O’Brien, from Portland, Ore., and Mairead Skehan-Gillis from Boston represented Workers World Party as part of a solidarity delegation to Nicaragua organized by the Jubilee House Community. They joined other delegations in celebrating the 44th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. Their delegation included a proud Nicaraguan-American, who was visiting his home country with his daughter for the first time in 45 years, as well as two Palestinian solidarity activists and trade union leaders from Britain, plus a Veterans for Peace member who has been going on solidarity trips to Nicaragua for many years.
A visit to Nicaragua on July 11-21 provided a living example of a socialist project at play and gave examples of how a country with a project like this can consistently adapt and improve, despite imperialist attempts to cut its throat. It revealed how small the world is, and how there are people the world over engaged in working class struggle and fighting for their rights who look to the example of the Sandinista Revolution with respect, reverence and solidarity.
The agenda of the delegation included meetings with Nicaragua’s Ministry of Finance, with doctors and officials at the Dr. Fernando Vélez Paiz public hospital in Managua, house visits with doctors from a private clinic in the Nueva Vida neighborhood of Ciudad Sandino, a visit to a state-owned geothermal energy plant, meetings with the national workers’ assembly, meetings with various unions, immersion into arts and culture by visiting marketplaces and national parks, attending a local Catholic mass, and visiting an internationally-renowned traditional potter.
The last few days of the trip were hosted by the Nicaraguan government in conjunction with a series of international delegations from all over the world. Our delegation joined the festivities of the Día de Alegría, the day before the 44th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, celebrating the happy day in 1979 when former dictator Anastasio Somoza fled the country after a decisive victory by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Thousands of people joined that celebration, congregating in Plaza de Fé Juan Pablo II in downtown Managua, across from Lake Xolotlán (Lake Managua). FSLN banners and regalia were omnipresent, as was the still-burning revolutionary spirit of the people. A concert of various bands played revolutionary music, entertaining the people while vendors, who had parked their trucks in a massive tailgate and cookout, sold drinks and food for the masses. Fireworks and cries of “Viva Sandino” capped the night.
The following night we again joined a massive international crowd of solidarity activists, foreign ambassadors, journalists, and representatives of communist parties from Colombia, Chile, Panama, Spain, Catalonia, Costa Rica, Brazil, and other countries for speeches from President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. The Nicaraguan leaders emphasized international solidarity, giving tribute to the late African revolutionary Thomas Sankara and solidarity to recent events in Sankara’s country, Burkina Faso.
A few things stood out from the trip: (1) the incredible scope and efficacy of their socialist project; (2) the impact of U.S. imperialism on Nicaragua; and (3) the intoxicating air of international solidarity in the country.
Efficacy of socialist project
At the Ministry of Finance, Deputy Minister Bruno Guallardo and Director of Planning Juan Carlos Sanchez gave our delegation a macroeconomic look at Nicaragua. They described with pride the gains since the Sandinista Front took back power in 2007.
Some 57.8 percent of their $250-billion annual budget goes towards social spending, with 25 percent to healthcare and 29 percent to education. Another major item is infrastructure. In 2007, only 54 percent of the population had access to electricity. Now, there is 99.3 percent access.
In 2007, Nicaragua had 1,270 miles of paved roads, with only 31 percent in satisfactory condition, and provided road access to only 68 of the 153 municipalities. Since then, 3,728 miles of roads have been paved and 90 percent are in good condition. In 2007, only 66 percent of the urban population had access to running water and rationing was necessary, while just 26 percent of the rural population had access. Now there is 93 percent access to water in urban areas and, in rural areas, 55 percent, with an 80 percent goal set for 2026 in the National Development Plan.
In all social facets, there is an inherent responsibility to meet, interact, and communicate with the community. Our delegation joined neighborhood house visits with doctors from a private clinic. The public hospital system in Nicaragua not only includes house visits, but also market, church, school, and park visits. This encourages preventive checkups during the work day for people who otherwise might avoid giving priority to medical care in their off time.
The government publishes primers to educate the population on social issues, such as gender identity and sexual orientation. These primers encourage the acceptance of family members who have come out as queer and trans. They also educate on the dangers of addiction, mental health, and homelessness that can follow familial evictions.
In the spirit of uplifting the queer and trans folk of Nicaragua, Ciudad Sandino had just had its 4th annual Miss Belleza Gay beauty pageant for trans women, whose winner gets to propose a social project to the government.
Union membership is strong and organized, with a firm organizational structure that allows for participatory democracy at all levels: twenty workers in a union local, one thousand in a federación, three to four federaciones in a central, and all centrales come together as the Nicaraguan workers’ assembly, the National Workers Front (Frente Nacional de Trabajadores – FNT). Leading members of the FNT remain at work in the sectors their unions represent.
Oppressive role of U.S. imperialism
Nicaragua’s revolutionary history is intertwined with cruel exploitation by U.S. big business. Driving from central Managua to Ciudad Sandino, one sees an Americanville set up around the U.S. Embassy, with a Walmart, a subway, a string of hotsheet (pay-by-the-hour) hotels – one of which has a giant Statue of Liberty replica in front – and a U.S.-style highway overpass.
