From Sun Jun 2 10:30:12 2002
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2002 14:00:54 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Nicaragua: Remnants of Revolution
Article: 139535
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Remnants of Revolution

By George Papanastasiou, 1 June 2002

If you see the streets getting wider
If you see the flowers blooming everywhere
If you see that in the hands of the children
Instead of bombs they hold the dreams of our heroes

It's because today we are a year older
It's because we grew a little more
It's because our house is open to you
In this Nicaragua that is free

El Aniversario, by Carlos Meija Godoy
Nicaraguan Singer/Songwriter

Nicaragua must have been a truly beautiful country before modern humans set foot here. A vast, nutrient rich land with a mass diversity of life, including indigenous Miskito, Mayagna and Rama people co-existing with nature for centuries. It remains, to a large extent, a place of dramatic landscapes, large open lakes and ominous volcanoes, a place disfigured by destructive earthquakes and vicious tropical hurricanes.

Today, although still beautiful, Nicaragua is visibly battered by human occupation. Its recent history seems somehow simple, even to its inhabitants. But maybe it seems this way because it's full of definitive moments that have a tendency to overshadow the finer details. One aspect of Nicaraguan history, however, is that you can see it everywhere, from bullet-riddled buildings to hurricane-swept beaches, to odd open areas in cities cleared by earthquakes or war. You can also see political history painted on walls, cars, t-shirts, buses, billboards, literally everywhere. When history is made in Nicaragua it has an ever-present ability to mark itself permanently and leave a lasting impression on Nicaragua's social landscape.

Nicaragua's distant past is a portrait of conquest, subjugation, plundered resources and oppression by both internal and external forces. A country invaded, for example, by an entrepreneurial filibuster Yankee, William Walker, who declared himself President and legalised slavery. This is another reality of Nicaraguan history, and another of its many definitive moments.

For most of its political history after winning independence from the Spanish in 1839, Nicaragua maintained a privileged middle-class and ruling upper-class elite who were in no way representative of the average state of Nicaragua's people. They were, however, divided between Liberals and Conservatives the former based in Leon, the latter in Grenada. Although Nicaragua's history will show frequent squabbling between the two, they maintained very little in ideological difference. Neither offered any true hope for the vast majority of Nicaraguans who remained illiterate, unemployed, hopeless and yet passive.

More recently, Nicaragua was the proud home of one of the world's longest running dynastic dictatorships, the Somozas'. This dictatorial era subsisted with the support and guidance of the United States and drove the population deeper into unforgivable poverty.

But if there ever was a true, more nationalistic Nicaraguan patriot, it must have been Augusto Cesar Sandino, a baby-faced bandit who organised his troops well enough in the late twenties and early thirties to defeat and eventually expel the barefaced imperialism of US marines occupying parts of Nicaragua. And, do this without the support of the Nicaraguan Government who, in fact, also fought against him and after his triumph, treacherously shot him in the back during a negotiating session, literally. So was born the legend of Sandino, but for the next 40 years or so, this history was veiled by the fearful Somozas, who were obviously in no mood to give the people a martyred hero, a successful example of struggle against oppression.

The first of the Somozas was Anastasio Somoza Garcia. Consolidating his grip on power through a rigged election in 1936, he ran the country until September 20th 1956, when a young poet, Rigoberto Lopez Perez, put 4 bullets in him, before being cut down by Somoza's bodyguards. Tacho, as he was known, died soon after on September 29th. Luis Somoza Debayle, the eldest son, then ruled until 1967 and from here, his younger brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle ascended to the throne until the revolution of 1979 ousted him and the rest of the Somoza family. Their long time at the top was sustained by the National Guard, a powerful and merciless police/army then also the most heavily US trained military establishment in all of Latin America. They ran the country with ingrained corruption and abuse of power, amassing a fortune estimated at between $500 million and $1.5 billion by 1979.

During their time, they accentuated food shortages by displacing peasant farmers to grow cotton and other exploitive export crops. The average income for Nicaraguans remained far below even the regional impoverished average. Infant mortality and illiteracy rates soared as life expectancy plummeted. Nicaraguans virtually lived as slaves, subjugated to the will of the Somozas who were described by the North Americans as admittedly bastards, but our bastards nonetheless.

