The Nicaragua Photo/Testimony Project
Paul Dix and Pam Fitzpatrick
Home  |  About the Book  |  About the Authors  |  Letters from Nicaragua   |  Reviews & Testimonials   |  Contact
The letter below is one of a series written by Pam Fitzpatrick and Paul Dix during multiple journeys they took to Nicaragua between 2002 and 2010 to locate people who were the subjects of photos taken by Paul in the 1980s (during the U.S.-sponsored Contra War). Pam and Paul's goal was to document and share with the people of the U.S.—through photographs and testimonies in Nicaraguans' own voices—the horrific long-term effects of the Contra War and ongoing U.S. international policy on the lives of ordinary Nicaraguans.  To see a list of all of the letters and their topics, visit the Letters page.  To learn more about the Nicaragua Photo/Testimony Project, see About the Book and About the Authors.

In 2011 Pam and Paul published a beautiful 220-page book of photographs and testimonies, NICARAGUA: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy. Order it here!

December 14, 2004    Estelí, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Managua

Including stories about or testimonies from: Cristina, Carmen, Elda, Americo, Angelica, Juan Domingo.  

Note: The photos in this letter are Pam's casual digital photos. To see some of Paul's professional photos taken for the Photo/Testimony project, visit the Photos and Stories page.

We hope you are enjoying preparations for the holiday season, perhaps a family visit or, at the very least, looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation. We have a special holiday present for all of us that we'll explain later in this letter!

As we watch the news of U.S. actions in Iraq, we can't help but reflect on the level of suffering that continues here in Nicaragua from the explosion of one anti-tank mine in the Pantasma Valley on October 26, 1986.  As we've mentioned earlier, of 49 individuals on a civilian transit truck, 48 were either killed or wounded, 11 had to undergo amputations.

On this day Cristina's husband, a well-respected pastor, and daughter, Elda, each lost one leg and Cristina's 19-year-old sister, Carmen, lost two legs.  We wrote about Carmen toward the end of our December 21, 2002 letter, when we mentioned trying to connect her with OAS for help with surgery, which DID happen.

You can imagine the suffering they all experienced! On top of this, another of Cristina's daughters later died of leukemia (13-years-old) and then her husband died in a car accident.  To help with the medical expenses of her sick daughter she took out a $500 loan from a well-respected Nicaraguan network of protestant churches which interfaces with U.S. protestant churches. In the past this group extended micro-loans to people who generally did not qualify for regular bank loans.  This loan program was later turned over to a private bank and now Cristina, who cannot repay the loan - and has not received any responses to her letters requesting an extension - is on the verge of losing her house.
Carmen lost both her legs at age 19 when the truck she was riding in hit an anti-tank mine and exploded.

Angelica, who at age 12 witnessed contra murders, and at age 14 saw the horrific aftermath of a landmine explosion that killed her mother and caused her father to lose both his legs.
In this same attack, Americo lost his wife and both of his legs. He's now in his 70s, basically trapped in a room in his daughter's (Americo's) house in Matagalpa. He has a nice window view, but the house is on a steep road and there's no way he could use his wheel chair outside.  Suffering from constant pain because of other internal health problems, which produce blood in his urine, he can no longer use his prostheses. And there's no free medical care for him.

On that day, October 26, 1986, Americo's 14-year-old daughter, Angelica, heard the land mine explode.  A man came riding on horse back to the house and as he approached she said, "my mother was killed."  She knew.  She went to the horrific scene and traveled to the hospital with her father where she stayed for three months, providing hands on care, cooking his food, cleaning him, tending his wounds.

When we met with Angelica in Managua this week she was crying within 5 minutes, speaking of her father basically trapped in that room, and how much she misses him now.  She's in Managua with her husband and new baby and can seldom travel to Matagalpa, especially since she can't leave her humble home without fear of everything being robbed, a very common reality in Nicaragua.

Angelica says that now she's always nervous and has trouble with her memory.  She still wakes up sweating, crying, and screaming, reliving the attack.  The memories are strong.  She also clearly remembers the early morning, two years before the land-mine explosion, when the contra came to her little town, Las Praderas, searched every house and took twelve men from their homes, lined them up in front of the whole town, and killed each one.  She was 12 years old. These memories could trap even the healthiest of individuals who have plenty of access to psychological help!  And as you know, Angelica does not have access to such help.

Earlier in the month we accidentally met up with Juan Domingo, another victim of this same mine. Juan Domingo now lives in San Jose de Bocay and if you saw our slide show you might remember a handsome young man, stump braced on his crutch, coaching a winning baseball team.  We were in Jinotega, a healthy distance from Bocay, and there was Juan Domingo, passing us on the street.  We all three were amazed by the coincidence; we were only in Jinotega for half a day that visit!  Juan Domingo was  trying to find some help.  He remembered a Spanish doctor that had helped him in the 80s and he was desperate enough that he bussed in to Jinotega to see if that doctor was still around, which we wasn't. So there was Juan, much thinner than he had been in our last visit, looking very tired, with no bus or food money.  It was good to see him, and good to be able to help with a little money for food, a room for the night, and bus back to Bocay.

On the up side, your generous contributions have helped reduce the suffering of two of these land-mine victims. Both Carmen and Elda are in desperate need of new prostheses and had contacted an international NGO in La Trinidad (near Estelí) that makes very nice prostheses, but the recipient has to make a small co-payment, which was out of reach for both Carmen and Elda.

We calculated that for about $200 we could facilitate the gift of three new legs and contacted a friend about the donation, which he agreed to provide!  What a great feeling!  We then went to the hospital in La Trinidad to be sure the program still existed, and then bussed to Estelí, and searched for Elda.  We finally found Elda and her mother, Cristina, and, yes, they could meet us the next day at the hospital.  Then we headed back to Matagalpa (actually Waslali) to talk with Carmen. And, yes, she could meet us at 6am the next morning in Matagalpa and we'd take the one and a half-hour bus ride to La Trinidad together.  

Ever and Maryuri
Carmen's children, Ever and Maryuri, wait with her at the hospital.
Carmen with her two children.

And it worked! Cristina, Elda, Carmen and her two children and Paul and I all gathered at the La Trinidad hospital Friday morning. They were able to schedule their first measurement appointments; we were able to pay for the prostheses and give them each bus money to return for several more appointments. We then went out for lunch together and felt as though we had each had a perfect holiday present. The total cost came to about $250, and with the help that others of you have sent in recently, it is easily covered!

They won't have their new legs by Christmas, but they will have the pleasure of knowing they are on their way! They will soon have a much easier time walking. Thank you!

Direct aid is very tricky; it often does backfire in ways people can't even imagine.  For now I won't go into details of some of the programs that ended up being less than helpful; we'll do that in another letter.  However, we do feel this small assistance will work.  It is putting Carmen and Elda in contact with an organization that plans on staying in Nicaragua for some time.  If they have problems with their new legs, there are people there that can help them.  It's not a medical program that's just flying in for the weekend.

Thanks for making it possible! 

We very much enjoy hearing from people ( and again thank you for traveling with us.  Have you written your CAFTA letters???


Pam and Paul