By Becca Renk
(Becca Renk is part of the Jubilee House Community, which works in sustainable development in Ciudad Sandino. The JHC also works to educate visitors to Nicaragua, including through their hospitality and solidarity cultural center at Casa Benjamin Linder. The first installment of this series on Managua’s murals was published in NicaNotes here: https://afgj.org/nicanotes-managuas-missing-murals.)
When I look back on the neoliberal period in Nicaragua from 1990 to 2006, my memories appear in shades of gray, covered in a layer of dust. There is a pervasive sense of helplessness and a numbing depression. Those were monochrome years of societal and cultural drought, when hope was suffocated.
In those years, Managua was gray – figuratively and literally. After a decade of the Contra war, thanks to U.S. meddling and funding, U.S.-backed candidate Violeta Chamorro had won the 1990 presidential elections, ushering in the 16-year neoliberal period.
Chamorro’s government erased the social gains of the Revolution. She welcomed the World Bank and IMF and followed their structural adjustment programs, which meant charging fees for public education and health care, refusing to raise wages for teachers, police, or any public worker. In the neoliberal era, the poor got poorer and the rich got richer until Nicaragua became one of the most unequal societies in the world.
The entirety of the country’s railroad tracks were torn up and sold for scrap, stoplights where people washed windows to survive became traffic circles where begging was impossible; crime and gang violence – nearly non-existent during the Sandinista Revolution of the 1980s – rose at an alarming rate…and the colorful murals of the Revolution were erased with gray paint under the cover of night.
In the “capital of mural painting,” Managua, fervently anti-Sandinista mayor Arnoldo Alemán ordered revolutionary murals to be systematically painted over in an act of cultural imperialism that aimed to erase the Revolution itself and destroy the spiritof the Nicaraguan people.
With the neoliberal government’s antipathy toward cultural projects, artists, artisans and musicians found themselves struggling. Nicaraguan muralists, unable to find work in their own country, often travelled to Europe to seek commissions. Yet, in Managua there were pockets of hope – some murals were being guarded day and night, while a few new murals were being painted, blooming in secret gardens around the city.
One of these gardens was at Casa Benjamín Linder. In 1992, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Integral Community Development (FUNDECI), founded in the 1970s by former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and Maryknoll priest Father Miguel d’Escoto, had its offices in Casa Ben Linder. Casa Ben Linder had been founded in 1988 by a group of U.S. citizens opposed to the U.S.-funded Contra war, and the Casa space was offered to solidarity organizations. Father Miguel, who died in 2017, in addition to being a liberation theologian, revolutionary, and statesman, was also a great lover of Nicaraguan art. Between 1993 and 1995, Father Miguel commissioned 12 murals at Casa Ben Linder that now are of historic and cultural significance. Although one mural was painted on the outside wall of the house; as murals around the city were erased, all the other murals were painted safely inside the walls of the Casa where they could be protected.
Although there are other revolutionary murals in Managua that – through much effort – were saved, many of them are not accessible to the public. The unique murals that lift up the preferential option for the poor through images of Nicaraguan history in the Santa María de los Ángeles Church in Barrio Riguero, for example, were under constant threat for years despite being the only murals to be declared Cultural Patrimony of the Country twice. The priest of the parish, liberation theologian Father Uriel Molina, and a group of artists sent cease and desist letters to the church to stave off their destruction. In the early 2000s, after Father Molina was moved from the parish, a Franciscan priest from Guatemala oversaw the destruction of the altar, the baptismal font and other integral parts of the mural until the group sued the church and the priest for the destruction. Although the murals are still there, when the recent Light & Legacy Brigade went to the Santa María de los Ángeles Church recently, we weren’t allowed inside the sanctuary, which was completely sealed with tinted and curtained windows so as to not even allow a glimpse inside. We were informed we could come back for mass, but during mass the murals are hidden behind sheets and lace curtains so as to not offend the delicate sensibilities of churchgoers with “disturbing images.”
Let me take you on a tour of some of the murals that you can see today in Managua, ones that either survived Alemán’s gray brush, or were painted during that time of destruction.
At Casa Ben Linder there are four murals depicting the life of Ben Linder. Ben was an electrical engineer from the U.S. who came to Nicaragua in 1983 to support the Revolution, working on micro-hydro systems to bring electricity to villages in the war zones. We’ll dedicate a future article to the murals about Ben’s life.
