Nicanotes: Guest Post: Padre Miguel D’Escoto, The Tenderness of Greatness

Guest Post By Paul Baker Hernandez

Paul is a voluntary refugee from the UK who has lived in the popular barrio of La Primavera in Managua along with his extended Nicaraguan family. He is a singer/songwriter and environmental activist who is widely known for his English/Spanish interpretations of the music of slain Chilean New Song Movement musician, Victor Jara. Years ago, Paul was the in-country coordinator for the Nicaragua Network.


Padre Miguel and I became friends, almost inevitably, for Víctor Jara. ‘El Padre’ had spent the ‘60s in the slums of Santiago when Víctor was crafting his song for justice; and, after his frightful death at the hands of the loathsome Pinochet had brought echoes of that same song even to far-distant Edinburgh, Víctor had brought me to embattled Nicaragua. During a visit of the Nicaragua Network/School of the Americas Watch delegation to Padre Miguel’s home in 2012 – a glowing hotbed of subversion high among the mansions of the ‘little gringo’ privileged in the hills around Managua – we shared our mutual love for the great singer/martyr, whose every note bespoke his own profound ‘option for the poor’. Singing, “Te Recuerdo Amanda” together remains one of my loveliest memories.

It wasn’t so much the beauty of the occasion, in that lovely old house, packed to the rafters with glorious works of peoples’ art, from the dramatic wood carvings and canvases of fine peasant sculptors and painters to a wonderful bronze of Mahatma Gandhi presented after his term as president of the United Nations General Assembly; nor even the wonder of this man of such towering accomplishment sitting still, so entirely still, until the last note had returned to silence. I now think he was hearing again the scything machine-gun fire, the wounded weeping, weeping, the bereaved laments for all his Nicaraguan daughters and sons sacrificed so callously in the beloved mountains by Reagan’s gratuitous war. Just as so many of those he knew from Chile must have disappeared into the engulfing maw of the Nixon/Kissinger/Pinochet murder machine in 1973, eternally lost among the thousands who ‘never came home’.

Oh I can see you still, Amanda, running in the rain,

Running to the factory where he was working, Manuel

Your lovely smile singing, rain shining in your hair,

To you nothing mattered, you were running to be with him, with him, with him, Manuel

And he’d gone to the mountains, he who’d never hurt a fly, he’d gone to the mountains

And in five breathless minutes, they destroyed him –

The siren is sounding, ‘Back to work! Back to work!

So many never came home

Among them Manuel.

(Víctor Jara. ‘Te Recuerdo Amanda’)

So many other tender instances – my favorites, sharing Padre Miguel’s breakfast of simple fish soup with joint delegation leader, Fr. Roy Bourgeois. Roy had been Miguel’s student at the Maryknoll seminary, a relationship now matured into profound friendship. How the family of house workers sat with us, beyond segregation and class; how, despite the physical disorientation visited on him by Meniere’s disease, he took a whole afternoon to come bless our son Joel for his 15th birthday; and the wee house concert he hosted for me with friends from the National Assembly (I screwed it up completely; he never complained).

However, tender as he could be, Padre Miguel was of course also steel itself. At the very height of that same ‘Contra’ War to overthrow the revolution of love expressed in sovereignty, free health care and free education he served with such passionate compassion, he, Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, a rotund, avuncular David, took the behemoth USA to the International Court of Justice. For terrorism! And – against all the odds – won outright. Initial damages were estimated at US$17bn. The US still hasn’t paid one cent (why do we accept, ‘Of course’?) Over the odd cup of fragrant tea, we used to say, wistfully, “With even modest interest, just how much would that be worth today? US$50-100bn?!” (Nicaragua’s current GDP: approx. US$14.5bn p.a.)

That triumph of international and moral law remains one of Padre Miguel’s stellar achievements, not least because it reveals so clearly just how rotten the core of the Old White Male system actually is, for all its blowhard posturing. Sow the Contras, reap Donald Trump. As he himself put it, “The truth is, we need the United States like we need poisoning by arsenic. Enough of denial and of not wanting to face reality.”

