Nicaragua beyond the twilight of the revolution
The Palace of Culture, a recently renovated Spanish colonial-style building, is located opposite the Parque Central in Juigalpa, Chontales, Nicaragua. Every day, as the sun approaches sunset, crows swarm and stir the trees that border the park. Their piercing croak barely dampens the street vendors who sell cell phone accessories; megaphones announcing incredible discounts; the old men were laughing in the northeast corner, a place some call purgatory.
It has been over 42 years since I was imprisoned in what is now the Palace of Culture, then a militarized police station. My rap sheet said, in its only entry, “possession of illegal literature.” I was 17 and had been captured in early 1979 after infiltrating the city from my clandestine mission in the Chontales mountains. In July 1979, two months after my release, an insurgency led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, in Spanish) overthrew the US-sponsored Somoza dynasty.
The Sandinistas – led by Daniel Ortega – were to be beaten at the polls in 1990 by Violeta Barrios Chamorro and her coalition after a decade of civil war partially funded by the United States The conflict had worn the will of the Nicaraguan people to acquire a socialist project hollowed out by death – over 40,000 Nicaraguans killed – and despair.
Thirty years later, I returned to Nicaragua for the first time since leaving the United States in 1991. Ortega has returned to power since 2007 — now with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice president — for what he has. described as “the second stage of the revolution.”
I returned to Juigalpa, the site of my youthful indiscretions, where elderly friends seem to have sleepwalks for decades in an amusement park of abandoned dreams. I am overwhelmed by a sense of displacement that permeates my daily walks along the narrow sidewalks teeming with peeping merchants.
It took me a moment to recognize Mateo, now in his sixties, sitting on a bench in front of the Parque Central cathedral. He still wears this weary soul demeanor. – I was told you were in town. Welcome to the sleeping cow! he said with a sidelong smile, referring to a famous local poet who told Chontales a sleeping cow that even barking dogs couldn’t surprise.
We sit down for a speech that falters under the weight of years gone by. Mateo seems very attentive to his surroundings, so I remember he was always like that, from the time of the 1980s when we drank cheap alcohol at his mother’s house, while she was sitting. on the porch, scanning passers-by for traces of guilt or shame.
“Things are tough,” he said. “I’m on a fixed income that doesn’t solve anything. My body is collapsing. He almost died a few years ago. And yet I find him more present than others I have met who seemed locked in sterile spaces of the mind. “I stopped drinking; I also gave up coke, “he casually shares. I didn’t know he was taking coke. I don’t think I met anyone who was taking coke at the time. Maybe, maybe, I just wasn’t invited.
Mateo is uncertain about the uprising in April 2018: “Things got complicated. But you know me; I am discreet. Yes, always discreet. He worked for the Home Office’s censorship department during the war-torn 1980s and speaks about it with a bewildering sense of continuity: no before and after, just a continuum of human acts and of misdeeds.
The April 2018 uprising – a turning point in recent Nicaraguan history – rocked the Sandinista regime to its foundations and forced its hand into a direct confrontation it had largely avoided for more than a decade, questioning its main selling point of legitimacy through stability.
Sociopolitical unrest had been mounting for some time, mainly since Ortega announced its Pharaonic Interoceanic Channel in 2013, a venture meant to attract around $ 40 billion in Chinese private investment, while relinquishing the country’s sovereignty. The project would have displaced many farming families and caused irreparable environmental damage.
Nearly 350 people were killed in the uprising, including 22 police officers, and more than 120,000 people lost their jobs – many more saw their incomes drastically reduced – while opposition figures squandered their political capital by competing for prominence and for their share of the money channeled through the United States. Instead of solid grassroots resistance work, Nicaraguans have seen closed-door meetings, international travel, a newsroom, and a creeping submission to the US State Department’s recovery of what he considers his imperial backyard.