Father Miguel D’Escoto also commissioned two murals by Julie Aguirre, an important Nicaraguan artist from the PRAXIS movement. “Empowerment” is a typical Nicaraguan street scene done in the primitivist style. Although originally painted in 1995, an oven on the other side of the wall damaged the mural and in 2005 and 2006 the artist restored and also modernized it by adding details in the wall graffiti in the street scene. These changes are now like a snapshot of the neoliberal time period. For example,”6%” is written on the walls along the street, which refers to annual student protests demanding funding for universities. Another example is, “No más alzas al agua, luz etc.” which refers to the constant rate hikes in charges for basic services including water, electricity and transportation at the time. The “No al TLC, Sí a la Vida” refers to protests against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, which favored big business and was being debated at the time before it passed into law in April 2006.
Casa Ben Linder also has a group of works called “Petroglyphs” by Orlando Sobalvarro, some are mosaics made of glazed clay tiles – “Petroglyphs of Matagalpa” – and some are incised concrete “Extraterrestrial Petroglyph” and “Güegüense Petroglyph.” Sobalvarro’s abstract art was a contrast to the mainly realist and primitivist work done during the Revolution. Sobalvarro, who died in 2009, believed that not only were abstract art and revolution compatible, but that capitalism impedes us from understanding abstract art, something that should be remedied as any form of illiteracy would be. He said, “It is important that the concepts of abstraction be understood by the general public, since the same pictorial qualities apply to painting as to political propaganda.”
One of the most unusual murals at Casa Ben Linder is “Characters in History” by Dutch artist Diederik Grootjans in 1993. The artist was a volunteer with a Nicaraguan sister city project when he was invited to paint a mural at Casa Ben Linder by Father Miguel. Grootjans says that when he arrived at the house, Father Miguel already had the clay tiles laid out on the patio. Father Miguel pointed at the tiles and told Grootjans who was to be depicted in the mural – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a Nicaraguan worker woman, Dorothy Day, Jesus Christ, an Indigenous Nicaraguan woman, Leon Tolstoy, a Mayangna girl, and Mahatma Gandhi. The mural style is acrylic on clay tile, using the terracotta color of the tile as shading on the faces.
At the same time the murals at Casa Ben Linder were being painted, a few blocks to the west, community members in the Batahola Norte neighborhood were taking shifts to safeguard their fledgling Cultural Center where solidarity workers and children had painted murals in 1988. The community saw murals around the city being destroyed, and refused to accept that fate for their own murals, which were vulnerable in their open-air center. The people stood watch over their murals for months, eventually building a fence around their Center to protect them.
Although many murals have been painted at the Batahola Norte Cultural Center since the 1990s, the most well-known were painted with the Boanerges Cerrato Artists Collective in 1988. In the space the Center uses for mass is “New Dawn,” a manger scene with all people of color. In the center is baby Jesus, reaching for three angels above him. In the foreground, people modeled after real community members approach with offerings of fruits and vegetables. Guiding them are Che Guevara, FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca, anti-imperialist hero Sandino and Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
In 1988 the Artists Collective also helped a group of children to develop their own ideas and paint their own mural, which today gives us a sweet glimpse into the minds of children living through a popular Revolution under constant threat of U.S aggression. The children decided to paint the history of the world, starting with the Big Bang, evolution of animals, and people. With the arrival of the atomic bomb, the dove of peace is killed and “black birds” circle. During the Contra war, U.S. planes would regularly fly over Nicaraguan air space and break the sound barrier as a terror tactic – these were called “Black Birds.” When they would hear the planes, the children of Managua would run for the bomb shelters that citizens had built in their tiny back yards, sometimes spending hours cowering in the damp spaces.
The Batahola children’s mural continues with the return of peace with the Revolution, the martyrdom of FSLN guerillas and agrarian reform. In the next panel is painted, “Sandino’s hat protects us from the Black Birds,” and shows a black bird falling to the earth after being hit with lava spewing from Sandino’s hat. The next panel shows gains of the Revolution: houses built, the literacy campaign, and the “eradication of polio and Somocismo.”
