1988. The dead numbered in the thousands. Official statistics said 40,000. Unofficial counts—and maybe they were truer, because young people were disappearing every day—exceeded 50,000, a catastrophic number for a country whose population at that time was less than four million people.
Nicaragua had lost a whole generation in the trenches. The youngest, or the children like us who were too young to go to the battlefront, had to go to school. But instead of counting apples, we added “two rifles plus three rifles is five rifles,” which was considered one of the greatest “miracles” of Sandinista education. I challenge anyone to give me a good example of a person from the 1980s decade in Nicaragua who got an exceptional education.
I must admit, though, that I don’t feel empathy for the left and am terrified of the radical right, which can be heartless in its cruelest version. But we all know that capitalism seeks profit and doesn’t hide it, whereas Fidel Castro said he loved the poor, yet Forbes Magazine claimed he amassed a fortune of over 900 million dollars, surpassed only by those of Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
Hugo Chávez’s fortune doubled Fidel’s and makes us sick: two billion dollars. “Whoever has earned large riches from their work should donate it all (…) to charity,” said Chávez in 2005. Today, he is dead, but his mother, Elena Frías, who used to be a typical Venezuelan housewife, wears diamond jewelry and Dolce & Gabbana eyeglasses. I wonder to what height the fortune of Daniel Ortega climbs, or that of his consort, the Madame President.
It is impossible not to mention that the children of the Ortega-Murillo matrimony are large business owners with companies linked to Albanisa, the oil deal between Nicaragua and Venezuela. In other words, the Nicaraguan State assumes the debt, but the family pockets the profits. Even so, let’s look at the positive side of the issue: young Nicaraguan authors are enabled to write to great story of our time—“Father’s Business Deals,” turning the screw to “Father’s Zoo,” the famous short story by Lizandro Chávez Alfaro.
The left is the best example there is of sanctimoniousness. Those who applaud socialism couldn’t tolerate three days in Cuba living on the twenty dollars a month that a doctor earns. How much does a bricklayer get in the “utopia” that Fidel Castro built?
I write these lines on the 19th of July 2017, thirty-eight years after the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution. I write them in a journal that I carry with meeverywhere,which tells me today that twenty-nine years have passed since I left Nicaragua. In my pessimism I see it’s been more than a quarter century since that 22nd of May 1988, fractured so many lives, mine among them. The good thing is that I can perfectly understand Facundo Cabral when he says, “I am not from here, I am not from there.”
I feel like it was yesterday when a fratricidal war banished me from a country I never should have left. The duty of every government is to offer its citizens the necessary security and tools required for them to find success in their own country, not in a foreign one. Who started the civil war in Nicaragua? Everyone. But let’s not kid ourselves. People who blame Ronald Reagan for starting it forget that long before he began sending money to the Contras, Russia had placed armaments in Nicaragua, with the consent of the Nicaraguan government, in order to foment the triumph of socialism in neighboring countries like El Salvador.
Nicaragua was my birthplace but not my home, nor will it be my final resting place. It’s hard for me to imagine returning to a country I do not know. I don’t identify with the transformation it has undergone or with the idea that in 2017 it is still OK to throw trash on the ground, or not greet people or thank them for doing you a favor. Let’s be frank—we are scandalized by destruction in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, but we’re unmoved by beer cans tossed along the Managua waterfront. When I was a kid, even in the midst of war and poverty, it was normal for the poorest neighbor to offer a cup of coffee and a greeting.
It’s not that I don’t love my country, but I hate what it has become. Even so, I would die to be able to contemplate sunsets on the lake, explore the magic of its volcanoes and walk around—as if I lived there and not like the tourist I am every time I return—the streets of Granada, where one of the old houses has an inscription imitating the verses of Francisco A. de Icaza that greet visitors to the Alhambra in Spain: