By S. Brian Willson
(S. Brian Willson is a Viet Nam Veteran, trained attorney, and long-time activist confronting historical USA imperialism. He first went to Nicaragua in 1986, and has visited many times over the years. For several years he has resided in Nicaragua as one of its proud citizens.)
The US hegemonic, imperial policy against Nicaragua was clearly established in 1853-54. US pro-slavery President Franklin Pierce sent US Marines to Greytown (San Juan del Norte) to destroy the small city on the Atlantic coast of less than 100 houses because its population refused to cooperate with US robber baron companies constructing rail and transit lines crossing from east to west in Nicaragua utilizing the Rio San Juan Corridor. Greytown was totally destroyed.
Thus was established the character of US American foreign policy in Central America, including Nicaragua, to the present – contempt for local autonomy, and wanton destruction, and murder when locals dare resist.
There have been forty-nine Nicaragua presidential administrations from 1854 to 1979, when the Sandinista revolution triumphantly ousted the US’s long-time favorite dictator Anastasio Somoza. All but one administration, (that of President José Santos Zelaya,1893-1909) acted as agents of US commercial and financial interests. Due to Zelaya’s progressive interest in expanding the well-being of all Nicaraguans, he was forcibly removed by the US in 1909.
After the revolutionary Sandinistas were voted out of power in a 1990 election conducted under threat of continued US war if the US-selected candidate lost, all the revolutionary gains of 1979-1990 were reversed by three US-approved Nicaraguan administrations, 1990-2006.
My first visit to Nicaragua was in January 1986 in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s terrorist war against the Nicaraguan people. I was attempting to study Spanish at a mountain school in Estelí. I had been there only six days when Reagan’s Contras attacked three nearby farming cooperatives, murdering eleven campesinos. In addition, the Contras blew up the electrical towers near Estelí plunging the city into darkness. That evening two teenage members of the family I was staying with were studying their lessons as part of the country’s literacy campaign. They were practicing using a crude blackboard with chalk. Without hesitation, they lit candles and continued their lessons as before. The next morning, I watched several of the murdered campesinos carried on horse-drawn wagons to the Estelí cemetery in open caskets for all to see. I wept. Viet Nam all over again for me.
The next week our class of twenty students took a trip to one of Nicaragua’s many Pacific Coast beaches – Pochomil. While enjoying jumping around in the waves I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle, and my lower right leg became paralyzed up to the knee. I frantically crawled to just out of reach of the waves and noticed blood pouring out of a small cut on my ankle. Fellow students and a lifeguard helped me onto our bus and rushed me the forty-five miles to the Lenin Fonseca, one several public hospitals in Managua.
I was on a bed in the emergency room with two other seriously wounded Nicaraguans who were experiencing profuse bleeding. The doctor worked frantically on these two patients; the rules of triage were applied here. Of course, I had to wait as being the least injured of the three. One of the patients died while I was waiting for help. But soon a Black doctor, a descendant of British slaves from the Caribbean, speaking excellent English, attended to me and began sucking with his mouth the venom out of my leg. The diagnosis was that I had been stung by a Sting Ray. The effects of the remaining venom would take several days before the pain at the cut site and the leg paralysis subsided. I was given medicine and crutches as I left the hospital. When I asked for the bill, the doctor said, “Oh, in revolutionary Nicaragua health care is free.”
After two months at the language school, I returned to the US, but subsequently began traveling to Nicaragua a couple of times a year. I continued to document Contra atrocities – murders, arsons, kidnappings, ambushes, and destruction of civilian infrastructure such as farms, health clinics, schools, and the electrical grid.
In 1990, I served as an international election observer for the critical February 25, 1990, elections, monitoring vote counting in three small Indigenous communities northwest of Puerto Cabezas on the North Caribbean Coast. I rode in a cattle truck from Matagalpa to Puerto Cabezas to get there. Sitting in the cab I was able to document that all fifty-seven bridges over the rivers on that long stretch of road had been destroyed by the Contras.