A few blocks to the east of Casa Ben Linder, Episcopal priest Father Grant Mauricio Gallup commissioned Grupo Artístico Contraste to paint “The Visitation under the Volcano” in the early 1990s. The mural depicts Mary and Elizabeth pregnant with two liberators to be born, a rosary of women – including Dorothy Granada – who sacrificed for the social cause in Nicaragua, and Christ on the cross. Mary squats below the cross, hands uplifted over Jesus’ wounds. On the ground a photo of dictator Anastasio Somoza burns, in the background Managua’s Old Cathedral is covered with triumphant revolutionaries. According to Father Grant, who died in 2009, the mural illustrates Luke 1:52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”
By Nan McCurdy
Second Session of Women in Nicaragua Course on June 4th
For more information and to register: HERE
Nicaragua Advances with COVID Vaccines
To date, 91% of the population of Nicaragua has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 71% have received two doses. (Nicaragua News, 25 May 2022)
Influenza Vaccine Campaign Great Success
In the influenza vaccination campaign 844,000 people received the vaccine – 100% of the goal, said Vice President Rosario Murillo. The campaign was carried out from May 16 to 27 in health centers, health posts, and in house-to-house visits. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 May 2022)
Maternal Mortality Reduced by 66%
The Government has reduced maternal mortality from 92.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006, to 31.6 in 2021, a reduction of 66%. Dr. Carlos Cruz, general director of health services of the Ministry of Health, said that these rates are thanks to the maternal wait homes built by the government. In 2006 there were 50 maternity homes, while at present there are 181. “Since 2007, the family and community health model has been promoted giving value to the work that our community does every day to preserve their health,” said Dr. Cruz. Another of the strategies for the reduction of maternal mortality is to have well-trained midwives; there are 7,247 midwives serving in the country’s maternity homes. “There are fewer deaths of women during childbirth or postpartum and thus fewer orphaned children,” he concluded. (Radio La Primerisima, 31 Mayo 2022)
Loan Approved for Road Expansion
President Daniel Ortega authorized the signing of a loan agreement with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) for US$382.6 million to finance a Road Expansion and Improvement Program to be executed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI). The initiative will improve the quality of life of 534,820 Nicaraguans in nine municipalities in the Pacific and two in the Autonomous Region of the Southern Caribbean Coast with the construction and/or repairs of 185.22 kilometers divided into five sections: 1) The southern Pacific Coast region project which will impact 232,129 people in the Department of Rivas; 2) Jinotepe and Diriamba in the department of Carazo and San Rafael del Sur in the Department of Managua with the improvement of 119.5 km.; 3) Eight kilometers for the benefit of 146,816 people in the Department of Chinandega; 4) Wapi-El Tortuguero Phase II with 45. 9 km. in the South Caribbean Coast benefiting 53,673 people; 5) Department of Boaco, with 11.8 km. benefiting 102,202 people. These projects contribute to the reduction of poverty, an increase in tourism, the strengthening of regional integration and commercial exchange. During its execution, the initiative will generate 2,788 jobs. The Program expects to reduce vehicle operating costs and travel times for users, facilitate mobilization and access to development, education and health centers, as well as guarantee good traffic conditions for cargo transportation to and from the Port of Corinto. (Informe Pastran, 31 May 2022)
CABEI and Government Financing Small and Medium-Scale Producers
The DINAMICA Initiative CAMBIO II Dry Corridor and the Facility to Support the Financial Sector for Financing MSMEs (micro, small and medium-scale producers) have made loans through intermediary financial institutions for US$72.6 million, helping to preserve 36,509 jobs. “We continue to strengthen our ties with the Nicaraguan private sector to create short, medium and long-term financing opportunities for key economic sectors. We recognize the important role played by the agricultural sector, which is why we are speaking first-hand of the advantages of working together to generate employment and the well-being of families,” said CABEI Executive President Dr. Dante Mossi. (Informe Pastran, 31 May 2022)
Free Trade Zone Exports on the Rise
The Central Bank published the Foreign Trade Statistics Report for the first trimester of 2022 which states that the Free Trade Zones generated US$974 million in sales during the first three months of 2022, a 25.8% growth compared to 2021. Products with the highest growth were palm oil (50.7%); fishery (29.5%); textiles (25.8%); tobacco (18%); and vehicle harnesses (13.9%). (Nicaragua News, 25 May 2022)
Fisher Families Affected by Hurricanes Receive Materials for Traps