But it was his wonderful capacity for translating his essential tenderness into the great realms of public life that remains for me his most important legacy. When, in 1985, the Vatican forbade him to say Mass because he refused to abandon his vital role within the revolutionary government (How could I? It would have been to betray my people, betray their legitimate rights and aspirations”), he proved his true spirituality by starting a month-long fast for peace which ended on August 6th 1985, the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima. And again, in 1986, he organized the now-legendary “Walk (not ‘march’, he would insist) for Peace” from the Honduran border to the capital, Managua. Almost 200 miles, through all the heat, the exhaustion, the bloodied footwear. Even today, local folk still remember ‘el Padre’ and his companions, recall ministering to the blistered feet, opening their homes to the pilgrims as the hierarchs locked the churches against them.

Suddenly, September 2008: President of the United Nations General Assembly! “They elected me – by acclamation!” he used to say, wonderingly, “Imagine that.” Even here, Padre Miguel is remembered for his tenderness amidst the inevitable pomp. In his first press conference he stated, “They elected a priest. And I hope no one is offended if I say that love is what is most needed in this world. And that selfishness is what has gotten us into the terrible quagmire in which the world is sinking, almost irreversibly, unless something big happens.”

That ‘something big’ is, for me, his growing tenderness for planet Earth herself. To have the vision to join indigenous President Evo Morales of Bolivia in a profound venture not merely to reform, but wholly to re-invent the United Nations as the guardian of Mother Earth, shows Padre Miguel’s true greatness, “Only by recognising the rights of all things, and Mother Earth, can humanity hope to find balance,” he wrote. This is his greatest gift to us, his essential legacy. Honor him by redoubling our own dedication, our own work, to and for the overwhelming task and vision of our time: to ‘Make Planet Earth Great Again!’ (Here are his own words, http://www.tortillaconsal.com/miguel_24-10-2010_en.html )

Towards the end, as his disease progressed, I, as so many others who loved him, saw less and less of ‘El Padre’. Our earlier conversations and shared song were swallowed up in the spitting quagmires of his devastated hearing. It seemed so wrong to be shouting at him, so inappropriate to his gentleness. When I did see him, I’d remind him, only half-humorously, that our other great shared musical love, Beethoven’s late quartets, were composed by someone whose visitors had to write in ‘conversation books’. I doubt he ever did resort to them – modern hearings aids rather outdate the ear trumpet after all. But, today, as I write, seeing his gentle smile, I just like to think of the two of them comparing notes on the marvels of restored hearing; and, after a simple, but celestial, fish soup, singing barber shop quartets with Víctor and el Che as, together, they plan a world overflowing with justice, peace and utter loveliness. ¡Que viva Padre Miguel D’Escoto!

What some others had to say about Fr. Miguel:

“Fr. Miguel D’Escoto hosted our delegation in his home one evening in 2012 to support the work of SOAW/AfGJ. It was a stellar event with the appearance of President Daniel Ortega. Our mission was to confirm a decision by President Ortega to send no more men to the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Columbus, GA. Fr. Miguel’s home is to become a museum where all may enjoy the moving collection or art created by Nicaraguan peasants during the revolution. I remember the thrill of seeing so many colorful paintings by the peasants in Solentiname with Gospel themes.” – Carolyn Webster

“In ways that only future generations will more fully appreciate, Miguel stood above and gazed beyond the horizons of others. He brought together a unique mix of materialist and spiritual awareness. That entailed: spiritual liberation; militant, focused struggle; the personal, the family, the social, from the lonely soul to the human family, of the human family relearning how to live in harmony with our Pacha Mama; the old generation learning to embrace their autumnal years to better welcome the incoming generation, the new born, and the battalions of forever young militants who come to take our place in the common front for human liberation.” – Felipe Stewart

