Back in the 1980s, thousands of Americans travelled to Nicaragua to see the Sandinista Revolution for themselves, and to show solidarity with the Nicaraguan people who were being victimized at the time by the U.S.-sponsored Contra War. I myself travelled at the age of 19 to Nicaragua in 1987 to do reforestation work for a month in Ocotal, Nicaragua with the Nicaragua Network. The very next summer, in 1988, I drove to Nicaragua from Dayton, Ohio with the Veterans Peace Convoy.
Those were heady and exciting days, and the impression that Nicaragua and its revolution made on many of us has been indelible. It was indeed in Nicaragua that I, a devout Roman Catholic at the time from a very conservative, pro-Reagan family, had my eyes opened to the realities of U.S. policy in Latin American. What I learned there is that the U.S. is not the force for good that I was raised to believe. Instead, I came to realize, the U.S. was bent on dominating poor countries by any means necessary, including through dictatorship -- in the case of Nicaragua, through the long-time Somoza dictatorship which the U.S. installed in the 1930s and continued to support until its overthrow by the Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, in 1979.
Then, when the U.S.'s dictator was dethroned, it turned to supporting the Contra terrorists to try to undermine the new, fledging revolutionary government through the murder of civilians, including doctors and teachers, and through the destruction of civilian infrastructure. As Daniel Ellsberg had said in the context of the Vietnam War, the U.S., in the case of Nicaragua "is not on the wrong side; it is the wrong side."
For the most part, one struggles to find many in the U.S. today who still carry a torch for the Sandinistas and their revolution. Most people I encounter either know nothing-to-little about it, or, if they do know, they believe that the Sandinistas, now back in the government since 2007, are not what they once were. I myself do not share this view. Since I was a young man, I have believed in the Sandinistas, and the latest news from Nicaragua has only confirmed my loyalty.
For example, while the rest of Central America, as well as its neighbor Mexico, have been steeped in the worst violence, much of it drug-related, since the wars of the 1980s, the Sandinistas have largely fended off such violence. And, you don't take my word for it, or the word of the left-wing press. Rather, it is the The Economist magazine which tells us this. Thus, in a story entitled, "Crime in Nicaragua, a Safe Haven," The Economist explains:
Amid this inferno [of violence in Central America] Nicaragua, the poorest country in mainland Latin America, is remarkably safe. Whereas Honduras's murder rate in 2010 was 82 per 100,000 people, the world's highest in over a decade, Nicaragua's was just 13, unchanged in five years. That means it is now less violent than booming Panama, and may soon be safer than Costa Rica, a tourist haven.
And, the Sandinistas have fought crime through revolutionary means, as The Economist explains. Thus, in Nicaragua:
Officers are aided by 100,000 volunteers. They include law and psychology students; 10,000 former gang members, who mentor youths via baseball in the barrios; and nearly 4,000 domestic-violence victims, who persuade women to speak out.
This is quite impressive given that Nicaragua's neighbor Honduras, where a U.S.-supported coup overthrew the government of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, is now the murder capital of the world and the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist. The violence is so bad in Honduras, in fact, that the U.S. just pulled the Peace Corps out of that country.
In addition, Nicaragua is leading the way in renewable energy. As an article in the Nicaragua Dispatch explains, when the Sandinistas regained power in 2007, they inherited a "modern 'dark age,'" with daily blackouts throughout the country, and an "aging power grid" which could not produce enough energy for the nation. However, as the Nicaragua Dispatch explains:
That was then. Five years later, Nicaragua's future is looking a lot brighter. Since returning to power in 2007, the Sandinista government has worked with the private sector and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez to fix the immediate energy problem by installing an additional capacity of 343 megawatts of power -- 41 percent more power than Nicaragua was producing five years ago...
With electricity demand finally being met, the government is now moving to phase II of its energy revival: Switching to renewable energy and weaning Nicaragua off its insalubrious and dipsomaniacal craving for foreign oil...
Geothermal production has increased and Nicaragua has started a very successful foray in to wind-energy production...
By the end of 2012 -- a year the U.N. has dubbed "The Year for Sustainable Energy for All" -- Nicaragua hopes to reduce its dependency on foreign oil by an additional 10 percent, finishing the year with an energy matrix that is 40 percent from renewable sources (hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and biomass).
And that's just the beginning. By 2016, once the massive Tumarín hydroelectric plant comes on line, generating an additional 253 megawatts of power (50 percent of the country's total energy demand), Nicaragua will generate 94 percent of its own electricity from renewable energy sources, and only have to pony up to world oil costs to cover the remaining 6 percent.
That means in a five-year period, Nicaragua will have gone from being the most oil-dependent nation in Central America, to the least.
This would be an impressive feat for any country, including the U.S., but it is a near-miraculous feat for a country which is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Sandinistas have done much to reduce poverty and improve living standards in Nicaragua since 2007. As the Nicaragua Network explains in a wonderful article entitled, "Sandinista government has made improvements in people's lives:"
The Ortega government has made dramatic strides in reducing hunger, malnutrition, and providing food security -- strides which have drawn praise from the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO) , and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture ( IICA ). In its three years, the government has reduced the percentage of Nicaraguans who are malnourished from 27 percent to 22 percent. In July 2009, the government passed the historic Law for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security which commits the government to promote programs that assure the adequate availability and equitable distribution of safe, nutritious food. Citing the government's Zero Hunger Program, school nutrition program, infant malnutrition program, and the National Food Program, among others, the FAO representative in Nicaragua, Dr. Gero Vaagt said: 'The Nicaraguan government gives great importance to food and nutritional security, which is reflected in the efforts it has made on the national level with small farmers, poor peasants, and the most vulnerable segments of the population to improve the food situation for all Nicaraguans.'
The same article explains that "[t]he Ortega government has slashed the illiteracy rate by 85 percent;" now provides free daily meals to 1,000,000 students; provides "free, quality, universal health care for all Nicaraguans;" realized great strides in reducing the maternal mortality rate as well as the incidence of malaria; and has built homes for thousands of poor Nicaraguans.
Such successes have led fellow revolutionaries in Central America to applaud the Sandinistas and Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega. As the Global Post relates:
'In contrast to the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, which have been losing strength over time, Ortega has been gaining,' said former Salvadoran guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos. Villalobos said Ortega is more politically savvy than Chavez and other leftist leaders. And the Nicaraguan model -- a steadily growing market economy that has attained macroeconomic stability and a solid working relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- is much different from that of any other ALBA nation.
In short, despite the incessant jibes at the Nicaraguan government by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who instead prefers the new president of Guatemala, a former general involved in the atrocities against the Mayan Indians in the 1980s -- the Sandinista government is continuing the revolutionary process and social strides it began in 1979 but was unable to continue due to the U.S. counter-revolutionary war of the 1980s. This is something all people of good will can take heart from.