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The Promised Land, Nicaragua
By Louis De Benedette
The poor in Nicaragua must vote for a Sandinista government on November 4, or the poverty and corruption will not end. I have lived a year and a half in Nicaragua, primarily in the department of Boaco. My last article for The Veteran was in 1999, when Mark Swanfeldt and I financed the initial reconstruction of the Sandinista department office. I also built houses and repaired a school in a poor barrio. Since then, the situation in Nicaragua has gotten worse.
Even the United Nations declared Nicaragua the second poorest country in Latin America. My firsthand experience of this poverty has made me angry at the corruption in the government and at U.S. intervention. There are many children here in Boaco and almost all are malnourished. There is gross unemployment, and little free health care. This situation never existed under the Sandinista. I have meager funds, and with this I distribute food and medicine. When people donate to me I use it for the needs of the people, who are always poor Sandinista.
Poverty is related to the corruption in the Aleman government. Arnaldo Aleman, of the Liberal Constitutional Party, has betrayed the people of Nicaragua. Taxes for water and electricity are very high, and this tax money never finds its way to the poor. Aleman came into office as the former mayor of Managua and with 3,000 dollares. He now has millions, and acres of prime farmland.
Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista candidate for president, is recommending a transition commission made up of the candidates from the three main parties: Sandinista, Liberal and Conservative. This commission would clean up the corruption before the elections and give the people of Nicaragua a chance to survive the poverty. Interestingly enough, Ortega's running mate was incarcerated by Aleman this year. Agustin Jarquin Anaya served a brief time in jail before the people clamored for his release. Jarquin was the treasurer and blew the whistle on Aleman. Jarquin is a member of the Christian Social Party that aligned with the Sandinista. It was a great move by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
War veterans of the Sandinista army receive no free health care, as they did during Ortega's time. With the help of Eric Swanfeldt, a Methodist pastor, I was able to pay for testing and medicine for a disabled veteran who nearly died after a fall from a ladder. I live among many veterans and disabled veterans of the war. Unemployment is great for them, since the area is heavily Liberal. Officers of the army were promised land in 1993 and have yet to get their titles. The wives and the mothers of the vets and their children all need health care. I have been sending them to Planned Parenthood, since the best doctors are there. The state health centers do nothing good. This is a country of children who receive little help from a corrupt government.
With Daniel Ortega, there is hope to reach the promised land. The FSLN is a party of the poor. It is revolutionary, socialist, democratic and against U.S. intervention. Our U.S. government does not want a Sandinista victory. President Bush recently sent Leon Gutiérrez, the acting assistant secretary of state, to Managua. He said that the Sandinista need to sever their ties with Cuba and Libya. The FSLN never responded since it prefers not to enter into a conflict over a provocation. The United States intends to send 3,000 troops to do construction work in Nicaragua after the elections. The United States will try to force an alliance among the Liberal and Conservative parties.
Daniel Ortega has always been a problem for the United States, but Daniel is the one person who can speak truth to the empire. The truth hurts the arrogance of the U.S.A. Daniel is the choice of the poor and the workers. For ten years he has been leading the party. He enters into all the conflicts. No wonder the people love him. I met him, and he is a man of peace and compassion.
I am helping the Sandinista in Boaco. In the barrio and in other pueblos the FSLN is registering people to vote. I do some of the funding and visit the communities. In Boaco the Sandinista are in the minority and have not won a mayoral election in ten years. In Boaco it is expected that Daniel will get 16,000 votes - not enough to win, but every vote counts. In Estelle Leon and Managua he will win big. Many Sandinista have not registered to vote, but now, for the first time, they are registering.
I went with the voter registration team to the coffee regions of Boaco. There the people are poor, since they need loans to cultivate the coffee plants. The government will not free up the money, in the hope that the farmers will default and the state can take over the land. These coffee regions were greatly affected by Reagan's contra war. Coffee is a cash crop that the Sandinista were using for their defense. The contra could block the money flow by destroying the crops. I spoke to many who told me that their brother or their husband was killed defending the coffee from the contra. I was very touched by these humble and good people, whom I suspect are very like the Vietnamese who worked the rice paddies.
The struggle of the Sandinista is the same as our struggle as veterans who are against U.S. militarism and capitalism. We fight for veterans who are homeless, sick and without food. We are involved in the campaign for a free Vieques and against the presence of the U.S. Navy on that island. We campaign to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. We align with Veterans For Peace for better unity among veterans. The Sandinista are doing no less.
These elections in November are a non-violent campaign to return the country to peace. The FSLN is a revolutionary party and has paid the price in two wars financed by the United States and Reagan. The party is well-organized and very serious. There is no better candidate for president than Daniel Ortega, who is a man of peace. I believe the Sandinista will win the elections and the United States will have to accept this victory. A victory for the Sandinista is a victory for all of us who want peace. We need to support the people of Nicaragua and the Sandinista elections on November 4, 2001.
I wish to thank all of you who have sent donations. Any other donations can be sent to: Dave Cline, Clarence Fitch Chapter, P.O. BOX 7053, Jersey City, NJ 07307. Make checks payable to VVAW.
Louis De Benedette is a member of the Clarence Fitch chapter of VVAW. He can be reached at <email@example.com>