Nicaragua is the largest country by geographic area in the Central American isthmus, bordered to the north by Honduras and to the south by Costa Rica. It is a tropical country with rich biodiversity, active volcanoes, and two large lakes (Xolotlan and Cocibola). It is divided into 15 departments (our delegation will spend most of its time in Managua and Chontales) and two autonomous regions on the Caribbean Coast. The primary spoken language is Spanish, but especially on the Caribbean Coast a wide range of additional languages are spoken, including Miskito, Mayagna, Creole, and Garifuna. Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural nation, producing both for export and for local consumption. Some of its principal crops include coffee, bananas, sugarcane, tobacco, livestock, palm, beans and rice. As part of Mesoamerica, Nicaraguans have a traditional agricultural system based on corn, beans, and squash. Nowadays, the classic dish is gallo pinto, a daily mix of rice and red beans, usually served with plantains and homemade cheese or cream.
Many people have heard about Nicaragua because of its politics. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Nicaragua underwent more than a century of cyclical political fighting and wars between Conservatives and Liberals, along with frequent U.S. intervention by mercenaries like William Walker, who invaded in 1856, declared himself president, decreed English to be the official language, and legalized slavery (luckily, the armies of Central America united and defeated Walker). A central factor in the politics of Nicaragua for much of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first is the figure of Augusto César Sandino and those inspired by his example. Sandino broke the tradition of elite politics by organizing a guerrilla army to defend worker, peasant, and indigenous interests against the U.S. Marines that occupied Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933. Once the Marines left, Sandino laid down his arms for the sake of peace. The US,.-trained head of the National Guard, Anastasio Somoza, assassinated Sandino, disappeared his body, and massacred his army, which had formed a cooperative in Wiwilí, Nueva Segovia. With the backing of the U.S., the Somoza regime ruled Nicaragua for the next 45 years.
Greed: Anxious and excessive desire or appetite for goods or wealth.
In 1990, after a decade of fighting the U.S.-backed Contras, a neoliberal government sympathetic to U.S. interests promised peace if elected, and the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections. Once out of power, a significant part of the top military, political and intellectual leadership of the FSLN left the party and renounced socialism to form a separate party, the Movement for Sandinista Renovation (MRS), which allied with right-wing parties in Nicaragua as well as the U.S. Republican Party. During the 1990s, three successive neoliberal governments privatized schools and health care, partly privatized the water company, and reversed the land reform process. Illiteracy soared, as did maternal mortality, and the social wellbeing of Nicaraguans fell. However, support for the FSLN remained strong in the popular neighborhoods and much of the countryside, and in 2006, Daniel Ortega was elected president with 38% of the popular vote. He was re-elected in 2011 with 62% of the vote and in 2016 with 72.5% of the vote.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional [FSLN]), was founded in the early 1960s, inspired by the Cuban Revolution. After decades of struggle, discussion, debate and deadly repression by the National Guard, the FSLN successfully led an insurrection that resulted in the triumph of the Sandinista Popular Revolution on July 19, 1979. The emblematic literacy campaign (which reduced illiteracy rates from around 50% to 12.7% in a matter of months), land reform (which redistributed 5 million acres to 120,000 previously landless peasant families), and a powerful cultural movement of music and art accompanied the Sandinista Revolution. However, the Reagan administration was committed to overthrowing the revolution and developed a war using Contras (some of whom are now known as the Nicaraguan Resistance and have joined the Via Campesina). The Contra War involved more than 1,300 acts of terrorism, mostly against civilian targets such as health clinics, schools, and volunteers(including the 27-year-old artist and engineer Ben Linder from Portland, Oregon). Over 10 years, some 50,000 Nicaraguans were killed, as workers, students, and peasants participated in the defense of the Revolution.
This new era of governance by the FSLN has been marked by a model of three-part consensus between government, workers, and the private sector, which yielded unprecedented economic growth and political stability until mid-April 2018. Over the past decade, the government has used the concept of “restoring rights” to promote the development of Nicaragua: building homes, roads, water infrastructure and electricity in rural areas, providing public credit, encouraging cooperative economies and providing free healthcare and free or low-cost education through university. Nicaragua was one of the first countries to meet many U.N. Millennium Development goals, ranks as one of the top countries in the world for gender parity, and has very low levels of violence compared to other Central American nations.
However, the political situation in Nicaragua changed virtually overnight in mid-April of 2018 when three-part negotiations failed to solve an impending crisis in Nicaragua’s social security system, INSS, which is one of the areas of greatest advancement during the Sandinista government. Since 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been calling for typical neoliberal reforms to the pension system: raising the retirement age from 60 to 65 and nearly doubling the number of weeks in which workers would need to pay deductions from their paycheck into the system in order to access a pension. The private business lobby, COSEP, walked away from negotiations after the government declared that raising the retirement age was off the table. The Nicaraguan government, however, unilaterally introduced into law a reform—since canceled—that put most of the weight of INSS’ solvency crisis upon the shoulders of the corporate sector. The private sector called for protests, as did the major media outlets.
The government was accused by mainstream media of violently repressing protests, and a political crisis ensued as opposition groups called for the President, Vice-President, and members of the Supreme Court and National Assembly to be disposed and an interim government installed. Opposition groups constructed hundreds of roadblocks along the main highways and in urban centers, many of which were guarded by groups of paid, armed men. These roadblocks didn’t just block traffic, but were spaces of violence by the opposition that included torture, rape and murder of Nicaraguan citizens, often with the complacency or support of the Catholic Church. Many public buildings and private infrastructure were also heavily damaged, particularly the infrastructure that supports the popular classes. After three months of stand-off, the protests waned and the police regained control of the streets of Nicaragua. Since July 2018, all roads have been clear.
The 2018 violence largely had an urban character. While the countryside was affected and small farmers had challenges getting their product to urban markets, peasants and workers of the ATC continued to produce food for their communities. Part of what made the countryside and the country as a whole more resilient during the coup attempt was precisely that Nicaragua grows the majority of its own food and these products circulate in the popular economy rather than large supermarkets.
The 2018 coup attempt failed internally. While a certain degree of political polarization persists, peace has essentially been restored and Nicaragua is once again the safest country in Central America. The majority of the Nicaraguan people and political groups are committed to working toward reconciliation and maintaining a peaceful country. There is an ongoing dialogue between representatives of the Nicaraguan government and some opposition groups. Members of the January 2019 Friends of the ATC delegation saw a Nicaragua in peace, with spaces for family recreation, nightlife, and new roads under construction. Internationally, however, there continues to be a battle against Nicaraguan sovereignty. The United States Congress passed the NICA Act, which includes economic sanctions that prevent Nicaragua from accessing loans, and USAID has given another $1.5 million to Nicaraguan opposition groups.
Nicaragua and the ATC
The ATC is an autonomous organization and receives no money from the government, although most of its members identify with Sandinismo. The ATC has been organizing for 42 years in a variety of political contexts and will never stop organizing to defend the rights of the people who grow Nicaragua’s food. The ATC emphasizes the importance of the social programs promoted by the current government to substantially improve the quality of life in the countryside for regular workers and peasants. While it acknowledges that people can have critiques of the government and the current president, the ATC can never stand on the side of Donald Trump and other imperialist attempts to interfere with Nicaragua’s national sovereignty. Nicaragua’s own issues must be solved by the Nicaraguan government and Nicaraguan people.