Letter from Nicaragua, September 2010

Note: I visited Nicaragua in 1981, two years after the Sandinista revolution overthrew a long-time dictatorship. The revolution, like others in Central America in the 1970s and 80s, had been characterized by the massive involvement of women and youth in both fighting and constructing alternative “governments” in liberated areas. Before the U.S.-engineered counter-revolution succeeded, there lay a period when people were widely involved in trying to re-create work and other social relations in the country (some efforts are alluded to in my letter below). But the new government that emerged from a coalition of the groups who had fought, was made up largely of nationalists, reformers, and liberation theologists, and they failed to leave a legacy of moving toward a sustainable revolutionary society. When I was there, changes were being instituted from the bottom up, by the mass movements who had made the revolution, but they were pushed back as Nicaragua reverted to class rule and failed to overcome extreme poverty. The Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, having taken up service to the oppressor class, has returned as president.

The friend who showed me the country in 1981 is a teacher—she was then teaching 8-year olds and now teaches higher education. She has had to work at home in dress-making and other supplemental jobs to support herself and her children. She had been an economic refugee working in a garment shop in the U.S. when she met Marxist-Humanism, and she returned home to help build a new society. Now, a generation later, we just exchanged the letters below.

— Anne Jaclard

Letter to Friend:

I am heartbroken by Nica’s poverty and reactionary politics 30 years after the revolution. What happened to the dress-making cooperative that you and I visited in 1981–do any such places remain? What happened to your dream of co-ed schools (boys and girls together instead of segregated)? To the women and youth who took the lead in literacy and health campaigns and taught people to grow vegetables in their yards, etc., including all the ideas about equality of men and women? (Remember how we thought that once the women had fought alongside the men in the revolution, they couldn’t be pushed back in the kitchen? Why does the Church have the power to block reproductive rights?) What happened to the idea of equality of incomes that was prevalent right after the revolution? (Remember the maid in the hotel who complained to us that the “pretty” women get assigned to be waitresses—who make more money–rather than maids?) What happened to the spirit of cooperation that meant you could leave money lying around, and no one would take it?

Friend’s reply:

I feel like we are living through a very bad time. The economic situation is so difficult. In my case, I have four jobs: I have to work from Monday through Sunday. Sometimes I ask my students to buy a book but they don’t because they have no money, and they feel confident that I can understand their problem. Others teachers push them to get the books by saying otherwise they won’t be allowed to be in the class. Many student[s] don’t have enough money to eat every day.

None of the governments we’ve had in recent years has helped us to organize our financial lives differently. I mean, no government has enabled us to save some money or to organize some people into cooperatives like the ones we had in the 1980s. We have many banks, so if you want financial support you have to ask the bank and you have to be a very, very good client. In my case, I do not have any chance of getting a loan from a bank to invest in a business of my own, because I am on the “black list” of people who have been delinquent on loans, and I have to clean up my record. That is sad for me.

All of this situation is well known to my children, and they do not want [to] have the same financial problems in their lives, so they are working hard and doing well in college. They are very understanding of my problems, and we plan expenditures together. For example, they need a computer but they do not want me to take a loan from somebody in my neighborhood, because those people ask for 20% interest monthly.

Sometimes I think is very hard to live here, but I could not live in the United States with the sad news about the treatment of immigrants there. I was undocumented when I lived there, and I know how an immigrant feels.

Maybe someday all the governments can see their citizens in a different way. I know that many Americans love Latinos, but some do not. I also know that some rich Nicaraguans love Nicaragua, but others do not. At least we have the freedom to become well-educated, with a lot of effort. Someday my children could help this country to be more honest and more responsible to its children.

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