Nicaragua has a special place in my heart. This tiny country overthrew a brutal dictator in a popular revolution in 1979 only to face a long, bloody civil war provoked and then sustained by Ronald Reagan and the United States, covertly, illegally and in defiance of the country's own Congress.
I went to Nicaragua in 2001, a decade after the end of the revolution and the Contra war. I stayed in the northern hills with the farming cooperatives of Achuapa that is a community trade supplier of sesame oil for The Body Shop. I met textile workers employed in the Taiwanese-owned sweatshops. I spoke to the families that scavenge for a living on Managua's city rubbish dump. Wherever I went, I met amazing, organized, committed people.
For all the hardships Nicaraguans have endured and the efforts of successive right-wing governments to dismantle the social apparatus of the revolution, the spirit lives on! Nicaragua marked the 25th anniversary of the revolution last month. My friends there sent me this report on the celebrations and the latest developments.
Just a note to say
The Nicaraguan Revolution Has Survived!
The celebrations of the 25th anniversary were invigorating. All those who love the revolution celebrated in one way or another. I went to everything I could!! The traditional festivities in Managua went on long into the night in that chaotic relaxed Nicaraguan fashion. The mass rally on the 19th was enormous with the largest square in Managua becoming a sea of red and black flags as ever.
What was impressive however were the countless additional events and activities. I went to the afternoon festival on the 18th that culminated at Sunset with Carlos Mejia Godoy singing his revolutionary songs under the enormous figure of Sandino which to this day sits on the hill overlooking Managua. It was an amazing feeling.
The figure of Sandino is now the centrepiece of a public park which celebrates the revolution and was built by the Sandinista Mayor you met, Herty Lewites. He has been a great success and is probably the most popular politicion in the country at the moment.
Many who love Nicaragua have become despondent with the contemporary political scene. The credibility of the revolution has suffered from the scandals that followed the Sandinistas into opposition and successive right-wing governments have done their best to wipe any trace of the revolution away.
But, as the massive 25th anniversary celebrations showed, the revolution lives on - Especially at the grassroots level you cherish so much. There is so much organization, pride, consciousness, and sheer energy.
The farmer-owned cooperatives we work with are coming of age and are a model for what the organised poor can achieve. Many of them are breaking new ground in fair trade, organic production. In a recent coffee competition the cooperatives won eight of the top 10 prizes. Seven winners are certified fair trade and four of those are also certified organic. It is an incredible example of what can be achieved.
What we must not do is brag. The truth is that the Nicaraguan revolution levelled the playing field and made these incredible things possible. As you know you can travel all over Nicaragua and see amazing things achieved by grassroots organisations and the committed and empowered people within them.
Another example of what I am saying is the success of the students who have just won an historic strike for their constitutional right to 6 percent of the national budget. A defining moment occurred when the police held a rally after one of their rank was killed during the protests. The chief of police addressed the nation with the President on the same podium. Instead of defending the government he declared the police force to be against confrontation with the students who are "our children, our brothers, our cousins, our nephews and nieces. We are here today because we want peace."
Two days later the students negotiated with the police and agreed to peaceful protests, these took on a carnival atmosphere and won wide popular support. Within weeks, the government caved in to all of the students? demands.
Nicaragua is unique in this respect - and is an example to the developing world. The police and army do not belong to the government of the day, but answer to the people.
As you know I am always on the optimistic side. And Nicaragua has many problems and difficulties. I do believe however that the great spirit of the Nicaraguan people and her revolution are going to win through and provide an example for other peoples and struggles around the world.
I do hope you will be able to return some day soon and share with us your great energy and hope.