NICARAGUA

NICARAGUA, my beloved homeland, has experienced more tumultuous revolutions than any other country in Central America. To better understand the current socio-political climate of Nicaragua, Alan Arnesto–long time family friend and proud Nicaragüense–gives us an up-close-and-personal depiction of Nicaragua’s longing for peace and prosperity, in the midst of governmental greed, scandal, corruption, and violence.

“Ay Nicaragua, Nicaragüita, la flor mas linda de mi querer. . . .”

“A beautiful song that sings of the beauty of Nicaragua, land of my ancestors and my heart. This song was written at the end of the Sandinistan revolution by Carlos Mejia Godoy. It was a time of celebration with a vicious dictator down and the promise of freedom for all. Truth be told: it was merely the calm before the storm.

“Then came the 80’s, a decade of Nicaraguan poverty that had not been seen in many generations. Eastern Europe reached out to its newest fraternal socialist ally and began sending foodstuff, materiel, and money to the people of Nicaragua to offset the US embargo. This is when we got our first real view of how the Sandinistas would be.

“The relief aid was seized by the government to stock their so called ‘Tiendas Diplomaticas’, where only dollars could be used to purchase things like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, cornflakes, and the like. Hard currency was needed as hyperinflation was running rampant. I remember carrying millions of cordobas in my pocket because a bottle of Coca-Cola cost eight million cordobas. Another clear memory was the toilet paper seller: a man cut newspaper into toilet paper-sized strips and then wrapped them around a toilet paper roll. Toilet paper was rare to say the least. If you couldn’t find it in the Tienda Diplomatica or ‘Diplo’, you had to wait for the toilet paper man or make your own.

“The war with the Contras was going on at this time and people, mainly boys, were going missing only to appear a few weeks later on the front lines. Even ‘date night’ was a gamble: with only one movie playing one night of the week, one ran a great risk of army trucks pulling up when the movie let out forcing the men to board and be sent to Mulukuku (a basic training location that guaranteed a front line position). I always made sure to carry my passport in my pocket and had on many occasions the opportunity to flash it to soldiers who followed me past a few blocks. It felt like being in a spy thriller sometimes.

“The 90’s saw Nicaragua’s renaissance as the Sandinistas gave in to a fair, popular vote after the fall of the Soviet Bloc. Doña Violeta Chamorro—widow of a famous newspaper owner and outspoken man—became the new President of the Nicaraguan Republic, but not without supervision from the Sandinistas, as they only agreed to give over power to the new administration if Daniel Ortega’s brother—Humberto—could remain the chief of the armed forces.

“With the election of Violeta, Nicaraguans came flooding back to Nicaragua from all over the world bringing with them the knowledge, ideas, and capital to begin the reconstruction of Nicaragua and making it a place to be seen. Supermarkets were once again springing up, and you could actually go to McDonald’s in Managua that served real McDonald’s burgers and menu items (not the hot dogs and Nicaraguan food it used to serve when the building remained open under the same name). These were the days of rebuilding and introduction of a new generation of ‘Nicas’ to their country and those of us returning brought our American culture mix.

“Unfortunately, those who followed Violeta were compromised in one way or another and some were found to be corrupt. This led to Ortega being seen as a viable candidate again.

“Oh the good ole days of leeks and onions. . . . Ortega had changed his image by distancing himself from the Sandinistas and declaring himself a Christian. At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, Why the history lesson, Alan? Because there is a lot of history here and irony is delicious.

“Ortega did bring a whole new approach to his time in office, much to the disbelief of people, including myself. Infrastructure became a priority, opening to foreign money and investment. Nicaragua was chugging along, from becoming the hot spot for retirement to being on the front cover of a major airline’s inflight magazine as the newest tourist attraction in the rough. Spirits were high in Nicaragua. Everyone was enjoying its golden rebirth. I myself went back and took up the family business of growing coffee and had plans to turn my farm in to an eco-tourism destination. But it was not to be . . . for now.

“After serving the allowable terms under the Nicaraguan Constitution, Ortega fought and won the fight to make changes and be elected for another term. Many were unconcerned due to the booming economy and seeming end to the days of violence as Nicaragua went from war torn wasteland to the safest country in Central America. What a change! A major shift was taking place, one where tourism was the fastest growing economy, outperforming agriculture for the first time. Major foreign investment was pouring in. Talk about reigniting the original plan of a canal through Nicaragua was in all the papers. Things looked like they could only go up. All good things must come to an end, however.

“A few short months ago, some of the fears people had about Ortega’s government were found to be true: Ortega had been stealing from the social security fund. The fact was brought to light after he announced that the social security program was going to be overhauled; higher taxes and lower benefits were the order of the day. Enter the dark days. The people of Nicaragua, mostly college-aged and elderly went out to protest these new laws, one due to the future they had to look forward to and the other due to the change in the benefits they were already receiving. When they took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations, they were met with gunfire and dozens were killed in the first few days.

“This served to turn the tide from protesting the social security changes to citizens protesting the murders of their fellow citizens. The last six months in Nicaragua have unraveled some disturbing spectacles: the United Nations Human Rights team given only hours to leave the country under threat of death; students being trapped inside of their universities as snipers took shots at them; the police using the Sandinistan youth brigades to attack the demonstrators or blend in and cause problems; hospital workers fired for tending to the wounded demonstrators; the judiciary employees fired for not following the party line or being seen at demonstrations; people disappearing into the most notorious prisons in a country that uses dungeons as prisons; leaders or people seen as leaders in the movement kidnapped and murdered. The worst part of humanity is being placed on display in Nicaragua.

“The UN is aware of what’s happening. The Organization of American States knows what is happening. The US is aware, as well. Steps are being taken both inside and outside Nicaragua to bring about early voting and get Ortega out of office, be it the tourist business telling people not to come down as it isn’t safe or the students and citizens that continue to march.

“Violence has been the strategy of bullies in the past and it continues to this day. Today the people choose to have regime change through peaceful demonstrations only to be answered with violence on the part of the government.

“The students and those marching are currently using songs and slogans first used by the Sandinistas while protesting Anastasio Somoza. The younger generation is leading the march against a repressive, murderous government. Irony. I still live vicariously through the workers that tend my coffee plantation and tell me of the daily changes. I will have a chance to see it for myself shortly as I have need to travel to Nicaragua. I can only say that I am proud of my people for choosing peaceful means this time. God knows that we have seen our share of blood and war.”   —Alan Arnesto 

Chester Delagneau


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