Wednesday, November 25, 2009
After all the strife, civil war, dictatorship and communist rule, it is such a terrible shame that this country has ended up in the situation it is in today. Nicaragua is a country dear to my heart as I was recently there to study Spanish and learn about the culture. Nicaraguans are a wonderful, warm, kind and hospitable people. They have an amazing ability to throughly enjoy life in the midst of a tough situation. Here is a brief synopsis of their recent history to provide some context.
I will start with the revolution of 1979....Prior to the revolution, Nicaragua was ruled by the corrupt and brutally repressive dictator, Anastacio Somoza. This man tortured his people, and was even out of favour with the country's economic elite due to industrial monopolies he created that eliminated competition. This all came to head in 1979 when the FSLN or Sandinista Party led a revolution that ended with the exile of Somoza to Paraguay and a communist regime in Nicaragua, led by Daniel Ortega. During this era 1979-1990, Nicaragua did not enjoy peace as the anti-Sandinista forces reunited as the Contras and waged a guerrilla war against the government. The Contras were US backed, first openly, and then covertly - remember General Oliver North and the Iran Contra scandal of the 80's where weapons were sold to Iran to assist in their war with Iraq. Proceeds from these sales were then funneled to support the Contras. That scandal was the genesis of the US's problems with Saddam Hussein but that story is for another day. The fall of the USSR in the late 80's led to conditions that resulted in a peace agreement between the Contras and Sandinistas. A key tenant of this agreement was a democratic election in 1990. The Sandinistas lost this election and fell out of power.
From 1990-2006, Nicaragua was, for the most part, led by a liberal party, the PLC. During this period Nicaragua experienced growth, development, investment and the return of a large number of expatriate Nicaraguans from Miami. Unfortunately, the country's fortunes were going to worsen as a result of Ortega and the Sandinista party's 2006 election victory. Ortega's Sandinista party won that election with 38% of the vote due a split in the Liberal coalition. They are still in power today and that is Nicaragua's tragedy.
I viewed this tragedy first hand during my visit to Managua in November, 2008. This was immediately after country wide civic elections in which the Sandinista party committed mass fraud and won the majority of mayoralties from the PLC. After these elections the Sandinistas embarked upon a campaign of mass intimidation by installing thugs (supposedly the party faithful) at every street corner with masked faces and firecracker like bazookas (See Below). These thugs consisted mainly of criminals from the poorest areas, paid $US5/day (big $ in Nicaragua) by the Sandinistas. The funding for this originated from...guess who...good old Mr. Chavez of Venezuela. I saw these thugs first hand as they rushed the car I was in at an intersection in Managua. It was terrifying as my driver sped away as they aimed their firecrackers at our car. When the Liberals tried to organize a peaceful march in downtown Managua, the demonstrators were stopped and openly assaulted by these thugs. The demonstration could not proceed. Consistent with similar regimes in Iran & Venezuela, foreign interference was cited as the reason for these opposition demonstrations. Of course the military & police did nothing to stop these thugs (see image below).
The worst part of this is that the fragile recovery of this nation has now been put on hold as foreign investment has dried up due to the political instability created this vile regime. My story here is told first hand. I interacted with all classes and all kinds in this country and out of 50 conversations, only one supported the Sandinistas. It turned out this one supporter's parents are active members and beneficiaries of the regime.
This is no longer about the people (as was the case in 1979), it is about Ortega's desire for power and to re-live his past glory. Thanks to strategic partners such as Chavez, this regime has the backing to maintain itself for while. I fear for the average Nicaraguan, powerless to do anything and yet the main victim of an economic divestment resulting from this situation.