Even as the suffering of the Nicaraguan people seemed complete, it descended to a new low with Somoza Debayle's particular ruthlessness following a big earthquake in 1972, which destroyed most of Managua, leaving over 10,000 dead, 50,000 injured and 200,000 homeless. More than $100 million in international aid was allocated to relieving some of the acute suffering of the city's poor majority, hit hard by the quake, but most of this was shamelessly funnelled into Somoza's personal bank accounts, leaving the people even more impoverished and desperate. Somoza saw opportunities in the re-building process and had his construction companies, and those of his cronies, awarded lucrative contracts by his own government. He let the GN (National Guard—Guardia Nacional) sell food and material aid supplies donated freely by the international community which, along with other similar attrocities, eventually lost him the support of even the domestic elite leaving him and his family as unpopular as they'd ever been in Nicaragua. Even the US, shamed by Somoza's ruthlessness, veered away from the dictatorship by cutting off military aid and some non-military assistance, demoralising the dictatorship and inadvertently encouraging the fledgling insurgency movement in Nicaragua.

Heading this movement was the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion National—Sandinista Front for National Liberation) formed in 1961 by a group of Marxist students inspired by the example of Sandino and the 1959 Cuban Revolution which liberated that country from the tentacles of imperialism, but left it open to relentless persecution ever since. It adopted the popular Latin American insurrectionary colours of Red and Black, also used by M/26/7 of Cuba, the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) of Peru, the FMLN (Farabundo Marti de Libercion Nacional) of El Salvador, the FARC of Colombia and more recently, the EZLN of Chiapas, Mexico. Initially, the FSLN (or the Sandinistas, as they were also known) were never any real threat to the Somozas. The GN quite often hunted down, tortured and murdered FSLN members with little resistance. They were, however, eventually to become a very intelligent and flexible guerrilla force capable of confronting and often beating the GN, especially after the 1972 earthquake. Some spectacular insurrectionary victories by their swelling numbers turned them into a real force by 1978 giving them the momentum to finally topple the GN and send the Somoza family fleeing into exile, but not before looting the country's coffers. By this stage the hated GN even consisted of international mercenaries, professional soldiers paid to fight, the deadliest of which were the South Koreans who fought rambo style high on cocaine, corner-to-corner with machine-guns in both hands.

The strength of the revolutionary movement was bolstered by the overwhelming support of average Nicaraguans, and it was mainly due to this the FSLN was eventually victorious on 19th July, 1979. The war had cost the country 50,000 dead, or 2% of its total population; a staggering number considering the equivalent number in the United States would have been over 2,500,000. However, the irrepressible enthusiasm of having liberated their country led to a period of National Reconstruction by the Sandinistas who suddenly found they were heading an entire nation.

The properties of the Somozas (including over 30% of Nicaragua's best farming land) were quickly nationalised, as were the assets of many of their cronies and those that appeared abandoned by wealthy people who panicked and fled. Most were turned into state farms, peasant co-operatives, and in some cases, individual plots. These expropriating policies effectively gave land back to Nicaragua's poor, making them much more self-sufficient in food production than at any other time in recent history and helping Nicaragua tackle its enormous food shortage problems. The vigour of Nicaragua's newly found freedom and independence was reflected in skyrocketing GDP growth of 7% from 1979 to 1983, while Central America as a whole suffered a 14.7% decline.

This period also saw the innovative and highly effective use of social policies that radically expanded Social Security and Welfare programs to reduce some of the extreme suffering of the poor majority. Agrarian reform gave many thousands of peasants access to land. But the best results came from programs in health and education with an extremely enthusiastic volunteer program cutting illiteracy down at world record rates, to national record levels. This, coupled with a very successful grass-roots preventative medicine program, forced the United States to admit, Nicaragua's government has made significant gains against illiteracy and disease.

