Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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The International March for Peace in Central America
December 10, 1985 — January 24, 1986

Welcome to Nicaragua


Return to Introduction and La Marcha Table of Contents.

  Monday night, December 16.

We arrive at the Nicaraguan border about 9 p.m. We are in the no man's land where the contras operate with impunity. Nevertheless, whatever fears we felt for our safety have completely disppeared with the appearance of the Nicaraguan army forces who came into the contested zone to escort us north. Our mood borders on the ecstatic.

  Here we transfer our gear from the Costa Rican buses to the Nicaraguan buses. As I recall it, Daniel Ortega's wife, Rosario Murrillo, personally arraigned for our transportation.

Later we learned that 8 buses had been placed at our disposal, and that consequently 24,000 people were forced to find other transportation for their needs, and the remainder of the transportation system was more severly strained than ever.

Thus was stripped away, to a large degree, a certain sense of pride many of us felt at our own "sacrifice" in coming to "help" Nicaragua.

  Marchers for Peace
Welcome to Free Nicaragua


My notes are sparse here, but I think that here we are in the town of Peñas Blancas, a short drive north of the border. Plastic Sandinista banners are plentiful, which suits us just fine.

  A bite to eat.

I have no notes as to where we spent the night. Perhaps this is the night we slept outside, and when I initially prepared to bed down on top of an ant colony. Luckily I caught the mistake before crawling inside my sleeping bag, and before it became too riddled with ants. They were biters.

  Tuesday morning, December 17.

We are now in Rivas, on our way north. Captain Ramirez explains the military situation in the border area. I don't recall which contra faction was operating in this area, but as I mentioned on the Costa Rica page, they did so with the collusion of Benjamin Piza, Costa Rica's Minister of Security.

Captain Ramirez here tells us of illegal contra incursions to kill Nicaragua peasants in the border area; illegal surveillance flights over Nicaraguan territory, and other provocations by the contras.

He tells us too that the U.S. is embarked on an impossible venture: the destruction of Nicaragua's revolutionary process. Tragically, he will be proven wrong in his optimism. It will take another 4 years of atrocious murder, but the mighty U.S. government will finally make the Nicarguan peasant cry "uncle."

  Blase Bonpane listens to an elderly Nicaraguan woman. Torill Eide stands at the right. March leader Catarina Davies stands behind Torill.



  Carlos Mejia Godoy was Nicaragua's most popular singer, and brought his band to welcome and entertain us.

Catholic priest and Sandinista Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal sits behind Godoy.

Sadly, this photo as presented here does not do justice to Torill Eide's delight at Godoy's performance.

  Sandinista Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal greets us.

Cardenal became well-known through his poetry and his establishment in 1965 of a Christian community and artist's retreat on, and named after, the archipelago of islands in Lake Nicaragua known as Solentiname.

Over time, he concluded that violence was justified in opposing the Somoza dictatorship, and if I am not mistaken, the retreat became a center of anti-Somoza planning and activity. It was destroyed by Somoza in 1977, and Cardenal went on to become the Sandinistas' field chaplain.

Here Cardenal tells us that there are no war-mongers in Nicaragua; that the Nicaraguan soldier is first of all a poet, transformed into a soldier by necessity. "Nicaragua's army could give poetry lessons," he tells us. He says that the peoples of Central America love each other, and that to divided them is a crime. "We want to convert the tanks into tractors," he said.

Perhaps it was at this event that Cardenal made an observation that I struck me powerfully: the majority of Nicaragua's people were under 15 years of age—thus the violence visited on Nicaragua by the Reagan administration is child abuse of the highest order.

I recall too another statement of Cardenal's, perhaps made here, that the virulence, hatred, and dishonesty revealed in Reagan's war against Nicaragua is evidence of a clinical pathology. I couldn't agree more.

When Pope John Paul II visited Nicaragua in 1983, he reprimanded Cardenal for his association with the Sandinista government.

