The meeting came our last evening of a 9-day delegation co-sponsored by Nicaragua Network and the SOA Watch with 20 participants from around the US, as well as from Canada and the UK. Among the participants were SOAW Council member Ken Hayes, long time SOA Watch activist Mary Anne Perrone and SOA Watch activantes Amanda Jordan and Alejandro Ramirez. The delegation visited Esteli and Managua and met with many sectors of society, rural and urban communities, women and youth organizations, health and education centers, cooperatives,religious and ex-pat organizations. We also met with government officials, human rights representatives, media and opposition leaders.
In the meeting with the president we shared about how impressed we were with the positive strides to alleviate poverty that were strikingly visible to us: new homes, roofs, roads, water systems, as well as in the very upbeat and positive spirit that seems to permeate the country, especially among women, youth and sectors which were formally marginalized. We also shared that we were concerned that Nicaragua had continued to send troops to the SOA under the current government. This is surprising given the fact that the Somoza dictatorship was held up in large part due to National Guards trained at the SOA. We did note, however, that since our previous meeting with President Ortega in 2008 their numbers of Nicaraguan students had dropped dramatically from 78 in 2008 to 5 in 2011.
President Ortega shared with great honesty what a challenge it is to be such a small and impoverished nation with so much historic economic dependence on the US, while also lacking the natural resources that many nations of South America have. “We are a very fragile nation” he shared. He stressed the importance of the growing unity and support among Latin American nations, and expressed gratitude for their economic solidarity. This is, however, still is not sufficient to allow Nicaragua to be totally independent of the US, a nation that continues to punish Nicaragua for any slight step out of line by withholding their funds while also blocking other international funds destined for Nicaragua.
In spite of these extraordinary challenges, President Ortega affirmed that his country was taking a stand for sovereignty and dignity in many of its decisions, such as their recent decision to withdraw from the military pact of the OAS known as TIAR (Spanish acronym for Interamerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance).
In regard to the School of the Americas, President Ortega said: the SOA is an ethical and moral anathema. All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror. We have been gradually reducing our numbers of troops at the SOA, sending only five last year and none this year. We have now entered a new phase and we will NOT continue to send troops to the SOA. This is the least that we can do. We have been its victims.
After a long applause from the group, Alejandro Ramirez of Honduras asked if he could speak. With deep emotion, he thanked President Ortega in the name of his people of Honduras who continue to suffer grave repression under the regime that took power after the 2009 coup organized by SOA graduates. He passed the president a note that he had written before the meeting, saying that this was the greatest expression of solidarity that one Latin American nation could offer to another. He went on to tell him how his father had crossed borders from Honduras to Nicaragua to fight with the Sandinistas in the 70’s, until the 1979 victory. Ortega was visibly moved and gently pocketed the note and sent warm saludos to his father. I asked Ale how he possibly knew that President Ortega was going to respond affirmatively and he told me: I never lose hope, pointing to his shirt. It was a well worn tshirt with the face of Tomas Nativi, the disappeared husband of COFADEH director Bertha Olivia, the light that has given her the strength to stand up for human rights for two decades and counting.
We left the meeting both exuberant for this new victory and mindful that this is the first Central American country to withdraw its troops from the SOA. Once again in history, tiny Nicaragua sends a message of hope, of tenacity of integrity of solidarity and deep courage to Latin America and to the world. Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, ahora que vos sos libre te quiero mucho mas*
* famous song that says: Nicaragua, little Nicaragua, now that you are free, I love you even more
Note folks: Today Daniel’s wife Rosario is going to make the announcement by radio on her show. He asked Miguel D’Escoto (at whose home we met) to help prepare the statement.
Also, Elane Spivak Rodriguez recorded the entire meeting. It was excellent.