Click here to have future picks e-mailed to you!
Harvesting Coffee with a Gun on Your Shoulder
That doesn't sound much like a freedom-loving democracy, does it?
It wasn't long before a group of Marxists, left-wing priests, and students started discussing ways to overthrow the Somozas. Calling themselves "Sandinistas" after a beloved revolutionary hero named Augusto Sandino, they managed to rally enough Nicaraguans together to overthrow the dictators in 1979. It was a joyous time - people took to the streets en masse to celebrate the end of 40 years of misery. The Sandinistas' first item of business was implementing the largest land reform in Latin American history, giving land titles to 184,000 poor families. They then set about making great strides in health care, increasing Nicaraguan's life expectancy by seven years and cutting infant mortality in half. They also sent 100,000 students to the countryside to stamp out illiteracy.
That's more like it -- democracy at last!
Well, guess what? Our government didn't think so. Reagan took one look at Nicaragua's social changes and called it "Communism." The Sandinistas, he resolved, posed too great a threat to U.S. control over Central America. He decided to quash them by pumping millions of dollars into their right-wing opposition, the Contras.
Carla Miranda was 14 then. Like many students, she wanted to do all she could to help out the Sandinistas. When they called on volunteers to harvest the nation's coffee, she rose to the challenge. For a month and a half, she lived on a plantation just 100 kilometers from the war.
Although the Sandinistas had the support of the bulk of its people, the Contras had the pocketbook of the United States. The Sandinistas simply couldn't compete. Before long, they were using all of the nation's money and resources to fight the Contras. To make matters worse, the United States instituted a trade embargo on Nicaragua so that no other country could help them. Nicaragua's currency became worthless and the nation slid into even deeper poverty. The Contras, meanwhile, wielded shiny new weapons and flew around in first-rate helicopters. The Sandinistas fell out of power in 1990, and the country is currently being run by a man who is just as bad as the Somozas.
In 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a series of articles that linked the Contras to our own nation's crack epidemic! Although the paper's executive editor later admitted that the series "fell short" of his standards, he maintained that a drug ring associated with the Contras sold large amounts of cocaine in inner-city Los Angeles in the 1980s. Some of the drug profits from those sales then supposedly went to the CIA-backed Contras. Yikes!
Even more disheartening is the fact that the same atrocities were happening throughout Latin America, including Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Bolivia. As soon as revolutionary sentiment started churning in each of these oppressed nations, the United States moved in to halt it. El Salvador is an example.
Like Nicaragua, El Salvador was a nation plagued with corruption and inequalities. Approximately 2 percent of its population owned 60 percent of its land. Yet, official U.S. foreign policy mandated that El Salvador support U.S. business interests above everything else - even at the expense of the impoverished El Salvadoran people. We did this by giving military and economic aid, training, intelligence sharing, and diplomatic support to a series of brutal dictators. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of El Salvadorans were fleeing from death-squads.
I would love to tell you that we simply didn't realize these horrific human rights abuses were taking place - but, alas, we did. In February of 1980, the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, sent a letter to Carter asking him to stop military aid to his country. As an example, he cited an incident in which the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of protesters in front of a cathedral, killing 24 people. All Romero wanted was to stop the influx of weapons to his desperate nation, but the Carter administration continued the "aid." The following month, Romero was assassinated while giving Mass.
It seemed things couldn't get much worse, but then Reagan was elected. According to one estimate, the United States gave a total of $16.7 million to El Salvador's military between 1946 to 1979. Reagan's first year in office, that amount reportedly shot up to $82 million - all because Reagan didn't want another "Sandinista Revolution."
Incredibly, the United States refused to admit these killings were taking place! When journalists from the Washington Post and the New York Times wrote about the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children from the village of El Mozote, no one believed them. This is criminal, especially considering the fact that the United States trained the battalion who did it. This means we have blood on our hands as well.
"Just because the [killers] weren't blond-haired and blue-eyed doesn't mean the United States wasn't involved. From the U.S. perspective, as long as their own human bodies aren't involved, they can deny everything. This is the art of deception," Carlos said.
So here is the $64,000 question: What does all of this say about our country's democracy? I posed this question to both Carlos and Carla.
Carla agreed. "It is outrageous [that] this country says it is a democracy! Now that they can't benefit from Nicaragua economically, the US is not even interested in my country anymore. People could be dying and they wouldn't care. Now the aid isn't even a fraction of what they gave to the Contras. They gave them three to four times more."
"If you start to read about how bad a place is, go visit it and see for yourself," he said. "If you see that our country is doing something bad, be offended and try to do something about it. We are responsible for what our government does. Take it personally."
I couldn't agree more. We can't allow our greed to cause other people in this world to suffer any longer. We have the power to create change in our society and in our world. Let's do it!
Please email me at: email@example.com
America in Nicaragua: Not a New Story