– Sandinistas vs. Monsanto (Veterans Today, June 10, 2013):
It is better to see something one time than to hear it one hundred times.
Miraflores Cooperative, Nicaragua – August 3, 1986
We arrive in the box of a dump truck to a lush, fertile area near the Honduran border. We are guests in the Sandino section of this potato cooperative, which was decimated by a contra attack on May 20th. The CIA-backed terrorists came in the night- burning homes, cutting babies from pregnant women, castrating and skinning men alive. They tacked the head of a respected village leader to a post at the cooperative entrance and blew up a warehouse full of seed potatoes which had just been harvested.
Their main objective, under orders from Washington, is to undermine the economic base of the cooperative system and to terrorize residents into giving up this communal way of life. The Sandinista revolution for the Nicaraguan poor is based on expropriated Somoza family land. The Somozas had owned 60% of the country’s land before being overthrown in 1979. The seed potatoes stored in the warehouse were intended to supply every cooperative in Nicaragua. Millions of cordobas- profits from the seed potato crop- were to be distributed the very next day to members. Instead, no one received a centavo, whole families were butchered and their village, fields and school were destroyed.
Unhindered, campesinos dressed in military fatigues continue to vigilantly work the land today. Others tend livestock- though much of the cattle herd has also been killed- or dig trenches around the coop’s perimeter to defend against the inevitable next attack. I eagerly join the trench brigade. I am here with a group called Witness for Peace, which opposes Reagan Administration support for the contras and sends several delegations a year to monitor the atrocities of these “freedom fighters”.
After a long day’s work, coop members show their appreciation by butchering one of their two remaining cows in our honor. After dinner a mother tells me how the contras had gone around killing wounded civilians by cutting them up into little pieces. Another man tells me that the leader of the contra raid was a tall white-skinned man with blond hair who he is sure was North American. Teenage girls are busy teaching older folks to read. Teenage boys are shining their AK-47 assault rifles.
Gracias amigo said his dancing dark eyes
As he hurried the pin on his hat of disguise
A long fifteen years past, his face all aglow
As he stood near the grave, eight bodies below
Though’ penniless, proud of his olive green threads
Young soldier, your struggle, I will not forget
Tonight the contras return. They are again less than four kilometers from the village. It is profound to feel the same great fear and anxiety which these people endure daily as I bed down for what turns out to be a sleepless night. We are told to extinguish all candles and turn off our flashlights. There is no electricity. We are moved to huts at the center of the village, told to keep away from its walls and remain silent.
Matt and I can not sleep and decide to go out and talk to the men on night watch- twelve regular Sandinista soldiers stationed here permanently to help defend the cooperative. Matt is an irreverent schoolteacher from Tucson- a breath of fresh air in this otherwise stuffy Bay Area Witness for Peace delegation. The group is a mix of religious folks and New Agers, dogmatically sworn to a First World pipe dream of total adherence to non-violence. That’s easy for them to say. Their kids weren’t starving while Somoza lived in opulence.
Matt and I, along with a Washington State student named Rhett, are the renegades. We openly support the Sandinistas, cognizant of the necessity to fight to protect the gains of the revolution and unwilling to lay our dignity at the feet of some Western liberal feel-good dogma. We are not popular with the group leaders, who are your typical passive-aggressive “peace group leader” types.
We strike up a conversation and a cigarette with Jose, who explains that the coop’s defense system consists of trip wires and booby traps about a mile beyond the perimeter- which he is now guarding. He gazes into the darkness with the calm confident air of a veteran soldier. We stay with him the entire night- bringing him coffee and cigarettes and discussing the ideas of Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba.
Though he has never attended school, Jose, like all the Nicaraguans I talked with, is an intellectual giant compared to these so-called progressive Americans- still reeling from the collective post-traumatic stress disorder of a CIA-assassination of a US President, his brother and two civil rights leaders.
