NicaNotes: Witnessing the Sandinista Revolution

By Aidrean O Gallchobhair

[Aidrean O Gallchobhair is an Irish Republican political activist involved in seeking the Independence and Reunification of Ireland. He also is involved in international solidarity with the struggle in Palestine and supporting the progressive governments of Latin America. In 2021 he played a small part in establishing the Cuban Solidarity Forum Ireland where much of his international solidarity work takes place.]

After he had to scrap his plans to visit Nicaragua in 2020, Aidrean made it there in July 2022!

I had wanted to go to Nicaragua since late 2019 after visiting Cuba. In 2020 I hoped to go but the pandemic hit. So, my plans were scrapped for that year. When the restrictions lifted in 2021, I said to myself that 2022 will be my chance to visit Nicaragua.

In late May of 2022, I got my plans rolling by contacting a comrade I knew to get my trip arranged. I firmly believed from what I read, what I watched and who I spoke to that Nicaragua was indeed a progressive revolutionary nation that was challenging imperialism, capitalism and inequality. However, there were some people in Ireland who would raise stories of supposed repression, corruption and violence. Now, I had asked myself is there any truth in this? Has the government overreacted to some events that had taken place? Were they paranoid/irrational about US intervention?

Although I was no doubt sympathetic to the Sandinista revolution due to the gains I read about and the historical struggle against imperialism, I came to Nicaragua with an open mind. I thought I’d let the people speak for themselves and listen to the experiences they had.

What I witnessed 
On my first full day in Managua in July of this year I walked around the barrio where Casa Ben Linder is based – FSLN flags, black and red painted streetlights were visible all around. This area was clearly a working-class barrio; cars and jeeps with FSLN flags were also seen all around. Buses had the Nicaraguan flag and FSLN flag on their windows or on the sides. This could be seen around the city of Managua.

I visited a public housing program named after Bismarck Martinez; a Sandinista who was murdered in 2018 by a right-wing gang. The housing was basic, but it ensured people were given a better standard of living. These houses would cost $25 a month for 25 years. Health clinics, parks, schools, a bus depo and other facilities would be built in this community and streets will be paved. That night I attended a local festival organised by a grassroots FSLN committee in celebration of the 43rd anniversary of the revolution. Thousands of people were in attendance and many wearing FSLN T-shirts, this was a clear demonstration of popular support for the Sandinista revolution.

The next day we went to Granada and, on our way there, a cavalcade of motorcycles in support of the Sandinistas was passing through a village. The police were guiding the cavalcade and it was clear there was a solid relationship between the people and the police. We don’t see this in the west and the only other time I had seen a people-centred police force was in Cuba. In Granada we went on a boat trip around the lake. That night we attended a small house gathering where delegation members and solidarity activists who live in Nicaragua got together. Here I spoke to a fellow Irishman who’s lived in Nicaragua for over 20 years. We spoke about his experiences and how he was never political until he saw the dramatic changes in Nicaragua. He remembers the neoliberal period [1990 to 2006] where the country was a mess and many services including healthcare were privatised. He told me that it was when he saw the uplifting of people from poverty with the Sandinista government after that neoliberal period, including better quality services and a better life for the people, that he became political and a Sandinista supporter.

Another person told me how the healthcare service boosted its staff by 60%. In Donegal where I live, I see a shortage of staff and deteriorating services, so this fact really left me amazed. An American woman who was involved in solidarity with a community since the 1990s told us how she visited Nicaragua several times during the neoliberal period. She saw children starving, people struggling, the roads were dirt tracks, there were no hospitals or schools in the community. The last time she was in Nicaragua she was amazed by the development of roads, the healthcare centres, the schools and the lack of hunger on children’s faces. All children in Nicaragua now get free hot meals in schools. Many Nicaraguans and delegates highlighted the huge changes in these last 15 years of revolution.

Black Alliance for Peace held an event highlighting the need for the US to stop interfering in sovereign Latin American governments particularly Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. I found this inspirational as it showed the solidarity between black liberation movements in the US and Nicaragua. A journalist and an ex-combatant of the contra war updated us on the political situation in Nicaragua and how the revolution is continuing to advance despite imperialist efforts to stall it. I asked how it is that the reconciliation process led so many former contras to now be solid FSLN voters. The answer was land reform and social programs; this is something to be learned in Ireland. Loyalists could eventually be won over by social equality and inclusion.

That night we attended another Sandinista celebration where thousands in their pickups and cars were waving their flags, socialising and singing along to revolutionary music. Teenagers were setting off fireworks. We attended the celebrations on July 19th where thousands from Nicaragua and across the globe gathered to hear Danial Ortega speak. The capacity was limited due to Covid but in years gone by up to 500,000 would attend. It was clear the people supported their president with the chants and dancing witnessed. Again, singing of Sandinista songs took place.

