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Page 26

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Nicargua Triumphs

By Louis DeBenedette

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I visited Nicaragua several times from the 80's to the present and often lived with the Sandinistas in Boaca (70 miles northwest of Managua). Many VVAW members protested the horrible Reagan-Contra war. There was Brian Willson whose name is on the lips of many I met and Clarence Fitch. Our New York chapter bears his name. I poured blood on the White House gate protesting CIA interference in the 1990 elections in Nicaragua. I did jail time.

The Iraq war is a Bush war. Bush, Sr. ousted the Sandinistas from the presidency but they continued to rule from the bottom. Sixteen years later, on November 5, 2006 Daniel Ortega Saavedra and the Sandinista party (FSLN) reclaimed the presidency. The poor and the youth elected Daniel. Past regimes favored US interests, sweat shops, low wages and oppression of the poor. The new government promises unity, love and a preferential option for the poor. They won by the vote not the gun. I believe Daniel Ortega was the best choice.

Antonio Oporta, wheel chair vet, and Louie

400,000 Sandinistas packed the Plaza de Fe in Managua for the inauguration on January 10, 2007. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Eva Morales of Bolivia gave speeches. Hugo Chavez condemned Bush and the Iraq war. Two Sandinista youth whom I knew, carried my banner of an upside down American flag condemning the war. Chavez presented a replica of the sword of Simone Bolivar, liberator of South America, to Daniel. Father Roy Bourgeois, Vietnam Vet and founder of SOA Watch, attended the inauguration. He baptized the daughter of Daniel in 1989. He wanted Daniel to take his troops out of the SOA. I loved being there among the people and those who oppose US intervention and power.

Daniel wasted little time showing where he stood. Two days after the inauguration he invited the President of Iran to Nicaragua. Iran is on the US list of terrorists. I joined a march and rally in his honor in a poor barrio in Managua. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke through a translator and condemned US imperialism and promised 5,000 houses. He observed the dances of Nicaraguan youth. This union of President Daniel Ortega and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an act of courage and commitment to the efforts of peacemaking.

I proposed to the Sandinista Veteran's organization in Boaco that they hang a banner protesting the Iraq war. Two Nicaraguans died in Iraq while I was there. One was from Boaco and I knew the relatives well. Some veterans, Sandinista youth and myself were prepared to protest the war when a US army honor guard showed up for the funeral. We used the slogan Honor the soldier not the war. The national police, whom I have deep admiration for, could not permit the protest since Daniel had not yet taken office. Roger came home in a shoe box. The honor guard included a general from the southern command and the US ambassador. Sandino fought against US Marines in 1928. They had blond hair and blue eyes. This US military honor guard was all Latinos. I think you get the picture. And the hypocrisy. The other soldier, Victor, was on his second tour when he died. He told his wife before leaving that if he died in Iraq that he would not know why.

His wife wrote to the local papers calling Bush corrupt and a dictator. There was no honor guard. There were more than 400 combat veterans at this meeting. They elected their "directive," and formed plans to obtain land previously denied them and find jobs and health care. They were confident of the help that Daniel would give them since he had been their commander and chief. Later they hung the banner and moved it to various locations in the area. They do respect VVAW.

The oppressive dominance of the US over the years has made Nicaragua one of the poorest countries in the world. One day a woman asked me for busfare. She was holding a cardboard box. She said the box held her dead child and she wanted to bury the child in her village. The children of Boaco and Puerto Cabeza, near Boaco touched me deeply. The parents loved their children but at times they lacked employment so the children had little food, education and health care.

No More Dead: US Out of Iraq - Sandinista war veterans - Boaco

Since the elections the Sandinistas have begun food emergency drives, eliminated tuition for school and obligatory school uniforms. Those children selling in the streets must attend school. The new government cracked down on the medical system and appointed new directors. Catalina is a Sandinista political secretary in Boaco and a friend. Her new task is to help every barrio elect a leader regardless of party and to determine the three most important needs of the community.

The plan is similar to the plan used by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Catalina works very hard. Her husband died due to the Contra war. I still remember the children and the cardboard box. So much is repeated in Iraq.

In 1990 Dave Cline, Barry Romo, myself and VVAW hosted two wheel chair Sandinista veterans, Fernando and Pastor. We attended the anniversary of the massacre at Kent State and sought medical help for the vets. They had to leave the US sooner than expected since their property was being confiscated by the Chamora government. Fernando and Pastor are well but many others have suffered horribly over these years. ORD (Organization of Disabled Revolutionaries) takes care of the ill. Their office has never been painted or the roof repaired or furniture added in the past 16 years. The disabled veterans have all but been forgotten by the past governments. Wilber is blind and the president of ORD. He is gathering medical and military records of many disabled veterans and processing them for disability claims. I saw many veterans at the office in Managua. Antonio Oporta, a wheel chair vet and a friend, took me there to see the progress being made. The contra did much better over the years than the Sandinista for obvious reasons. I would donate to ORD at the drop of a hat. Any takers?

A parting shot: two days before my leaving Nicaragua, Feb. 16, 2007, the US government was demanding that Daniel Ortega destroy the 1,194 SAM-7 antiaircraft missiles sent from Russia during the Contra war. Ortega refused saying that the US is currently sending planes to Honduras and that Nicaragua will not forget that Honduras had a US air base there during the Contra-Reagan war. The US says the planes are for drug enforcement. Nicaragua has no war planes and needs their missiles for defense declared Daniel.

I hope the Sandinistas remain in power for many years. I have protested all our wars beginning with Vietnam. I felt in Nicaragua that I should be here in the belly of the beast as always. I have come to know many brothers and sisters in Nicaragua and I will not forget them.

Louis De Benedette is a Vietnam era veteran and a member of the Clarence Fitch Chapter of VVAW.

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