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(Photo caption: Julie in front of her mural about the civil war in Nicaragua in the 80s)
When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.
- Dom Helder Camera
The revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua regained power again in the election at the end of 2006. It had lost power in the 1990 election at the time when the United States reinvigorated the Contras with new aid, the counterrevolutionary military that initiated a civil war from 1981 and terrorized the population throughout the 80s.
Some loyal Sandinistas said they never believed in the rightists, hoping that the new government would direct resources to support the marginalized. Santa Rosa, a community in the north of the country that has 99% of the population as Sandinistas, definitely has regained its energy and enthusiasm for optimal organizing and participation, which were put to waste during the previous non-Sandinista governments. This community believes that the new government is going to let them participate actively in the processes of local affairs, and that the local government will distribute resources in a better and fairer manner.
However, some previous Sandinistas showed their obvious disrespect to the new government that has agreed to the anti-abortion law that means to kill their women. Some thought that this is an inevitable part of the ‘pact’ between the Sandinistas and the Church during the election, so they will wait and see how the Sandinista government behaves in the coming future before investing too much hope.
In the panorama of socialism in the 21st century, where is Nicaragua? What is its path ahead? This article is not making predictions but is making the statement that it is the Nicaraguan people who are living and shaping it. The article tries to capture some of the untold stories of struggles, and to relay people’s aspirations when they open their heart generously.
Two women’s histories: Two Naïf artists – Julie Aguirre and Karmen Garcia
I want to remember (all the violence I experienced)
so that I will not forget, but I cannot remember it
all the time. I need to forget to go ahead …
What the revolution taught the people is
to reclaim their right to speak for justice.
In the almost one hundred years of intervention of the US government in Nicaragua, nothing is as tormenting as the history of the CIA support to the repressive Somoza regime and its military, la Guardia, which terrorized many families and assassinated many people who protested peacefully between 1974 and 1979.
Julie Aguirre and her husband Holmer are both painters. Both are self-taught artists who inspired each other to paint. Holmer was not a political figure, although he did not agree with the government on many grounds. One morning in 1979, Julie was forced to open the door of her home: a gun was pointed at her child by la Guardia who then took away her husband. Holmer was assassinated by a shot at the neck and was dumped by a highway: a way that the Somoza regime used to terrorize the innocent population so that they would not dare to support the rebel movement. Julie immediately denounced la Guardia in the newspaper, asked for justice, and at the same time, protected her family from further violence.
Julie said she was transformed by the violence. It turned her into a strong and outspoken person against any injustice. Before, she only painted flowers and nature, but now she captures the history and the daily lives on murals in public places. She never sold any paintings before her husband was killed, but fifteen days after his death, she sold her first one as a means of survival.
She said she never believes in the rightists which enforce only lies. She considers herself poor but there are many more that are much poorer. She said the current government of Bolaños wants to privatize the Nicaraguan people’s lifelines, such as water and electricity. In her house, water only comes in the morning. She said the government was pressuring them to agree to privatizing water through irregular water supply, it wants to convince them that it was the only solution for a better water supply: that with privatization, they could improve service and water would be available all the time.
Karmen Garcia is another woman artist who became the household head when her husband was taken prisoner two times under the Somoza Regime. Her husband Santo Medina is also a painter and an outspoken political figure. The first time he was in prison, Karmen begged the prison guard to have mercy on her eight children (in fact only three) and allow her to pass through art supplies to her husband so that he could continue to paint to support the family.
Then life, with all its difficulties and violence, taught Karmen to be strong. She started to paint for a living; she started to support the family. As a child, until the age of twelve, she had lived in the rural area called Chontales, so her first paintings were all about farmers’ lives, their land and their forests. As a mother of three in a time of hardship, it was not feasible for her to devote herself full time to paint as she had three full time jobs at hand just by taking care of the three children. However, as the children were growing up, she could now paint more and more, and she painted with more details and with more technique. Today, she believes that the new Sandinista government would give more emphasis to culture and art, and basically popular expression.
According to Karmen, at the time of the Sandinista government in the 1980s, art and culture flowered, it bloomed. Many exchanges with other Latin American countries were organized and painters were well respected. She was able to travel to Europe and to Guatemala to meet other artists. At the beginning, her art form was more about war and violence, and life under the Sandinista government. Now she paints more about people’s daily life and the natural beauty of her country: the war had passed and she wants to look towards the future.
The history of war and imperialism as a forgotten past or a lesson very much for the present?
In the 1980s, towards the end of the cold war, Nicaragua suffered a typical US intervention. The US government was threatened by the revolutionary movements in Central America - in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua - and supported the repressive military regimes to overpower and suppress the opposition and revolutions in these countries. In the case of Nicaragua, the US supported the Somoza government which in turn let the US government use Nicaragua as a military base from which to overthrow the Guatemalan leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954, and later, in 1961, to invade Cuba.