Organizations representing neighbourhoods, women, youth, urban and rural workers and peasants were encouraged to grow as fervour for truer participatory democracy grew. The Sandinistas drafted a National Constitution in close consultation with many Western European countries and even adopted electoral laws closely based on, and monitored by, the Swedish Electoral Commission. Open and free elections in November 1984 in which 75% of the total electorate participated (a massive turnout for a country without a compulsory voting law), saw FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega Saavedra win with a total of 63% of the vote. The international legitimacy of the elections was never questioned, but the US, fearing a popular victory by the FSLN, denounced them as a Soviet style farce as soon as they were announced in late 1983. Delegations from the British and Irish parliaments found the elections to be clean and valid but this news never reached mainstream US newsreaders who instead were alarmed to learn, from a CIA story leaked to the press, of Soviet-built MiG jet fighters being sent to Nicaragua aboard Socialist Bloc freighters, a very complete and timely fabrication aimed at distracting them from the truth of Nicaragua's elections.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming popularity and rapid social victories of Nicaragua's revolution, now gathering international praise, stung the Reagan administration, which decided to take action. It immediately imposed trade sanctions on Nicaragua in an attempt to isolate it from US allies considering normalised relations with the revolutionary government. Following this, the CIA recruited exiled GN as well as other international mercenaries, trained and equipped them in bases in the US and Honduras to brutalise Nicaragua's young revolution for the next 7 years. The contras, as they were known, were very successful in their deliberate strategy of targeting government, social services and personnel. They attacked and destroyed rural clinics, schools, food-storage facilities and paid particular attention to slaughtering teachers, doctors, nurses, technicians and other professionals. These losses meant large sectors of rural Nicaragua were deprived of government services they'd come to expect in the early '80s. Ronald Reagan, then US President, was delighted, calling the contras freedom fighters and boldly proclaiming, I'm a contra!

The legitimate Sandinista government was forced to invest heavily to protect the gains of the revolution—its costs were in manpower and resources used to fight the contras who never really won a battle against the Sandinista People's Army, but were successful in their debilitating aims nonetheless. As well as this, the Sandinistas were pressured into becoming more and more authoritarian, playing into the hands of US propagandists, who then pointed to a repressive government as the reason for the strong action against this third world country.

The contra aggression was dramatically escalated by Washington leading up to the 1990 elections when the US decided to micro-manage the opposition to the FSLN to be certain of victory. The debilitating war, coupled with a massive propaganda campaign against the Sandinistas, led to the shock defeat of the FSLN government in what were legitimate elections as far as the practical vote casting and ballot counting processes were concerned. Clearly, a battered Nicaraguan population, ravaged by years of war, understandably saw no way out of the hell they'd been subjected to by the United States than to vote against the FSLN in support of Violeta Chamorro. Violetta was thus declared Nicaragua's first-ever female President and immediately let her profoundly conservative views influence her policies. She eliminated legal therapeutic abortions, drafted a policy condemning the use of contraceptives and re-criminalized homosexuality. Washington urged the contras to end their war as Nicaragua's people breathed a sigh of relief, having paid with over 30,000 dead and material losses estimated at $1.15 billion.

The electoral loss was a massive shock to the FSLN, but one it had to accept if it was to adhere to truly democratic, socially conscious ideals. The United States had triumphed again with war, destroying another spark of potentially all-inclusive, conscious and compassionate society. I say potentially because the FSLN never really had a chance to implement anything resembling a total array of progressive policies; in fact, even with the astounding accomplishments it did manage, little of the full potential of the Sandinista revolution was ever realised.