The villages where I observed the election had no electricity and, with others, I examined the hand-counting of ballots by candlelight into the early morning hours of February 26. The process seemed fair with poll watchers present representing the different parties. Later in the day the national results revealed about 55% voted for the US-selected UNO/Chamorro candidacy, and 41% for FSLN/Ortega. Though terribly disappointed in the results, I understood that the people were voting with a gun pointed at their head since US President George H.W. Bush had warned them that a vote for Ortega would translate into continued war and economic deprivation. The mechanical process appeared fair, but the national political context controlled by the US made it impossible for Nicaragua to facilitate a process that would reveal genuinely honest voter sentiments.
When departing for the US from Nicaragua after the elections, the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane was on his last trip as the Sandinista government representative to Europe for Nicaraguan coffee sales. In good English, he sadly shared with me something I have never forgotten: “It is a shame the US just would not let our flower blossom.” As the plane was accelerating down the runway lifting into the air, I found myself sobbing, wondering whether I would ever see Nicaragua again.
The results brought celebratory relief for the wealthy Nicaraguan right-wing and comfortable US investors. They could have their rich playground back. Privatization of utilities and infrastructure for profit began at the expense of the vast majority of the people. Most of the gains of the revolution, in education, healthcare, gender equity, etc., were reversed.
In subsequent elections in 1996 and 2001, candidates of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (Arnoldo Aleman, 1996-2001, Enrique Bolaños, 2002-2007), with a lot of US financial and media help, defeated efforts by the FSLN to regain the presidency, as they dismantled the earlier Sandinista gains. Wikileaks cables reveal that the US exerted continued efforts with millions of dollars to block any re-emergence of the Sandinistas, and made clear that if the FSLN were to win, the US would attempt to curtail investments, renew economic sanctions, and stop remittances from the US.
Former Sandinista leader Dora Maria Tellez broke from the FSLN and Ortega in the 1990s and formed the small opposition party MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement). Tellez made it known that she “believed” the FSLN would commit election fraud in the 2006 elections, warning that if the FSLN “steals” the election, the MRS will “take to the streets.” Tellez proudly praised her nephew who was fighting for the US military in Iraq, declaring that she had no political issues with the US, only Nicaragua. Nonetheless, she was refused a visa to the US because it claimed she had a terrorist history.
Before Bolaños left power, his administration passed a draconian anti-abortion law banning the practice in all circumstances. This horrible policy is often blamed on the FSLN, but they were a minority in the National Assembly.
Much to the chagrin of the United States, the FSLN won the 2006 elections, taking over the presidency in January 2007 and it has won subsequently in 2011, 2016, and 2021, each time with a greater backing from the people – last time 75%. With the election of the Sandinistas in 2007 to govern Nicaragua, the flower that was so hauntingly extinguished from 1990 to 2006 has reappeared with beautiful blossoms and fragrance despite the constant efforts by the US to defeat and/or overthrow it.
‘It is a shame the US just would not let our flower blossom.’ Of course, as would be expected, the US would continue expending hundreds of millions of dollars in various nefarious ways in futile efforts to defeat the Sandinistas in four democratic elections. Since this wasn’t enough, the US orchestrated a violent coup d’etat in 2018 that left hundreds dead. However, Nicaragua was able to defeat the coup attempt, and the Nicaraguan flower now shines more brightly and proudly than ever, serving the Nicaraguan people. The US cabal of imperial, greedy oligarchs remain furious, totally ignorant of the understandable disdain most Nicaraguans feel for them.
Erving Vega, lead reporter and anchor person for Channel TN8’s current affairs program, prepared a summary “16 Years of Sandinista Government” [NicaNotes, Jan. 26, 2023] which tells the story clearly. I cannot personally vouch for the statistics, but am summarizing them as presented by Erving Vega.
