The Nicaragua Photo/Testimony Project
Paul Dix and Pam Fitzpatrick
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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 8, 2002    Jalapa

Including stories about or testimonies from: Lorenzo, Donal, Rosa Maria, Felix, Carlos.

Note: To see some of Paul's professional photos taken for the Photo/Testimony project, visit the Photos and Stories page.

Dear Friends,

Again, thanks for traveling with us!  We’re both still well and enjoying.  If you are inspired to write us please use the following address:  Thanks!!!! pam

As many of you remember, Jalapa was one of the main battle grounds during the contra war (and the birthplace of Witness for Peace). Jalapa was “blessed” with this history by its location; it forms a point that juts up into Honduras. The contras, the US "trainers", the US "advisors", and the US-funded-Honduran heavy artillery surrounded Jalapa in the Honduran hills.  From Honduras the contra fired mortars and made quick incursions into Jalapa.

Standing in Porvenir - the point just north of Jalapa that juts up into Honduras - is like standing in the middle of a football field and looking up into the bleachers.  The Porvenir area is flat, surrounded by the hills of Honduras.  The Nicaraguans received attacks, mortars, and had the constant fear that the US was actually going to invade.  The area was covered with land mines, even anti-tank mines.  Those mines were re-arranged by hurricane Mitch in 1998.and they continue to maim people almost 13 years after the end of the military war.

We traveled to the town of Jalapa on Friday October 15th with Tom (AFSC) and Robin (works in London with a Quaker AFSC type program that challenges world policies).  Robin needed to get first-hand exposure to the struggle for survival in Nicaragua before he met with World Bank and IMF officials in Managua and later in Washington, DC.  Jalapa was a good choice!

The ride from Esteli north to Ocotal was easy, but the 30 miles from Ocotal to Jalapa are infamous.  The fact that those 30 miles take more than three hours by bus (and nearly that by truck) shows how bad the road is.  And there are two places where bridges have washed out and sometimes just aren’t passable at all!  If people in Jalapa want to sell their products to a market of any size they have to use this road.

Jalapa’s main money crops are coffee and tobacco. They MIGHT make a LITTLE money off the coffee this year since much of it is the higher altitude, higher grade coffee bean.  But many of the larger growers, that have to pay workers, just aren’t going to pick.  Prices are too low to be able to pay workers.  The tobacco is for cigars.  The production has significantly increased since the end of the war; mainly grown by Cubans who returned from Miami.

This area has more of a contra/Sandinista mix than any of the other areas we’ve been to so far.  Many of the families were split, with father and two sons on one side, one son on the other.  With each visit we asked about reconciliation, and they consistently responded they had forgiven the other side (usually talking about the contra) because that is what God asked of them.  Most said they were just glad their brothers and sisters lived to come home.  It doesn’t appear that anyone in this area asked for forgiveness, or admitted to committing atrocities, or was penalized for even the most horrendous crimes against humanity.

The people of Jalapa seem to have just moved on, without resolution. For now the focus is on where to get the next meal. The economic war is intense.

Even 93-year-old Lorenzo has forgiven the contra. As a child Lorenzo ran food to Sandino, later fought for the liberation of Nicaragua in the 70s, and against the contra in the 80s.  He had one son wounded (Donal) and one son killed by the contra.  He now lives with his wife, their daughter and her husband and their three children and one other child they are raising.  They live way out in the hills outside Jalapa, and grow coffee and sugar cane.  Lorenzo still picks the coffee and cuts the cane.  On Sundays he rides his horse into town and plays pool for a few hours.

This is a beautiful family, beaming with love. We’re not sure how they keep their spirit; their place is bare and we feel sure meals are missed.  Plus it gets cold up there at night now and there’s little clothing and few blankets.  Any wood they gather has to be saved for cooking.

We also visited with Donal, their son, living on a hilltop on the other edge of Jalapa.  He had a tiny dirt floor waterless (40% of Nicaraguans do not have potable water) house, about the size of 4 double bed mattresses.  He has a handful of children, a daughter in the hospital with hemorrhagic dengue (has been at the epidemic level) and spends each day searching for a bit of work to put food in their mouths.