The reprimand was actually for Cardenal's embrace of liberation theology, which encouraged campesinos to ask questions about God's plan for them here on earth. Naturally, this effort to empower the lay Catholic threatened the authority of the church, so the Pope essentially threw in his lot with the contras, who, like the Spanish fascists under Franco, could be counted on to affirm Rome's complete authority over the faithful. (The Pope's failure to condemn contra atrocities, even once during Washington's onslaught against Nicaragua's peasants, proves that his reprimand of Cardenal had nothing to do with the latter's embrace of violent resistance to Somoza. But, even though he was seriously confused, the Pope meant well.)

For more information on Cardenal, see The Gospel According to Solentiname, by Ernesto Cardenal; Letter to Ernesto Cardenal: Guns Don't Work, by Daniel Berrigan; and About Ernesto Cardenal for starters.

The evening concluded with the crowd proudly singing the Sandinista anthem, which includes the phrase "the yanqui, the enemy of mankind." Today, in view of the Bush administration's pathological comittment to war as a solution to all problems, the observation seems at least highly plausible, if not entirely justified.

  Wednesday, December 18.

After leaving Rivas, we stop in Grenada on our way to Masaya.





Photo by Sonja Iskov

  Early evening, December 18.

Welcome to Masaya.

  Combatants for Peace
Masaya Welcomes You With Open Arms

We are treated to a theatrical event, perhaps the most delightful event of my recollection.

The dancer/actor in the red shirt is wearing a facimile of a mask used by Nicaragua's native peoples in their own satirical dramatic spoofs of the Spanish.

Supposedly the mask was used to hide the actor's identity, but it seems unlikely that the Spanish were so obtuse as not to have methods of finding out who was mocking them on the stage. It may be that the shows were somewhat tame as satire goes, and that Spanish adminstrators enjoyed them as much as the natives did. I own such a historic mask, purchased at auction for a fund-raiser for one of America's most active anti-intervention groups, the Southern California Interfaith Task Force On Central America. (SCITCA)

  We are also offered communion.





  Thursday, December 19.

We are now in Managua, at the Plaza of Unaligned Nations. The plaza is dedicated to Panama's General Omar Torrijos, whom, along with Ecuador's Jaime Roldós, I discussed on the Panama page.

The symbolism is profound. Like Torrijos and Roldós, the Sandinistas wanted to have good relations with the U.S., and not be forced into a dependency on the Soviet Union.

But, just gangs in poor inner-city neighborhoods will not allow a young man or woman to be neutral, so Washington never allowed the countries of Latin America to remain non-aligned in what was sold to the American people as the Soviet threat in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. government was then, and is even more today, the ultimate gang.

  Here we are welcomed at the Plaza of Non-aligned Nations by Sandinista Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto.

March leader Blase Bonpane and D'Escoto became friends while preparing for the priesthood in the Maryknoll order.

For recent commentary by D'Escoto about Reagan's contra war, see the June 2004 interview by Democracy Now: "Reagan Was the Butcher of My People".



  Cara al Pueblo—Face the People

We hear the Nicaraguan side of the story from President Daniel Ortega and other government officials.

From left to right: Torill Eide, Ortega, Vice President Sergio Ramirez, Foreign Minsiter Miguel D'Escoto, Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal, and an official whose name I don't have. Half of Blase Bonpane is visible at the right.

Torill asked the first question: "Why has Nicaragua not protested or condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto replied, in English: "What happened at the U.N. was that a resolution deploring the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was passed. Nicaragua abstained. But, we did say, in a clear manner, that we are against intervention anywhere in the world. We were concerned about the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, but we were equally concerned about the presence of the—I think—[U.S.] 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean, and the [U.S.] arming of Pakistan.

"And, it seemed to us a bit strange to vote in favor of a resolution that was being promoted by the very country that had become the symbol and synonym for intervention."
Source: The Canadian documentary Paz Si, Guerra, No.


  Many of Managua's residents joined us for the evening.

Perhaps Tom from Minnesota is applauding D'Escoto's response as he prepares to ask a question himself.

Stan appears to be meditating on some weighty subject.

Morten Bigum from Denmark was tall, and his Mohawk haircut always stood out in the crowd.





This concludes our welcome to Nicargua. To continue with the Nicaragua portion of La Marcha, return to the Introduction.


Return to Introduction and La Marcha Table of Contents.

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