Before all this, in 1986, Nicaragua took the US to the International Court of Justice to sue for damages. The court ruled the contra war illegal, describing it as terrorist and awarding $17 billion in compensation to be paid by the US to Nicaragua. Predictably, not a cent ever exchanged hands. Washington completely ignored the ruling, saying the court didn't have jurisdiction on the matter. On November 12, 1988, the Sandinista government introduced a resolution in the UN General Assembly concerning the need for US compliance with the ruling by the International Court of Justice concerning military and paramilitary activities against Nicaragua. The resolution was adopted 94 votes to 2, the US and Israel against. Ronald Reagan, when asked about the resolution against his policies in Nicaragua, calmly replied, It didn't interrupt my breakfast. This money would have been enough to completely lift Nicaragua out of debt and poverty. Even today, the $17 billion could pay off Nicaragua's debt three times over. Unfazed, the Sandinistas persisted and introduced another resolution in the General Assembly, further shaming the US internationally. It urged ... an end to the US trade embargo on Nicaragua. Again, 94 countries voted for the resolution, with two against—the USA and Israel.

And, as for the World Court ruling, recent deals with the US by the corrupt right-wing Managua governments have all but ended any hope of Nicaragua, and average Nicaraguans, ever seeing any of this money.

During this time, the world also learnt of more malevolent US activity when the Iran/Contra Scandal was exposed. The National Security Council of the US, having had its military funding for the Nicaraguan contras cut by a Congress concerned about contra atrocities, decided to fund the contras illegally instead, from the basement of the White House. Colonel Oliver North, via an organization aptly named the Enterprise, bought weapons from various international arms dealers and passed them to Israel who sold them to Iran, then fighting an appalling war with Iraq but crippled militarily by an international arms embargo. In return for being able to buy these arms to continue the war effort with Iraq, Iran released US hostages held in Beirut and other places in the Middle East.

So what did this have to do with the contras in Nicaragua? Profits from the sale of the weapons to Iran were invested in more arms, supplies and training for contras to murder more Nicaraguans trying to build the revolution. Such were the lengths the Reagan administration was prepared to go to scuttle another threat of a good example in Central America—an example, in fact, which could have positively resonated around the world, in every impoverished country. This of course, being the true reason the US was violently opposed to it.

It was only when a Sandinista jungle patrol shot down a CIA Hercules military cargo plane over northern Nicaragua, with clear evidence of the entire plot contained within (in the form of arms and documents) that the entire operation was uncovered and the whole world shocked. Oliver North took the blame to save President Reagan's ass, who denied ever knowing of the operation. North spent a miserly amount of time behind bars before being pardoned as a patriot by Reagan's successor President George Bush (Sr). Today, he presents a War Stories program on Fox News, one of the most reactionary news networks in the world; he's also a personal family favourite of the Bush clan.

Since the FSLN defeat in 1990, US interventionism in Nicaragua has persisted with blatant anti-socialist policies coming to the fore with every Nicaraguan election. Subsequent Nicaraguan right-wing governments, backed by the US, have once more turned corrupt and ruthless as with the most recent example of the piggishly greedy and internationally detested Arnoldo Aleman, who plundered the country and left average Nicaraguans in the most horrid of conditions.

Neo-liberal dictates masquerading as recommendations by undemocratic and irresponsible institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have added to Nicaragua's crippling international debt, which is, on a per-capita basis, among the highest in the world. Today, in the entire Western hemisphere, Nicaragua sits just above Haiti as the most impoverished country.

In November of 2001, the FSLN lost another election to the US, who now sees nothing wrong with meddling in the internal democratic processes of sovereign nations. And Nicaragua has gone back to being another market, another energy source, kept weak and desperate in order to feed the world's greatest-ever empire, the United States of America.

How did they pervert another election?

After the poisonous US attempt to pervert the 1984 elections, the Sandinistas painted a mural in Leon depicting the CIA as a two-headed serpent rising from the remnants of the GN, one head submitting a ballot box, the other hissing at the hand of the voter casting the ballot in an attempt to influence the vote.

And so to the Nicaragua of today, plummeting head-first into complete disaster once again, reliant heavily on coffee production and export, when the price of coffee as a commodity has been consistently devalued by international speculators and commodity traders since 1997.

Companies like Nestle declare ever-increasing profits mainly from the falling prices of such commodities as more and more Nicaraguan farmers are forced, during this coffee crisis for them, to clear more virgin rainforest to plant more coffee to survive. In fact, a farmer might have to harvest four manzanas of coffee today, for the same amount of money received two years ago for only two manzanas.

