By John Perry
(John Perry is a COHA Senior Research Fellow and writer living in Masaya, Nicaragua. This article first appeared on the web page of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) at: https://www.coha.org/nicaragua-celebrates-43-years-of-revolution-a-clash-between-reality-and-media-misrepresentation/. It is also available in Spanish at: https://www.coha.org/nicaragua-celebra-43-anos-de-revolucion-un-choque-entre-la-realidad-y-la-distorsion-mediatica/.)
July 19th is a day of celebration in Nicaragua: the anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. But the international media will have it penciled in their diaries for another reason: it’s yet another opportunity to pour scorn on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. We’ll hear again about how the government “clamps down on dissent,” about its “political prisoners,” its recent “pantomime election,” its “damaging crackdown on civil society” and much more. All of these accusations have been answered but the media will continue to shut out any evidence that conflicts with the consensus narrative about Nicaragua, that its president, Daniel Ortega, has “crushed the Nicaraguan dream.”
Mainstream media tells its own story
Since the violent, U.S.-directed coup attempt in 2018, in which more than 200 people died, it has been very difficult to find objective analysis of the political situation in Nicaragua in mainstream media, much less any examination of the revolution’s achievements. In disregarding what is actually happening in the country, the media is ignoring and excluding the lived experience of ordinary Nicaraguans, as if their daily lives are irrelevant to any judgment about the direction the country is taking. Most notably, instead of recognizing that 75% of Nicaraguan voters supported the government in last November’s election, in which two-thirds of the electorate participated, the result is seen as “a turn toward an openly dictatorial model.” This judgment is backed by confected claims of electoral fraud from “secret poll watchers,” which ignore COHA’s strong evidence that no fraud took place.
Streets show the political reality
In the run-up to the anniversary of the revolution on July 19th, Sandinista supporters have been filling the streets of every main city with celebratory marches. In Masaya, where I live, I took part in a procession with around 3,000 people and discovered afterwards that three other marches took place at the same time in different parts of Masaya, with even more people participating in each of those. People have much to celebrate: the city was one of those most damaged by the violent coup attempt in Nicaragua four years ago, but has since lived in peace.
During the attempted coup, for three months the city of Masaya was controlled by armed thugs (still regularly described in the mainstream media as “peaceful” protesters). Five police officers and several civilians were killed. The town hall, the main secondary school, the old tourist market and other government buildings were set on fire. Houses of Sandinista supporters were ransacked. Shops were looted and the economic life of one of Nicaragua’s most important commercial centers was suspended. My own doctor’s house went up in flames and a friend who was defending the municipal depot when it was ransacked was kidnapped, tortured and later had to have an arm amputated as a result.
So, one strong motive for the marches is to reaffirm most people’s wishes that this should never happen again: 43 years ago a revolutionary war ended in the Sandinistas’ triumph over Somoza, but this was quickly followed by the U.S.-sponsored Contra attacks that cost thousands more lives. For anyone over 35, the violence in 2018 was a sickening reminder of these wars. Since then, not the least of the government’s achievements is that Nicaragua has returned to having the lowest homicide level in Central America, and people want it to stay that way.
Progress under Sandinistas is not recognized internationally
But this is far from the government’s only success since it returned to power in 2007. It inherited a country broken by 17 years of neoliberal governments by and for the rich (after the Sandinistas lost power in the 1990 election). Nothing worked during those years: there were daily power cuts, roads were in shocking disrepair, some 100,000s of children didn’t go to school and poverty was rampant. When the Sandinistas regained the presidency in 2007, and helped by the alliance with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela and a boom in commodities prices, the government began a massive investment program. For the second poorest country in Latin America, the transformation was remarkable.
Take the practical issues that affect everyone. Power cuts stopped because the new government quickly built small new power stations and then encouraged massive investment in renewable energy. Electricity coverage now reaches over 99% of households, up from just 50% in 2006, with three-quarters now generated from renewables. Piped water reaches 93% of city dwellers compared with 65% in 2007. In 2007, Nicaragua had 2,044 km of paved roads, mostly in bad condition. Now it has 4,300 km, half of them built in the last 15 years, giving it the best roads in Central America.
