NicaNotes: Juggling during Wartime in Nicaragua—Jugglers for Peace

By Esteban Velez

[This article was originally published in eJuggle on Dec. 17, 2020. Copyright International Jugglers’ Association, Inc.  Reprinted with permission.]

Ben Linder juggling on his unicycle.

Days after the assassination of juggler and engineer Benjamin Linder by soldiers from Los Contra (you can read my article about him here), more artists arrived in Nicaragua. It was the Jugglers For Peace group. They landed in Managua in 1987, ready to tour the cities that were hit by the war. The members of the group in that year were: Graham Ellis, Cort Peterson and Sean Minnock, from Hawaii; Sara Felder, from San Francisco, United States; Mark Deutschmann, from Nashville, United States; and Tim King, from Denmark. The idea was to make presentations to the children and perform shows in hospitals, schools, and public squares in Nicaragua. But Linder’s death caused the tour to be extended, with acts of commemoration.

Hoping to see for themselves what others were saying about Nicaragua, Jugglers For Peace was able to tour the war zones, and visit Benjamin Linder’s hydroelectric project. Linder’s death had gained a lot of publicity among Nicaraguans and foreigners. North American citizens were demonstrating in front of the United States Embassy in Nicaragua, demanding justice for Linder. Members of the tour were invited to these events. They all marched 45 kilometers to reach Linder’s house. Nervousness was present in the atmosphere; they feared an attack by Los Contra. Fortunately, everything went well.

In the early days of the tour, Jugglers For Peace spoke to the community and listened to their difficulties. They encouraged the people at the meetings and made doctors and teachers in rural areas laugh with juggling acts, magic and clowning.

During the marches, Tim King and Cort Peterson recounted, they met an American nun. She commented that the population was heading to the burial of two opposition soldiers. Jugglers For Peace showed up, juggling torches and other objects. The commemoration was also in the same place where Benjamin Linder lived his last days. In the same way, they visited the electric plant in which Linder had worked.

The planned shows were more than perfect. They walked through rivers, trails, semi-populated paths. They witnessed antipersonnel mines planted on the roads; and around a mine, they made juggling performances.

Many people attended Jugglers For Peace shows. The spectators were usually children, but there were also peasants, soldiers, journalists, and social activists. Like a sigh of peace in the middle of war, the clubs decorated and changed the tense atmosphere of critical areas.

Troops Enjoying Jugglers,

In one of the last shows of the 1987 tour, in Bocay, they were received by more than 700 soldiers. The event was attended by 1,000 people. That same day they performed two more shows, among which there was a presentation for 40 patients from a field hospital. And when night came, they lit torches to illuminate the end of the show and the tour.

Poster announcing the 1988 tour.

Jugglers For Peace returned to Nicaragua in 1988. They were joined by more people, including more jugglers from Europe. They were: Ali Williams, Mathew Broad, Steve Robinson, Clare Hudman, Sam Scurfield, Luci Goreli-Barnes, Tricia Selbach, Barrett Faulker, Henry Laupin, Jim Good, and Graham Ellis. Just as they were attracted by the experience of the first tour of Jugglers For Peace, and they also wanted to verify if Nicaragua was as it was described throughout the world.

In addition to the presentations in soccer fields and rural areas, in the 1988 tour they held awareness days for vaccination of children. All, dressed as clowns, in comparsas [as a troupe], they marched through the distant municipalities. The juggling shows had more components and more accessories. There was music, magic, jugglers of balls and clubs, cigar boxes, juggling with ping pong balls.

The protests in front of the United States Embassy in Nicaragua did not stop. There were constant demonstrations until the Reagan administration stopped funding Los Contra. According to Jugglers for Peace, there was now a possibility of preventing more deaths in the country.

That tour lasted a month. And before it was over, Jugglers For Peace was present at a special event. They were witnesses to the ceasefire negotiations between the government of Daniel Ortega and the opposition. They were invited to make a presentation in celebration of the peace agreement. Among the attendees were President Ortega, and members of La Contra.


By Nan McCurdy

Preparing to Vaccinate Nicaraguans against Covid-19
Preparations are being made to vaccinate Nicaraguans against COVID-19. In its first phase, 55% of the population will be vaccinated. To this end, the purchase and reception of the Sputnik V, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Covaxin vaccines has begun, according to Vice President Murillo. Health Minister Martha Reyes stated that “MINSA has approved vaccines of the US biotechnology company MODERNA, SPUTNIK of the Gamaleya Research Center in Russia, and Oxford/AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom, all with a greater than 90% efficacy with a double dose application to acquire immunity.”

In related news, The Economist, a UK weekly, made a major error last month in asserting that Nicaragua would not vaccinate its population against COVID-19 until 2023. As noted above, the government has announced that it is preparing to apply four different vaccines to the entire population in the coming weeks. (Juventud Presidente, 14 January 2021; Informe Pastran, 18 January 2021)

Nicaragua Still Safest Country in Central America
Current information from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) shows Nicaragua has the lowest homicide rate in the Central American region: 7.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, one half of the region’s average of 19 homicides per 100,000 people. In Costa Rica it is 11.3; Guatemala 22.5; El Salvador 52; Belize 37.8 and Honduras 38.9. Nicaragua continues to be a benchmark in Latin America for its security levels: there are no gangs, nor drug trafficking cartels. (Informe Pastran, 18 January, 2021)

