Nicaragua is one of the countries that has occupied a corner in my imagination over the years. Back when I was in graduate school, I hung around with a lot of leftists. As my mother would say, “don’t trust anyone who wasn’t a communist when they were in their 20s!” Well, she didn’t quite put it that bluntly, maybe, but I always listened to her. But back in that day, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were trying overthrow the American-backed dictators.
Not only were ideas clashing, but people were actually putting their lives on the line for these ideas. On the student radio station, we’d broadcast updates from the wars of liberation in Central America. But that was 25 years ago. Where is Nicaragua now?
These are my thoughts I have as I wait for my flight in an airport lounge (that’s certainly an oxymoron – “airport” with “lounge”). There is a spirited collection of folks waiting to board the plane, including a couple of groups of volunteers, with their tell-tale identical T-shirts related to a water project or a housing development. Nicaragua can use the help. It is the second-poorest country in our hemisphere (after Haiti).
My first morning here, a Sunday, I meander through the maze that is Managua, a city destroyed by an earthquake in 1972 and never really rebuilt. A city ignored by three generations of dictators and then torn apart by civil war. I haven’t been able to find a good map, so I have to rely on my sense of direction. The only maps I have do not seem to relate to the layout of the streets, and there are very few signs (some of which differ from the names on the maps).
It’s just me and the security guards, who are everywhere, their machine guns giving the illusion of public safety. Even the Tip Top chicken outlet where I eat a nice meal, served to me at a table (unlike our fast food places), features an armed guard who doubles as a doorman. But that is not unusual for this part of the world.
How, exactly, do you find a way to turn around three generations of dictators? How do you educate and feed the population, build infrastructure, provide medical care, maintain markets when international institutions get nervous, and regain control over resources that have been promised away to multinational firms who have budgets as large as your whole treasury?
Well, it takes a long time. And more patience than I can imagine.
(to be continued…)