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!

November 3, 2004    Managua, Esteli, Lagartillo
(and Nicaraguan Economy/U.S. Election)

Including stories about or testimonies from: Celina, Patricia, Bismark.  

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.
Managua -- Poverty Reduction: Do we invest in hungry children or people who risked purchasing high interest 1 year bonds???

I bet many of you wish you were right here in Managua today!  We gathered last night with other U.S. citizens for a bountiful potluck and a sadder and sadder watching of the election returns.  November 2nd is the Day of the Dead in Nicaragua and we had hoped that all those killed by U.S. political, economic, and war policies would be honored by a change in U.S. leadership. Just a little breathing space. Not going to happen!  But the final blow for us was seeing all 11 states pass the marriage amendment.  It seems we all have a bit of work in front of us!

On a brighter note, it's great being back in Nicaragua with all its beauty, joy, colors, stress, sadness, poverty, pain, and forgiveness. We have much to learn from our Nicaraguan friends.

In a dangerous community on the outskirts of Esteli, 7-year-old Patricia lives with her grandmother, Celina. Two weeks ago Patricia's mother left for Costa Rica, hoping to enter illegally, find work, and eventually send money home. Celina is also taking care of Patricia's younger brother, Moises, and 8-month-old Gladys, daughter of a son who is also trying to work in Costa Rica.  So far no money has been sent.  Celina says they didn't have the money for the paper work to enter legally, and as "illegals" they generally get the worst jobs.

This was the same problem we saw when we were here in 2002/3. In a country of 5-1/2 million people it's estimated that a million or more are working in Costa Rica, mainly trying to send money home to their families for food. Everywhere we turn it's the same refrain, "there's no work in Nicaragua".  On top of that the western part of the state experienced a drought (the rains just didn't come at the right time) and they lost the first corn and bean crops.  The cost of beans is rising daily and some people are reporting that they are having to do without.  Now the next bean harvest may be reduced due to heavy rains. On top of this add the increased exportation of beans (part of globalization) and you have people that are very hungry.

If you read our newsletters from our last trip, or if you saw our slide show presentation, you might remember another of Celina's sons, Bismark, who by the age of 13 years had survived 3 contra attacks on his community, Las Colinas, then was declared dead after a contra ambush in 1990, and again was declared dead in May 2002 after a gang smashed his skull in his rough community on the outskirts of Esteli.

Bismark and his spirit-filled wife, Alba Luz, and their equally wonderful three young sons live in a new structure Bismark built by bricking in and roofing the small space between two buildings.  He doesn't have title to the land, and knows he can be thrown out at any time, but he needed shelter for his family.

Celina is about 6 blocks away, in the same dangerous community (gang activity), in a tiny one room wooden shack trying to care for her 3 grandchildren.
Bismark and Family
Bismark, family and neighbors  (Bismark-2nd from left; Alba Luz-left- holding neighbor's baby; Celina-right-holding baby Gladys; Patricia-toward right-blue and white striped dress)

Patricia would like to go to school, but Celina can't cover the cost of the ID card, shoes, socks, uniform, notebook, pencil, and small monthly payment.  For now the only hurdle she can face is that of finding food for the three children.

Nicaragua has been declared a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC). Most of Nicaragua's debt was acquired after the Sandinistas lost the election in 1990 (the earlier debt, during the Sandinista years, was mainly with socialist countries and has mainly been forgiven). The current external debt is mainly to multi-lateral lending organizations such as the IMF and World Bank and as bi-lateral loans through the Paris Club.

Once a country is classified as a HIPC country, meaning they have a large, unpayable debt AND they have a track record of adhering to imposed conditions - such as the privatization of electricity, telephone, social security - then they qualify for debt relief. It's extremely important to note that this debt relief is supposed to be used for poverty reduction programs.

Nicaragua began receiving some of this debt relief in 2001 and then officially qualified for ongoing relief in December of 2002.

According to Adolfo Acevedo, a Nicaraguan economist, the Nicaraguan government's real payments on the external debt are down, income from taxes is up, and government spending on social services is still down.  How can this happen during a time of HIPC relief?

Where is the actual increase in the government budget going?  It's being used to pay off the INTERNAL DEBT.  Nicaragua is paying more to debt service than it was BEFORE they qualified for HIPC relief.

So Patricia doesn't get help going to school and the "cup of milk a day" program in the public schools gets axed.  In fact, 850,000 children of school age are NOT enrolled and 45% of those that start elementary school do not complete it.

Why is the person who made a risky investment in 1 year 14% to 22% interest rate bonds more eligible for poverty relief than Patricia?  Why is he more important than a cup of milk for hungry children?

The IMF and World Bank are allowing this to happen, clearly with the blessings of the U.S.  And, in addition, they have to know that much of the internal debt isn't even legal. Some of the debt is from those high interest bonds, some from payments to people who lost their property to the Sandinistas (but some of those properties were actually lost due to non-payments on loans), and some was due to illegal loans made as banks were declaring bankruptcy.

If the government insists on paying off this illegal debt why couldn't they pay it off with the income from the selling of the nearly 300 government owned companies? These companies were often sold to friends of the current (U.S. supported) government for a total of approximately $200 million when their estimated value was $5 billion. Three cheers for privatization!

I'm sure this is a familiar story around the world. The minimal discomfort of the economically secure takes priority over the hunger of 7-year-old Patricia.
Lagartillo--We also traveled to one of our favorite communities, Lagartillo, a beautiful gathering of about 20 houses in the hills outside Esteli. Just a few miles away but a slow, bumpy 2-1/2 hour bus ride.
Paul Entering Lagartillo
Paul at "bus stop", entrance to Lagartillo
Oscar & Atalanta
Hijos Del Maiz language school in action (Oscar and Atalanta, student from NC)
As we had reported in our slide show tour, Lagartillo has begun a language school for foreigners. It's working! At the end of our 1/2 hour walk from the "bus stop" to the community we met our friend Oscar Perez and his student, Atalanta, from Asheville, North Carolina. She and 2 other students had heard of the school from one of our slide show presentations. What a nice treat for us!

If you're interested in learning Spanish, enjoy simple accommodations with dirt floor and no electricity and wonderful people and hills and trees and birds, you might consider their language school, Hijos Del Maiz. Check out their web page at  The more flexible you are the more you'll love it!

The drought hit Lagartillo hard. They have one corn crop and two bean crops a year; the corn and first bean crops were lost. The second bean crop looks like it'll be good, but now they will need to purchase corn all year, at higher than normal prices.  We hope the school grows and the income helps!

 We plan to return to Lagartillo for the December 31st commemoration of the 1984 New Year's Eve contra attack on the community that killed 6 of their members. Ten women and thirty children fled through the hills to Achuapa. This is the trip that we'll re-enact on the 31st, and then return to the community by trucks for a celebration of life!

[Note: Oscar's 14-year-old cousin was killed in the Dec 31, '84 attack.  Lagartillo is the only place we've visited where the people are committed to remembering their history, others seem to be trying to forget.]
Memorial to 6 killed in the 12/31/84 contra attack on Lagartillo
Managua--Sunday Nicaragua will have Municipal elections. Could they do worse than the U.S. did this week?

This newsletter will also be posted on our web page and within a few days will hopefully have a few accompanying non-professional photos (meaning taken by Pam) to help you better know our friends.  Also, feel free to contact us at "".

We'll close with a statement from Judith Herman's 1992 book TRAUMA AND RECOVERY: "all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing...The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering".

Thanks for traveling with us.

In appreciation!

Pam and Paul