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

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Nicaragua, 1984
What to do and see when you're not observing an election

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Not all of our time was spent on election-related issues. We also saw the sights of everyday Nicaragua, many of which reflected the efforts of the Sandinistas to "do it all".

baboon This baboon was one of several very healthy and obviously well-cared for animals at a small zoo we visited—in Juigalpa, I believe, but don't quote me on that.

The cages and enclosures were simple, but adequate given the relatively benign weather compared to the northern latitudes.

I was not particualrly pleased when a group of young men came along and sent him into a rage by literally rattling his cage.

Conserve the turtle Conserve the turtle

Turtle eggs are prized delicacies, and the Sandinistas tried to educate Nicaraguans on the importance of limiting the number of eggs harvested so as to preserve the species.

Rivers of Blood I'm kind of a klutz when it comes to art appreciation, but I do know what I like. This multi-media piece struck me hard. I neglected to note the title, and I don't recall thinking at the time that it represented the agony Nicaragua was suffering at the hands of the Reagan administration. On the other hand, maybe I did, and that subliminal recollection inspired my own personal title for this very well-executed work: Rivers of Blood.

Chess pieces Again, I neglected to note the title. This piece hangs next to a door opening that has been hammered out for rebuilding, and is most likely in a building that was damaged during the insurrection. Much of Nicaragua's daily life, including art displays and theater productions, takes place in war-damaged buildings.

Dance class Aspiring Pavlovas and Baryshnikovs.

Church service Iglesia Santa Maria de Los Angeles, Barrio Riguero.

I believe this is the same church as I visited on my first trip in 1983, but it seems to be a different building.

The mural is quite different, but the support of the progressive Catholic clergy for the Sandinistas "preferential option for the poor" was steadfast. On the other hand, Pope John Paul II was not at all happy with these progressive priests, and in retaliation for their populist proclivites, he even elevated the contras' own religious mentor, Archbishop Obando y Bravo, to Cardinal.

I'm something of a pagan myself, but I get a bit weepy even today when I think back on the love that filled rooms such as this hall whenever even a few of these great, peace-loving people gathered together.

Merry-go-round A bit of fun for some toddlers.

Guides If memory serves, I had planned to stay a week longer in Nicaragua and try to get to Bluefields, on the Atlantic Coast. (I didn't make it.)

While I was on my own for a few days, I met these men, who were quite anxious to show me one aspect of the hardships that the contra war was causing. So, I jumped in the truck, and they drove me to the dump. They wanted me to tell my fellow Americans how people were forced to scavenge for their subsistence.

The dump As it happened, there were, even to my unpracticed eye, rather few scavengers at this large dump (between Managua and the lake, as I recall). I knew that in other poor nations, as I would one day see myself in Guatemala, entire colonias would grow up on the outskirts of the city dump, and one scavenged in the wrong territory at one's peril.

Here, a few women were picking up some handy items, and if I had had room in my luggage, I might have looked for some souvenirs to take back myself. I was concerned for the safety of the kids who were having a great time riding on the back of the bulldozer, though.

I did not return to the dump on my two subsequent trips to Nicargua, but I'm sure that by then I would have seen many more people scavenging.

Sandinista rally I don't recall whether this rally took place before or after the election. The rally was followed by a powerful thunder and lightning storm. I barely managed to keep my camera dry.

Cooperative headquarters As I recall it, this was the main building of a Sandinista cooperative, another instance of the "threat of a good example" posed by the Sandinistas. The mere thought of success by economic units such as these, a virtual certainty in Nicaragua had the Sandinistas been allowed to carry out their programs, still drives the American business community nuts.

The blackboard indicates some use as a classroom, but it was not set up for class when we visited. Our USOCA leader, Olga, speaks with an elderly member of the cooperative.

Sandino and Fonseca, National Palace Augusto Sandino and Carlos Fonseca.

The two heroes of the revolution. In 1984 the National Palace was still a ruin, but in Somoza's time it was the seat of government. It was the site of a daring action by the Sandinistas, in which a squad of masked Sandinistas broke into the Palace during a legislative session—or a big party, maybe—and held a large number of government officials hostage. They demanded that Somoza release a number of jailed FSLN fighters, give the FSLN a lot of money, and fly them to Cuba.

And he did. Commandante Daniel Ortega, now running for the presidency of Nicaragua, was one of those released in that episode. Somoza was pretty steamed.

Another Sandinista militant, the flamboyant Eden Pastora, made a name for himself in that action: Commadante Cero (Commander Zero). The widely circulated story is that his fame went to his head, and when he was not given the kind of honored postion he felt he deserved in the post-triumph government, he became a contra.

But, he took great pride in being an independent contra. Operating out of Costa Rica, he had little regard for the U.S. lackeys operating out of Honduras, and refused to coordinate his activities with them. But, he served a purpose, so the CIA funded him for a while, until his arrogance and relative ineffectiveness led to a falling out. As much as he claimed to be a genuine, populist alternative to the Sandinistas, though, his tactics were reported by human rights organizations to be no less brutal than those of his northern counterparts.

theater_02a The election period saw a large number of theater troupes from varions Latin American countries converge on Managua—at the invitation of the Sandinistas, of course. The intense anti-Americanism felt throughout Latin America was creatively expressed in a wide variety of presentations by different national troupes.

Here we see a few pictures of a Costa Rican group's playlet. The plot was not exactly clear to me even as I watched it, but its anti-imperialist message was clear. I leave it to the viewer to figure out who are the good guys and the bad guys.




theater_12 Applause all around.

Matagalpa kids My daughter Carson took this picture in Matagalpa in August 1984. Note the electric meter.

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