“Padre Miguel was also a strong voice in the incredible legacy of Ben Linder, Portland mechanical engineer who was murdered by U.S.-backed Contras in 1987. His foundation was actually housed for many years at La Casa Benjamin Linder in Managua. It was an honor for me personally to work with the people from his foundation. During these frightening times, Padre Miguel’s legacy gives comfort and strength to the power of solidarity.” — Bryan J Moore


BRIEFS

  • In hemispheric affairs the government of Nicaragua denounced Trump’s roll-back of US-Cuba relations calling it “unjustifiable new aggression against the Government and People of Cuba” and reaffirmed Nicaragua’s “unfailing Brotherhood, Solidarity, and Historical Unity” with Cuba. It also condemned as “inadmissible” continued efforts by some countries in the OAS to interfere with Venezuela’s sovereignty. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada stated, “We demand a stop to the political harassment and boycott of dialogue in Venezuela and the ongoing disqualification of the government of President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to promote dialogue among Venezuelan brothers and sisters. We regret that a group of countries continues with biased vision trying to discredit and isolate the Venezuelan government, joining thereby a broader offensive of destabilization aimed at promoting a coup in that country.” (Nicaraguan government press release, June 17; Informe Pastran, June 19)
  • The Nicaragua Central Bank (BCN) reported that family remittances surpassed US$323 million during the first three months of this year, 6.9% over the same period in 2016. The United States (56%); Costa Rica (20.2%); Spain (9.6%); and Panama (5.9%) were the main sources of these remittances from family members working abroad. (Nicaragua News, June 16)
  • The Nicaragua Center for Exports (CETREX) announced that exports totaled US$ 1.2 billion during the first five months of this year, 24% above the same period in 2016. Sectors such as coffee (US$288 million), beef (US$216.7 million), sugar (US$145.7 million), and gold (US$139.7 million) were the main drivers of this growth. (Nicaragua News, June 15)
  • Nicaragua as a tourist destination is becoming increasingly well-known. The Spanish newspaper La Razon named it the “best tourist destination of 2017” and the newspaper and Spain’s Ministry of Tourism will present the award at an official ceremony in July. Also last week the World Tourism Organization named Nicaragua’s tourist industry one of Latin America’s most “ecofriendly” and the Latin American Travel and Tourism Association (LATA) bestowed on Nicaragua the Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Award in recognition of its positive environmental practices in the tourism sector. LATA President Anthony Mason said the Nicaragua government has a strong commitment to the promotion of sustainable tourism and implementation of responsible policies to protect the environment. (Nicaragua News, June 13, 14, 15)
  • El Nuevo Diario published an interesting story about a study by the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) entitled “Incidence of Public Expenditure on Poverty Reduction and Inequality.” The study determined that public spending on health and education has a much deeper effect on poverty reduction than do the social programs such as Plan Roof, Zero Hunger, school meals, etc. By FUNIDES’ calculation based on a poverty line of US$1.80 per day, education and health spending reduces the number of people living in poverty by 27.3% while fourteen social programs only reduce the number of people in poverty by 2.6%. The report does not call for a reduction in social spending, which under the Sandinista government increased by 35.2% during the period from 2009-2014, but rather that better targeting of social program spending would show better results. (El Nuevo Diario, June 20)
  • The opposition grouping composed of supporters of Eduardo Montealegre and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (FAD-MRS) which boycotted the presidential election last year and is upset that the OAS is partnering with the Nicaraguan government for this year’s municipal elections, sent a delegation to the OAS General Assembly meeting in Cancun, Mexico last week to lobby Sec. Gen. Luis Almagro and other country delegations against the Nicaraguan government. The delegation, led by Violeta Granera and including Enrique Saenz, also met with Carlos Ponce of the US right-wing think tank Freedom House and agreed, after meeting with the Venezuelan opposition’s Movement for Democratic Unity (MUD), to discuss future joint actions. (Informe Pastran, June 19)