What government would train a counter-revolutionary force in such barbarous ways, terrorizing a poor rural people to secure some sort of vague ideological victory for the global rich- who apparently feel these peasants a threat to their vast international empire? The same government which keeps its own well-fed citizenry terrorized into silence, mentally incapacitated, alienated from its own dignified humanity, spiritually tormented and emotionally confused in a sea of cheap bloody Third World imports.
Morning arrives with a certain uncompromised serenity. A fog envelopes the village, then slowly lifts through the green rain forested hills which surround us. I am reminded of my childhood explorations along Snake Creek, which flows at a snail’s pace across the ranch I grew up on in north-central South Dakota. Standing beside this equally small stream in the Selva Negra, calmness permeates my senses.
After the usual breakfast of beans and tortillas, I retire to my hammock. The calm returns, but is tempered by the recognition that this mountainous department of Esteli lies less than 100 miles from drug-infested contra training camps in the Chiquita banana republic of Honduras. I am vigilant of any new noise emanating from the jungle, wondering when the butchers will return to deter Soviet aggression.
Snap of twig, turn of head
Grunt of pig, turn of head
Whistling wind, AK raised
Steps of child, AK raised
Yelp of a dog, AK aimed
As contras returned in the night
Of the many Americans who are visiting Nicaragua to help debunk the contra myth, no state is better represented than South Dakota. The state is not exactly known as a hotbed of radicalism. People are cautious, socially conservative and down-right hard-headed. But they know bullshit when they smell it and seem instinctively aware that there is some connection between this remote jungle war and the increasing number of farm foreclosures in the Midwest – where family livelihoods are now daily being auctioned off to insurance companies, banks, fast-food chains, corporate hog confinements, cattle feedlot tycoons and waste management conglomerates with a propensity for burying toxic garbage beneath Oglala Sioux Indian reservations.
Big business came to South Dakota for the same reasons it came to Nicaragua- cheap labor, corporate tax holidays and no environmental restrictions. In Somoza’s Nicaragua the results are disastrous. Lake Managua- which borders the capital city- is now a steamy cauldron of chemical poison, thanks to factories owned by Dow Chemical and Monsanto- who piped their waste directly into the lake until they were booted out of the country following the 1979 Sandinista Revolution.
Today even boats are not allowed on the constantly steaming lake. Swimming and fishing are out of the question. Many lakes in South Dakota are becoming equally toxic thanks to farm pesticide runoff. Cancer rates are soaring. Clay County, SD has the highest rate of childhood leukemia in the US.
South Dakota shares many positive features with Nicaragua as well. People in both places are relaxed and tend to move through life at a slower pace than in more urbanized parts of the world. They tend to be both more trusting and more trustworthy. They lack the cynicism so prevalent in most of the world. Kindness to strangers is still an important virtue and both places consist of well-educated people and are rich in resources.
From the large cattle ranches of Chontales to the cacao and cotton farms near the Costa Rican border, from the coffee plains of Leon to the banana plantations of Bluefields on the Miskito Coast, Nicaragua is a diverse country- rich in both the natural resources and the human will necessary to prevail through the kind of adversity being generated by the gringo Generals.
As my eyes fixate on the dense foliage, I wonder which direction the next attack will come from. When will my rogue government launch its next assault to terrorize and maim these beautiful people? Will this insanity continue until the day when Snake Creek flows with the same toxins as have spoiled Lake Managua?
Will they continue to steal the land which has sustained us? Will we all soon be forced to live under Third World conditions? The linkage between contra terror, the annihilation of the family farm and global environmental degradation must be realized; or our simple way of life will be paved over with the greed and haste of the global oligarchy.
He shows up an hour late on that muggy Managua morning, wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans and donning a red beret. The fiery revolutionary speech we all expect is supplanted with the reading of three poems, culminating with his most famous called Birds. Ernesto Cardinal explains that this poem about captured and caged tropical birds being set free is a metaphor for the Nicaraguan people, whom the world famous poet now represents as Minister of Culture.
In 2007, after two decades, of CIA meddling, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was again elected President of Nicaragua. On November 6, 2011 Ortega was re-elected with over 62% of the vote.
Anything is possible if people stand up.