A Dispatch from Managua Nicaragua
April 1 2010
“I am a Sandinista, no Orteguista.” Daniel Alegria, An ex-cadre of Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, The Frente)
Author’s note: I was always intrigued by the Nicaragua’s Sandinista Movement since my departure in 1975 from the South Korea where the Military Dictatorial Regime of Gen. Park CH had been launching the full court press in arresting, torturing, incarcerating and executing the dissident group of students, journalists, professors, human right activists and ordinary people.
In Nicaragua, the Somoza Regime was no less totalitarian than Gen. Park’s military rules and the Somoza Gang was fully supported by the US Government militarily and financially.
When the Frente overthrew the Somoza Regime in 1979 and won the 1984 election, the US President, Ronald Reagan who was a Hollywood actor-cum-prevaricator had launched the “Contra” insurgency in order to make Nicaraguans “cry Uncle”, declaring that the Sandinista was a commie agents for the Soviet Union.
The Sandinista Movement was a beacon of hope for the indigent Latin Americans in the 1980s and also an antithesis to the so-called “Free Market” economy, proposing a socialist/capitalist economic system based on Marxism, Liberation Theology, Nationalism and anarcho-syndicalist’s formula.
Fast forward to the present...Daniel Ortega, the President of Nicaragua, regained power after 16 years of hiatus since he lost power in 1990, still believes and tries to convince his people that his current regime is simply an extension of former Sandinista Revolution, while his detractors, ex-Sandinista comrades call the President a power-hungry liar.
I wanted to find out who is telling the truth...Ortega or ex-Sandinista-turned-opponent, like Daniel Alegria, that gang up to displace Ortega from the power.
As usual, I joined the small group of the NGO, Witness For Peace, for 10-day excursion spelunking every nook and corner of the Nicaraguan communities for an answer.
This tour was my third fact-finding mission in the region after Cuba and Venezuela tours in early 2000.
A. Living a life of a campesino (peasant)
For the I-pod crazy and cell-phone addict North Americans, living a life of a campesino, even in a few days in Nicaragua voluntarily must surely be deemed a stupid and idiotic thing ever to do.
However, since I do not buy any babbles of the mainstream media and believe in the immersion journalism, the only way to find the truth appears to be directly involved in the event or to place oneself physically and mentally in the locale where the event occurred. (I regret retrospectively that I had been totally programmed to take in what the established institutes want me to believe in.)
Otherwise, chances are you become a dumb ass to follow whatever the establishments want you to believe in.
We were divided into four teams and assigned to four families in the tobacco community located in the campo (rural area) about four-hour ride from the city of Managua.
The community is run like a cooperative farm where everyone knows everyone, what’s happening, who’s coming and going, etc., like a closely knitted tribal community.
And my team was quartered in a house where Augusto, a former Sandinista fighter dwells with his wife.
As in most of houses in the community, the main door is missing or does not exist at all, windows are covered with sheet, and floors are dirt mound where the bed has no mattress.
The kitchen shelves are stacked with unmatched bowls and dishes with no electric tchotchkes of toaster, grinder, mixer, oven, microwave, or dishwasher.
The electric power flickers often during the day, the potable water runs intermittently, and taking a shower means pouring water on your head with a bucket.
The outhouse is usually built in the backyard with no door...you sit on the basin that looks like a cement pyramid. When the hole under the pyramid is filled with human excrements, the outhouse is simply moved to other location.
The only exposure to modern civilization seems to be watching the TV drama, a soap opera that the campesinos envy about the story and lick their fingers.
We were taken to the tobacco farmland where a dozens of young girls pick the stacks of tobacco leaves under the unbearable heat of brazing sun.
A male boss briefed us that the worker is paid in weekly basis, $3.50 per day with no other benefit. (A cup of latte in Starbuck coffee shop?)
In the tobacco factory where people in the community get the cash payment for their labor, I found that several children work on behalf of their parents who were missing in order to attend other business.
As usual in all of Nicaragua, the roof of the building is covered with the corrugated tin or zinc panels that absorb the burning heat of mid-day sun and dispense it mercilessly on top of workers head. (Almost all roofs of houses in the country are covered with the same panels because the material is free of maintenance, last forever, and dirty cheap.)
We found the most disturbing reality that the campesinos gradually stop producing rice, beans, and other daily food stuffs, and instead plant tobacco trees as a cash crop, because they can make more money to sell the tobacco leaves to the cash-paying tobacco factory in the community rather than a back-breaking job of planting other stuffs.
In other words, they are totally rely on their livelihood on the fate of the tobacco factory that they do not have any recourse to save if the company goes belly up due to the world economy.
Their livelihood does not exist in their own hand, but in the grips of the Wall Street or Chicago Commodity Exchange where a cigar-chomping and pot-bellied robber barons hold sway on the destiny of poor campesinos whether they can have a loaf of bread in their dinner table.
I have witnessed the end results of the NAFTA and CAFTA that Uncle Sam forced the Caribbean and Latin Americans to sign in.
B. A Farce at the US Embassy
The NGO have arranged a Q & A meeting with the US Embassy staffs regarding the US Government’s role to enhance and develop the Nicaraguan economy.
