Nicanotes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Image David and Goliath in Nicaragua

Nincanotes : A blog about nicaragua by solidarity activists

By John Kotula

September in Nicaragua sees the celebration of two important dates of liberation and anti-imperialism. One is Independence Day on September, 15 marking the end of Spain’s colonial rule in 1821. The other is a day earlier; the remembrance of The Battle of San Jacinto which occurred on September 14, 1856. The events are celebrated with pageantry, folk dancing, school marching bands, reenactments, and traffic jams in every town in Nicaragua.

Additionally, The Battle of San Jacinto is visible all year long, because it is depicted in one of the most famous and beloved images to come out of Nicaragua’s history. The most popular version of this scene was painted by a Chilean named Luis Vergara Ahumada. Ahumada was an itinerant artist who traveled widely in Latin American countries leaving behind realistic historical paintings. The original of his La Pedrada Andrés Castro is in the national museum.

The Battle of San Jacinto is visible all year long, because it is depicted in one of the most famous and beloved images to come out of Nicaragua’s history. The most popular version of this scene was painted by a Chilean named Luis Vergara Ahumada. Ahumada was an itinerant artist who traveled widely in Latin American countries leaving behind realistic historical paintings. The original of his La Pedrada Andrés Castro is in the national museum.

It is a rare school or government office that doesn’t have a print of this picture on display. It is also widely duplicated in murals in many locations.

In the iconography of asymmetrical warfare the United States will always be Goliath and there will always be a multitude of Davids hoping, against all the odds, to throw the rock that knocks our brains out. This will be true until the day that we stop trying to use our military superiority to impose our will on others and start acting like a benevolent neighbor. Since the World Trade Center was brought down, it has become standard practice to indiscriminately label any little guy who stands up to us “a terrorist.”

However, historically, many of the little guys have had the moral high ground and are only using whatever they have at hand to keep from being disempowered by a bullying, self-righteous, imperialistic, super power.  Certainly, this is an accurate description of relations between the US and Nicaragua for the last couple of hundred years. It is no wonder then that the image of David and Goliath is so embedded in Nicaraguan culture.

After gaining independence from Spain, self-rule in Nicaragua was marked by conflict between Liberal Party factions centered in León and Conservative Party ones in Granada. There were complicated political shenanigans, leading up to Granada opening the door to a mercenary army led by the US filibusterer William Walker. Once on the ground, Walker went rogue and declared himself president of the country and reinstated slavery.

He was so out of control and belligerent that all the countries of Central America organized to get rid of him. Battles ebbed and flowed, but the one that caught the popular imagination occurred at a farm not far from Managua, Hacienda San Jacinto. The local forces were outnumbered by Walker’s men and it looked like they would be defeated. However, when his rifle jammed, a local farmer named Andrés Castro picked up a rock and threw it with such force at the head of one of Walker’s lieutenants that he fell dead in his tracks. This, and some astute military manuevers ordered by Colonel Jose Dolores Estrada, so unsettled the rest of the attackers that they retreated and the local guys were victorious. Walker didn’t last much longer. He ended up in front of a firing squad in Honduras and he is buried in the beach town of Trujillo, a much prettier final resting ground than he deserved.

David and Goliath imagery has continued to be a part of Nicaraguan mythology and culture. In one of Rubén Darío’s most quoted poems, he says, “Si la patria es pequeña, uno grande la sueña, mis ilusiones y mis deseos y mis esperanzas me dicen que no hay Patria pequeña.” (If the homeland is small, one dreams it big; my illusions, my desires, and my hopes, tell me there is no small homeland.) This idea is elaborated in many speeches, political and otherwise.

Molotova Man taken by Susan Meiselas on July 16, 1979. It is a famous image of the Sandinista Revolution and has been widely appropriated for other works of art and was used in a billboard for the September commemorations of 1986 which said “A los130 años, el enemigo es el mismo,” which translates as “After 130 years, the enemy is the same.”

(This photo was taken by Susan Meiselas on July 16, 1979.  It is a famous image of the Sandinista Revolution and has been widely appropriated for other works of art and was used in a billboard for the September commemorations of 1986 which said “A los130 años, el enemigo es el mismo,” which translates as “After 130 years, the enemy is the same.”)

Particularly during the revolution and the Contra war that the US sponsored to undermine the triumph of the Sandinistas, David and Goliath imagery was ubiquitous. In statues and murals across the country you can still see rocks and Molotov cocktails being used against a more powerful enemy. These works of revolutionary art are not about terrorism or, in essence, about violence. They are about people rising up and using whatever means they have at hand to defeat tyranny and imperialism. It is a credit to this spirit of independence and autonomy that today Nicaragua is the safest most peaceful country in Central America.


BRIEFS

  • President and Vice President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo congratulated “with deep revolutionary joy” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on the victory of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections. The PSUV won 17 of 23 state races with 54% of the vote nationally. “Having won with absolute clarity these elections allows the world to recognize once more the infinite human quality of the Venezuelan people and the indisputable capacity of its president and the party he represents, “Ortega said. (Informe Pastran, Oct. 16)
  • OAS Electoral Accompaniment Mission leader, Dr. Wilfredo Penco, said the Electoral Mission is committed to carry out a professional and respectful work in the Nicaraguan Municipal Elections, in full compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. “The Electoral Accompaniment Mission has had positive meetings with representatives of all political parties participating in the Nov. 5Municipal Elections, as well as with the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council,” Penco said. National Police Commissioner Francisco Diaz announced that the campaign is progressing in a peaceful, safe and orderly manner. “During the first 21 days of the campaign, the political parties have organized more than 13,500 activities. All were carried out in peace without any disturbance of public order reported,” Diaz said. Logistics Director of the CSE, Leandro Delgado, announced that the printing of 5.2 million electoral ballots  has been completed. He also noted that representatives of all political parties and the National Police supervised the printing process. Last Monday, CSE President Roberto Rivas signed an agreement with Telemaco Talavera, president of the National Council of Universities (CNU), to accompany the elections. The agreement states that 5,000 students and teachers will accompany the elections, offering assistance to citizens and help to protect their right to vote. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 11, 12)
  • Ervin Barreda, president of the Nicaragua Sewer and Aqueduct Company, announced that a waste management project is being developed in Managua to produce fertilizers and generate biogas energy. “This is a US$120 million project that is being implemented with support from the German government and the German Development Bank (KFW),” Barreda said. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 16)
  • A report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) ranks Nicaragua in third place in Latin America and first in Central America on economic growth rate projection for 2017. The report noted that Nicaragua is leading growth projections in Central America with 4.5%, followed by Costa Rica 3.9%, Honduras 3.7%, Guatemala 3.4%, and El Salvador 2.4%. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 13)