NACLA in Nicaragua-"Reagan Hype Shuns Reality

September 25, 2007

Four years ago this month when
the triumphant Sandinistas entered
Managua nobody expected the
future to be easy. Decades of
struggle against home grown op-
pressors as well as foreign inter-
veners had made Nicaraguans
painfully aware of obstacles in the
path of a poor people attempting
to chart their own history. State
power was theirs, but in many
ways the struggle was only begin-
Yet could the Sandinistas have
envisioned that July 1983 would
find them poised dangerously on
the precipice of a conflagration
threatening to engulf the entire
Still, anniversaries are a time for
celebration, and the Nicaraguans
have much to celebrate.The last
four years have brought impres-
sive gains in health care, educa-
tion, popular participation. Mirac-
ulously, the Sandinista process of
social change in the interests of
the majority has progressed, des-
pite incredible resources that
must be pumped into defending we going? These are the topics of
these gains, debate in today's Nicaragua. Two
Anniversaries, too, are a time for participants in NACLA's last tour,
reflection. Where were we headed; April 22-May 6, added their own
where have we been; where are reflections, which we offer here.
"Reagan Hype Shuns Reality"
by E. Bradford Burns
Those of us on NACLA's fourth
tour of Nicaragua had the mixed
blessing of hearing Ronald Rea-
gan's Central America speech
before Congress in Nicaragua.
Seeing the country first-hand and
listening to the Cold Warrior's
characterizations afforded our
group an indelible lesson in how
rhetoric can shun reality. Nothing
the Hollywood actor read from his
script reflected any of the conclu-
E. Bradford Burns is a professor of
Latin American history at the Univer-
sity of California, Los Angeles. He has
written eight books on Latin America.
This was his second visit to Nicaragua
since the victory; previously he was
there in 1964.
sions reached by our extremely
diverse group. Could he possibly
have described the country in
which we were so deeply im-
Our tour sought to give us a
grass roots familiarity with the revo-
lution, providing interaction with
ordinary citizens who support the
process. It introduced us to ex-
panding health care facilities, a
remarkable concern for education,
a functioning agrarian reform that
puts food on the table and efforts
to provide social welfare services
to ever larger numbers of people.
We visited hospitals, coopera-
tives, day care centers, a working
class barrio, libraries, a vocation-
NACLA Reportupdate * update . update . update
Bluefields hospital--"a grossly inadequate 80-year-old structure"-is soon to be replaced by a modern facility.
al training center and a union hall,
among other places. We wandered
the side streets and main thorough-
fares of towns and cities. We
tramped through the countryside
to spend part of a day on a rural
cooperative in Matagalpa.
New Hospital for Zelaya
Inevitably we contrasted what
we saw and heard in Nicaragua
with what we had read about El
Salvador. While Nicaragua more
than doubled its number of schools
in four years, El Salvador, accord-
ing to a report from the Faculty for
Human Rights in El Salvador and
Central America*, closed more
than one-third of its schools. De-
spite a serious shortage of medi-
cine, Nicaragua opened clinics
throughout the country, increased
the number of doctors and all
but eliminated measles and polio
through a national vaccination
campaign carried out by the mass
Our group visited the hospital
under construction in the Atlantic
*The faculty was founded by U.S. university professors in 1980 seeking to educate the public about conditions in Central America, the role of U S. policy and specifically about academic freedom in El Salvador. The group sent a fact-finding mission to El Salvador last January,
coastal city of Bluefields. The
impressive building, about half
finished, was to replace a grossly
inadequate 80-year-old structure.
The hospital director told us that
completion of the new facility was
dependent on whether the Inter-
American Development Bank
came through with promised
funding. "We could have bought
three hospitals for the price of
what all these delays have cost
us," he lamented.
We learned that the 14 physi-
cians serving the 80,000 inhabi-
tants of the Southern Zelaya re-
gion in 1979 had now become
forty-four. U.S. doctors who re-
cently visited El Salvador on a
fact-finding mission stated in the
New England Journal of Medicine
that health care in that unhappy
land had almost completely bro-
ken down.
In a fascinating talk laced with
statistics, Peter Marchetti, a U.S.
Jesuit working with the land reform
ministry, pointed out the impres-
sive achievements of Nicaragua's
agrarian reform. "Socialism with
an active private sector written
into it," he called it, "a productive
private sector."
For the first time in generations,
he told us, the country stood on
the threshold of being self-sufficient
Somoza pocketed 1972 earthquake aid; downtown Managua remains in shambles.
2 a
July/Aug 1983 41update * update . update . update
in food. I recalled reading Joseph
Collins' excellent study, What Dif-
ference Could a Revolution Make?
Collins confirmed that since 1978
corn production has risen by 10%,
bean production, 45% and rice
production, 50%. Consumption of
these three staples climbed be-
tween 30% and 40%.
Most authorities agree that land
reform in El Salvador has been
halted if not reversed. Death
