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Let Nicaragua Live
By Louis De Benedette
I did not come to Boaco, Nicaragua in March with plans to stay here for more than six months. I came to visit the disabled vets of the war, whom I have known since the Veterans' Peace Convoy of '87, and to chaperone my godson, Gonzalo, who is from Peru. My article about his mother, Guadalupe, appeared in The Veteran in '95 while I was in federal prison for my protest at the School of the Americas. Guadalupe was disappeared by the Peruvian military in 1990, and her husband was disappeared in '83. She became a human rights monitor, helping other relatives of the disappeared and looking for her husband, a union organizer. Fugimore continues his repression of the Peruvian Indian, and, unfortunately, the people are on his side, making the situation in Peru more terrible than ever. I brought my godson (whose sister came with me to VVAW's 30th anniversary) to learn the struggle of the Sandinista Party and to prepare him for the non-violent struggle in the Andes his mother had done before him. I now believe that I, too, am here to learn from the Sandinista their non-violence and love for the poor, who are many and suffer greatly at the hands of unbridled capitalism, privatization, neo-liberalism, the current Aleman government, and, most profoundly, intervention of the United States. Even the Peace Corps is in Boaco. I encountered an Army reservist in uniform in the street. I think that I am going to stay here as an obligation, and remain in solidarity with the vets here. VVAW is my community and I want you to know that we are important to the poor of Nicaragua and the Sandinista Party.
Boaco is located seventy miles northeast of Managua. There are many hills and many cattle and horses. There is also the very poor. There are many disabled vets within the six pueblos of Boaco. I live in the city near my friend Antonio O'Porta, wheelchair vet, to whom I gave money in 1989 to start his leather shop. I visited Fernando Lopez who was with us, together with Pastor Hernandez, at Kent State in 1990. Fernando has adopted two children, but lost the elections for Sandinista selectman in Managua in 1996. He is also a wheelchair vet. The situation of the disabled vets is not good. The average benefit is $30 a month which is not enough to survive. Nicaragua has 70% unemployed and is in a race with Haiti for the distinction of being the poorest country in Latin America. It was impossible for me to help disabled veterans effectively as I had thought.
I began meeting with FSLN department leaders in April and decided to raise funds to rebuild their office in Boaco, which was destroyed by an arsonist in 1997. The directivia was using borrowed space in another office. We felt that a new office would aid the struggle for disabled vets, since it would provide space for interviews and meetings that were needed to plan strategy for elections and protests. The initial phase of the reconstruction was completed on July 19, just in time for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. After I returned from the large celebration in Managua, Mark Swanfeldt (a new VVAW member) and I were special guests at the inauguration of the building. Both Mark and I funded the project, which cost about $5,000 at this point. We need about $2,000 to complete the remaining work, which includes three offices and a large meeting area. Brian Wilson has donated $150. If you can send anything, even a dollar, send it to Barry Romo, who will get it here. The Clarence Fitch Chapter is sponsoring the project.
I have built, with my disability money, two houses for vets and one for a mother whose husband was killed in the war. The houses, just outside the city, are made of cardboard and plastic, but the tropical weather, now in the rainy season, is not merciful. I am good friends now with a family of veterans of the war. Six brothers and sisters are all combat vets, and they all live in these houses; they are very poor and have many children. They were all officers in the Sandinista Army until the RIF under Violeta Chamora in 1990, when the United States intervened in the elections with its propaganda over a protracted war and conscription. Aleman has not helped the retired officers either, and there has been protest over land that had been given to the officers by Chamora. My friends, the Sanchezes, have yet to get claim to the land that is theirs by law. The Contra fare better than the Sandinista ex-officers. I recently funded a school reconstruction project, and Juan Sanchez and others did the work. The school has twenty-five first and second graders - very poor and needy - and it was collapsing with age. Juan has organized the sector, Barreo Puerta Cabeza, and formed a group of Frente Sandinista. Its purpose is to win the elections for mayor in 2000 and the presidency for the Sandinista in 2001. I built his home so he could lead the struggle.
Cmdt. Daniel Ortega said in the National Assembly of the FSLN in June '99 that he knows no other solution for the poverty and the corruption of the current Aleman government than to win the elections. He said he wants socialism, one party Sandinista, and no intervention from the United States. He advocated non-violence, including barricades and marches. A student was killed by the police in March while protesting non-violently. I had the honor of eating with Daniel in May when he visited Boaco. The poor love this soldier and know that he is for them. I spoke to Daniel about the Vietnam era, and he knew how terribly we were betrayed. I could see the sorrow in his eyes. We need to remember that he was a military leader who helped win a revolution and withstood the raving Contra of President Reagan. Like Vietnam, the Contra war need not have existed if it were not for the greed of our dirty rotten system. Daniel suggested that I stay in Nicaragua; I think that I will for a little time more, since here in Nicaragua I feel that I cannot lose my conscience, and that my struggle against U.S. intervention can continue here as it did with all my brothers and sisters of the VVAW. I want to stay here since I want Nicaragua to LIVE.
My article is not a fund-raiser letter, since there is no amount of money sufficient to bring back to life the dead who were killed by U.S. weapons here in the wars with Samoza and the Contra. Nor can money bring back to life the babies who died daily for lack of medicine or food. There is nothing free here, as there was during the Sandinista government. I want you all to know that Nicaragua is suffering greatly. Nicaragua has many veterans like ourselves who continue to struggle against evil. The vets that I know were twelve and fifteen years old when they began to kill. They are now only thirty-six years old and have children; I do not think that they have come home yet. I need you to remember the Sandinista vets and the Nicaraguan people as our most cherished friends and help support them in this time of crisis. By their non-violence and political elections, the Sandinistas can regain the seat of government and provide for the poor. Only the FSLN is concerned about the poor. I want Nicaragua to live, I want Daniel Ortega to live, I want his soldiers to live and I want the children and the women and the old people to live. The Sandinista must win the elections for the poor to make it; this is a fact. They gave me thorazine and put me in the psychiatric ward when I protested the Vietnam War. Many of you saw the horror of war. I love these vets here, and I want Nicaragua to live. I know that all of you do too. They can do it, and we will not let the United States intervene to stop them.
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If anyone is interested in donating funds, I am sure that the Sandinista vets here would be grateful. The needs here are to provide funds to transport the vets when they protest in Managua, funds for transport to meetings in Boaco, and funds for the health and care of their children. You may send me used children's clothing, ages 6 to 13, shoes, men's pants and shirts, sizes 30-34, shirts, small. I am donating almost all my disability money during my time here.
Above all, send a letter of solidarity from your chapter to the veterans here. Send money to Barry Romo or Ben Chitty, and letters to the vets to me at:
APTD. POSTAL #23,
The mail gets here! Write me if you can.