Donal definitely felt more desperate. He complained that it was a waste of time for his father to pick coffee and cut cane. There’s no money for the product.  At one level we feel sure Donal is right.  He also reported that his father often couldn't eat due to stomach pain. He said there were pills that helped, but they were expensive and they had no money...the refrain the screams throughout Nicaragua.

Paul had photographed Lorenzo and his wife in 1986 in La Estancia, a resettlement camp outside Jalapa.  How amazing that they were still alive! At 93, the energy emanating from Lorenzo’s eyes grabbed us. He’s physically active and mentally strong. We wanted to stay and let that part of the family feed our souls!

While in Jalapa we found three people who still had photos Paul had taken and delivered to them in the 80s! This is no small accomplishment on their parts; especially considering Hurricane Mitch hit this town hard in October 1998. One woman reported knee high water running through her house.

We found this woman, Rosa Maria, with the help of a man we could call Saint Carlos, in the tiny town of El Limon, about an hour bus ride outside Jalapa.  She invited us into her tiny very bare house and Paul started to explain who he was, and about his photography project.  She suddenly walked out of the room, leaving us quite confused.  After about a minute she returned with a picture of her Paul had taken in 1986, in amazingly perfect shape.  Yes she remembered Paul and yes she would let us tape another testimony.  And yes, her life had been a hard lonely struggle since her husband was murdered in 1986. She often had no food and wished she had electricity. And yes, she had forgiven the contra; her son had even married a contra.

We had some difficulty locating Felix since he lived in a more dangerous part of Jalapa, so we had to plan our travel carefully, and he was off in Managua with the Organization of American States (OAS) for a few days.  Felix fought with the Sandinistas, had a bullet through the stomach in 1982 and stepped on a land mine in 1986 and lost an arm and a leg.  He was sent to Bulgaria to recover and did get fitted for an artificial leg, but his arm stump was too short to be fitted.  As you can guess his life has continued to be hard.  He lives alone on a hillside in a dirt-floor house the size of 4 single bed mattresses, does his own cooking and laundry, has to scramble up a steep cliff to the latrine.  We can only imagine the difficulty of this journey during the rainy months!  He receives 300 cordobas (about $21) a month disability pay and struggles to pick up a job here and there.  He definitely needs the additional money if he is going to be able to eat each day.

But there is at last a ray of hope in Felix´s life. Jalapa is a center of land mine victims, and sadly the number is growing.  OAS has begun a training program for mine victims and in January Felix will be sent to Boaco (a Nicaraguan town) for 9 months of training,.perhaps in radio/TV repair.  He might even be fitted for an arm!  A ray of hope! Opportunity! Thank you OAS.  Sure seems it should be the required work of the USA.

Oh yes, Felix still had a picture, a beautiful picture Paul had taken of his mother. She’s now dead and it’s the only picture he has of her. Paul remembers that he also has a picture of his now dead sister that he will send him.  We’re hoping to meet up with Felix again in Boaco.

Carlos was a huge help during our week in Jalapa.  He’s young and lived in the next town down from Porvenir when the war started. He remembers a caravan of tractors and trucks heading to Jalapa.  People just had to abandon their land. He said only a few stayed on their land and they were armed.

Carlos worked with the Sandinistas in the 80s, was head of one part of the literacy campaign, and seemed to have been in some higher level of general leadership since he knows so many people throughout Nicaragua. He was clearly committed to the revolution.  He now works with a coffee cooperative in Jalapa and generously helped us locate people.  He’s quiet, sweet, gentle, calm-centered and it seems everyone in the area knows and likes him.  While walking with him we had two long visits (one fed us lunch) with former contras, who clearly were not just simple foot soldiers, they had some sort of leadership role.  They sincerely welcomed Carlos, and Carlos sincerely welcomed them. They’ve moved on.

There are so many more rich experiences we could share.  Thanks for your interest!  We’re well, and heading to the state of Matagalpa soon.  Please do know that your donations have helped with small food donations that we make with each visit.  The families very much appreciate the help...little as it is.  A recent study found that 38% of the children in Matagalpa under age 5 are suffering from chronic malnutrition.

We hope each of you is well and enjoying. Having you with us on this journey is a huge help. Thank you! 

Paul and Pam