Photographer's Note

Isla Ometepe - Altagracia - 4 decades later

The very first country that I visited in the new world was Mexico, geographically belonging to the continent of North America.
Later I visited some countries in South America: Brazil, Peru, Chile and Colombia.
Then I thought it was time to take a look in the narrow strip that separates south from north.
Other travelers advised me to go to Nicaragua..

I liked the idea: a visit of the country that was every day in the news when I was a lot younger, a country where people tried to break free from exploitation and claimed their rights. Like many at the time, I had a lot of sympathy for the Sandinistas.
I was very curious how the country looks like almost 40 years after the fall of the dictatorship.
In early spring of this year I went to Nicaragua for a 19-day journey. I had a great time in that beautiful country with its beautiful people.
But two days after my return everything got a sudden turn.

On April 18th, there was an unseen wave of protest in the country.
Protest against the big saving measures in the social security that were implemented by president Daniel Ortega. These protests were bloodily beaten with many dead and wounded.
During my trip I could feel that many Nicaraguans did not have a high opinion of their government and their president who appointed his wife as vice president. What an inbreed.
Yet I had never considered the possibility of protests of this scale and even much less the bloody reaction to it. A practice that only fits brutal dictatorships.
Meanwhile, the protest continues and weekly people are murdered only because they want to demonstrate peacefully.
The demonstrators are mostly young people, students without weapons.
It is unbelievable that the man behind the slaughter is the same man who in the70-s had sworn to free his people.
In 1979 Daniel Ortega overthrew the dictatorship of Somoza. 40 years later he seems to have become a power-hungry dictator himself.
The Nicaraguan people have now turned against him en masse.
There’s little left of the revolutionary values that Ortega held high on the list.

As a young man he was fascinated by Augusto César Sandino, the legendary revolutionary who liberated Nicaragua from the Americans in the 1930s.
But Sandino was murdered by troops from Anastacio Somoza, who installed a bloody dictatorship in Nicaragua.
For more than four decades, the Somoza dynasty led a reign of terror in Nicaragua.

As a follower of Sandino and inspired by the Cuban revolution, Daniel Ortega became one of the most violent opponents of the Somoza dictatorship.
That resistance led in 1979 to the Sandinista revolution: the struggle against the oppression of the population by Somoza and against the intervention of the USA.
I remember that in Belgium the issue really lived in the 70s and 80s. I guess everywhere in Europe.

The Sandinista revolution brought spring in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas provided literacy campaigns, education and free health care.
Daniel Ortega became president between 1985 and 1990.
But the resistance of the Nicaraguan elite to the socialist policy of the Sandinistas was huge and for the USA it was unacceptable to tolerate after Cuba another Marxist-inspired revolution in their backyard. The US started with an economic boycott and a contra-revolution that ended in a brutal civil war between the Sandinistas and the contras (supported by the US).
Internationally there was great indignation about the economic embargo and the dirty war of the contras.

Due to the economic crisis, the terror of the contras and the propaganda financed by the US, the Sandinistas suffered a defeat in the elections of 1990.
But in 2006 Ortega was again elected and is president until today.

But he’s no longer the revolutionary he was.
In order to remain in power, he’s prepared to do everything. Ortega embraces neoliberalism, goes very far in granting concessions to international companies.
Under his policy, rules on elections are adjusted, public funds are abused, the constitution is easily violated. After 11 years of corruption and human rights violations, the Nicaraguans are fed up with it.
Despite the repression, the cry for change sounds louder than ever.
The crazy thing is that history repeats itself in Nicaragua.
Since April 18th many manifestations have ended in a bloodbath and disappearances of the demonstrators. Recovered bodies show traces of torture.
Being young and standing up for your rights is considered a crime for Daniel Ortega.

Deadly violence from in the 80-s is now back in Nicaragua. Many elderly people see that the history repeats itself and that the man behind the slaughter is the same man who had sworn to free his people decades ago. In Nicaragua a president clings to power without any regrets.

To clarify: Most Nicaraguans stand behind the Sandinista revolution but protest against the former revolutionary who became dictator himself.
During my trip I had dreamed to present you many beautiful pictures of Nicaragua.
But how to show them knowing that young people who demonstrate are still tackled so hard (they’re murdered or disappear …) ?

The facts mentioned aren’t a personal consideration but came on the VRT news channel.

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Additional Photos by Paul VDV (PaulVDV) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 4529 W: 17 N: 10745] (43796)
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