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Nicaragua: The struggle continues

Benjamin Wood  |  Issue: November | December 2012
Photo: Benjamin Wood

The first decade of Sandinista rule was characterized by war against reactionary forces, certain abuses of power by military leaders, an investment in literacy, culture, and health, and an unhealthy degree of compliance with transnational entities such as the IMF.

In 1990 the Nicaraguan electorate voted out the revolutionary party and elected Violeta Chamorro Barrios, the first woman president in Latin America, who promised peace and reconciliation. This promise was fulfilled, more or less, but gave rise to a series of neoliberal and corrupt administrations.

This all changed in 2006 when the FSLN, the guerrilla-army-turned-political-party, returned to the presidency. Through a pact with the Catholic church, restored president Daniel Ortega promised a “Christian, socialist, and solidary” government under the slogan “The people, president.” Part of this agreement entailed banning abortion, an affront to the women who formed an integral part of the Sandinista armed forces.

Without diminishing this political step backwards, the Nicaraguan people have also made progress since Sandinismo’s return to power:

Electrification: In 2006, the rate of electrification was 53%. At the end of 2011, it had reached 72%, with projections 87% households would have electricity by 2017.

Environment: Reforestation of over 37,000 acres in 2011.

Health: Restoration of free health services at public health centers; reversal of the privatization of the medical field.

Education: Restoration of the right to public education; current school completion rate of 91.1%, up 6% since 2006; free school lunch; free backpacks to the neediest students; return of literacy programs, halted during the neoliberal presidencies.

These achievements may be praiseworthy, but the most important effort the government has undertaken is the investment in the youth in the form of the Sandinista Youth (JS). JS is an organization that fosters youth leadership through environmental, political, and awareness projects. Lead by the youth themselves, usually by one male and one female coordinator, JS trains and puts groups of youth to work, entrusting them to be leaders in their communities.

The ecological projects include the aforementioned reforestation projects, among others. The health projects include outreach about prevention, gender equality, and sexual diversity. In politics, the work consists of organizing communities in support of Sandinista endeavors. By teaching the youth to organize, the government is investing in their ability to resist political and economic attacks—a lesson that will last long into the future, regardless of who may take power in the coming years.

Obviously, the young people who are involved in this work have an alternative to the gangs and crime that so many youth from countries with conservative and neoliberal governments fall into. What would happen in the United States if we could invest even a percentage of the budget into this generation of youth who are currently involved in crime, or who live in the streets sheltered by the Occupy movement, but who have no access to resources?

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