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a brief (& biased!) history of Nicaragua
disclaimer: I am writing this history off the top of my head, based on what is portrayed in the mural, which I photographed in León. Although I did spend hours before my trip reading everything I could get my hands on to learn some of the truth (as opposed to what I learned, or rather did not learn, in high school about current events in the '80's), & heard a few different versions of it in Nicaragua, I am undoubtedly wrong about many things. I'm still learning & I hope you will enjoy joining me.
León, Nicaragua is a college town; it has always been a hotbed of liberal thinking; it is, unlike any other city in Nicaragua, visibly Sandinista. During the long struggle toward an all-too-brief period of revolución, the people - artists, poets, soldiers - risked their lives to paint murals on walls all across Nicaragua. They served to educate, encourage, enrage, or simply remind. Judging by what I saw in León, most of them must have been very beautiful, although there were also quick scrawls of graffiti - everywhere. They are everywhere in León now, old mixed with new. Only recent graffiti & the occasional mural are now visible in the rest of Nicaragua -- in 1990 murals like the one on this page were painted over (most of the Sandinista school & hospital names honoring heros were changed and many wonderful books burned too).
Spreading along 2 walls & buildings in León, Nicaragua, the mural below tells a brief history of the country (with a Sandinista slant). It was painted in 1988-1990, restored in 1996, by the Grupo de Muralismo, part of a sisterhood between Hamburg & León (for more about the group, visit the website: farbfieber.de). The signature reads:
© Grupo de Muralismo Hamburg-León
Hecho 1988-1990 Restaurado 1996
Sönke Nissen-Knaack · Klaus Klinger
Baltazar Gutierrez · Rafael Flores
Jorge Tobar · Carlos Pineda
Our path begins in pre-Columbian times, amongst the artifacts of the indigenous people, los indios. They had a rich culture, with many gods & intricate knowledge of the plants of the region. Then, in the sixteenth century, came the Spaniards, with horses & brutal weapons, & there was fighting.
There was a lot of fighting & the missionaries came to begin their own war on the lush young land of Central América.
Then there was Sandino.
Like the mural, the history of Nicaragua turned a corner with Sandino. In the 1930's he stood up to the US Marines, who came to help put the first Somoza in power. He formed the first band of Sandinistas, took to the hills & fought until the Marines had gone home. He was killed at a dinner in honor of a peace treaty.
Rigoberto López Perez, a child of León, gave his life to kill the first Somoza in 1956. He showed the people that dictators die. The letter at the left (on the tiles of the ballroom where he died) is the one he wrote to his mother just before he killed the tyrant, admitting his part in the anti-government actions. He knew that he would be killed immediately - he signed the letter su hijo que siempre la quiso mucho (your son who always loved you so much). Perhaps he knew also that there would be rumours that he had been paid to kill Somoza, but the letter proves that it was his own intention, his sense of duty. He wanted to be the one que inicie el principio del fin de esta tiranía (to begin the end of this tyranny). There is also a beautiful poem which describes his reasoning:
Yo estoy sufriendo.
Yo tengo el dolor de mi patria
y en mis venas anda un héroe
Yo estoy buscando el pez de la libertad . . .
I am suffering.
I feel the pain of my homeland
& in my veins walks a hero
I am looking for the fish of liberty
From then on there were guns & there were many flags, but unfortunately I am not sure what the two flags in the center symbolize. There were various leaders, including a second Somoza who did not live long. Then the third Somoza, whose cruel rule lasted until the soldiers of the FSLN finally threw him off his horse in the summer of 1979 (symbolized below by the strange mass which is the statue of Somoza on his horse, destroyed when the people took the National Palace in July).
The FSLN was founded by a few young college students & one remaining Sandinista, who fought with Sandino & passed on his teachings. One of the first leaders was Carlos Fonseca, symbolized by the glasses on the book to the right (above). Like many of them, Carlos was a gentle hero. He would tell his men to teach the new soldiers - or los campesinos in the rural areas where the FSLN was (mostly) welcomed & grew strong - to carry a gun or to use whatever they could find as a weapon, "and teach them to read, too."
The tide was turning, but the violence got worse & the Marines came back, with bigger weapons. Several times Carlos was rescued by los guerilleros from Somocista prisons. Several times he was rumored to be dead but, like the spirit of the people, he did not die. Even though he was eventually killed before the FSLN took power, Fonseca is not dead in Nicaragua.
amongst the ruins of centuries,
beside the beautiful lakes
of the lush, green, lively land,
with their newly freed spirits
full of music, poetry & laughter,
empowered by their wandering
bands of dedicated teachers (who
learned culture as they taught reading),
reunited with their children, lovers, & families,
they all lived happily ever after . . .
for a little while.
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