Nicaragua has leaped from one of the worst governments to being one of the best in all of Latin America. Poverty in general has fallen from 48.3% in 2005 to 24.9% in 2016 and extreme poverty fell from 17.2% to 6.9% in the same period. Chronic malnutrition has been lowered from 27% to 11.6%. Fees for health care and public education have been abolished. Potable water service in urban areas is at 91.5% and in rural areas at 55.4%. Sewer coverage in the urban area of 54% and in the rural area of 50.9%. After the blackouts of 12 to 14 hours a day in 2006, electricity coverage is at 99.3% with 75% from renewable sources.
Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America with a homicide rate that went from 13.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006 to 7 in 2020. Its community-based policing is considered a model for other countries. Nicaragua possesses the best roads and bridges in Central America according to the Central America Bank for Economic Integration. In 2006 there were 2,439 kilometers of paved roads, with only 30% in passable condition. Today, the paved road network exceeds 5,000 kilometers.
According to “Sustainability Magazine”, Nicaragua is ranked 8th worldwide in promoting policies to generate renewable energy, including geothermal, hydro, and solar. It now has the best and most expansive public health care and hospital network in Central America with 1,596 health units. It has the lowest coronavirus death rate by far than any country in the Americas, doing so with widespread community education and vaccination programs, without mandating lockdowns, vaccinations or the wearing of face masks. Some simply chose not to have the vaccinations for personal reasons. Nonetheless, virtually all public and most private employees voluntarily wear masks, and most have been vaccinated at least twice. It has the highest vaccination rate in Central America with more than 92% having received two vaccines.
The country is 90 percent food sufficient!
The reduction in maternal deaths is remarkable. In 2006 the rate was 93 deaths per 100,000 live births, currently it is 31.4. Infant mortality dropped from 29 per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 12.6 per 1,000 live births in 2021. Since 2007 when the Sandinistas returned to govern, they have built 24 state of the art hospitals; twelve more are planned by 2026. Universal public health care is guaranteed and throughout the country there are nearly 1,600 health care units, that includes many local clinics, special needs and maternity facilities.
Despite these features of Nicaragua’s progressive society, the US still considers Nicaragua, along with progressive Venezuela and Cuba, the troika of tyranny. This reveals the stupidity and ignorance of US policy makers. The blooming Nicaragua flower survived the world economic crisis in 2008, the US-orchestrated coup attempt in 2018, a global pandemic, two Category 4 hurricanes within two weeks of each other in November 2020, and severe US-imposed sanctions.
In 2017, at age 76, I decided to move to Nicaragua to enjoy its cultural and service amenities. I wanted to live in a country that is openly committed to peace, and regularly and accurately describes the United States as a bullying, imperial power. Nicaragua’s flower is a special bloom. I purchased a home in the historic city of Granada, and enjoy free health care. I have had four successful surgical operations, and enjoy a personal, experienced doctor. I hire my own personal trainer in efforts to keep my aging body from further deteriorating. I watch sports and documentary programs on television. I eat well and live comfortably on my VA disability and social security. As some may know, I regularly post political and personal content on my Facebook page (yes, I know it is surveillance capitalism at its worst).
By being fully present in Nicaragua, and an active member of the Nicaragua Historical Combatants for Peace, and the Organization of Revolutionary Disabled, I have traveled around Nicaragua visiting different communities. As I had experienced in Viet Nam, the way the mass media and Silicon Valley social media report events and politics is generally the exact opposite of the truth on the ground. How can this be? Enjoy the post-truth, post-fact world, which is a good reason to live outside the United States, at least for part of your life.