In Asia, we had an equally bloody intervention from the United States: the war in Vietnam killed many thousands of Vietnamese people and the landmines and other unexploded ordnance still endangers the lives of many farmers and children that work and play in the fields.
Being a Chinese person, and being an Asian, I am living and making the history of my own continent. Each one of us is doing this, no matter if we are a woman, a peasant farmer, an activist, a student or a professional. However, we seldom know the truth or are exposed to enough facts or analysis about the turbulent or struggle of our people throughout our formal education. It is only until we watch documentaries in the media, or we travel and read the Lonely Planet, the travel guidebook series that reveals facts and alternative opinions about the history of Latin America, which are deeply intertwined with the political and economic interests of the government of the United States.
In Asia, we have lived an education that encourages us to forget or to stay ignorant of people’s histories of struggle. Our textbooks neither have faces nor names of these people.
The Community of Santa Rosa - A people’s history
Yo soy fanático indígena (I am a fanatical indigenous person).
- Petrona Perez Bacilio
Whether Petrona is seeking an identity of a new settlement or she is reclaiming her own roots, all seems to be accomplished in Santa Rosa. Petrona is one of the leaders of this community. This is to say, she decentralized her authority to all the people who work with her. As a wife, she takes care of her husband who is partially paralyzed. He has such angelic smile under her protective care. As a mother of seven, she never fails to fulfill her responsibilities. She is an example of an honest person, someone dedicated to her work, and a uniting force who inspires the people of Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa belongs to the municipality of San Fernando and the province of Nueva Segovia, about 254 kilometers from the capital city of Managua. From a secondary road branching out from the Pan American Highway, one has to turn onto a dirt road and then walk about four kilometers to reach the village. Out of the approximately 540 residents, there are only two people who are not Sandinistas. These two people joined the counter revolutionary Contras in the 1980s and have integrated into the community. Almost all the population is engaged in agriculture; only a few Naïf artists and ceramicists are trying alternative professions to make a living.
In the 1980s, due to the Contra war, people had to leave their place of origin, as their houses were burnt down or they were kidnapped to join the Contras. The war was an unjust war that terrorized the people. During the Reagan era of the 1980s, the US government pumped many resources to the Contras to equip them with 15,000 soldiers against the Sandinista government. The first group of Nicaraguans who fled to Santa Rosa left their home villages for the same reasons: their communities near the mountains were burnt down, several people were killed, and some were kidnapped to join the forces of the Contras. As years went on, there were more and more people arriving who needed a safe refuge.
Even nature seemed to turn against this community, in 1999, when Hurricane Mitch ravaged the lives of the people and the land across Central America. Facing the risk of natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides, how could the people prepare themselves for another one? Facing the violent history, how could the community march with confidence and not lose hope?
Santa Rosa is a community that has been supported with many well-intended social programmes of a US based organization that is proud of not taking any money from its own government. Over the past six years, the people have rebuilt their houses as well as creating a community centre that has a library with computer facilities and a kindergarten for children. They now have a source of clean water. They have a pharmacy, several ongoing employment generation projects, and just three months ago, electricity was installed. All the artists in the community are happy that they can paint at night now; they work in the fields during the day. And most importantly, children have not been denied a childhood of learning and playing, which was the case in the last generation.
From a development perspective, organisations provoke either motivation or dependency according to the manner of the sudden injection of resources. This is natural. When a community is isolated, access to resources is essential to start a new life. Many people have visited this community for a short or a long stay; it has been observed that the organizing capacity of Santa Rosa is strong and participatory. Through meetings and assemblies, people here seek to call upon the wisdom of the community as a whole to resolve any problems. The people are more resourceful now as they organized themselves into an association that is part of a rich network of support, be it local or international. In short, they will be more resilient when any natural or man-made disaster happens. Sustainability, in its all complexity of interpretations and philosophies and characteristics, is actually being manifested in several ways in Santa Rosa.
Other countries in the region have offered support and solidarity. Three people suffering from eye diseases were assisted by the Venezuela government to have free operations; each person is a poor farmer who could not afford the expensive operation in Nicaragua. Also, there is a student who had been selected by the Cuban government to study medicine in Cuba.
We might not be able to universally frame what socialism is in the 21st century, but looking at the case of Santa Rosa, at least it has its specific character of mutual support among countries and regions in social development. In addition, it stresses building human infrastructure and capacity in areas of social advancement for the marginalized.
As José Martí, an independence leader of Cuba in the 19th Century said, being educated is being free: a full education enforces peace, and is against war and imperialism, which breeds terrorism. This is how the people of Santa Rosa naturally understand such a term as socialism in the 21st century; this is how they see internationalism in all its possible simple forms.
An independent writer living in Cuba
30 December, 2006
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