Someone called out my name in the crowded lobby of Managua’s InterContinental Hotel. I screamed. There was Henry, the young Christian activist from Colombia who left to fight the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. Four different people had told me Henry, now known by his war alias as Luis Alfredo, had been killed. We ran toward each other through the crowd of diplomats, journalists, dignitaries, government officials and solidarity workers. We hugged.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution.
It was two or three days after the July 19, 1979, revolution that tumbled the dictator when I encountered Henry. Another young Colombian had indeed been killed on the southern front in the final days of battle. It is easy to forget from the safe stance of the years and years gone by this devastating war had taken the lives of 50,000 people in this small Central American country.
Nicaragua was starting all over again. Indeed, the first government body called itself the Junta of National Reconstruction. Much had to be done. It was a time of dreams, of teaching poetry and art and simple literacy, of building homes and constructing windmills and experimenting with farm techniques. It was a time of loss and a time of hope. It is all too easy to forget those first heady months when it seemed as if an inventive government of political pluralism, non-aligned foreign policy and a mixed economy could become reality. As our dearly departed former DRCLAS Visiting Scholar Edelberto Torres-Rivas once observed, Central American revolutions were at once inevitable and illusory.
Some of the authors in this ReVista issue look back on their experiences in the early revolution and reflect in the context of today, when again Nicaragua is governed by an authoritarian hand and human rights abuses are well documented. Anthony Quainton, former U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua reflects on Managua and Washington in the early Sandinista Revolution. Historian Jeffrey L. Gould in his article “Ambivalent Memories” tells us of his experience as a graduate student doing his thesis in Nicaragua’s coffee country. Journalist Stephen Kinzer, author of Blood of Brothers, recounts how Nicaraguans who were bitter enemies in their civil war encountered each other recently at a conference he organized at Brown University. Gil Callaway, a U.S. Foreign Service officer stationed in Managua during the Sandinista period, ponders on the lessons of experiencing situations that are gray, rather than black or white, in the context of today’s so-called Troika of Tyranny. Political Scientist Salvador Martí i Puig traces his encounters with the Nicaraguan solidarity movement and examines the root of the current crisis.
These writers and academics and diplomats think back to the beginning of the revolution. I myself ponder that afternoon in the hotel lobby when death suddenly turned into life. I sometimes imagine that in the background Carlos Mejía Godoy’s song “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita” was playing…sweet Nicaragua, now that you are free, I love you even more. Of course, the song wasn’t playing. As a journalist, I found myself constantly fighting to be fair, not to be carried away by my hopes and illusions and, at the same time, to resist the early rumblings that the revolution was just a Communist takeover.
I have to admit—and being an editor gives me some leeway to express my opinions—when I hear Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, I sometimes cry. Because Nicaragua is not free now. Because the country is still the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. And it is still polarized.
Journalist Lorne Matalon in his beautiful photo essay, “Nicaragua: Images of Division,” shows us the polarization and the fear in Nicaragua today. In a video that starts off about pension reform protests, historian Mateo Jarquín tells us about the spiraling situation of human rights abuses. José Idíaquez, S.J., president of Nicaragua’s Jesuit Central American University, discusses the role of the university in the face of repression.
Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, I ended up living in Managua for four years as a journalist. Yet it’s not all politics. Nicaragua’s biodiversity, its abundant nature, its white-sand beaches (even journalists go to the beach), its mountains and forests are simply extraordinary. Olga Martha Montiel and Warren Douglas Stevens tell us about botanical studies in Nicaragua from a more scientific point of view that I have expressed here, but don’t ignore the fact that the country has at least 7,900 species of plants.
The only thing Nicaragua may have more of than plants is poets. So, for this special spotlight, we’ve created a section about poetry, including some poems by young(ish) Nicaraguan poets. Carlos M-Castro gives us an overview of Nicaraguan poetry, as well as a sampling of his poems. Gema Santamaría tells us in her article (with some of her poetry in both English and Spanish), “Today as yesterday, Nicaraguans have turned to poetry in order to articulate their aspirations and desires for a free Nicaragua.” Carlos F. Grigsby examines why Nicaragua’s greatest poet, Rubén Darío, is not well-known in the English language (speaking of Rubén Darío, two of his unpublished poems were found at Harvard.) Ernesto Cardenal, called by M-Castro “Nicaragua’s greatest living poet,” reflects on the community poetry created in the island of Solentiname.
If this editor’s letter sounds familiar to you, dear reader, it’s because a version of it was sent out as a newsletter for the July 19, 2019, anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, just go to ReVista’s home page, revista.drclas.harvard.edu, and fill out the short form on the lower left hand corner or just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
As many of you know, ReVista is—temporarily or permanently—now only online. We’ve added special features like student views and videos. One of the biggest changes is that we are rolling out issues as “spotlights” over the semester before they emerge as full issues. Nicaragua is the first to use this system, and we hope you like it!
Thanks for being there, dear readers, and I hope you will let me know your opinions and observations.
June C. Erlick