Thousands in attendance at the July 19th celebrations

After the celebrations of the 19th finished, we visited historical locations, volcanoes and had important meetings with government ministers. They updated us on the economy, healthcare and the achievements of the revolution. The finance minister explained that since 2007 social spending in health, education, infrastructure and the communities drastically increased. More than US$8 billion had been allocated to infrastructure. Four million tons of rice used to be imported and now six million are grown domestically. Nicaragua’s GDP is now US$14 billion, up from US$7.4 billion in 2007. This shows the effectiveness of sustainable growth with the socialist model in Nicaragua.

The improvements in health saw maternal mortality go down from 92.8 of every 100,000 live births to 33.7 in 2021. Life expectancy increased from 66 years to 75 years. In the neoliberal period there were 35 hospitals; today in Nicaragua they are 78 public and free hospitals with more being built. There are popular health mobilisations such as vaccination campaigns and participation in community health projects. Doctors visited patients in their homes when they had Covid. Waiting in the emergency room of a hospital in Nicaragua is between 15-30 minutes; in Ireland you could be waiting 14 hours or longer. The wait time for operations in Nicaragua is about two months; here in Ireland I know people waiting seven years for vital operations.

I visited a small farm outside of Estelí where families are supported by the government to produce food and other products. The farm we visited used environmentally friendly methods and with a system known as agroecology. In Masaya we visited a cooperative that produced food crops. They made a flour and sauces from parts of the yuca (cassava) plant. Seventy percent of the work force is in this collective sector where they are owners of the wealth they create. Small family, community, self-employed and cooperative enterprises make up this sector.

It was also amazing the number of men and women who you’d come across that fought in either the revolution of ‘79 or the US-contra war. I would ask them what their opinions are on the current situation in Nicaragua; they told me with pride that they have to see the revolution they fought for flourish. They can see major improvements and achievements. One ex combatant saw a Sandinista pin I was wearing and said that “we defend that with our lives and are proud to dedicate ourselves to the revolution.”

Media narrative versus reality
Did I see any evidence of repression in Nicaragua? Did I hear of acts of repression? Did I ask questions about the repression we are told about in the west? The first two I would have to say no and the last one is yes. I made sure to ask people about the reality of what was happening in Nicaragua.

In 2018, with the US-backed coup attempt, the opposition formed and paid street gangs and armed them with guns and homemade mortars. They set up violent roadblocks in many places. For three months they terrorized and murdered the civilian population. At the place where I was staying in Estelí, there were two people killed outside the premises by gangs. I heard stories of people being threatened at roadblocks. I witnessed homes and buildings in Masaya which were burned out by gangs. I saw a plaque in memory of a community police officer named Gabriel de Jesus Vado Ruiz. He was tied to a truck and dragged around the city before being tortured further and killed. His body was burned on camera at the barricade.

Most people I spoke to told me what they saw happen in 2018. They were angry, frightened, confused but mostly they feared a loss of their social gains to a counter revolution. Some Sandinista supporters took part in demonstrations believing the propaganda against their own government. Yet when they witnessed the violence and reality of what was going on they obviously realised they had been conned. Many people stopped going to mass as Catholic Churches were bases for coup mongers. In other words, the conservative elements of the Church provided support for violent right-wing gangs.

How did police and military respond to the violence? For three months they were made to stay in their barracks by the government while gangs looted, murdered and tortured people. Is this what repressive governments do? The biggest resistance to the coup mongers came from the people. Ex combatants from the revolution and contra war joined forces with students, workers and regular citizens to take their country back from the chaos of the right.

In 2021 there were arrests of opposition figures who were involved in money laundering, calling for sanctions, were involved in 2018 or received funds from Freedom House and USAID. My take would be that sedition laws exist in every country and people would be arrested. One of the delegation members I roomed with asked everyone he encountered at the time what were their thoughts on the arrests of those who were plotting against their country. Most said they believed it was necessary to stop another coup attempt or to stop the corruption they were involved in.

My overall thoughts
Nicaragua is a revolutionary nation with the people empowered and where the people see progress. The meaning of the “Sandinista Popular Revolution” is evident; popular mobilizations and support are seen everywhere. Poverty reduction, investment in public projects and economic power to the people are the characteristics I witnessed. Are there contradictions? Yes, Nicaraguans and even Sandinistas will point to contradictions they face, and that the revolution is not perfect. This is the same with any revolutionary country and can be faced in any revolutionary movement. Nicaragua is not a utopia, but utopias do not exist. Yet Nicaragua shows us that an alternative to neoliberalism is possible, an alternative that puts people first. It is the duty for all revolutionary nationalists, socialists and progressives to support Nicaragua and the Sandinista revolution. They have shown what a nation with independence can do for its people. When at the July 19th event, my own personal thoughts were, “So, this is what freedom looks like.” My advice to people on the left who are weary of what they hear in the media is go to Nicaragua and see for themselves what is going on because what I saw differs greatly from what I would call media propaganda. Nicaragua is part of a nationalist, progressive, socialist and anti-imperialist bloc in Latin America which includes countries such as Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico and now Colombia. If we stand by one, we must stand by them all, meaning we must stand by Nicaragua.

