Nicaragua

Uncommon Threads

The quilts in the series Nicaragua: Home and School originated with a trip to Nicaragua I took in 2002 at the invitation of the Global Education Fund. Half the rural population of Nicaragua is illiterate and only 1 percent of entering students pass the math exam at the largest public university in Managua. The Fund tries to address this by training teachers—who then train their colleagues—in thinking skills, practical applications of academic knowledge, and experiential learning.

I try to portray some of the ordinary home and school conditions I saw in what is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Adults and children often have school in the barely lit interiors of their homes or in cast-off buildings. One rural school I saw during my trip to Nicaragua was in an abandoned German coffee factory, absent electric lights or glass in the windows.

The people construct houses of recycled materials such as corrugated metal, old signs, and pieces of wood, often with dirt floors and without running water. From these scraps of discarded materials they have made orderly environments—tables and chairs for sitting, hammocks for rest, and areas to prepare meals in the open air.

Lee Porter is a quilter and quilting workshop teacher who bases much of her art on biblical stories and social justice issues. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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Sweeping Up Corruption

Protesters converged on Managua in February with brooms in hand to "

Protesters converged on Managua in February with brooms in hand to "sweep out" corrupt public officials. Organized by CEPAD, the Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches, thousands marched to municipal offices and courts to present documentation detailing the theft by government officials of $1.7 billion of public funds. CEPAD director Damaris Albuquerque said the report’s data demonstrated how injustice and a loss of values, such as honesty, exist among the nation’s rich and powerful who place themselves above the law and sanctions. "These only affect the poor, who do not have people to bail them out of trouble or the money to win a trial," she noted.

CEPAD founder Gustavo Parajon quoted the book of Amos and emphasized that there will only be peace in Nicaragua if there is justice. "We are not in favor of any party. Our goal is to call people’s attention so that they are aware that we must clean up the country, but first we must clean up ourselves." He called on Nicaraguans to elect leaders with integrity in the next elections.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2004
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Human Resiliency

One of the most urgent issues for faith communities during the 1980s was the contra war in Nicaragua. Seeking to make the Sandinista government a whipping post for its anti-communist fervor, the Reagan administration sponsored a guerrilla army that was little more than organized terror against the Nicaraguan people. The war brutalized the country, drained the revolution of scarce resources, demoralized the population, and led to the end of the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections.

Jennifer Atlee-Loudon's Red Thread is a jolting recollection of those times and those struggles. Atlee-Loudon was in Nicaragua for the better part of 10 years as a member of Witness for Peace, a faith-based group organized to provide a nonviolent presence for communities ravaged by war. Her first-hand diary provides graphic accounts of the physical, psychological, and ultimately political effects of the U.S. policy on people she came to know and love. It is tough reading: You can feel the palpable fear of villagers awaiting an imminent contra attack, the grief and rage of victims in the aftermath of violence, the slow burn of fading hope as the war wreaks devastation on the fragile revolutionary experiment.

Atlee-Loudon also recounts with overwhelming eloquence her own soul-wrenching spiritual crisis of confronting brutality and death. At times, Atlee-Loudon sounds like a biblical prophet railing against the madness and inhumanity around her. At other times, she is a modern Job shaking fists at divine impotence in the midst of innocent suffering. With a searing honesty, she labels the U.S. policy evil. But she also believes in grace and hope and humanity that defiantly stir in the midst of that evil.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Sandino Lives!

TIPITAPA, Nicaragua—Cesar Augusto Mejia has given up on politicians. Decades of war, incompetence, and corruption—on the Right and Left—tends to sour a person on politics. For many Nicaraguans, it hasn’t really mattered whether the government’s acclaimed ideology was Sandinista Left or neoliberal Right, the upshot has been a hardscrabble life, little meaningful work, and less hope.

A stenciled sign next to the road from Managua to the small town of Tipitapa summed it up. "Sandinistas y Somacistas..." was scrawled at the top, followed by words that a visiting North American journalist translated as "...we’re all the same." She was asked, "Does that mean, ‘we’re all in this together’?" "I think that’s the idea," she said. Later, as we passed the sign on our way out of town, a native Spanish speaker clarified, saying the sign actually reads "they’re all the same." It’s a protest sign, he explained. It says, essentially, that they’re both screwing us; neither party cares about the poor, about the people.

Nicaragua is one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries, and demographics suggest that it will remain so: Half the population is under age 15, and a half-million children have no access to the nation’s education system. For Cesar Augusto, the main problem has been finding work in a country with a 60 percent unemployment rate.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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A Mature Compassion

"In 72 hours we lost what we had built, little by little, in 50 years." These were the words of Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse following the emergency summit of Central American leaders in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. In Honduras and Nicaragua, the most affected countries, 10,000 people were killed. Honduras needs new homes for 1.4 million and 70 percent of the nation's crops were destroyed. In Nicaragua more than 1,600 miles of roads were destroyed and 42 bridges damaged beyond repair. Costs of reconstruction are estimated at $3 billion.

