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!

March 15, 2005   Managua, Rio Blanco, Bocano de Paiwas

Including stories about: Edwin Uriel Gonzales Cornejo, Luisa Amada, Jamileth, Felix Pedro Espinales Centeno, Transito Suarez Amardor, Ricarda.

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.

As we left Edwin and his mother, Luisa Amada, we knew we'd been sitting with two people who represent the very best that we as humans could hope to be.

January 13, 2005, one month short of his 15th birthday and 15 years after the end of the U.S.-funded contra war, in San Juan del Rio Coco (Department of Madriz), Edwin Uriel Gonzales Cornejo lost both hands, his right eye, and most of the sight of his left eye.  His mother was working on a nearby farm when Edwin returned to his house with his aunt and sister around 8 am.  He went inside looking for a flashlight and there on the kitchen table was a little something about half the size of an 8 ounce glass.  Curious, he reached for it, opened it, and, in the safety of his own home, his life changed forever.

If the war ever ends in Iraq we keep wondering what will be happening there 15 years after the supposed "end of the war".  In Nicaragua, the ongoing suffering from land mines, with 28,000 still needing to be located and destroyed, is just one example of the price that Nicaragua is paying for trying to institute, in the 1980s, a political and economic system that was not sanctioned by the U.S. government. 
Edwin Uriel Gonzales Conejo
Edwin Uriel Gonzales Cornejo, with his mother Luisa Amada, at the Aldo Chavarria Rehabilitation Center in Managua, March 2005.

The main result of the war is the grinding poverty that is a direct result of the economic policies that were implemented after the U.S. won the war here. In this setting a landmine becomes an income; it can be sold.  A former contra had found this landmine and for some reason set it on this particular kitchen table while Edwin and his family were away, probably hoping to sell it later for a little money to feed his family.

We met with Edwin here in Managua last Friday at the Aldo Chavarria Rehabilitation Center where he's getting medical help and will eventually get prostheses and training funded by OAS (Organization of American States).  Perhaps you remember Catalino from our slide show - same story, at age 8 lost both hands and an eye after the "end of the war" (see January 6, 2003 newsletter).

Before his life changed so dramatically, Edwin loved kickball, handball, and computers. Just before we visited him yesterday he learned that he might be able to get some help for his left eye, and then, once he gets his new arms and hands, he wants to continue studying computers.  He's bright, clear thinking, determined and has a spirit that will move him forward.  As the oldest son of 5 children, in a poor family with his father dead from a heart attack, I'm sure his mother was depending on Edwin for future support. And it's very likely that will still happen.   Luisa Amada, cross-eyed and with her own poor vision is raising her 5 children alone. She's steady, strong, capable, centered and full of love for her family. They do give us hope for the human race.

Earlier in the month we were in one of our favorite communities, Bocana de Paiwas, where the Matagalpa and Paiwas rivers join.  You might remember the Bocana de Paiwas Women's Center and their radio station (January 6, 2003 newsletter).  They do amazing work! 

Jamileth and family
Jamileth, director of the Palabra Mujer radio station, and sons Gabriel and Olman.
Bocana d Paiwas Women's Center
Bocana de Paiwas Women's Center.

The Women's Center and the radio station, amongst other important things, are focused on educating the community about the proposed building of a dam that will flood the entire community.  All the planning for the dam is happening behind closed doors; without consulting the people who will be dislocated or affected in some way by the project. The people of Paiwas have the impossible task of fighting invisible foreign investors and their own inaccessible government.  At first many in the community didn't believe the dam was a possibility, even Somoza had threatened to build this dam but it never happened. Now, however, dams are being built all over Central America as part of the Plan Pueblo to Panama.  Because of the steady work of the local organizers like Jamileth (director of the Palabra de Mujer radio station) and her husband, Morena (teaches elementary school in the morning and adult education in the evening) the community is beginning to believe the dam could be a reality and is coming together in its stand against this dam.  If they don't stop the dam they will, at the very least, be in a much better position to demand better compensation for their land.
                            Women's Center Women's Center 2
                                           Women in resistance...because our lands are not for sale!

Felix Pedro Espinales Centeno
Felix Pedro, who as a child survived a contra massacre that killed his father.
With the help of the Palabra de Mujer radio station we met with Felix Pedro Espinales Centeno, while in Paiwas.  On good days, Paiwas has one functioning telephone, so the radio station helps the community by reading messages to people in nearby towns through out the day.   People said Felix lived an hour and a half walk from town (no roads) and we knew that a Nica hour and a half walk is a Pam and Paul three hour walk, so we were pleased he could make the journey into town to see us.

In 1984, at age 11, Felix, his twin brother and a 2-year-old girl were the only survivors of one of the worst massacres of the war. At least 35 people were killed by the contra during a party inaugurating a new building. Luckily many from El Jorgito were visiting family in other communities that evening.

Felix talked about watching the killing, seeing his father killed, watching the contra pile the bodies in a ditch, watching the 2-year-old survivor nursing on her dead mother, the mother whose head was destroyed. He talks about being led by the contra over the ditch of bodies; touching the body parts and then watching the contra burn his community. While telling this story he slips into the present tense.

After that incident his family moved to Paiwas.  Then as a very young man he was part of the Paiwas militia, and, later at age 17, he was drafted into the Sandinista army, not much of a childhood.  After the end of the war, his twin brother was murdered.