This $70-million embassy, an unwelcome gift, is jutting up against Ciudad Sandino, a less-developed part of Managua with a generally high concentration of pro-Sandinistas. The embassy has a dual role: it tries to entice the people with consumer goods and surveil them at the same time.
In 2018 the embassy was a player in a U.S. coup attempt. That episode is a still-living reminder of the landlust Washington has for Nicaragua. Many people brought it up in discussions about the country’s recent history. This was unsurprising, as the coup plotters had blocked roads throughout the country in an attempt to cut off all commerce and economically bleed Nicaragua.
The coup failed, showing the people’s revolutionary spirit and their willingness to fight to defend the Sandinista gains. Someone helping with transport during our visit told the delegation that he had been skeptical of the Sandinistas and tried to remain apolitical. He had come to Nicaragua as a conservative. After witnessing the 2018 coup attempt, he knew he was for the Sandinistas’ cause.
When the windows of the CIA wing of this same U.S. Embassy were shattered by mortars fired by members of the Sandinista Youth League in righteous defense, Uncle Sam retaliated by taking $6,000 of taxpayer money per window to install bulletproofing and bombproofing material. This embassy building can be seen cowering at the foot of a large hill, now emblazoned with “FSLN” in a testament to the people’s will to resist an imperialist aggressor.
Besides having a physical and propaganda presence, Washington targets Nicaragua’s economy, imposing sanctions that freeze and block its assets and prohibit some transactions. As of March 2023, there were a reported 54 U.S. sanctions against Nicaragua, 43 of which were against key individuals (mainly political, legislative, and judicial) and 11 of which were targeted towards entities (including the Nicaraguan Petroleum Distributor and the Empresa Nicaraguense de Minas, a state-owned mining company).
On top of this, the European Union, as of January 2022, had imposed sanctions on 21 individuals and three entities, including Nicaraguan telecommunications and postal services.
A recent wave of U.S. sanctions in 2022 targeted and blocked Nicaragua’s gold sector, affecting about $900 million of exports, as well as the sugar sector, removing Nicaragua from the list of countries that can trade sugar with the U.S. with reduced import tariffs. There exist visa restrictions on a reported 800 Nicaraguans and their family members.
These sanctions exist in an attempt to create a load of chokeholds, inconveniences, and recessions for a country whose only crime was that its people dared to resist U.S. domination.
On June 27, 1986, the International Court of Justice had declared that the United States must pay Nicaragua $12 billion for all the damages caused by U.S. military and paramilitary activities against the country in the years following the 1979 Sandinista revolution. Any further economic damage against Nicaragua caused by U.S. sanctions could be added to this still unpaid bill.
Now, in addition to sanctions on Nicaragua, the U.S. strategy includes attempting a “brain drain.” Earlier this year, Washington loosened its immigration restrictions under a parole system for select, qualified individuals who might provide the U.S. “significant public benefit” or be accepted under “urgent humanitarian reasons” from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, should they have a financial sponsor in the United States.
Many Nicaraguans told our delegation of the damage this is doing to their communities. Many of their friends and many experts they’ve come to know and trust are being lured away by the U.S. through its propaganda – and through programs meant to skim off trained professionals from the workforce of a targeted country.
But the Nicaraguans, through all this, prevail. Speaking to officials at the hospital, we heard that organizationally, they don’t allow sanctions to affect them much, even if it can sometimes be hard to come by certain materials. While there are laments about this new parole system, the people hold firm their beliefs in their education system and in the youth, and know the U.S. cannot fully empty Nicaragua of its specialized labor with the foundations they have in place.
The U.S. government has continued its meddling in Nicaragua, refusing as always to be gracious in defeat. From the Americanvilles around the embassy to the effect of sanctions and parole, and from testimonies of everyone about the coup attempt in 2018, it is clear that Washington aims to continue intervention in Nicaragua – and it is clearer that Nicaragua is ready and steeled against the attacks from the U.S. and will continue to hold on to its sovereignty.
Nicaragua’s extremely adaptive socialist project has rapidly achieved wonders in efforts for poverty alleviation and access and continues to strengthen its hold despite the presence of a “free” market and private enterprise in the mixed economy of the country.
What stood out most for visitors was the intoxicating air of international solidarity. Ortega and Murillo’s speeches were a bastion of diplomatic grace and good relations. Ortega spoke at length of his reverence for the revolutions and social projects of other countries before mentioning his own.
Prime Minister Kyélem De Tambèla of Burkina Faso spoke fondly of the relationship between Thomas Sankara and Ortega in 1986. This mutual fostering of diplomatic relations and solidarity between Nicaragua and Burkina Faso comes with impeccable timing: the announcement of the anti-Western military alliance of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Niger in early August.
It was revealed, through international celebrations and through the big picture presented to us by the Ministry of Finance, how this small world is rapidly binding together against the forces of U.S. hegemony and towards multipolarity.