By Nan McCurdy
Nicaragua Has Highest Percentage of Fully Vaccinated People in Region
On Jan. 24, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported that with 93.6% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Nicaragua is the country in Central America with the highest percentage of fully vaccinated population, followed by Costa Rica (84%); Panama (72.3%); El Salvador (67.2%); Honduras (57.4%); Guatemala (38.7%). [Fully vaccinated usually means a person has received their primary series of Covid-19 vaccines.] (Nicaragua News, 25 Jan. 2023)
Military Hospital Only Hospital in Latin America to Receive These Three Awards
On Jan. 30 the organization Accreditation Canada announced that the Dr. Alejandro Dávila Bolaños Military Teaching Hospital for the fourth year in a row maintains the “Diamond” or highest level of accreditation. It will also receive the “Excellence in the dimension of quality in safety” Award for the third year in a row and for the first time the “People-Centered Care Commitment” prize, consolidating its position as the only hospital in Latin America and the Caribbean and only the second in the world, to receive these three levels of accreditation. Dr. Jodie Taylor, Director of Accreditation Canada, congratulated the Military Hospital for the excellent results obtained on its evaluation. “These exceptional achievements by the Military Hospital reflect the commitment of the personnel and the Nicaragua military to guarantee quality service for patients. We join you in celebrating these successes and hope you will continue to diligently pursue quality to maintain this high standard.” Accreditation Canada is an organization that rigorously and objectively validates compliance with international standards in health services. [Note: The Military Hospital serves military members and veterans along with patients under Social Security and others.] (Nicaragua News, 31 Jan. 2023; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6Rek8ZK86Y)
24 Remodeled and Expanded Schools
The Ministry of Education inaugurated 24 improved schools at the beginning of 2023, which will improve learning environments for students and teachers. The rehabilitated and expanded schools are located in Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Río San Juan, Chinandega, Estelí, Zelaya Central, Las Minas, Boaco, León, Carazo, and Chontales. The investment of US$2.85 million included construction and rehabilitation of classrooms, storage units for the food for school meals, administrative offices, and libraries as well as water and sanitation works, installation of playground equipment, desks, acrylic blackboards and more. See photos here: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/generales/inauguran-24-escuelas-en-inicio-del-2023/ (Radio La Primerisima, 28 Jan. 2023)
President Ortega Condemns Coup in Peru
President Daniel Ortega said on Jan. 31 that in Peru terror and death have been sown, simply because the people decided to elect a president of peasant origin. “A teacher of peasant origin … a humble man, they elected him. Then in the Congress they began to figure out how to overthrow him and he tried to seek agreement, even firing comrades of the movement that had led him to the presidency because Congress was demanding he fire them. Simply put, there is class hatred,” he said. “They don’t want to see … a humble teacher as the president. They began to make war, war and more war, until they carried out a coup d’état, and President Pedro Castillo, teacher from the countryside, a simple person, humble, was jailed. They have him in jail, but the people have risen up and have been fighting every day, the peasants, the workers, the teachers, all fighting. [The coup government] has already murdered 60 people in the streets, and what do the Yankees say, what do the Europeans say? There is no condemnation of the crimes that are being committed against these people, there are no human rights [organizations] that speak in favor of these people who are being murdered – who in spite of the bullets raining down on them, continue fighting and are demanding the dissolution of the Congress. Because it was the Congress that carried out the coup d’état together with the military against President Pedro Castillo, legitimate president of the sister Republic of Peru.” (Radio La Primerisima, 31 Jan. 2023)
CABEI Report on Support for Education
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) reported on advances of the educational component of the Multisectoral Program for Economic Reactivation and Social Protection (NIC-Solidaria). It stated that the US$15.4 million educational component of the Program is rehabilitating, expanding, and equipping 14 schools benefitting 5,860 students and it also supports the school meal program guaranteeing 1.2 million daily rations of food to students. CABEI President Dante Mossi said that, “Aware of the importance of integral education of children and adolescents for the development of societies, CABEI is prioritizing initiatives that, in addition to providing better conditions to receive classes, can also strengthen their knowledge, increase food security and improve their cognitive and physical development, incentivizing them to complete their basic education.” (Nicaragua News, 27 Feb. 2023)