After that incident his family moved to Paiwas.  Then as a very young man he was part of the Paiwas militia, and, later at age 17, he was drafted into the Sandinista army, not much of a childhood.  After the end of the war, his twin brother was murdered.

He now lives outside Paiwas with his mother and two children and works in the field with his machete for 30 cordobas a day (less than $2).  We had heard that he's the town drunk.  Yes, friendly, articulate, clear speaking Felix admitted he did have a drinking problem; says he still hurts everyday from the loss of his father and that  for years he woke up screaming, reliving the massacre.  It was sad to think of him as a drunk, as the type of man we so carefully try to avoid on the street, but there he was several days later, very drunk.  He said he's never had any counseling.  This self-medication led to the end of his marriage and will most likely lead to an early death.

On our way back to Managua we stopped off outside Rio Blanco to visit with Transito Suarez Amardor.  In the 1980s, 45-year-old Transito was a member of the Jose Benito Escobar farming cooperative.  His 38-year-old wife, Rosa Roja, helped with the Sandinista government malaria control program, his 25-year-old son, Miguel, farmed and worked with adult education in Rio Blanco, and his 20-year-old nephew, Juan Carlos, farmed and taught reading.  This work made them targets of the contra.  On March 19, 1985, sometime after midnight, the contra entered his house and demanded his weapons, but he had no weapons. They took him outside, naked, wearing nothing but his shoes. Several hours later he was able to escape.

But while some contra had been holding him, others had gone back to take Rosa, Miguel, and Carlos.  Others took his 16-year-old daughter, Ricarda.  He later found Rosa, Miguel and Carlos with their throats slit, nearly decapitated. Rosa had slashes on her arms, legs, and breasts.  Ricarda had been able to escape when the Sandinista army came and began engaging the contra in battle.

Transito Suarez Amardor
Transito Suarez Amardor, who survived a contra attack that killed his wife Rosa, son Miguel, and a nephew.

In 1985 Transito said, "If I could write to President Reagan, I would ask him to send the $14 million (a then recently passed congressional funding for the contra) here for books and medical supplies. The children here need school and medical supplies. All we are doing is working to feed our families. If we Nicaraguans die of hunger it will be Reagan's fault. Reagan's work here in Nicaragua is a plague on the people, a plague that comes from Honduras and Costa Rica, a financing of death" (from a 4/14/85 Witness for Peace interview by Paul Dix and Mike Hamer).

Petrona, Transito, Ricarda
Transito with daughters Petrona and Ricarda.
After this attack Transito moved to Rio Blanco where he lived with his brother, his oldest daughter, Ricarda, and his other four remaining young children (aged 2, 4, 8, and 11).

He now lives with his daughter, Petrona, and a houseful of grandchildren on a small but beautiful plot of land about a 45-minute bus ride from Rio Blanco, and then a 15-minute hike through some fields.  Other relatives have small plots of land nearby. It's a beautiful, safe place.  Ricarda's elementary aged children also live with him, and hike off through the fields to the nearby school in the mornings.

At the age of 65, he supports himself working in the fields with a machete at 20 cordobas a day (not even a dollar and a half), farming some land as a "share cropper", and selling a thick sugar cane syrup in Rio Blanco.  The sugar cane business is a family project, with some growing the cane, some extracting the liquid (using a press powered by two oxen), some boiling down the syrup, and Transito selling the "dulce" in town.  With the round trip bus fare being 20 cordobas (a day's wage for Transito) it's difficult to see much profit, but Transito stresses that if one can't work in Nicaragua one can't eat. At 65 he's still full of energy, good spirits, and certainly working hard to support himself and help his family.  He learned to read and write in the adult literacy program during the revolution.  He is eloquent, has a good sense of humor, and in spite of his poverty, maintains a gracious dignity.

Again, we walked away knowing we'd had the honor of sharing time with two people that represent the very best that we as humans could hope to be.
 family sugar cane press
The family's sugar cane press.
Thanks for traveling with us! The hot dusty season is now in full swing; the Managua bus fares are about to go up;  and about 5,000 people, many of them old and sick, did a ten day march from Chinandega to Managua and are now camped out in front of the National Assembly. They had worked on banana or sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and early 1980s and are now suffering the consequences of the nemagon and fumazone chemicals (U.S. produced) used well past the time they were outlawed in the U.S.  Last year they were promised financial help by the government but nothing came. This year they're again camped out in front the National Assembly but this time with approximately 30 graves dug along the perimeter. The more extreme elements of the group are threatening that 30 will bury themselves alive, 30 will kill themselves by starvation, and 30 will be crucified (yes, that is what they say!)  unless they receive assistance.  We visited with then yesterday; they've now been camping out for two weeks and have not yet been visited by government officials.

We do enjoying hearing from you. Remember to write us at our email address ( rather than though Max, our newsletter guru.  And we always appreciate contacts for our fall, winter, and spring speaking tour. The only date that is 100% firm is April 6, 2006 in Massachusetts, so we do know we can schedule other presentations in or near Massachusetts around that time.  We think we'll be in the northwest for the fall and southwest for February and March but that could change based on interest.


Pam Fitzpatrick and Paul Dix