October 27, 2022
By Nan McCurdy

Important Bridge Inaugurated
On Oct. 19, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) inaugurated the new bridge over the Wawa River at Wawa Boom in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region that will benefit 234,898 inhabitants. This historic bridge connects the North Caribbean with the rest of the country, overcoming the isolation of the region. Along with the new highway from the Pacific to Bluefields the entire country is now connected. MTI Minister Oscar Mojica said, “The new bridge will allow safe and stable transportation in a precarious area avoiding the constant rise in the flow of the river [which affected boat transportation] and will also facilitate trade, tourism and development of fishing production.” The 255 meter, US$21 million-dollar bridge was financed by the General Budget with support from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Until now, Wawa Boom and the surrounding communities have used a ferry to move from one side of the Wawa River to the other. See Photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 19 Oct. 2022)

Social Investment the Priority in the 2023 Budget
Social Investment makes up 56.4% of the government’s budget proposal for 2023, including the improvement and construction of schools, hospitals, and other important items such as the purchase of medicines. Minister of Finance Iván Acosta explained that of the investment percentage, the health sector accounts for 21%, education 21.7%, housing and community service 9%, recreation, culture and religion 1.1%. General public services account for 13.1%, public order and security 9.8%, transportation and communication 11.1%, and defense 3.3%. (Radio La Primerisima, 25 Oct. 2022)

Two-Year-Olds to Be Vaccinated Against Polio
A polio vaccination booster campaign for 124,000 two-year-old children throughout the national territory began on Oct. 24. The vaccine will be available in all health units of the country until October 28. Also, house to house visits will be made in search of children in this age group. Polio is a highly contagious disease that still affects millions in the world and, with this booster, immunity is guaranteed. (Radio La Primerisima, 24 Oct. 2022)

Nicaragua Increases Human Development Indicators
In September, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published its 2021/2022 Human Development Report, which shows that Nicaragua has increased its Human Development Indicators (HDI) by 1.99% going from 0.654 in 2020 to 0.667 in 2021. It noted that the increase in the HDI of the country is due to the 10.3% growth of the GDP in 2021, 6.06% growth of Per Capita Income; 1.51% increase in public spending and the small decrease in the life expectancy at birth index which stood at 0.7 years, well below the world average in the Covid epidemic year of 2021, which was 1.5 years. (Nicaragua News, 18 Oct. 2022)

FATF: Nicaragua Overcomes Deficiencies in Anti-Money Laundering Systems
During the Plenary Session of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) held last week in Paris, it was announced that Nicaragua is no longer subject to the FATF increased monitoring process on countries with deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing systems. The press release details that “FATF welcomes the progress of Nicaragua in improving the elements of its Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-terrorism Financing regime. Likewise, Nicaragua has addressed technical deficiencies to meet the commitments of its action plan regarding strategic deficiencies in the areas that the FATF identified in February 2020.” (Nicaragua News, 25 Oct. 2022)

Tripartite Salary Agreement Signed
On Oct. 21 the Free Trade Zones Commission, workers’ unions, and companies under the Free Zone Regime signed a Tripartite Salary Agreement to guarantee stability and competitiveness for the 140,000 Free Trade Zone workers. The minimum wage will increase by 8% in 2023 and in 2024; 7% in 2025; and 6.7% in 2026 and 2027. Minister of Labor Alba Luz Torres explained that “the Agreement, which is valid for five years, will contribute to the purchasing power of workers, generating stability and confidence in the functioning of the sector.” (Nicaragua News, 24 Oct. 2022)

Water Quality Laboratory Inaugurated in Bilwi
On Oct. 14 the Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company (ENACAL) inaugurated the new Potable Water Quality Analysis Laboratory in Bilwi, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 99,000 inhabitants in two municipalities. The US$1.1 million-dollar project was financed by the General Budget with support from the Interamerican Development Bank. (Nicaragua News, 18 Oct. 2022)

Military Hospital Inaugurates Breast Cancer Unit
On Oct. 19 the Dr. Alejandro Dávila Bolaños Military Hospital, opened the doors of its new breast unit to diagnosis, treat and follow-up on patients with cancer and other breast pathologies. Dr. Rolando Jiron, deputy director of the unit, explained that it is equipped with tomosynthesis, which allows for a more accurate and early diagnosis of the patient. This unit has medical professionals from different disciplines, covers the treatment of breast pathology in all its phases of presentation, from non-palpable lesions to metastatic disease, constituting a model of effective use of resources and technology in the multidisciplinary treatment of breast pathology. See photos: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 19 Oct. 2022)

National Reforestation Campaign
The Nicaragua Forestry Institute and the Ministry of the Environment announced that a National Reforestation Campaign began on October 24, in response to the impact of Hurricane Julia on the country’s forests. (Nicaragua News, 21 Oct. 2022)