More than US$63 Million Loaned to Women in 2022 for Their Enterprises
The Director of the Government microloan Zero Usury Program, Leonor Corea, reported that in 2022, US$63.15 million was provided to 155,000 women to install or expand small businesses in the country’s 153 municipalities, promoting women’s entrepreneurship and contribution to the revitalization of the economy.” The Zero Usury Program is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model that the government is implementing in support of female entrepreneurship. (Nicaragua News, 31 Jan. 2023)
International Bank Account Structure Implemented
On Jan. 25 the Central Bank announced that starting this week, the standardized bank account structure based on the International Bank Account Code (IBAN) will be implemented in Nicaragua. “The Board of Directors of the Central Bank and the private banks of the National Financial System have established a standardized system for bank accounts made up of 28 alphanumeric characters that will allow uniform identification of accounts nationally and internationally, as well as the receipt of payments, deposits and remittances through the Interconnected Payments System that recognizes the IBAN structure, facilitating financial transactions between countries.” (Nicaragua News, 27 Feb. 2023)
Credit Line Reinstated for Small Businesses Affected by the Pandemic
In support of economic reactivation of micro, small and medium-scale businesses (MSME’s) affected by the pandemic, the Nicaragua Finance Bank (BDF) and the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO) announced the renewal of the global credit line contract for US$10 million. The credit line is part of the Program for Financial Support and Technical Assistance for MSME’s affected by the health crisis. (Nicaragua News, 26 Jan. 2023)
Nicaragua among Countries with Highest Foreign Investment
The Secretariat of the Central American Monetary Council (SEMCA) published its “III Quarter 2022 Central America and Dominican Republic Balance of Payments” report: With US$1.16 billion in Net Flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as of September 2022, Nicaragua has the third highest FDI attraction rate in the region, surpassed only by the Dominican Republic – US$3.19 billion and Costa Rica – US$2.2 billion. (Nicaragua News, 25 Jan. 2023)
More than 221,000 Books Being Delivered to Schools
This week the Ministry of Education will continue delivering books to students as well as briefcases for teachers and backpacks with school supplies for students. Salvador Vanegas, presidential advisor on educational issues, said on Jan. 29 that the delivery of 156,591 books is being completed nationally for first and second grade students. And the delivery of some 65,000 English books to students from first to sixth grade is being finalized. Vanegas said the educational materials have already reached all the communities of Río San Juan, Jinotega, Las Minas, Matagalpa, Chontales and the Caribbean Coast. The 2023 school year began at the end of January. See photo: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/mined-entrega-mas-de-221-mil-libros-en-centros-educativos/ (Radio La Primerisima, 30 Jan. 2023)
President Promises Transportation Renewal
On Jan. 31 President Daniel Ortega announced that the Sandinista Government will continue acquiring more buses until the entire urban and interurban transportation fleet is renewed. During the ceremony of delivery of 150 buses sent by the Russian Federation to 150 transportation operators, the leader urged carriers to ensure the maintenance of the new units and to meet the demands of adults, youth, children, students and workers. “We salute the ambassador of the Russian Federation, as well as all the staff of the Russian embassy, who are always fully involved when we are working on these projects to bring transportation, to renew the vehicle fleet, to improve the quality of transportation,” he said. Ortega recalled that, in this new stage of the Revolution, the government brought 380 buses from the Russian Federation, which arrived in Managua in 2009 and 170 more in 2012. Also, in 2012, 350 buses were purchased from Mexico. In 2021 Nicaragua bought 250 buses from Russia. Ortega added that, in 2023, these 150 new buses were just acquired and another 150 units are on their way from Russia. See photos: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 31 Jan. 2023)
Remittances grew by some 50% in 2022
On Jan. 29, the Central Bank published the remittance statistics for December 2022 – some US$337 million, 57.7% higher than the same month of 2021 which was US$214 million. Thus, in 2022 remittances were US$3.224 billion, a 50.2% growth over 2021. During 2022, 76.6% of remittances came from the United States, 8.6% from Costa Rica, 8.4% from Spain, 1.9% from Panama and 1.0% from Canada. Remittances from the US increased by US$1.099 billion with respect to 2021. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 Jan. 2023)