail, and Nicaragua’s hawksbill turtles would be doomed.”

In addition to monitoring nesting success WCS scientists satellite-tagged three nesting females this year. The turtles are currently being tracked as they move northward near the Honduran border. Since 1999, WCS has captured and released nearly 3,000 sea turtles in the Pearl Cays. Staff record the date, size, and location for each sea turtle encounter as part of the tag and release program. This information can help improve the understanding of the species for informed management and development of conservation efforts in the region.

Nicaraguan Contras’ drug trafficking and the CIA

This video from the USA is called How Crack Funded a CIA War: Gary Webb Interview on the Contras and Ronald Reagan (1996).

By Thomas Gaist in the USA:

CIA document details cover-up of drug trafficking by Contras

2 October 2014

An analysis written for the CIA‘s internal journal Studies in Intelligence, “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” attributed to Nicholas Dujmovic, reviews the efforts of the agency to contain a series of articles by journalist Gary Webb documenting relationships between the CIA and US-backed Contra rebels.

The article is part of a trove of CIA documents released on September 18 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

As shock troops in a US-backed war against the Nicaraguan government, the Contras carried out a reign of terror against Nicaragua‘s civilian population, killing tens of thousands. Support for the Contras by US intelligence was authorized by President Ronald Reagan, who instructed CIA head William Casey to “support and conduct … paramilitary operations” in Nicaragua in 1981.

The CIA began operations aimed at expanding the ranks of the Contra forces, which were recruited from elite military units of the Somoza regime and from layers of the peasantry. Arms shipments to the Contras were overseen by a secret cabal headed by Lt. Colonel Oliver North, despite a congressional prohibition.

Webb’s articles revealed that the US government continued to support Contra elements even with the knowledge that the latter were engaged in trafficking cocaine into major US cities and using the proceeds to finance their war against the Sandinista (FSLN) government of Nicaragua. Webb’s investigation showed that representatives of the US-backed right-wing militias worked with gangs in Los Angeles to sell tons of cocaine, leading to speculation from other commentators that the CIA directed the flow of drugs to target black neighborhoods.

“Managing a Nightmare” makes clear that the CIA utilized its extensive network of relations with the US media to discredit Webb’s reporting by promoting the publication of stories in major news outlets attacking Webb’s research. The paper’s author, a CIA employee, concluded that the media relations campaign by the agency succeeded in containing the fallout from Webb’s revelations.

“A review of the CIA drug conspiracy story—from its inception in August 1996 with the San Jose Mercury-News stories—shows that a ground base of already productive relations with journalists and an effective response by the Director of Central Intelligence‘s DCI Public Affairs Staff (PAS) helped prevent this story from becoming an unmitigated disaster,” Dujmovic wrote.

“By the end of September, the number of observed stories in the print media that indicated skepticism of the Mercury News series surpassed that of the negative coverage, which had already peaked. In fact, for three weeks the number of skeptical or positive pieces observed in the media constantly exceeded the number of negative treatments of the CIA,” Dujmovic found.

In some cases it is even possible, he noted, “to change the mind of a reporter whose initial inclinations toward CIA were negative but who is willing to listen to the other side of the story.”

Describing the methods used by the agency, Dujmovic explained that it was possible to spread the agency’s carefully tailored perspective in the US media without even needing to directly plant stories in newspapers.

“Public Affairs cannot dictate stories to the media … What CIA media spokesmen can do, as this case demonstrates, is to work with journalists who are already disposed toward writing a balanced story … CIA Public Affairs can help the journalist with information he might not have or a perspective that might not have crossed his mind,” Dujmovic wrote.

Dujmovic went on to predict that the CIA would face an upsurge of public distrust in the coming decades, calling for greater moves to build the public relations capacities of the agency.

“There will be other public relations crises with which CIA will have to contend … If historians such as Samuel Huntington are correct …we can expect periodic displays of public distrust in government roughly every 20 to 30 years—and we are just beginning such as phase. In such times, even fantastic allegations about CIA … will resonate with, and even appeal to, much of American society. At those times, it is especially important to have a professional public affairs staff help limit the damage and facilitate more balanced coverage of CIA.”

Written under the heading “Societal Shortcomings,” one of Dujmovic’s concluding paragraphs revealed the intellectual degeneration and contempt for democratic principles that rules within the power centers of the US government.

“Ultimately the CIA-drug story says a lot more about American society on the eve of the millennium that [sic] it does about either the CIA or the media. We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times–when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community,” Dujmovic wrote.

In reality, the story revealed the US media as eager attack dogs on behalf of the CIA’s efforts to destroy Webb and bury the material he was bringing to light.

