In exhausted Nicaragua, old problems, new wars.
MANAUGUA, Nicaragua - "The war has not ended," said Father Uriel Molina, head of the prestigious think tank, the ecumenical Centro Valdivieso in Managua, Nicaragua. "The military war, in a way. But the war is now much worse: of North against South, of rich against poor."
Many repeated Molina's words, and my own observations confirmed them during recent, extensive travels in Nicaragua and El Salvador, especially when for several days I shared the rice and beans and the primitive living conditions of a typical campesino family.
People are still being killed by bullets, most of them fired from guns that represent part of the $6 billion spent by the United States in a decade to maintain an unpopular government in El Salvador and the unaccounted-for billions invested in the semiclandestine war against a popular one in Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua you have rearmed bands of demobilized Sandinista soldiers, of ex-contras, even bands combining these former enemies.
Some fight because they have not received the land promised by the peace accords. Most are simply bandits driven by unemployment and hunger. They are institutionalizing violence, and they constitute potential private armies and death squads for the extreme right. Rape is becoming as common here as it is in the inner cities in the United States.
The deaths they cause can be counted in dozens. The deaths in the hundreds and thousands are of unarmed civilians, most of them children. They die of diarrhea, parasites, malnutrition and respiratory diseases caused by pollution. Many who do not die are stunted, mentally retarded, a burden on society. Such is the reality of a country with 70 percent unemployment subjected to the neoliberal economic policies dictated by the rich countries through the International Monetary Fund, policies that give to those who have and take from those
Under the Sandinistas, health facilities were free and available to everyone. Now a consultation costs five cordobas. What are five cordobas? Nothing. 85 U.S. cents at current exchange rates.
But if you are one of the three in 10
in the Nicaraguan labor force lucky enough to have regular work and earn six to 12 cordobas a day, as are several hundred women in a tobacco cooperative near Jalapa, and if - like most of these women - you are the single parent of four or five children, where do you get five cordobas? And if after the consultation you need hospitalization, you must bring your food, bedding, sutures, syringes, medications. Now we are talking about money that not one in 100 can beg, borrow or steal.
"The Minister of Health wants to make hospitals produce a profit," Dr. Eli Matute Rubio, head of the hospital in Jalapa built by the told me. "Diseases" bake diarrhea and malnutrition will increase, and I won't stay because I don't agree."
"One woman told me: "I brought my granddaughter to hospital with fever and diarrhea. They had no medicines, nor had I. All they could do was treat her for dehydration. She died in three days."
Violeta (Chamorro, president, universally known simply as Violeta) told us, said another bitterly, that women should go back to the kitchen, which is where the woman belongs. "Instead, we are on the streets as itinerant vendors, as beggars, as prostitutes. Our children are also on the streets, instead of being at school as before, cleaning car windscreens at traffic lights, selling candy)."
In the slums, the kids sniff glue to deaden the pains of hunger. Drug addiction grows cancerously, the habit fed - as in the United States - by mugging and robbery.
"Short-term pain, long-term gain," a U.S. Agency for International Development spokesperson told me with a philosophic shrug. Short term for the many who die but not for the many who survive. them the short, medium and long term is for more, much more of the same.
The steadily decreasing injection of USAID money goes exclusively for purposes that are not calculated to restart the economy. It helps service debts incurred by the rich, to underwrite the importation of luxury goods, to provide U.S. surplus product that can never be grown in Nicaragua.
Debt grows as exports bring in $250 million, while imports cost $800 million annually. Meanwhile, no credit is available from any source for the corn, rice and beans on which the people survive. The banks have imposed a total boycott of cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises. Inevitably, production of these basic grains declines. In the fertile Jalapa valley, it was a million quintals (100 pounds) in 1984, 400,000 in 1992, 300,000 this year.
The U.S.financed contra war, coupled with the U.S. trade embargo and such covert illegal actions as the mining of the harbors in 1984, has left the country physically and economically destroyed and emotionally exhausted. The bulk of the population is today apathetic and apolitical.
