Monday, April 24, 2006
A Brief History of Nicaragua
In 1821, Nicaragua gained its independence from Spain along with the rest of its Central American neighobrs. The majority of the 1800s, Nicaragua was characterized by large land owners and an increasing US interest in transportation systems and fruit production. By the 1920s the US marines were playing the role of the Nicaraguan National Guard to protect US business interests. In 1936, the US withdrew its military presence as President Somoza was elected to power. Somoza set up a corrupt military dictatorship that would last over 40 years.
In 1979, the Sandanista revolution finally ended the Somoza regime. The FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) initiated an agrarian reform, dividing up land from large land owners and giving it or selling it for extremely low prices to poor farmers. Like the story of many countries during this time, the United States would not tollerate this threat to international business, particularly to the large land owning American corperations like the United Fruit Company.
The Reagan administartion began a covert opperation that has become known as the Iran-Contra affair. The administration secretely sold arms to Iran to fight the Iran-Iraq war, and, with the money made on the sell of the guns, funded a right wing counter-revolutionary army (the Contras) to bring down the Sandanista regime. To Nicaraguans, this was known as La Guerra. The World Court finally ruled that this was against against international law. President Reagan publically refused to admit any knowledge of the affair, and then two weeks later made an address admitting his mistakes. Everyone indicted in the affair was eventually pardonned by the Bush Administration. The Contra army (trained by the School of the Americas) was designed to use terroristic tactics to force the public to elect a government that would be more economically favorable to the United States. It succeeded. After two years of starvation, the people of Nicaragua "elected" a government that promoted the neoliberal ideals of the Reagan-Bush-Bush adminitstrations.
With this background, it was an amazing experience to live up in the mountains above Matagalpa with farmers who had lived through these atrocities. When I asked them, they shared with me the horrors of two years of near starvation, standing in lines all day to maybe receive a scoop of rice or beans. Luckily, these were farmers who could mostly sustain themselves with their crops, but many still went hungry. They told me that the fighting never made it to their communities. Many of the boys would leave to fight in the lowlands near Managua, but most of them stayed up in the mountains to wait it out. I found it amazing that they were so hospitable to me, an American, whose government had funded this war.
More on Nicaragua to come.......