First of all, I was a bit surprised to see the size of the embassy compound and the buildings...Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with only 5.7 million people and it was mind-boggling to observe the Embassy-site un-matched with the population and economy of the host country.
And I found an answer why the US Government needs such a huge facilities and manpower.
The meeting began with an introduction by a lady staff from the AID (Agency for the International Development) of the US State Department. (Read as an operating arm of the CIA around the world)
After the lady detailed the overall involvement of the US aids to Nicaragua, a political officer (read as a case officer from the CIA) took over and briefed how the US Government has been executing the aid programs in details.
Not surprisingly, he talked and explained the Nicaraguan economic policies as if he was a Pooh-Bah in the colonial government in early 1900s when Nicaragua was occupied by the US marines.
Since the US issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United State Government has sent the US Marines several times to Nicaragua in order to install their favorable presidents and oust ones it did not like.
In 1926, more than 5,000 Marines and over 500 US officials are actively participating in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, establishing the infamous National Guards as their attack dogs to bite any dissident group.
And Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a close friend of the US ambassador, was appointed as a Director whose family ruled Nicaragua for more than forty years, amassing the largest family fortune in Nicaragua at the time.
FDR, the US president, reportedly said, “He may be a son of bitch, but at least he is OUR son of a bitch.”
The US Marines were there to enforce the exploitative policies of colonialism that the US-owned companies seek to profit as they paid Somoza millions of dollars in exchange for benefits to the company, such as not having to re-forest after they deforested taking all commercially valuable trees.
Now the US Government direct the policies of the IMF that endorse the Structural Adjustment Program (SAT), in which Nicaraguans imports the sacks of rice and beans with the cash earned by exporting tobacco products or coffee beans.
And above-mentioned political officer at the US embassy appeared to be working to achieve this goal as the only option to the Nicaraguan campesinos.
In other words, it appeared that the US embassy was there in Managua as an enforcer for the US interests (read as a bouncer at the door of the dancing hall, strip club, or chic bar), not as a representative for American people.
C. The Sandinista Movement is dead in the water.
The Sandinista Revolution in 1979 was a unique moment of the late twentieth century and the confluence of forces inspired utopian hopes as well as the very down-to-earth work of rebuilding Nicaragua destroyed by the US-backed Somoza gang.
And the Ortega regime survived in a devastating fight against the US-financed Contra insurgency in 1984, but lost in 1990 election when George HW Bush provided the opposition party with $13 million.
After 16 years of hiatus, Ortega returned to power again in 2006 when he made various adjustment and collaboration with his opponents and picked the ex-Contra enemy Jaime Morales Carazo as his vice president.
Ortega also patched a conflict with Catholicism, marrying in the church and receiving the blessings of former arch-enemy Cardinal Obando y Bravo. In return, he backed a law to prohibit abortion in Nicaragua, a law which passed in 2006.
In short, Ortega finally buckled and cried Uncle.
Daniel Ortega reminded me of the late South Korean President and Nobel Peace Prize winner DJ Kim...
DJ was a quintessential nationalist-cum-anti-American activist when he started a political career in the Gen. Park’s Regime era in 1970s.
He emphatically and correctly believed that the divided Korea could not possibly be reunited as a one nation as far as the US military occupied in the Korean peninsula.
However, he turned 180 degree opposite in his argument against the US Military presence in South Korea after coming back from the three-year exile in the US, collaborated with his arch enemy, ex-KCIA boss, JP Kim, and got elected the President.
DJ was under the care of the Rockefeller Foundation during his exile and surely tutored by the Foundation that he would never be elected a President if he refuses to compromise his stand against the US military occupation, and he was rewarded with a presidency and Nobel Peace Prize, even though he finalized his betrayal with his three sons in jail for bribery.
Ortega did not seem to have much choice but to buckle under the US boots when he was accused of raping his step-daughter in 1998. (I personally queried about this incident while I was with his supporters or detractors and all of them admitted that the rape occurred even though Daniel strongly refuses to acknowledge it happened.)
In addition, Ortega seems to be metamorphosed into a sleazy politician, like DJ Kim, from a long and wild-haired revolutionary Sandinista...and he does not seem to care much about licking any boots when he would be rewarded with prestige and power.
He surely can not stand on a par as a compadre with Hugo Chavez, the recalcitrant and defiant president of Venezuela against the hegemonic US imperialism.
For Augusto, an ex-Sandinista guerrilla and my host at the tobacco farm, Ortega is still his hero as other indigent and illiterate campesinos continue to live by the mendacity of hope.
What else do they have?
Clearly and unfortunately, I see not a zilch of hope there except a plenty of misery and poverty under the blazing heat of mid-day sun.
I parted with Augusto after I gave him an advice that the village should have a survival plan when the tobacco factory leaves town or goes belly up.
He defiantly stood there arms in akimbo and his piercing pair of eyes seemed to ask me: “Have you people in the North ever cared about the life of peasants in the South?”
I turned around and got on the van that takes us, the wise people from the North, back home.
One thing is cocksure: Augusto and I would never meet each other again in our lifetime.