Ecological destruction caused by war is being intensified by savage deforestation, nearly 500,000 acres being lost each year. Part results from uncontrolled commercial cutting, part also from depredation of starving peasants who gather firewood both for cooking and to sell.
Much of the country is being desertified; several rivers already have dried up. The soil has been depleted by cotton and poisoned by pesticides. Breast milk contains up to 400 times the DDT once allowed in the United States.
Experts calculate that continuation of the present rates of deforestation will turn Nicaragua into a Sahara by the year 2007.
Nicaraguans elected Violeta - who was backed by Washington as the only potential winner against the Sandinistas - to the presidency in 1990. They believed that Washington would move quickly and efficiently to help repair the shattered economy. They were soon disillusioned.
United National Opposition, a score of hastily assembled parties hammered together ad hoc by the United States, won a majority in the one-house assembly.
But the Sandinistas, with 40.8 percent of the vote and 39 of the Assembly's 92 members, constitute the only significant social force in the country. The LTNO coalition split into a hard-line group who wanted to return to the 1970s (Somocism without Somoza), rejecting the Sandinistas as a legitimate social force, undoing all their social legislation and land reform. Leading hard-liners are Arturo Godoy, industrial magnate Alwo Cesar, Cardinal Obando y Bravo and many Catholic bishops.
Violeta, widow of a liberal newspaper editor killed by Somoza, and herself a member of the oligarchy, but a moderate, realized that the result would be chaos. She has managed to rule with the votes of the moderates in UNO and those
The Sandinistas recognize that this support creates problems for them, especially because the administration has been unable to fulfill many of its promises to the former contras and to the demobilized soldiers.
The desperate poor cannot take the long-term view. What they want to know is how they will eat tonight. A growing disillusionment with politics lessens the Sandinistas' chance to regain power in the 1996 elections. More than 60 percent of the voters do not identify with any party, believing that none of them can solve the country's problems. They have grounds for this belief.
The determining factor, the barbed-wire enclosure within which Nicaragua and its neighbors must maneuver, is U.S. policy. As defined in the Monroe Doctrine (1823) and since practiced, it insists that the United States is more sovereign than are its neighbors to the south. As regards Nicaragua specifically, the latest formulation is that of Edward Miller, assistant secretary of state for inter-american affairs in 1950. Under the Miller Amendment no government must be allowed to take power in Central, America or the Caribbean (or if a government takes power it must not be allowed to stay in power) unless approved by Washington.
Hence, the continuing dilemma and impasse. Washington, implementing the Miller Amendment formulated by a Democratic administration and accepted unquestioningly by both parties, refuses to admit that the Sandinistas are a legitimate social force. It will not recognize any action taken by them while in office.
For Washington they were never a legal government, because Washington never accepted them as such. The United States ignored the formal judgment of the World Court (June 1986) that it had violated international law by training, arming and supporting the contras, by laying mines in Nicaraguan ports and by various other acts of sabotage.
Nicaragua calculated that the violations had cost it $11 billion, but before the World Court had determined how much the United States should pay for damages, Washington forced Violeta to withdraw Nicaragua's claim in exchange for the release of a few million dollars voted by Congress in emergency aid.
In the early 1980s Washington bad a rationale for its rejection of the Sandinistas: to prevent a Marxist takeover of Nicaragua as a treat to the United States. It never held much water. Imagine 4 million peasants in rowboats covering more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific to occupy defenseless California! With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the excuse is not even a fig leaf. But the policy remains in place because the decision-makers in the United States are determined to impose on Nicaragua the neoliberal world structures that are designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
In spite of the depredations of the U.S.-promoted war of the 1980s and its horrendous ecological damage, Nicaragua is not yet the Sahra. It is not yet Somalia. It is a country with great natural resources, with far fewer people per square mile than any of its neighbors. The triumph of the Sandinistas raised great hopes for social change that would give the poor majority a fair share of that substantial wealth. That hope, if not extinguished, is at best a flickering, guttering candle stump.
Unless the United States quickly recognizes its obligations in justice to reverse its policies, that hope must soon burn out.
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|Publication:||National Catholic Reporter|
|Date:||Aug 13, 1993|
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