The tradition of solidarity delegations to Nicaragua
Friends of the ATC is launching the Ben Linder Scholarship fund to provide scholarships to amplify the work of the ATC and give more internationalists the opportunity to experience revolutionary Nicaragua. Funds will support the upcoming cohort of students at the Latin American Institute of Agroecology or IALA, as well as bring future internationalists to Nicaragua to participate in one of Friends of the ATC’s delegations. Your donation will directly support the transformative education for young peasants at IALA and increase opportunities for those who need financial support to travel to Nicaragua.
Solidarity delegations in Nicaragua date back to the 1980’s after the triumph of the revolutionary Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) over the US-supported 44-year Somoza dictatorship in 1979, when internationalists from all over the world traveled to Nicaragua to learn about the process and gains of the Revolution. First was the inspiring 1980 literacy campaign which brought Nicaraguan youth from the cities to the countryside, benefitting campesinos as well as awakening understanding of their plight in the young teachers. It is estimated that between 80,000-100,000 North Americans visited Nicaragua during the 1980’s as part of work brigades to support the Revolution. Many participated in coffee-picking brigades, and other groups helped build houses, schools, and health centers. These first delegations sowed the seeds of the international solidarity movement with Nicaragua and inspired anti-imperialist organizations around the world.
During the second term of the Reagan administration, US citizens were enraged to find out that the US government was directly providing arms, supplies and funding to right-wing, anti-Sandinista rebels, (many of whom had been members of the repressive Somoza National Guard) called the Contras, in an effort to destabilize the FSLN government. The Iran-Contra Scandal secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, and also sold crack cocaine in black neighborhoods in the US, to illegally fund the Contras (for more on this topic, see The Dark Alliance by Gary Webb). Internationalists, activists, and anti-war advocates came to Nicaragua to pick coffee and cotton in an effort to continue the harvest of these economically vital export crops, while many Nicaraguans were mobilized in the army to protect their communities from vicious Contra terrorist attacks against schools, health centers, and cooperatives. Visitors brought aid and supplies, medicine and doctors, tools, and trained professionals to help develop the country.
With this experience, delegates were able to go back to the US and share a different narrative about Nicaragua than what was being promoted by the Reagan administration and corporate media who justified US involvement by framing Nicaragua’s socialist government as a “mounting danger in Central America that threatens the security of the United States.” Those who had visited Nicaragua were able to debunk lies about the FSLN government and share how they were working to create a more just and peaceful society for Nicaraguans, based on the beliefs of Augusto Sandino (who fought for Nicaraguan sovereignty against the US Marines controlling Nicaragua, until his assassination in 1934 by the US trained Somoza National Guard). Exposing the truth about the US government in Nicaragua informed the anti-war, anti-interventionist, and anti-imperialist social movements of the 80s.
Benjamin Linder, an US engineer and activist who traveled to Nicaragua in the 80’s to increase access to electricity in rural northern Nicaragua, was killed by the Contras in 1987. The support for the Contra’s was already highly controversial, however, Linder’s death at the hands of the US-funded Contras made headline news in the United States, further polarizing opinions about the US’ prolonged involvement in the war. Nicaragua denounced the US mining of the port of Corinto at the International Court in The Hague, winning reparations which the US refused to pay. North Americans demonstrated in front of the United States embassy in Nicaragua, demanding justice for Ben Linder and over 40,000 Nicaraguans also killed by the Contras. Vietnam veteran Brian Willson, along with others, was protesting weapons being shipped to the Contras from Concord, California in 1987 when the train ran him over, severing both legs.
The war ended after signing the Sapoa Accord in 1989, and the 1990 elections resulted in Sandinistas handing over power to US-funded and supported neo-liberal President Violeta Chamorro. Many NGOs and activist groups packed up their things and headed back home, while some chose to stay and build a life in Nicaragua. Delegations continued in smaller numbers throughout the neoliberal period (1990-2006).
Today, like in the 80s, delegations give people the opportunity to experience the gains of the second phase of the Revolution since the FSLN was elected into office again in 2007. Solidarity delegations now focus more on knowledge sharing and education as a means to uncover the truth about Nicaragua and combat mainstream media’s regurgitated lies from the State Department that depict Nicaragua as unsafe and ruled by a dictatorship. This has been particularly important after the failed US-funded coup attempt in 2018 and heightened US sanctions. Visiting Nicaragua allows people to see with their own eyes that Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in the Northern Hemisphere and is home to a politically advanced people who participate and build their democracy. Many delegates leave feeling inspired by how Nicaragua ensures health and education through universal free healthcare and schooling, fights hunger through food sovereignty, provides economic opportunities by building roads and improved technology, gives women equal representation, and continues to struggle for peace, with the goal of eliminating poverty.
Over the past 40 years, the opportunity to share experiences with Nicaraguans and other activists has informed peoples’ political education and consciousness, which is why delegations are key to building and continuing solidarity. They are a critical tool for learning the reality of Nicaragua firsthand to better inform one’s opinion, and to return home, radically transformed and ready to share.
Friends of the ATC has hosted nine delegations since 2016, and continues to organize opportunities to join solidarity delegations, particularly for young people interested in the ATC’s revolutionary peasant organizing. Friends of the ATC delegations invite international visitors to see revolutionary Nicaragua for themselves and to work alongside and share experiences with ATC communities in the countryside. In an effort to provide equitable access to delegations, Friends of the ATC is raising money for the Ben Linder Scholarship Fund, which will provide scholarships for young people interested in joining a Friends of the ATC delegation or work brigade.