As the WSWS noted in its review of Webb’s 1998 book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, “Dark Alliance is as much an exposure of the American media as of the American intelligence apparatus and the Nicaraguan Contras. It is no discredit to Webb’s enterprise and intelligence to say that any serious and competent reporter, given the leads he was given, could have produced a similar exposé. That no other reporter did what Webb did demonstrates the largely controlled character of the American media.”

In a number of pieces aimed at burying the story, the major US newspapers reproduced CIA-concocted distortions of Webb’s reporting, attributing to him more extreme claims made by talk radio hosts and others about the extent of direct CIA involvement, and dismissing his claims on this basis.

In its review of Webb’s book, the New York Times proclaimed, “It is laughable to suggest that today’s CIA has the imagination or the courage to manage a cover-up on the scale” suggested by Webb. In fact, as the newly released document clearly shows, the CIA mobilized a systematic public affairs campaign precisely to “manage” the “nightmare” caused by exposures of agency collaboration with drug traffickers to provide funds for an illegal dirty war.

The Los Angeles Times responded to the Contra-cocaine story by forming a “get Gary Webb team” of some 17 journalists, who worked systematically to produce material discrediting Webb, according to comments made by Times reporter Jesse Katz during a 2013 radio interview.

Katz said that the Times reporters were instructed to search Webb’s findings with a “microscope.” He added, “It was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the LA Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.”

The Washington Post joined the media counterattack against Webb, with an article which, as the WSWS wrote in its review of Webb’s 1998 book, “parroted distortions of the series originally voiced by the US intelligence agencies (alleging, for instance, that Webb claimed the CIA had deliberately targeted black communities in promoting Contra cocaine trafficking).”

Reacting to the wave of attacks against Webb’s series, the editor at Webb’s employer, the Mercury News, published a repudiation of the articles, saying the paper had “fallen short” in its editorial responsibilities. Webb was never able to find employment again as a journalist, and died from an apparent suicide on December 9, 2004.

The practices described in the Dujmovic document were developed by the agency over decades. Operation MOCKINGBIRD, launched in the 1950s to disseminate CIA propaganda and overseen by Allen Dulles and later by Frank Wisner, cultivated a network of CIA-friendly journalists and developed cultural and student organizations to serve as fronts for the agency’s ideological warfare operations.

In a 1977 expose for Rolling Stone, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein reported that numerous leading news outlets including CBS, Time, Life Magazine, the Washington Post, the Washington Star and the Christian Science Monitor published reports passed directly to them from the CIA.

The report of the 1976 Church Committee acknowledged the use of such methods by the agency overseas, stating, “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.”

Despite the CIA suppression of investigative reporting on the matter, many of the US government’s own reports have confirmed significant involvement of the CIA with cocaine trafficking during the war.

The 1985 National Intelligence Estimate reported that top Contra leader Eden Pastora had links to traffickers. The Reagan administration acknowledged the existence of connections between the US-backed Contras and cocaine smuggling between 1985 and 86.

A CIA internal investigation acknowledged that the agency had worked with Contra elements involved in drug smuggling and that CIA agents “looked the other way” in order to further the political aims of the war.

“During the Contra era, CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program,” CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz wrote in a report based on the internal investigation which he headed. “These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.”

A report issued from a Senate hearing co-sponsored by John Kerry and Christopher Dodd acknowledged that at least $800,000 in State Department funds went to known drug traffickers, supposedly as payment for their services in shipping aid to the Contras.

“There is no question in my mind that people affiliated with, or on the payroll of, the CIA were involved in drug trafficking,” said then Senator Kerry.

Circumstantial evidence abounds that the counter-revolutionary militias raised funds through drug sales inside the US. An investigation of the seizure of 430 pounds of cocaine in San Francisco led the San Francisco Examiner to report in 1986 that a “cocaine ring in the San Francisco Bay area helped finance Nicaragua’s Contra rebels.” The Examiner quoted convicted cocaine smuggler Carlos Cabezas saying that his drug money went to support “the Contra revolution” and that he “just wanted to get the Communists out of my country.”

Former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Celerino Castillo stated that cocaine traffickers shipped drugs to the US with the knowledge of the CIA in planes departing from El Salvador’s Ilopango Airport. Oscar Danilo Blandon testified to a grand jury that he smuggled cocaine into the US while working for the Contras and sold the drugs to dealers in Los Angeles.

In a strong indication of knowledge of the drug operations at the highest levels of the political and intelligence establishments, CIA director William Casey sought and Attorney General William French Smith signed a special exemption in February 1982 freeing the agency from legal requirements to report about the drug trafficking operations of its assets.

The Contra-cocaine story was only the latest in an extended pattern of collaboration between US covert operations and drug trafficking syndicates in South East Asia and Afghanistan. Writing about CIA involvement in the heroin trade in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, historian Alfred McCoy noted that “the CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection.”

