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- ning. 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 region? 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 40 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- mersed? 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 (/2 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 organizations. 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. 42 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- bassy. 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 workers. 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

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.