Its remarkable advances in health care were evidenced by how Nicaragua handled the COVID-19 pandemic, with (according to the World Health Organization) a level of excess mortality far lower than that of many wealthier countries in Latin America, including neighboring Costa Rica. It now has one of the world’s highest levels of completed vaccinations against the virus (83%), exceeding levels in the U.S. and many European countries. There has been massive investment in the public health service: Nicaragua has built 23 new hospitals in the past 15 years and now has more hospital beds (1.8 per 1,000 population) than richer countries such as Mexico (1.5) and Colombia (1.7). The country has one of the highest regional levels of public health spending, relative to GDP (“PIB” in Spanish – see chart), and its service is completely free.
Look at education. School attendance increased from 79% to 91% when charges imposed by previous governments were abolished; now pupils get help with uniforms and books and all receive free school lunches. Free education now extends into adulthood, so out of a population of 6.6 million, some 1.7 million are currently receiving public education in some form. Under neoliberal governments illiteracy rose to 22% of the population, and now it’s down to 4-6%.
Strides in gender parity: another victory
Nicaraguan women have been integral to the revolution. More than half of ministerial posts are held by women, an achievement for which Nicaragua is ranked seventh in the world in gender equality in 2022. Only two countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have a smaller gender pay gap than Nicaragua. More than a third of police officers are female and there are special women’s centers in 119 police stations. Maternal health has been significantly improved, with maternal mortality falling from 92.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006, to 31.6 in 2021, a reduction of 66%. This is partly due to the 180 casas maternas where women stay close to a hospital or health center for the weeks before giving birth. The state also provides family planning free of charge in all health centers, including tubal ligations for women who do not wish to have more children. It is also true, of course, that abortion is illegal, but (unlike in other Latin American countries) no woman or doctor has ever been prosecuted under this law.
At the moment, people’s biggest concern is the state of the economy and the cost-of-living crisis. Nicaragua has advantages here, too: it is more than 80% self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs and prices have been controlled because the government is capping the cost of fuel (both for vehicles and for cooking). Nicaragua’s economy grew by more than 10% in 2021, returning to 2019, pre-pandemic economic levels, although growth was still not sufficient for the country to recover from the economic damage caused by the 2018 coup attempt. Government debt (forecast to be 46% of GDP in 2022) is lower than its neighbors, especially that of Costa Rica (70%). However, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are economically interdependent, and the latter’s economic problems are a large part of the explanation for the growth in migration by Nicaraguans to the United States.
Daniel Ortega enjoys high approval ratings
These are only a few of the factors that underlie people’s support for Daniel Ortega’s government. And this support continues: according to polling by CID Gallup, in early January President Ortega was more popular than the then presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica or Guatemala. M&R Consultants, in a more recent poll, found that Ortega has a 70% approval rating and ranks second among Latin American presidents. This was obvious when huge numbers of Nicaraguans celebrated November’s election result and it is still obvious as they go out onto the streets during “victorious July”.
At a meeting with Central American foreign ministers in June 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken urged governments “to work to improve the lives of people in our countries in real, concrete ways.” Blinken deliberately ignores the ample proof that Daniel Ortega’s government is not only doing that but has been more successful in this respect than any other Central American government. Yet the more that the international media parrot Washington’s criticisms of Daniel Ortega, the more that people here will reaffirm their support for his government.
