HISTORY AND THE SANDINISTAS
Chris Nelson's letter "Rewriting History" (April 20) represents a throwback to the Cold War rhetoric of the 1980s. To discredit the Sandinistas, Nelson now (and President Reagan then) called them "Marxists." In fact, the Sandinistas included people from all points along the progressive spectrum. Some were liberal reformers, some were socialists, some were Marxists, and some were Catholic priests who believed in Liberation Theology.
The Sandinistas supported a mixed economy, which included private ownership, cooperative ownership, and government ownership of farms and factories. In particular, there was no "forced collectivization." Forced collectivization would have required small farmers to turn over their land to government collectives, which never happened in Nicaragua. It couldn't have happened in Nicaragua, because the campesinosdidn't own the land. Over half the cultivatable land in Nicaragua was owned by the dictator Somoza and his cronies. The Sandinista government gave this land to the campesinos who had worked it for generations without any hope of ever owning it.
Sandinista economic policies received praise from some surprising sources. For example, in 1983 the Inter-American Development Bank wrote, "Nicaragua has made noteworthy progress in the social sector, which is laying the basis for long-term socio-economic development." The World Bank acknowledged that its projects were "extraordinarily successful in Nicaragua; in some sectors, better than anywhere else in the world."
The Nicaraguan economy failed because the US carried out a trade embargo and a proxy war against this tiny country. Fifty percent of the Sandinista budget probably was funding the military --- no surprise when a small country is under attack by a superpower.
After the Sandinistas forced out Somoza in 1979, a national directorate governed the country until democratic elections took place in 1984. The "thugs" who kept right-wing politician Arturo Cruz out of the 1984 election were in the headquarters of the CIA, not in the streets of Managua. Our administration was afraid that if Cruz ran and lost, this would discredit the Contra leadership (New York Times, October 21, 1984).
Before the 1990 Nicaraguan elections, President George Bush pledged that the US would end the Contra war and stop the US trade embargo if the Nicaraguan people voted against the Sandinistas. After the Sandinistas lost, President Daniel Ortega passed the presidential sash to DoñaVioleta Chamorro. As Nelson correctly notes, this event marked the first time in Nicaraguan history that power had been peacefully transferred from one democratically elected official to another. That's what democratic leaders do: They pass the power of office to the next democratically elected president. I consider this peaceful transfer of power strong evidence that the Sandinistas believed in democracy.
The situation regarding the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast is complex and continues to be problematic for the government of Nicaragua. In the 1980's, I never knew whether to laugh or cry when the US government criticized the Sandinistas for the relatively modest mistakes made in dealing with these ethnic groups. As we all know, our country's history includes countless policies that were truly genocidal to the Native Americans.
Compared to the actions of the US government, and many other governments, Sandinista treatment of the indigenous people was enlightened and benign. Moreover, after 1979, the Sandinistas made a good-faith effort to include the Caribbean communities in the quest for progress. In the 1980's, I met students from the Caribbean coast who were studying medicine in Managua and León. This would never have happened before the revolution.
I was one of many internationalswho traveled to Nicaragua during the 1980's to support Nicaraguan sovereignty and self-determination. International supporters came from countries all over the world --- Spain, Scandinavia, Italy, Great Britain, and Israel. I never met --- or even heard tell of --- an East German or North Korean solidarity activist.
I did meet some Bulgarians; they were constructing a factory to convert Nicaraguan fruits into jams and jellies. Internationals didn't come with guns and bombs--they came with skills and dedication. One of my strongest memories of Nicaragua in the 1980's was visiting a small health center in El Sauce, Nicaragua, and watching a Danish nurse --- blond-haired, blue-eyed, and almost 6 feet tall --- working alongside her Nicaraguan counterpart, who was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and barely 5 feet tall. Any of the 100,000 US citizens who visited Nicaragualibre can remember similar scenes.
The military draft in Nicaraguawas extremely unpopular, as it was in the US during the war against Vietnam, and as it will be again in the US if George W. Bush reinstates it. In the 1980's, Nicaragua was a country of less than four million people, under proxy attack by a country of 250 million people. A military draft was, unfortunately, necessary for survival. How can we blame the Sandinistas for a military draft caused by our country's policies?