INPESCA delivered tools for the construction of fishing traps to 190 families dedicated to lobster fishing in the South Caribbean who were affected in November 2020 by hurricanes Iota and Eta. The materials delivered to each family were: two rolls of rope, nine fishing buoys, one roll of galvanized wire, six pairs of gloves and four boxes of galvanized nails. Benefiting from the program were 124 families from the Tasbapounie community, 22 families from Set Net Point and 44 families from Pearl Lagoon. See photos: HERE
(Radio la Primerisima, 28 May 2022)
300 Lots awarded on Mother’s Day
Three hundred families received lots on May 30 for homes in Villa Esperanza, located in District 6 in Managua, through the Bismarck Martinez Housing Program. The beneficiaries expressed their happiness on receiving a lot where they will be able to build their homes. See Photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/entregan-300-lotes-a-familias-de-managua/ (Radio La Primerisima, 30 May 2022)
People Evacuated due to Small Landslide at Mombacho Volcano
The National System for Prevention, Mitigation and Assistance at Disasters (SINAPRED) evacuated 641 people from an area of the Mombacho Volcano where there was a small landslide on May 24. SINAPRED said that the population alerted authorities about the increase of volume and sediment in the Brujo River due to a small landslide in the vicinity of the volcano. (Nicaragua News, 25 May 2022)
ALBA-TCP Condemns US Exclusionary Policy
The member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP), in the final declaration of their XXI summit held on May 27 in Cuba, rejected any intention of imperialist domination with the aim of generating division in the continent and also denounced the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Sacha Llorenti, the Executive Secretary of ALBA-TCP, in an interview with the DW Español television channel, reiterated ALBA’s rejection of Washington’s discriminatory treatment and regretted that the White House insists on imposing its agenda of hegemonic control on the region. “The United States has no authority, neither moral, nor ethical, nor legal, to exclude countries from an event of this nature [The Summit of the Americas]. It is not interested in democracy, it is not interested in human rights, it is not even interested in the fight against terrorism,” Llorenti said. Regarding the decision by the U.S. not to include Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua in the summit, he said that the US uses criteria of hegemonic control, applying them precisely to three countries that have been confronting the US imperial agenda for many years. He said that the US, in violation of international law and the United Nations Charter, has imposed an economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba for more than 60 years. “They are not interested in the integration of our peoples … they are interested in imposing their agenda and manipulating any scenario for their control.” (Radio La Primerisima, 28 May 2022)
Beloved Historian, Writer and Diplomat Dies at Age 86
The illustrious Nicaraguan historian, diplomat, and writer Aldo Díaz Lacayo, who on May 18 received from President Daniel Ortega the Order of Augusto C. Sandino, passed away on May 28 at the age of 86. Díaz Lacayo was recognized for his invaluable investigation and writing on Nicaragua’s history; his brilliant diplomatic career, his academic contributions and the objectivity of his political analysis. The historian was born in Managua on October 18, 1936. In June 1956 he was exiled by the Somoza dictatorship and in exile he studied medicine, law and philosophy at universities in Cuba, Honduras and Puebla, Mexico. He received numerous decorations during his life including the Tomás Ayón National History Award; the Central American Parliament Order of Francisco Morazán; the Francisco de Miranda and Aguila Azteca awards from the Governments of Venezuela and Mexico respectively; and, most recently, the Order of Augusto C. Sandino Batalla de San Jacinto. He was part of the Nicaraguan negotiating team in the peace process of the Contadora Group in 1983. In 1989 he was elected Deputy Executive Secretary of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties for Latin America and the Caribbean (COPPPAL). His writing includes the works Diplomacia con dignidad, misión en Venezuela, 1983-1987; El FSLN después de la derrota electoral; Nicaragua: acuerdos políticos -1 Acuerdos Jeréz Martínez; Tomás Ayón and El congreso amfictiónico, for which he won the National History Prize of Nicaragua. For more information see: https://afgj.org/nicanotes-05-26-2022
See Photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticiasgenerales/destacado/aldo-diaz-lacayo-ha-partido/ (Radio La Primerisima, 28 May 2022)
Assembly Cancels Legal Status of 83 NGOs
For having transgressed and failed to comply with their obligations and for acting against the law in force against Money Laundering, the Foreign Agents Law and the Law on Non-Profit Organizations, the deputies of the National Assembly approved the cancellation of the legal status of 83 NGOs on May 31. See details: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 31 May 2022)