squads roam the countryside ter-
rorizing peasants. Hunger stalks
El Salvador.
We traveled from Managua to
Esteli, Matagalpa and Bluefields
to witness the impact of the revo-
lution on differing geographic and
cultural regions. A few added Le6n
and Granada to their travels. An
impressive array of Nicaraguans
and "internationalists," as foreign-
ers working in the country are
called, addressed us: Sandinista
Youth representatives, a neigh-
borhood Sandinista Defense Com-
mittee, laborers, union leaders,
doctors, peasants, agrarian reform
officials, a variety of leaders from
the women's movement, a social
worker, representatives of the
Council of State, regional govern-
ment officials, religious workers,
both Protestant and Roman Catho-
lic, and many more.
People Hold Weapons
Nor did we ignore the people in
the street. Members of our group
questioned everyone within ear-
shot wherever we went. With a
friendliness seemingly endemic
to Nicaraguans, the locals patient-
ly deciphered our Spanish and
shared their opinions, hopes and
concerns with us. The U.S. sup-
port of the contras, as counterrev-
olutionaries are known, disturbed
them, but they generously differ-
entiated between the actions of
the U.S. government and the sen-
timents of the American people.
The overwhelming majority of
the people we talked with during
our two-week stay enthusiastically
endorsed the revolution. Realisti-
cally they recognized the many
problems and challenges still fac-
ing Nicaragua. They admitted mis-
takes. They searched for solutions.
Nationalistic pride in their revolu-
tion and its many achievements
pervaded their remarks. A high
political consciousness and a well-
defined sense of nationalism af-
firmed our suspicion that large
numbers of the population will,
when necessary, defend the revo-
lution. The people hold the arms
to do so. Peasants in the coopera-
tive we visited, for example, car-
ried rifles.
Still, we also encountered the
disgruntled. We heard some com-
plaints and even an occasional
sigh for "the good old days of
A Matagalpa cooperative farmer with his rifle.
Somoza." On April 27, Reagan
echoed the sigh of that formerly
privileged, tiny minority. He has
never been to Nicaragua. His in-
formation doubtless comes from
exiles in Miami and the U.S. Em-
The Embassy, isolated by high
walls, fences, barbed wire and
imposing gates, has so succeeded
in insulating itself from its environ-
ment that it might just as well be in
Iceland. Three delegates from our
tour group met with Roger Gam-
ble, deputy chief of mission, and
Ken Rosenberg, who described
himself as "in administration,"
within the confines of that formid-
able bastion.
Those two officials had little to
say that was positive about Nica-
ragua, believed that few supported
the Sandinistas and labeled the
land reform a "failure." Their re-
marks confirmed our feeling of
how removed the Embassy was
from reality. Gamble characterized
Reagan's address to Congress
as "one of the most balanced
speeches I've ever heard a presi-
dent make." Our delegates handed
him the resolution we wrote pro-
testing Reagan's speech as mis-
informed and calling for an end to
U.S. support of the contras.
La Prensa Remains Silent
Meanwhile, outside the Embas-
sy, our group marched, chanted
and carried signs affirming our
support for the revolutionary pro-
cess. When we first approached
the main gate, it clanged shut and
remained padlocked during our
two hour demonstration.
Shortly after the demonstration
began, a police car pulled up and
a young Sandinista officer jumped
out. Greeting us with a smile, he
expressed the Nicaraguans' ap-
preciation for our gesture. Other
policemen directed traffic-intent
NACLA Reportupdate * update . update . update
on keeping things moving as driv- ers paused to gawk. Most who passed by seemed as delighted as they were surprised to read our long banner: Somos Americanos- Amigos de Nicaragua Libre. Horns honked, the victory sign flashed
and fists raised.
Our expression of solidarity be-
came a fraternal interaction be-
tween Nicaraguans and North
Americans, well covered by the
press (the opposition La Prensa,
however, remained silent) and
television. We made our point: not
all Americans are bamboozled by
Hollywood hype; many support
the revolution. A few days later,
the "internationalists" living in
Managua, several hundred strong,
also marched on the U.S. Embassy
to denounce Reagan's bellicosity.
Their moonlight vigil followed a
memorial service--the popular
mass of Latin America's campe-
sinos and workers-for Dr. Albrecht
Pflaum, the West German volun-
teer murdered by contras with
13 other health and agricultural
Our hotel staff in Matagalpa
had gathered to hear Reagan's
speech transmitted live on Hon-
duran TV. Nicaraguan radio trans-
mitted the speech live with simul-
taneous translation and the text
was printed in full the next day in
the press. Universally the people
discussed the speech in detail.
Their direct access to Reagan's
message impressed me. After all,
only the week before the U.S. gov-
ernment had denied Minister of
the interior Tombs Borge entry
into the United States, where at
least three universities had invited
him to speak, among them Harvard.
The State Department charged
he would use the vist for "prop-
aganda purposes." These events
make one wonder who has free-
dom of access to information.

Tags: Nicaragua, NACLA, Sandinistas, la prensa

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