Visiting the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs in Esteli yesterday brought a lot of things home for the group. The small museum was established by the mothers of those from the department of Esteli who were killed in the insurrection and the revolution. It was powerful to hear from a dauther of one of those founding mothers and from our friend and guide, Aldo, about his uncle’s role as a Sandinista, and his brutal death. That history made flesh made the conflicts and tragedy that consumed this country for several decades, which was indisputibly perpepuated with involvement from the U.S., real and emotional.
Nicaragua was at war from the 1970s until 1990. But during that time, two distinct conflicts occurred. The first, which ended in July 1979, is known as the insurrection. During that phase the mostly peasent army, known as the Sandinistas, fought to overthrough the Somoza dictatorship, which was an ally of the U.S. but was oppressive and violent toward the citizens of Nicaragua. The Somoza family held power here for decades. It was students in the 1960s who began to orgaize against the regime.
After The Triumph on July 19, 1979, the date the Sandinistas gained control of Managua and Somoza fled the country, the new government instituted a series of policies and programs that improved life, literacy-rates, health and life expectancy and education access for Nicaraguans. But by about 1981, a force of U.S. trained “Contras”, most of whom were perviously members of Somoza’s military, were fighting the pesants near the Honduran boarder. The Contras often targeted students in the literacty campaign, who lived in rural communities and taught the community members to read and write. They also targeted infrustructure, such as health centers. The Contras increased in brutality until a U.S.-backed presidential candidate was elected in 1990.
As Mark Lester explained earlier in our trip, Nicaraguans were told through popular press that they would lose the ability to receive remittances from relatives in the U.S. if the U.S.-backed candidate didn’t win. And they were told the conflict would not end if she was not elected. Virtually instantly after the government’s transition, the fighting stopped. And many of the policies enacted by the Sandinista government were quickly reversed.
In 2006, the Sandinista party candidate was elected again. He reamins president today and is expected to be the candidate in the November election.
Today we will make our way to El Limon, where we will stay in the homes of the community. In some cases, the patriarch of the house fought against the Contras in the 1980s.