Happy new year, everybody! I can't believe 2010 is already here and the trip is so near. I still have a few last-minute things to finish up before we go, but mostly I'm resting up to get over the surprise cold that attacked me earlier this week. I'm determined to get better by Tuesday at the very latest.
In addition to watching unhealthy amounts of TV, I've been using my spare time to read up on Nicaraguan history and politics. So far this has consisted of Wikipedia and Google searches on topics that were brought up in Alice's assigned readings. This admittedly non-scholarly approach to things has helped me gain a very basic understanding of the FSLN's rise to power and their position today. Since Daniel Ortega of the FSLN is president of Nicaragua today, it seems important to know at least a bit of this party's history before going there.
According to the FSLN webiste, it was started in 1961 as a student foundation at the University of Nicaragua in Manauga. The group voiced their stance against the repressive Somoza regime of the 1970's through various means, including lobbying and hostage-taking. In 1977, a group of Nicaraguan professionals, business leaders, and clergymen came together in Costa Rica. Known as "The Group of Twelve," they aimed to create a provisional government to replace the Somoza dictatorship.
They were not the only ones feeling this at the time. After the assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, editor of the newspaper La Prensa, in 1978, the business community organized a strike that called for Somoza's resignation. This began a period of revolt across the nation. By June 1979 Managua was the only urban area that still remained outside of FSLN control, and in July Somoza finally resigned.
The new government promised to organize an effective democratic regime, promote political pluralism and universal suffrage, and ban ideological discrimination, except for those promoting a return to Somoza's rule. The FSLN promoted four main principles of government: political pluralism, mixed economy, popular participation and mobilization, and international non-alignment.
During their rule from 1979-1990 they made progress on a number of social issues with programs such as the highly successful literacy campaign and the more contested poetry workshops. They also created mass organizations that served different functions in society, including the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Nicaraguan Women's Association, the Sandinista Defense Committees, and the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG, the group that is hosting most of our stay in Nicaragua!) However, various obstacles prevented them from achieving the truly democratic society they envisioned. Naural disasters coupled with US-backed Contra wars kept inflation rates high and led the FSLN to declare a state of emergency from 1982-1988, during which numerous civil rights were suspended and publications with diverging views, including La Prensa, were censored.
Though they lost a few elections, Daniel Ortega was reelected in 2005. However, I am curious to find out more about the FSLN's current policies because from what I can tell it seems like they have strayed from their original democratic ideals. For instance, Nicaragua's Supreme Court (most likely under influence of Daniel Ortega) recently overturned the 20-year prison sentence of Arnolodo Aleman, former president of Nicaragua and Transparency International's ninth most corrupt leader in recent history. In addition, The FSLN still tends to get a bad rap in the US. When I explained to a (conservative) family friend that we would be working with a union in Nicaragua, she disapprovingly asked if I would be working with socialists.
Rather than political affiliations, I am more curious to learn about what the current government in doing to help the people of Nicaragua. In particular I'm interested in how the "Zero Hunger" program is going (a Google search will explain this better than I could, and you can check out this article that assesses its progress) and other efforts to increase food sovereignty in Central America's poorest nation. It would also be helpful to hear about Ortega's plan for the aftermath of "Hurricane CAFTA," if he has one yet. I'm sure that our meeting with Witness for Peace will help me gain some insights into these topics, in addition to talking to Ligia and our rural host families in Esteli.
OK I think I've rambled long enough now. I hope this is helpful!