Saturday, June 13, 2015


There are certain countries in the world for which there cannot be any other reliable and neutral source of information than Pravda, say (for updates on what's happening in the Ukraine), or the BBC (unbiased reporting on Gaza from Jerusalem), or, in the case of Nicaragua, the CIA World FactBook. Here it is then:

“The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. After losing free and fair elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega Saavedra was elected President in 2006 and reelected in 2011. The 2008 municipal elections, 2010 regional elections, 2011 presidential elections, 2012 municipal elections, and 2013 regional elections were marred by widespread irregularities. Nicaragua's infrastructure and economy - hard hit by the earlier civil war and by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 - are slowly being rebuilt, but democratic institutions have been weakened under the Ortega administration.”

The ability of the CIA author and editor to remain objective, passive and neutral is something I find particularly impressive. I can easily imagine what a more forthrightly honest version might have looked like, with phrases that even the author knew while writing them would have to be expleted – I mean deleted.

The full, true and honest version then, unexpurgated, starting when things began to go wrong, which was the rise of the Somoza family in the late 1930s, backed by the US in much the same way that Saddam Hussein was backed in Iraq and General Pinochet in Chile. It ruled, about as pleasantly as a leaking sewage tank, until 1979, when the Marxist Sandinista Revolution overthrew it, and good riddance. Given that Nicaragua was a fertile agricultural zone, and US support for the Somozas had given priority status to the American vegetable market, the US were unhappy at the Sandinista take-over, and provided significant arms and training to the Contras, inside Nicaragua but also outside, in Honduras and Costa Rica, with the aspiration of replacing the popular as well as populist Sandinistas with another US-oriented puppet; and to add a little extra bullying to the diplomatic and clandestine strategies, the US also mined all the Nicaraguan harbours. 

It took eleven years to "defeat" the Sandinista, by which time what had been stripped to the bones by Somoza was now stripped even of its bones by civil war, and Nicaragua was destitute. Attempts to rebuild were literally wiped out by Hurricane Mitch in 1988. The word “defeat” may have surprised some of my readers, but technically it is correct. The leader of the Sandinista signed that peace treaty, acknowledging in doing so that the war was done and that terms had to be agreed, and then disappeared into oblivion until the elections of 2006. The leader of the Sandinista is no longer General, but now President Ortega, re-elected in a landslide victory (go back to the previous paragraph and note the term "widespread irregularities", which the CIA now claim, but international observers at the time did not) in 2011. You can see why the CIA are so unhappy. American greed has to be fed by somebody, usually at the cost of their own starvation, and Central American countries are not expected to resist or refuse (see Cuba, which is finally in process of surrender). And now, to make it worse, the Nicaraguans have contracted with the Chinese to dig a canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic that will rival, and probably replace, the one in Panama which is very much under US control. Expect some interesting politics, both civilian and military, as that little development develops; the current expansion of the Panama Canal is simply the first phase of response.

Nicaragua may be derelict agriculturally, but it is far from derelict culturally and intellectually. Bianca Jagger is probably the best known, but Ruben Dario is the one who should be; the founder of Modernismo, though Ruben Dario is actually a nom de plume and his real name Félix Rubén García Sarmiento. And after Dario, take a look at the works of Sergio Ramirez, who was Ortega's Vice-President for many years, but more significantly the author of many fine books in the same league as Carlos Fuentes and Maria Vargas Llosa, if not quite that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "Margarita, Esta Linda la Mar" is probably the one to choose if you like coincidences (Dario wrote the words that make that title on the fan of a nine year old girl in 1907; fifty years later that same girl was one of the plotters of the assassination of Somoza), and "" if you like serious literature of serious quality.

Marks For: 1001, obviously

Marks Against: 3 + 9 + 1 = 13 (in the Greek, Hebrew and early Arabic worlds, letters were used to represent numbers, using a simple alphabetic code alpha-aleph through omega-tav; you can work out the rest of the puzzle for yourself)

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