Nicaragua’s road to progress

The gains of the Sandinista revolution are being carried forward by the second government of Daniel Ortega.

On 16 July, a reception was held at Bolivar Hall, London, to introduce a photographic exhibition being held to celebrate the progress that Nicaragua has been able to make, despite severe obstacles, during the years of Sandinista government.

We reproduce below excerpts from the speech made at this reception by the Nicaraguan Chargé d’Affaires, and good friend of our party, Guisell Morales.

On 19 July, as they have done every year since 1979, the people of Nicaragua and their international friends who stand in solidarity with them celebrate the triumph of the Nicaraguan revolution. That day, 35 years ago, the Sandinista guerrillas and the popular uprising they led achieved a double objective: to liquidate the cruel and bloody tyranny of the Somoza regime and to begin a process of construction of a popular independent democracy.

19 July 1979 marked the culmination of a historical process of liberation and independence started by the anti-colonialist struggles of Cacique Diriangen and the anti-imperialist rebellions of Benjamin Zeledón and Augusto Cesar Sandino.

On that day, the spirit of Sandino, the General of the Free, and the heirs of his ‘pequeño ejercito loco’ (mad little army, so dubbed by the Chilean Nobel Prize poet Gabriel Mistral) marched triumphantly into Managua. On that day, the victorious revolution took root in the conscience of the Nicaraguan people, in the conscience of Latin America, and took the historic step of initiating the democratic developments that were to extend vibrantly throughout the region, putting an end to dictatorships and military juntas.

Left behind were the 45 years of exploitation, felony, humiliation, looting, torture, murder, rape and death that had been the fate of the Nicaraguan people. No member of my generation, the generation that toppled the Somoza tyranny, had ever known any government other than that of the Somoza dictatorship.

Carried along by beautiful slogans, in defiance of poverty, standing firm against adversity, and standing up against the almighty US government, the Nicaraguan people, better armed with hope than with weapons, seized power. The guerrillas became soldiers and guardians of the people’s happiness and the popular revolution initiated deep and lasting changes.

That was the Sandinista revolution then, and that is what it remains today.

A great literary crusade was carried out by thousands of young people, who in just a few months managed to reduce illiteracy from 55 percent to 12.5 percent. In 2009, Unesco was able to declare Nicaragua illiteracy-free thanks to the campaign started in 2007 by the Sandinista government.

Agrarian reform bestowed land on thousands of hitherto landless peasants, thus achieving economic democracy and welfare in the rural sector.

A campaign to establish food sovereignty and to combat hunger and extreme poverty has developed programmes to provide snacks to schools, programmes of community gardening and the Zero Hunger Programme. In March 2014, during its world conference, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation gave our country special recognition for having already achieved the Millennium goal of reducing the number of malnourished people in the country by 50 percent before 2015.

Popular health brigades have been carrying out a health and vaccination campaign. Now we have a model of family and community health based on preventive care, involving about 140,000 midwives and health volunteers. The World Health Organisation has recognised the effectiveness of our community and family health model and our vaccination system as one of the best in the world.

Child development centres have been and are being established for the children of working mothers, enabling them to enjoy the right to receive early education, nutrition and holistic care. These centres, created in the 1980s, were closed or privatised by a neo-liberal government, but now, in the second government of President Daniel Ortega, almost 1,200 children’s community centres are in operation, catering to nearly 90,000 children aged 0-6 years – mainly in the rural sector and within communities living in extreme poverty.

A new type of army and police force has been set up, charged with guarding the well-being of the people. Now Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Latin America, according to the UNDP 2013-2014 Human Development Regional Report, Citizen Security section, thanks to the community policing model we have developed. There are 162 police centres dedicated to enabling women to address and prevent domestic and gender violence, as well as a community programme for the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

The revolution was and is the people, organised to combat inequality and poverty, including gender inequality, in which unions, workers’ organisations, cooperatives, women’s, youth and children’s movements all flourish.

Fulfilling Sandino’s dream of a cooperative and community revolution, the government of President Ortega has, since 2007, prioritised this sector, and now Nicaragua is the country with the most cooperatives in central America and the Caribbean. The cooperative economy generates 44 percent of GDP and employs 70 percent of the Nicaraguan labour force.

In terms of gender equality, the revolution opened up the possibility for women to lead guerrilla and popular insurrection fighters, and, for the first time in the history of the American continent, a woman in the 1990s held the position of National Chief of Police. Today, the Nicaraguan national police is also headed by a woman.

Today, Nicaragua has the narrowest gender gap in the whole of the Americas. The Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum, published in October 2013, ranked Nicaragua 10th out of 136 countries and first in the whole of the Americas. [Britain is ranked 18th and the USA 23rd.] The country’s highest ranking is for political empowerment, for which Nicaragua occupies the fifth position worldwide, only surpassed by Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

And we are advancing further; we are not stopping. The Women in Politics Report 2014 presented by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva on 11 March placed Nicaragua top as far as women’s participation in government at cabinet level was concerned, outperforming developed countries such as Sweden, Finland, France and Norway, to name but a few.

The revolution has been carried out by volunteers; people working out of love. They have taken poetry and popular culture workshops to every corner of the country, showing a new level of solidarity and social commitment, working in and for the community – by all and for all – to build another Nicaragua. It is probably because of this that in 2013 the New Economics Foundation ‘Happy Planet Index’ ranked Nicaragua as the eighth-happiest country on the globe.

The following paragraph from his book Memorias del Fuego (Memories of Fire) by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, dedicated to the Nicaraguan revolution, brilliantly sums up the essence of that revolution: “The Somoza clan marches into exile while Augusto Cesar Sandino wanders freely throughout Nicaragua, showered by flowers, half a century after he was executed by firing squad. This country has gone mad: lead floats, cork sinks, the dead are fleeing the cemetery and women the kitchen.”

The revolution that came to power through blood and fire is still in place, but operates in peace and on the basis of consensus. It empowers the community, children, young people and women. It has devolved to the people their rights to health, education, work, a home, a decent and fulfilling life. It has created the means for Nicaragua to cease being the second-poorest country in America.

The revolution, however, was not born solely through the love and blood of thousands of Nicaraguan heroes and martyrs, but also through the love and blood of international solidarity – solidarity brigades, solidarity groups and campaigns; the internationalists who from many parts of the world offered their youth, their labour, their effort, and many of them their lives, for the freedom of my country. Those who have visited Nicaragua know that their memory is close to our hearts and is to be found in streets, squares, parks and schools which not only bear their names but also their legacy.

The revolution inspired a massive mobilisation of political, material and moral support, particularly in Latin America, and almost everywhere on the planet a solidarity group was organised.

The Nicaraguan revolution has survived and continues to make progress because of the tenacious commitment of these men and women who, inspired by the great liberating experience and achievements of the Sandinista revolution, arrived in Nicaragua in their thousands to work voluntarily in any way they were needed. Many of them paid with their blood for the construction of the new Nicaragua, murdered by the Contra war funded by the US government, which cost the lives of 60,000 Nicaraguans.

The song Fragileon Sting’s 1987 album Nothing Like the Sun is a tribute to Ben Linder, a 27-year-old US engineer killed while building small hydroelectric plans in the town of El Cua, Nicaragua.

Comrade Guisell concluded her speech by thanking the British Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and other friends for all their efforts on behalf of the Sandinista revolution, and the photojournalist Grant Fleming, whose photographs of life in Nicaragua are on display in the ‘Hasta la Victoria’ exhibition at Bolivar Hall, as well as others who had worked hard to make the evening a success.