Veterans for Peace in Nicaragua
"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my government, I can not be silent".---Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When I received an email recently from my good friend Tim asking for some help in getting to Nicaragua on a Veterans for Peace mission I said "hey, where do I apply---I want to go too!"
It's an adventure. Excitement. A big event to add to my life's experiences.
I had not been paying much attention to Central American affairs for a while. I remember how Hillary "bomb 'em" Clinton had engineered the ouster of a "too liberal" President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras but little else. Inquiring minds want to know. Yes, I had heard something about civil unrest in Nicaragua and there seemed to be conflicting stories about just what was going on but I never really looked in to it. Well, now I have. I joined 7 of my fellow members of Veterans for Peace in a fact finding trip to Nicaragua and it was a wonderful trip.
The short story is that the CIA and NED (national endowment for democracy) in partnership with the rich capitalists of Nicaragua attempted another coup. Kinda contra-wars 2.0.
Here I think a brief overview of the historic record is in order. The United States has been meddling in the affairs of Nicaragua for almost 200 years. The people of Central America are much more familiar with this history than us Norte Americanos. Back in the mid 1800's the U.S. Opportunist William Walker tried to take over Central America so as to annex it into the United States as slave states thus shoring up the cause for slavery in the south. Mr. Walker ended up buried in a Honduran graveyard only after having creating much havoc and mayhem.
During the Banana Republic wars of the early 20th century the United States had troops stationed in Central America making sure that United Fruit Co. could exploit the rich agricultural wealth of the area. Eventually in 1936 we installed a brutal dictator, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua. He and his family ruled with an iron fist until the Sandinista revolutionary forces pushed them out of power in 1979 thus leading us to the contra wars of the 80's. I see a pattern evolving here. The people of Nicaragua rise up and take control of their own country only to have the United States support a small group of rich land owners who then overthrow the popular government in favor of one that will enrich the already rich.
Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista are reportedly communists or socialist. I didn't see it. There are several different privately owned banks in Nicaragua. There are several convenience store chains in operation. I saw at least three different food store chains. Private enterprise abounds in the form of beauty salons, bars and taverns, restaurants, tires stores, garages, pharmacies and much more. They have a capitalist economic system. Don't let the New York Times tell you any different.
The sins of the Sandinista is that they tax the rich and corporations enough to provide education, good roads, health care, peace and stability for the population in general. Nicaraguans are not walking to our southern border in search of security. Their country has a rather low crime rate. They have food, housing and health care. For the most part they have hope in the future.
After the contra-wars of the 80's the people were just really tired of war so, in order to end the violence they voted Daniel Ortega out of office. Not until the election of 2007 did they dare try to but the Sandinistas back in power. Under Ortega's leadership GDP has grown by 5% per year. Life expectancy has increased 3 years. Poverty is down 30%. Infant mortality and maternal death is down dramatically. Three new hospitals have been built and many smaller health clinics opened throughout the country. Nicaragua is still a very poor country having only Haiti holding them off the bottom. But in the recent decade of peace, stability and good governance things are getting better and the people have that one essential element to happiness, hope.
So what happened? About a year ago our regime change mongers got back into action and tried to screw the whole thing up again. Since the latest coup attempt and the ensuing sanctions imposed by the United States, the economy is sluggish again. People are trying their best to get back to a normal life but it is difficult.
If the United States would just leave Central America alone they would do pretty well on their own. And it's quite puzzling because there isn't any great wealth in Nicaragua like, say, oil or natural gas. The oligarchs are able to extract a modicum of tribute from the peasants but it's not big money. They must be messing with these people just because it's a game they like to play.
But the game is deadly and cruel. For a nation that some (especially rabid conservatives) claim is a Christian nation, we sure do ignore the teachings of Jesus. "Heal the sick" he said and the Sandinista are diligently working on that. "Feed the hungry" he said, and the Sandinista listened. Poverty and undernourishment are way down in the last 11 years. But, just as the neoliberal establishment is driving the underclass into poverty here in the US, they wish EVERYONE to suffer more. Even the very poor.