While many kids from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras flee to the United States, few children from neighboring Nicaragua do. Nicaragua is poor like those nations, but it lacks what experts consider to be the main cause for the migration: high crime and violence. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have corrupt and oppressive security forces, while Nicaragua’s police and military were totally transformed after the Sandinista revolutionaries overthrew the Somoza family dynasty in 1979.
Today, Nicaragua is the second safest country in Latin America, according to the United Nations.
Nicaraguan National Police Commissioner Fernando Borge said their law enforcement agencies have a “community policing” approach which he describes as “a model of shared responsibility, that of person-familycommunity.” They are active in identifying and helping at-risk youth.
Even the U.S. government is impressed and is now recommending a version of “community policing” in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as part of the solution to the child migrant crisis. But can this model work in those countries without more fundamental change? After all, Nicaragua had a social revolution.
It is ironic that the U.S. government is looking to the Sandinistas for help. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan attempted to depose them by economic strangulation and a large-scale terrorist war. In a TV address, Reagan warned of an invasion of America by Sandinistas. He said they were “just two days’ driving time from Harlingen, Texas.”
Reagan claimed the Sandinistas were going to create a communist oneparty regime. In fact, Nicaragua held a multi-party general election in 1984. A wide variety of rightwing and leftwing parties participated. International observer teams (including the European Economic Community) found no evidence of election fraud. The Sandinistas won 67 percent of the vote.
The international development organization Oxfam stated that from its experience in working in 76 developing countries, “Nicaragua was ... exceptional in the strength of that government’s commitment... to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active participation in the development process.”
In 1986, Nicaragua appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to end U.S. efforts to destabilize its government. The court ruled in its favor, ordering America to end its interventionist policy and to pay massive reparations to Nicaragua. Reagan immediately rejected the ruling. In 1987, the UN General Assembly called on the U.S. to comply with the court’s ruling. Reagan continued to ignore the ruling. The UN repeated its demand the following year.
In 1990, the Sandinistas were voted out. Then there would be 16 years of relative peace and rightwing economic policies of privatization and dismantling of social programs. In 2006, the Sandinistas would be voted back to power and re-elected in 2012.
Back in the 1980s, many Boulderites protested against the Reagan administration’s war against the Sandinista government as well as his support of brutal military dictatorships in El Salvador and Guatemala.
In 1984, Boulder became a sister city of Jalapa, Nicaragua. The Friendship City Project (FCP) has built several gravity-fed potable water projects, constructed two preschools, a primary school and a high school, supported a women’s sewing co-op, organized and sponsored a radio program for women’s health issues and donated an ambulance in the Jalapa Valley.
Greg Bowles has been working in Nicaragua for 14 years for the FCP as well as a Gettysburg, Penn., sister city project in the city of Leon. I interviewed him via email.
Bowles dislikes President Daniel Ortega, who has turned the Sandinista party into his own “private political machine” but “his government has managed to improve the quality of life in the country for its poorest citizens.” He says, “there are no political prisoners. Both daily newspapers despise Ortega and show it in every word they write about him, and yet there is not even a hint of closing them down.”
Bowles adds that “even if many Sandinistas are disillusioned with the party and Ortega, many of them also know that whatever the failings of the revolution or the current-day government, more people were given hopes and dreams due to that revolution than anywhere else in Central America, where the goal was simply to crush any hopes, usually with U.S. help through military aid.”
If there is hope, people don’t leave. They stay to fight for a better life.
If you are interested in more information on Nicaragua, Ernesto Cardenal is one of the speakers at this year’s America’s Latino Eco-Festival that starts on September 11. Cardenal was born in 1925 in Nicaragua and attended both the University of Mexico and Columbia University in New York. He is a former Catholic priest who studied in Kentucky with the scholar, poet, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Cardenal has been involved in the tumultuous political scene in Nicaragua, and Central America generally, since the 1960s. He was the Minister of Culture in Nicaragua from 1979-1988. Cardenal continues to be a political figure both in Nicaragua and abroad.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.