The Sandinistas did do great things. They lowered the neonatal mortality rate from 121 deaths per thousand live births to 64 deaths per thousand live births. (Not great, but obviously much better.) They raised the literacy level from a disgraceful 50 percent to a respectable 90 percent. The Sandinistas carried out the reforms they promised the Nicaraguan people during the long revolutionary struggle. I believe that anyone who looks at the facts objectively will reach the same conclusion.
Finally, however, let's put aside my perceptions and Chris Nelson's perceptions, and turn to an objective source: the World Court in The Hague. In 1986, the World Court condemned the US for "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua, ordered the U.S. to terminate support of the Contras, and further ordered the US to pay $17 billion in reparations to Nicaragua. The US government ignored this order of the World Court, but no concerned reader of City should ignore the significance and the implications of this landmark decision.
Arnold H. Matlin, Linwood, New York
There is no doubt that Chris Nelson has done some research, and he speaks intelligently and knowledgeably about Nicaragua ("Rewriting History," The Mail, April 20). It's doubly shameful that he commits the same disingenuous error that he chastises his opponents for: rewriting history.
One gets the impression from his letter that the main political dynamic in Nicaragua was between the people and the Sandinista government. There is no doubt that the Sandinista government repressed the Indian population and committed other, unforgivable, atrocities. The main dynamic, however, was US military aggression in Latin America.
The CIA's role in overthrowing democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile and installing Augusto Pinochet was fresh in the minds of the world. Why was Ortega spending half his budget on the military? Ever tried to fight a guerilla army funded by one of the world's super powers? The US was funding the Contras from bases in El Salvador in a bloody, 12-year war.
At the time, the US was one of two world super powers. It's now the lone world super power, and its ability to intervene wherever it sees fit shapes every national debate. Self-determination and sovereignty are a joke when a democratically elected government can be toppled at any moment by a US funded puppet (think Haiti, Chile, El Salvador, Iran, Philippines) or directly invaded like Iraq.
To ignore this is to misrepresent history and to misunderstand the mass anger around the world against the US government.
Brian Lenzo, Monroe Avenue, Rochester
Reading the interview conducted by Krestia DeGeorge ("To Seek Middle East Peace, Seek Equality" (April 20), it would seem that the American Friends of Neve Shalom are promoting Israel-bashing more than peaceful co-existence.
When the two interviewees fault Israel's policies and its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, for the lack of progress towards peace, how can any useful dialogue occur? How absurd for Mr. Najjar to completely negate the negative impact Yaser Arafat had on the Palestinian people and the peace process through destructive policies characterized by corruption and suicide bombings.
Israel will soon be leaving the Gaza strip. It continually has to deal with a hostile Palestinian population that still has not reconciled Israel's right to exist. It is indeed fortunate for both the Israeli and Palestinian visitors from Neve Shalom that they enjoy the freedom to speak freely despite their one-sided bias.
Elliot Fix, Brandywine Lane, Brighton
Mahalo for your cover article "Music Lived Here" (April 20). While you allude to Big Pink and The Grateful Dead's house, you imply that 288 Breck Street is being absorbed into the neighborhood as just another residence. Fans of The Squires of the Subterrain from around the world may just prove you wrong. Chris Earl's musical influences from that house come through his music strongly, and I suspect that Rochester and Breck Street in particular are going to become a point of pilgrimage for those of us who avidly collect his recordings.
There's an old saying that "a prophet is without honor in his own land." People have a tendency to ignore the potential for talent from within their own midst, as though their locality was incapable of generating anything of greatness. Perhaps you're not aware of the loving picture of Rochester that has been painted by The Squires in songs like "Cherry Creek Lane" and "Small Town Girl" or the generosity of the Breck Street house specifically depicted in "My House Is Your House." Truthfully, the spirit of your community is portrayed in a very appealing way throughout Mr. Earl's music, and as it rapidly gains a larger and larger audience, there's bound to be a parallel curiosity about Rochester, the city that figures so prominently in it.
In the months and years to come, you'll find an increasing number of strangers wandering your streets to look for things mentioned in the Squires' discography, and 288 Breck Street will have a particularly strong magnetism. It isn't too early for the city fathers to start contemplating the commission of a plaque for the house, perhaps one reading "Music Lived Here."
Jim Klieforth, Waikoloa, Hawaii
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