“American involvement had gone far beyond coincidental complicity, McCoy wrote in his work The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. “[E]mbassies had covered up involvement by client governments, CIA contract airlines had carried opium, and individual CIA agents had winked at the opium traffic. As an indirect consequence of American involvement in the Golden Triangle until 1972, opium production steadily increased.”

Relations between the US ruling elite and organized crime have flourished in the decades since the Contra war. In April 2006, the capture of a cocaine-laden DC9 owned by the Sinaloa cartel exposed money laundering operations by Wachovia bank on behalf of the massive cartel, which operates across more than 40 countries. The cartel, responsible for 25 percent of illegal drugs sold in the US, passed some $370 billion to Wachovia, investigators found.

Large infusions of drug money played a key role in stabilizing the finances of the big banks during the 2008 financial crisis, according to top UN official for drugs and crime Antonio Maria Costa. During a 2012 Al Jazeera interview, an official spokesman for the government of Mexico’s Chihuahua province accused the CIA of “managing the drug trade.”

CIA crimes against Nicaragua went far beyond collaboration with drug traffickers, of course. The agency was directly involved in organizing death squads, subversion, murder and intimidation against the population of Nicaragua and Honduras as part of its war against the Sandinistas. US intervention included the creation of Honduras’ “Battalion 3-16,” which carried out extra-judicial killings and torture to suppress opposition to the US-backed Honduran regime and Contras, while under the leadership of the US-trained General Luis Elvir.

Webb’s research was suppressed because it began to tear away the veil from this underworld of covert operations in which America’s government, media and major banks function as a permanent conspiracy against the working class in all countries.

Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger tells the story of Gary Webb, whose August 1996 investigative series “Dark Alliance,” published in the San Jose Mercury News, uncovered ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and massive drug peddling by the right-wing, mercenary Nicaraguan Contras. Webb’s three-part series established that in the 1980s the CIA-backed Contras smuggled cocaine into the US that was widely distributed as crack. The drug profits were then funneled by the CIA to the Contras in their war against the left-nationalist Sandinista government in Nicaragua: here.

OFTEN a film like this gripping and deeply disturbing biopic-cum-thriller, based on a true story, leaves one wondering just how much of the narrative has been sexed-up for box-office benefit. But there’s no such concern with Kill the Messenger. It’s the disturbing story of US investigative journalist Gary Webb who, following his revelations that the CIA were aware of dealers flooding the US streets with cocaine and siphoning off the profits to fund arms shipments to the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s, found his career and the lives of himself and his  family under threat: here.

Conservation in Nicaragua

This video from Nicaragua is called Capuchin Monkeys from Ometepe.

From Fauna & Flora International:

Eternity Trail built in memory of Nicaraguan conservationist

Posted on: 27.04.12 (Last edited) 27th April 2012

New trail in Ometepe Island Biosphere Reserve will keep visitors safe and protect fragile forest ecosystems.

The legacy of an internationally recognised conservationist in Nicaragua was honoured on Friday, with the unveiling of a new nature interpretation trail on Maderas Volcano, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

The new trail, called Sendero la Eternidad (The Eternity Trail) is dedicated to Teresa Zúñiga, an inspirational and devoted Nicaraguan conservationist who ran Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) country programme in Nicaragua from April 2006 until her untimely death in September 2008.

Teresa was an outstanding ambassador for environmental protection and was instrumental in initiating and driving forward the designation of Ometepe as an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Her loss came as a devastating shock to family, friends and colleagues, and to Nicaragua’s wider conservation community. …

Currently, the route covers 3 km of trails, including bridges, rest areas, route markers and interpretation signs. At the entrance to the trail is a small garden and rock sculpture depicting a salamander endemic to Ometepe Island. …

Words and thoughts were shared, both about the project itself and Teresa. Her efforts transcended FFI projects, and her tireless work helped to safeguard many of her country’s endangered species, such as the jaguars of Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and turtles nesting on Nicaragua’s shores.

A specialist in biodiversity and protected areas, she made a valuable contribution to the development of Nicaragua’s protected area system and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

See also here.

New cichlid fish species discovered in Nicaragua

From Practical Fishkeeping:

Three new Amphilophus cichlids named

American scientists have described three new species belonging to the Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellum) species complex from Lake Apoyo in southwestern Nicaragua.

Publishing the descriptions in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Jay Stauffer, Jeffrey McCrary and Kristin Black have named the three new species Amphilophus astorquii, A. chancho, and A. flaveolus.

Convict cichlids benefit from close proximity to another species of cichlid fish: here.

Also from Practical Fishkeeping:

Comet the goldfish could arguably be called the world’s most intelligent fish after its owner, Dr. Dean Pomerleau, taught him to play football, basketball, limbo, play fetch, slalom around a series of poles and push a rugby ball over a set of posts.