And the farmers (in particular) suffer. Most live in disgusting conditions, in tiny shacks with their families, completely lacking basic amenities like power, running water, sewerage or a telephone. They have little if any access to educational or health services, but they persist, passively exploited. As they're forced further into pristine jungle areas they endanger further Nicaragua's already irreparably damaged environment. But no environmentalist in their right mind could blame them.

In a remote town north of Esteli I got the chance to see, but not endure, the overwhelming misery of life for Nicaragua's poor. I couldn't imagine living my entire life this way. It's extremely difficult to convey, in any terms, the intensity of such moments, except to say you're numb whilst there and wonder how life could ever be the same afterwards. To a certain degree, you come to appreciate the motivations of Nicaraguan Revolutionaries like Carlos Fonseca Amador, who dedicated his entire life to Social Justice in Nicaragua, until the GN murdered him in 1976, only three years before the triumph of the revolution.

I've come close to seeing people pressed to choose between an undignified, famished death and a death with dignity. This may mean that in desperation they'll resort to using violence, something horrible, but not worse than the life-long, slowly torturous and excruciating death that can come from capital exploitation.

Nicaragua is testimony to brutality, violent revolution and hope, then further brutality and exploitation. It is an example of what can be achieved using methods that ultimately fail, because they are eventually reproducing of themselves, or because there exists a hegemonic imperialist power willing to use violence to consolidate its domination over any country unwilling to toe the capitalocratic line.

This point was made clear during a meeting I had with Georgia Taylor, the head of the British DFID (Department for International Development) in Managua, a donor-charity body set up as a practical arm of Blair government benevolence.

After trailing-on about how difficult conditions were for Nicaraguan people (while enjoying her English tea in a beautifully decorated, air-conditioned conference room) I decided to ask her, abruptly, what she really thought of the current situation in Nicaragua and what were, in her opinion, the main causes. I was amazed by her response.

You know, the United States is the root-cause of almost every dilemma faced by Nicaragua in the last 100 years.

What? I replied with astonishment.

Yeah, everyone knows it, C'mon.

So is that you're official position? I ask.

Oh no, God no, we're allies of the US she chuckles, you can't quote me, you can never quote me. Of course, I have and will continue to quote her and others like her because I'm sick of bullshit. I owe it to the heroic people of Nicaragua who subsist, barely, year after year under terrible conditions because people continue to put up with official lines from Western governments and aid organizations who, by their own admission, are unaccepting of certain realities.

I left wondering how a well-funded body like the DFID could ever really impact on the lives of poor Nicaraguans when, officially, they exist in a fantasy world. In fact, they only serve to justify and prolong the current iniquity of the world system.

Even in the face of such ineffectual ‘aid’, Nicaragua's spirit persists in social co-operatives working with groups promoting Fair Trade to support those doing the most work for the least reward. The spirit persists with the brave Sandinistas and their supporters who say they'll never rest until they've achieved a more equal society. The spirit is still with the international solidarity groups like Nicaragua Network and the NSC who do important work informing the world of Nicaraguan injustices. And the spirit is in the eyes of Nicaragua's children who convey their hopes with a burning impatience.

This is the beautiful Nicaragua of today, seeking another beauty for tomorrow.

Support Nicaragua: BUY FAIR-TRADE COFFEE. Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign: Nicaragua Network USA:

Special thanks to:

Ronaldo Espinoza Gutierrez, Philosopher of Metaphysics in Leon who unwittingly taught me an important lesson.

Luis Lautaro Ruiz Mendoza, inspirational Sandinista, musician, mimer, friend.

Paul Baker, a British NSC activist living very simply in Managua. Thanks for the guidance, sorry for the fleas.

Many thanks to Francisco, Javier, Fatima and all the brave people of the SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperative, Jinotega Nicaragua. Also, to the people of Managua, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Esteli, Ocotal, San Rafael del Norte, Leon and Las Ponitas for their overwhelming hospitality.

In solidarity with the heroic people of Nicaragua, struggling for social justice. Written in Nicaragua, February/March 2002.