By Nan McCurdy
43rd Celebration of July 19
The 43rd anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution was celebrated with dozens of groups playing old and new revolutionary music, fireworks and festive gatherings in every municipality. Vice President Rosario Murillo stressed that today the country is prospering, advancing and walking with the legacy of those who could not see the victory on July 19, 1979. Rosario recalled that Daniel Ortega spoke in the Plaza of the Revolution on July 20, forty-three years ago with the commitment of the FSLN to work for the welfare and rights of the people. These are new times, but always times of struggle, of brotherhood, of coexistence with as much pride as we see every day in the streets; a pride and a joy that truly represents the power of our people. During the ceremony for the 43rd Anniversary of the Triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, President Ortega emphasized that Nicaragua would like to have good relations with the United States, but it is impossible. He said that [despite everything the US has done to Nicaragua] there has never been a single aggression by Nicaragua against the United States. “Through you, dear young people, runs the blood of our heroes, the blood of Diriangén, the blood of Nicarao, the blood of the caciques who fought and died against the Spanish invaders. That blood is alive; they killed them, but they did not kill their spirit; they did not kill their soul; their soul and spirit are here, in you and in all of us.” (Radio La Primerisima, 20 July 2022)
World Leader in Gender Parity
On July 13 the World Economic Forum released its “2022 Gender Gap Report” which states that with a 0.81 gender gap score, Nicaragua ranks number one in Latin America and 7th in the world in gender parity. The report noted that “Nicaragua continues to show progress, maintaining a parity score of 1 on the Educational Attainment Subindex, and also across all its indicators. On the Political Empowerment Subindex, Nicaragua remains in 5th place, registering parity in ministerial positions since 2021, as well as raising its score for parliamentary parity moving from 0.938 in 2021 to 1 in 2022.” In the estimated earned income indicator, Nicaragua was able to show improvement going from 0.456 in 2021 to 0.682 in 2022. (Nicaragua News, 13 July 2022)
Strong Support for Sandinista Government Confirmed
On July 13 M&R Consultants polling firm presented the results of its national survey “Public Opinion Monitoring System,” corresponding to the second trimester of 2022. The survey states that 77.3% of Nicaraguans approve the work of the government headed by President Daniel Ortega; 70.2% believe the Government is leading the country in the right direction; 72.6% said President Ortega is a democratically elected head of state that follows the laws of the country; 85.1% believe the government has the capacity to solve the problems facing the country; 84.5% said the government is trusted by the people and 77.6% state that the government works for the benefit of the entire population. (Nicaragua News, 13 July 2022)
Government Will Cover Petroleum Increases
Nicaragua accepted a US$200 million loan for the “Nicaragua Fuel Temporary Support Program” from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. With this loan the government will continue to cover 100% of the increase in prices of fuel and liquefied gas, mitigating the effects that high petroleum prices have on consumers and producers. (Nicaragua News, 13 July 2022)
Booklet Issued to Prevent Violence Against Women
The Ministry of the Family, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Women launched the booklet “Women, rights, laws and reporting mechanisms to prevent violence,” to help ensure dignity for women and to prevent femicide. The Government has been promoting and strengthening women’s rights and the prevention of violence in all its forms. The institutions are working to promote fair and complementary relationships between men and women. “We urgently need transformation, raising awareness that we must abandon all forms of violence, and build peaceful coexistence, based on respect for dignified life, where affectionate, respectful and tolerant communication prevails,” said the Minister of the Family. “Violence can be prevented and reporting it is the key. We call on everyone to denounce any act or attitude that assaults or harms the integrity and safety of our women.” Ministry of Education Lilliam Herrera emphasized that the booklet explains laws that women should know about to defend their rights and lives. “The Ministry of Education will strengthen values in children and adolescents,” she said. (19Digital, 13 July 2022)
27,000 Women Benefit from NICAVIDA Project
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) presented a report on advances of the project called “Sustainable Development of the Livelihoods of Rural Families along the Nicaragua Dry Corridor (NICAVIDA).” CABEI President Dante Mossi stated “CABEI wishes to highlight that 27,600 inhabitants along the dry corridor–71.3% of whom are Indigenous women—have benefited from the NICAVIDA project with financial incentives, strengthened productive capabilities, and access to markets to enable them to establish agricultural businesses adapted to climate change.” The US$48.4 million NICAVIDA project—financed by the General Budget with support from CABEI and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)—is 92% complete and benefits women in seven departments along the Dry Corridor. (Nicaragua News, 13 July 2022)
New Technological Institute in Jinotega
The National Technological Institute reported that US$8.3 million dollars has been invested to build and equip the Agricultural Technical Center in the Department of Jinotega, ensuring greater access to free and quality technical training for 870 students in agro-industrial careers. Funding for the new Agricultural Technical Center came from the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 13 July 2022)
More Organizations Lose Non-Profit Status
On July 14 the National Assembly approved the cancellation of legal status of 100 non-profit civil organizations that violated several of the laws that regulate them. The request was made by the Department of Associations and Non-Profit Organizations of the Ministry of Government. Deputy Carlos Emilio López explained that the cancellation of legal status is due to constitutional, legal and administrative factors such as the violation of the Nicaraguan laws The non-profits were not complying with the General Law of Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations, the General Law of Foreign Agents and/or the Law against Money Laundering. Another reason they lost their legal status is that they did not present their financial statements, the boards of directors were outdated and they did not report the financial donations they had received from abroad. (Radio La Primerisima, 14 July 2022)