Mateo speaks of the diseases of the revolution with surgical precision, cutting off his body without realizing that it is an autopsy. This is what it is because it is like that. A litany of names from our beloved feed as well as updates on those who are still with us: “He married a rich woman and is now correcting his poetry. He got fat and mean. He receives $ 800 per month from Rosario Murillo; she paid for her recent stay in a posh hospital.
Mateo delivers a serious version of the Nicaraguan staccato while also updating me on Laureano, a close friend of his and acquaintance of mine, who in the 1980s was considered one of our most promising poets. For some reason we keep coming back to Laureano, as if his decline epitomizes our loss of innocence and what’s wrong with the country. Mateo is reluctant to talk about the next election.
A few weeks before the general elections of November 2021, Nicaragua has entered a new stage in its conflicted history, with chips piled at one end of the table to favor the new the best of the best. And at the other end, the Nicaraguan people who struggle every day to make a living, while drowning in a haze of propaganda that strangely recalls the time of El General and his “Somoza forever!” devoted crowds. The recent wave of arrests – more than 30 prominent opponents of Ortega jailed since July 2021 – casts a deep shadow on the electoral process and its chances of correcting the authoritarian path taken by the two-headed Ortega-Murillo regime, dragging the country in a more brutal turn. of a democracy promised for global inclusion and deep deliberation.
The Sandinista mass media, with several television stations owned by the Ortega-Murillo family, broadcast monotonous and sycophantic programming daily, echoed by propaganda boards on buses, parks and government buildings. ‘Trees of Life’ – garish metal structures inspired by the work of Gustav Klimt – tower over the squares and streets of Managua like oversized ideograms of pernicious visual grammar, at a reported cost of $ 1 million per year to electrify . A disconcerting mixture of celebration and dread invades the country.
While visiting our friend Walmaro, Mateo shares that a renowned local journalist and essayist went into hiding due to his association with Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the most prominent Nicaraguan opposition journalist, currently in exile. After a while, we all balk at journalism becoming a gross scramble for many on both sides of the divide. “We are in an echo chamber of hate,” says Walmaro. “The government talks about love and peace, but they are the ones who have poisoned the air.”
At Parque Central de Juigalpa, crows are ambushed by two columns of 9-foot stacked loudspeakers playing groundbreaking music in preparation for El Comandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra’s July 19 birthday speech, which will be screened on a screen with the Palace of Culture in the background. Due to COVID-19, there will be no central gathering in Managua as is customary; instead, there will be local events under the slogan “Cada casa una plaza”, meaning that every house has a place.
It’s still early and the DJ has taken a break; there is a relatively quiet place in front of the Palace of Culture, at the cafe where Mateo is often found. He talks about the nouveau riche who emerged from the hijackings by the outgoing Sandinistas in 1990. Everything that happens now can be traced back to those days of looting and the years that followed with incoming administrations fueling the culture of the graft.
“It’s rotten to the core, and they all know it,” he said. There are times when Mateo awakens his will to question deeply and he shines briefly, only to then fade into a dream long lost on the rough roads of the republic.
I am there when El Comandante begins his speech. I can’t hear the crows anymore. I am captivated by the faces held back awaiting prophecy and deliverance. Some believe, I’m sure, others are here for the t-shirt. El Comandante begins his speech and I feel the loneliest soul in this wreckage of purgatory. His face is that of a man exiled from what was once a glowing vision, now buried under his walled enclosure in the El Carmen neighborhood, in a sleepy Managua indifferent to the barking dogs.
A renewed Nicaragua is not yet in sight. The uprising of April 2018, a self-proclaimed peaceful civic exercise, is a testament to the Nicaraguan people’s desire for freedom. Sadly, the shadow of political violence and toxic narrow-mindedness have distorted the higher claims of the cause by mingling with the lower demands of the rage at the henchmen and guns of the autocracy.
A true non-violent project begins by confronting all forms of violence within its own ranks. In my opinion, the Nicaraguan dissidents have not yet properly confronted their own demons, so, in the words of Salvador Allende, “the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society”.