Compassion has been mobilized. Ordinary people have responded to the misery, donating money, time, and resources. The U.S. government has announced an aid package worth tens of millions of dollars. However, without debt relief, this sort of compassion will mean little in the long run. For Carole Collins, national coordinator of the Jubilee 2000/USA campaign, it is plain. "The U.S. commitment...is certainly welcome and needed," Collins said. "Yet Nicaragua and Honduras are obliged to pay back more than $2.2 million every day. Unless it is canceled, this debt burden—which is essentially unpayable—will make the effort at long-term recovery a tragic failure. It is absolutely shameful that, especially after a disaster of this magnitude, we continue to demand repayment."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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Where the Rivers Come Together

This readers' page runs from time to time during the year. As one way we can encourage one another, we invite you to share experiences that have lifted your spirits, warmed your heart, or stirred your soul.

Carmen Mendieta, the mother of seven children, was killed in a contra ambush in Nicaragua on December 2, 1987, exactly seven years after four U.S. church women were murdered in El Salvador. She was a member of Christ the King Parish, a sister community to New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, of which the author of this meditation was a member when this article appeared. Jim Luken had just returned from a visit to Nicaragua when he learned of Carmen's death. --The Editors

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The Policy is Still Wrong

The Iran-contra hearings have provided a summer-long opportunity for Reagan administration spokespersons to make their case for the contras on national television. During the hundreds of hours of testimony and speeches, I heard only one person make reference to the significant and constant opposition of U.S. church people to the contra war.

In his testimony before the joint congressional committee investigating the Iran-contra arms scandal, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams declared that he simply could not understand why churches and church groups in the United States would oppose aid to the contras. I would like to help Mr. Abrams and the administration he represents to understand.

U.S. churches and church-based groups have sent more people to Nicaragua and sent them for longer periods of time than have the State Department, the U.S. Congress, and very likely the entire U.S. government. What we have seen and heard convinces us that U.S. policy toward Nicaragua is wrong and horribly destructive.

The Reagan administration policy to overthrow the government of Nicaragua is not just mistaken, but is, in our view, morally corrupt and politically indefensible.That is our firm conviction. Church groups challenge almost every assertion made about Nicaragua by this administration. What the administration says are facts that support its policy we say are lies that are used to justify unspeakable violence.

Truth-telling is central to our biblical tradition, and this war has been built on a scaffold of deception. We have seen the work of Ronald Reagan's "freedom fighters" and know them to be terrorists instead. His "Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance" is in reality a U.S.-created and -sponsored mercenary army carrying out a proxy war for the Reagan administration.

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Who Killed Ben Linder?

As congressional hearings began in Washington to determine the "facts" in the Iran-contra scandal, the family of Ben Linder attended his funeral in Nicaragua.

On April 28 the contras killed Benjamin Linder. His death, like the deaths of the two Nicaraguans killed with him, would have gone unnoticed in this country, except that Ben Linder was a U.S. citizen. Linder has now become the first U.S. citizen killed by the contras. He joins thousands of other innocent people killed by the U.S.-backed mercenaries since our government created and began funding that war. He was killed because of his engineering skills and his willingness to share them with the poor of Nicaragua.

Ben Linder, like other U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua, knew the risks involved and accepted those risks. He helped the people of rural Nicaragua obtain electricity, knowing that he could suffer injury or death at the hands of U.S.-employed mercenaries.

Ben Linder was a servant of humanity. He was a sign of hope for those who knew him. Through his actions and his life, he was the kind of ambassador our country should send to Nicaragua.

Linder understood that you can do more good with dams and ditches than bombs and guns. And, unlike the U.S. government, he could proudly tell the whole truth about what he was doing in Nicaragua, and why.

In the tiny village of El Cua, where Linder lived, people remembered him for the joy that he brought to the children. He was the only clown the children of that village had ever seen. And the kids liked to run after him as he rode down the street on his unicycle, dressed in his clown costume.

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Ben Linder

Ben Linder is dead. The 27-year-old engineer from Portland, Oregon, built dams in rural Nicaragua and liked to dress up like a clown for the kids. What better thing is there to do in a poverty-stricken war zone than trying to improve the lives of peasants and making children laugh?

With so many U.S. citizens now in Nicaragua, it was inevitable that someday the first would be killed. And every one who has ever gone to Nicaragua knew that and accepted the risk. Anyone who tries to stop a war or heal its wounds risks becoming one of its casualties.

What every U.S. citizen working for peace in Nicaragua also knows is that the death of Benjamin Linder was intended to send a signal--to them. Ben was targeted, just as he and others like him were warned they would be. Of course, the contras and the U.S. State Department deny that.

U.S. officials suggested Ben was caught in a crossfire between Nicaraguan government forces and the contras. I couldn't help recalling Alexander Haig's suggestion that the four religious women raped and killed in El Salvador in 1980 might have provoked the attack by running a roadblock. At least we can say that the U.S. government's treatment of the truth about Central America has been consistent.

I traveled in the Nicaraguan war zones as a member of the first Witness for Peace delegation in December 1984. Frequently our daily plans and travel routes had to be altered because of contra attacks. We could often hear mortar fire nearby and were sometimes stranded in unexpected places or encountered roads that had been closed because of the fighting.

On our return trip to Managua from the northern frontier town of Jalapa, our bus driver raced to get off a road that was expected to be shelled by the contras at any moment. That same road was closed one hour later because of a contra attack.

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