Book Review: “The Country Under My Skin” -by Gioconda Belli

In Nicaragua 1979, after years of dictatorship, the Samoza dynasty came to an end when the Samozas fled the country along with their followers. The nation was euphoric, but still in chaos since the state had been quickly and completely dissolved; no courts, police, army, or government ministries. Suring the dictatorship, the newspapers were also discontinued. The author herself, and the rest of the Sandinistas (revolutionaries) created headlines to provide the people. They shouted “Freedom” while passing out the papers and the people cheers “or death” completing the Sandinista war cry, now a symbol of victory. By 1980 the Allied troops had taken over Nicaragua. The people were happier without the dictatorship, but the country still needed many improvements. The country was starting over from scratch. At the same time Belli was placed in charge of the State Television station. As a Sandinista with past experience and an education in advertising, she was perfect for the job. She tried to move away from American Sitcoms like “I dream of Jeanie” and air things like science and nature documentaries or shows they could create themselves: interviews with guerilla leaders and a news hour. They also aired Jack Cousteau and Charlie Chaplin films, but eventually due to limited resources the shows grew repetitive and the sitcoms were returned. The birth of Nicaragua didn’t impact Belli the way she had anticipated. She wasn’t as excited and found her new obligations tiresome. She had told her daughters that after the revolution she would be able to spend more time with them. Instead she had even more responsibilities that demanded her time. The Sandinistas had so much too with little money and resources. They began planning ways to improve living conditions for Nicaraguans. They quickly formed a sort of military and these new police were so friendly the people referred to them as compitas (buddies). The Sandinistas were also able to improve general residential housing. Since so many people fled the country with the Samoza’s there were numerous houses and land available for redistribution to the people. The same year of the revolution, Cuba held the 6th summit conference of the non-aligned movement and Nicaragua applied for membership to the non-aligned countries. The purpose of this program was to “ensure national independence sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security”, since Nicaragua had been left vulnerable without the protection of an established government. Many Sandinista leaders attended the conference and while visiting Cuba, Fidel Castro expressed his concerns regarding the direction Nicaragua was headed. Partially due to those close ties with socialist Cube, the United States labeled the Sandinistas as communists. That was not what the revolutionaries were fighting for. Their main goal was to end the oppressive Samoza dictatorship and improve overall living conditions for all Nicaraguans. They also wanted to minimize the gap between the rich and the poor. The Sandinistas tried to move away from Cuba’s and Russia’s ideals and looked for a new kind of socialism that would work for their country. After the conference the Sandinistas visited many other socialist countries, Russia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Algeria, and Libya where they met guerilla leaders like Vo Nguyen Giap. The purpose of these visits was to secure several allies in defense against he National Guard and the United States. These efforts had the opposite effect and just instigated aggression. The Sandinistas had already drawn too much attention to themselves and Nicaragua, so when they met with fellow revolutionaries and guerillas in countries not on good terms with the United States, of course they would take action. Another way the Sandinistas tried to help the people was by forming the national crusade for literacy. Thousands of teenagers left their homes and spread across the country to teach people how to read, of which 70% were illiterate. The people would be able to read labels, directions and could gather new knowledge for themselves. The program wasn’t just about illiteracy. It was also a way to show the country would change though “Solidarity and generosity, not weapons.” To make things worse for Nicaragua, President Reagan canceled the final loan Carter granted them and also a loan the nation was going to use for wheat. Additionally, Reagan cut off all lines of credit after learning Nicaragua was providing Salvadorian Guerillas with arms. The United States funded the previous National Guard of Nicaragua as well. These events influenced the rapid decline of the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States. In response, the Sandinistas provoked the Reagan administration, toughened their stance and executed more laws creating more enemies within the nation. In 1982 the U.S. demanded Nicaragua establish a fully functioning democracy within two years, but Nicaragua didn’t have experience in this area since they had been under a dictatorship since 1934. They were also extremely low on resources and money. Things like toilet paper were scarce and the grocery stores were empty. The only way to bring money back into the country was through farming; all the prime agriculture was exported. Nicaragua was headed down hill. In 1983 the United States’ CIA got involved. They bombed an airplane that damaged the Managua airport, and also attacked Nicaragua oil reserves. These events caused the public to lose faith in the Sandinistas and the developing nation. “They had brought the country head-to-head with the United States and the people were paying the price.”

– This post written by Amanda Treadwell (2011)

This entry was posted in Memoirs, Nicaragua and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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