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Nicaraguan Stories: Dreams, Struggles and Tragedies

In Nicaragua, sectarian interests, power ambitions and the caudillo (strong man) spirit, inevitably lead to tragedies.

In a recent conversation about the history of our county, held with Nicaraguans of my generation, we reviewed what we have lived through in the last sixty years. I will share with you what I was able to write down and the lessons I learned.

Our early childhood ears absorbed the political campaigns between liberals and conservatives. In that way we learned the refrain that our elders sang: “With Fernando I walk, with Aguero I die, because for Aguero the people come first.”

Later, it turned out that for the then opposition leader, the people were not first but rather the interests of affluent minorities. Aguero signed a pact with Somoza, in exchange to sharing the State’s perks. And, by doing so, blocked the peaceful solution to confront the dynasty. The youth had to choose between submission and rebellion.

Personally, still a kid, I was in Masaya and could see when the protestors who survived the massacre of January 22, 1967 returned, with their clothes stained with blood. My grandmother could not give me an explanation or I could not understand her explanation about the tragic episode. Years later I understood.

Somocismo and Sandinismo

Then came the devastating blow of the earthquake of December 1972, that caused the death of thousands of Managua residents. It destroyed the city and cut off with one slit the lives, illusions and fruitfulness of long years of sacrifice. The disaster fractured the Nicaraguan economy and society to its foundations. Nicaragua never recovered from that blow, blocked or hidden in the memories of many.

And the first trials of resistant broke out, among others, the construction workers’ strike and the health workers’ strike.

Later, in December 1974, a Sandinista Front commando stormed the home of Chema Castillo, a Somoza minister. [Many high-ranking government officials and legislators were present.] It was a political blow that shook the country and jolted the dictatorship’s armor. Daniel Ortega was one of the political prisoners who got his freedom because of this action. Months before, business groups had opened a crack in their relations with the regime, during the First National Convention of the private sector. A wave of repression throughout the country followed the armed action: prisoners, dead, court martials, combat in the mountains.

The heart attack suffered by Somoza Debayle, the policies of the Carter Administration and the international discredit, plus the Front’s military offensive in October 1977, ended up breaking the pillars of the system. The assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal, in January 1978, detonated a social outburst that quickly led to armed resistance. The insurrection of September 1978 included the occupation of the country’s main cities. However, the National Guard crushed the popular uprising with blood and fire.

But the dynasty was already mortally wounded. The electoral circuses were useless, and so was the dialogue with the OAS mediation. Likewise, the state of siege, the press censorship and the generalized repression. The country saw permanent mobilizations, armed actions, national strikes and international condemnations.

Then the final insurrection broke out and put an end to the dictatorship. The machine-gunning and bombardment of cities with T 33 push-and-pull planes were useless. The culminating episode played out with Francisco Urcuyo Malianos, whose disastrous role in trying to hold-on to the presidency caused the course of events to change within 48 hours. A grotesque example of how decisive unforeseen events in history could be.

And the triumph of the popular insurrection arrived. Thousands of Nicaraguans of all political signs and social classes took shelter in the hope that a change in freedom was possible. It didn’t take long for these hopes to shipwreck. The “boys”, celebrated as heroes, felt themselves owners of the country and of history.

They imposed a dictatorial regime of another type, which led to an even bloodier war. We were placed as pawns of the Cold War. The superpowers put the weapons and Nicaraguans the dead. Tens of thousands of young men in military service were forced to kill or die in a war that was not theirs.

From the transition to democracy to the Ortega dictatorship

Thus, we arrived at the 1990 elections, whose unexpected outcome was the triumph of Doña Violeta. New hopes. For the first time in our history, we breathe a climate of public liberties, effective multi-party system, democratic dynamics, decentralization of power.

Although riots, blackmail and assassinations took place, in general a climate of peace and freedom prevailed.

But it didn’t take long. The pact between Arnoldo Aleman and Daniel Ortega (1998) corrupted the democratic transition process. The attempt of the government of Enrique Bolanos (2002-2007) to restore the path was stifled by the joint action of the two caudillos.

Over those years, we suffered the ravages of Hurricane Mitch (1998), a tsunami (1992) and several volcanic eruptions.

And so, we reached 2006. Ortega returned to power through the route that the pact paved for him. It enabled him to dismantle, with the support of the PLC caucus, the precarious institutional framework. He went on to impose electoral fraud, repress, co-opt the Army and the Police, re-elect himself and consolidate his dictatorship. Also involved was the pact he made with the most prominent business groups.

And April (2018) erupted in blue and white surges. The dictatorship bought time with the strategy of dialogue and then massacred what was a popular protest. Unlike Somoza, who faced armed movements, the Ortega dictatorship in its eagerness to impose a new dynasty torments a defenseless population.

As a generation, we have lived through wars, earthquakes, dictatorships, volcanic eruptions, massacres, electoral frauds, political cohabitation, tsunamis, international mediation, dialogue between the government and the opposition, hurricanes, national strikes. Hopes, struggles and dreams deferred. Other generations in other times also faced similar episodes, including foreign military intervention.

As if something were lacking, now we must live the pandemic.

Hardly anyone can tell us stories or present themselves as the reinventor of the wheel.

Lessons?

The first is that history cannot be changed if it is not studied. That is why some in the present march by trial and error. The second is that, in Nicaragua, sectarian interests, power ambitions and the caudillo spirit, inevitably lead to tragedies. The third is that any possibility of change begins inside our own heads. Otherwise, change is not possible.

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