Nicaragua Will Grow by 2.5% in 2021
Nicaragua’s economy will register a 2.5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2021 announced the Minister of Finance and Public Credit, Ivan Acosta, on Jan. 18. In the longer-term Acosta estimated that efforts in the economic field will allow the country to return to 4% growth by 2022. The Nicaraguan economy registered almost a decade of sustained growth of around five percent annually, which was interrupted by the failed coup attempt of April 2018, Acosta recalled. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 January 2021)

Public Investment in 2021 to Exceed 2020 by 28%
Finance Minister Acosta said the government is allocating significant resources for roads damaged by the hurricanes, in addition to the school lunch program, medicines, and purchase of vaccines against COVID-19, emergency food programs, assistance to agricultural production and more. It is estimated that public investment will be 28% more than in 2020. (Informe Pastran, 18 January 2020)

Affordable Housing on the Increase
In the last 14 years, the Sandinista government has built 121,952 affordable housing units, said INVUR co-director Olivia Cano. “In 2009, Housing Law 667 was approved which promotes social interest housing and is the only law in the region that guarantees a direct interest rate subsidy,” she said. This year, 1,921 affordable housing units are proposed to be built with an incentive from the government for construction materials. In addition, this year the National Program for the Construction of Social Interest Housing will be implemented through the Housing Institute INVUR to improve the living conditions of families in extreme poverty through the construction of decent, safe and easily financed housing solutions. Seven thousand families in conditions of poverty and 11,660 families with low or moderate incomes will benefit. This US$171.65 million program will directly impact 93,300 people and generate 93,300 temporary jobs. (Informe Pastran, 18 January 2021)

Modernization of Ports Underway
President of the Nicaragua Port Authority (EPN) Virgilio Silva announced the start of the modernization project at Puerto Sandino in León Department. The US$5 million investment includes reorganization, modernization, and expansion to provide better service. The project is part of the Improvement of Technical and Operational Capabilities for Commercial and Tourist Ports that the EPN is implementing this year. (Nicaragua News, 14 January 2021)

Government Scholarships to Attend Private Universities
16,235 students will receive scholarships to study at private universities at the IV National University Scholarship Fair. The scholarships include discounts of 60%, 50%, 45% and 100% for academic excellence in 47 undergraduate specialities, 25 master’s degrees and 4 doctorates in 19 private universities. [Note: Public universities are free and the government also provides thousands of scholarships for room and board.] (Radio La Primerisima, 16 January 2021)

2020 Closed with Greater Renewable Energy Generation
Electricity generation based on renewable energy rose to 75.94% in 2020. In 2006, the figure was 26% while 74% was petroleum-based. (Informe Pastran, 15 Jan. 2021)

Thousands of New Loans for Women
The government’s Zero Usury microcredit program this week granted 3,500 new loans to 1,042 women’s solidarity groups in 98 municipalities for the creation of small businesses in urban and semi-urban areas that strengthen the family and creative economy. (Informe Pastran, 19 January 2021)

School Repairs and Prefabricated Classrooms on Caribbean Coast
The Ministry of Education will install five prefabricated classrooms in the community of Haulover, in the northern Caribbean to guarantee the beginning of the 2021 school year this February 1st. Maxuel Waith said that in the North Caribbean they will rehabilitate 81 schools that were damaged in the 2020 hurricanes. (Informe Pastran, 19 January 2021)

Making Health Care Better and More Accessible
In 2021, eight new policies will be implemented that should improve the quality of services in outpatient clinics and for medical emergencies. Health services in the neighborhoods will continue to be developed through the program “My Hospital in My Community” with doctors and specialists attending from mobile clinics. Some 300 weekly health fairs will bring specialized attention, exams, and services like mammograms, endoscopies and ultrasounds to communities and neighborhoods. (Canal 2, 19 January 2021)

Materials on Their Way to Students and Teachers
More than one million backpacks with school materials and some 60,000 briefcases for teachers will be distributed for public school students and teachers. The first trucks left Jan. 15 with backpacks and materials for preschoolers like crayons, pencils, glue, notebooks, colored and white paper, in addition to plates, glasses and spoons for their school snack. Primary school students will receive backpacks, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, scissors, geometry cases, and paper, all free of charge. (Canal 2, 15 January 2021)

Remittances Grew in 2020
According to Central Bank monthly data published Jan. 15, in December 2020 remittances totaled US$190.9 million, registering a 14.9% increase over the same month last year (US$166.2 million). Thus, the accumulated value of remittances in 2020 was US$1.85 billion, a 10% year-on-year growth. (Informe Pastran, 15 Jan. 2021)

Longer Penalties for Heinous & Hate Crimes
The National Assembly approved a reform to Article 37 of the Constitution that defines the penalties for crimes committed. The reform establishes life sentences for cruel, inhuman, degrading and hate crimes. National Assembly Deputy María Auxiliadora Martínez, President of the Special Constitutional Commission, stated that “the process that led to the Reform of Article 37 began in October of last year, in response to an increase in crimes for which the Nicaragua population demands a penalty greater than the 30 year limit established in the 1980s.” A national survey carried out in October last year by M&R Consultants found the reform initiative for the application of the life sentence for these crimes has the support of 91.8% of the population. (Nicaragua News, 19 January 2021)

Weekly Covid Report
For the week of Jan. 12 to 18, the Health Ministry reported 52 registered cases of Covid and one death. Since March 2020 there have been 4,952 registered cases of Covid, 4,733 people recuperated and 168 deaths. (Nicaragua Sandino, 19 January 2021)