June 2003 edition
Vol.2, Issue 5
Radio For Peace International In Nicaragua
Yes, we get everywhere!
At the end of April, our Program Director Naomi Fowler visited Nicaragua where she helped deliver a three-day radio production workshop and gave a talk about Radio For Peace International at the
house in Managua. (Ben Linder was an engineer who worked in Nicaragua as a volunteer helping to set up electricity systems to serve remote areas and was killed by the U.S.-sponsored Contras. The house was built in his memory.) Some of the people who came for the talk at the Ben Linder house had also attended the week-long radio production workshop held at the Radio For Peace studios in Costa Rica back in January with Pauline Bartelone of
. Here's the story:
I arrived in Managua in the early afternoon, having left San Jose in Costa Rica in the early hours of the morning and
traveling through the beautiful mountain ranges between the two countries, passing by the huge lake once across the border in Nicaragua which is surrounded by three dramatic volcanoes, one with the top completely blown off.
I was whisked off to a political meeting where I sat in on a discussion about the state of affairs in Nicaragua and criticism of National
Assembly representatives who earn huge amounts of money and have perks too numerous to mention whilst so many in Nicaragua are living way below the poverty level with little prospect of anything being done to improve their lot. There was then a speaker talking about the pressure from the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Nicaragua to nationalize their water and the possibilities for resisting this and a discussion on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of
Bolaños, Nicaragua's current president who took over from the notorious Aleman, who appears to have stolen more money from his country than all other Nicaraguan presidents put together.
I met some members of the team, some of whom took part in the radio production workshop. Witness for Peace, like the World Association of Christian Churches (WACC) seems to be one of many religious organizations based in Nicaragua with a progressive agenda. Witness for Peace dedicates its time to informing the US public about the effects of their foreign policies on other countries, such as Nicaragua, through visits from delegations which they organize as well as many articles and pamphlets that they research and write aimed at informing and inspiring action back in the US.
In the sense that we at Radio For Peace International are all about making visible the connections between actions and consequences (for example, of corporations, governments and of world citizens who allow these things to take place), so are some of these organizations based in Nicaragua. I was impressed by the work many were involved in, and their very thorough knowledge, understanding and sensitivity about Nicaragua. It is not always the case. Although RFP I does not share their religious views, we certainly do share the same vision for the future we would like to see in terms of a total change in the foreign policies of the most powerful governments in the world and we recognize that we are working for the same goals.
Some of the streets in Managua and the politically charged atmosphere reminded me in some ways of Cuba. Managua is a surprisingly spread-out city with lots of unexpected greenery and very wide streets. The greenery, it was explained to me, was because of past earthquake damage and fear and lack of money to rebuild.
I kept coming back to a feeling of disbelief that there can be so many incidences where a country and its people can be cheated so outrageously, so many times by so many different ideologies, individuals and organizations. I plan to return again soon to make some programming about Nicaragua and the realities of life there today after such a history of revolution, terrible war and its complex aftermath. So, listen for that on Radio For Peace International.
I was interested to visit Nicaragua after having encountered such negative reactions from so many Costa Ricans about Nicaraguans. As is often the case with such attitudes, they often serve among other things as a marker against which we measure ourselves and that which we wish to consider ourselves not to be; something that has its roots in a feeling of insecurity that actually has little to do with Nicaragua or whoever it is who has become the
"bottom of the pile." The anti-immigration lobby is strong in Costa Rica, despite a tiny population and the fact that immigration boosts the economy. Their largest immigrant population is from Nicaragua and they work at the jobs Costa Ricans tend to consider beneath them.
The Costa Rican experience of a not so distant harsher economic reality is still in their recent past and very much motivates what I see as their headlong and largely uncritical rush towards
"Gringolandia" and all things "Gringo," cheer-led on by their extremely commercialized media. The Nicaraguan relationship with and concepts of the US are of course flavored by a very different experience.
People in Nicaragua told me that the only reason the Nicaraguan economy is still standing is due to migrant workers sending in their wages to their families from all over the world, including from within Costa Rica, and that an average of $2 million US dollars comes into Nicaragua this way each day.
2003 is a pivotal year for Central America with the talks (so called Free Trade in Central America). Abel Pacheco (the Costa Rican president) looks set to roll over and say
"'yes" to everything. The Nicaraguan President looks set to say
"yes" to whatever he can manage logistically, which, bearing in mind the current complicated state of affairs and the power, not to mention money vacuum, may not be very much very fast. Costa Rica may come to regret their greater state of preparedness and their more positive view of the US.
There is at least some talk at least in the media in Costa Rica (and much more in the Nicaraguan media) about Mexico's experience so far of
"free trade"' and the very good economic reasons why Costa Rica and Nicaragua should really be thinking very carefully about making any agreements at all. It is going to be a turbulent time. Neither country wants their water privatized and they will come out onto the streets to stop it happening. I can only hope that their governments are more democratically minded than in my own country, Britain and take some notice.
Costa Rica is in great danger of falling foul of US foreign policy, like the neighboring countries it has tended to distance itself from
in the past. I am reminded of John Donne's poem, "no man is an island entire of
itself" and in some ways I am reminded of my own country Britain isolating itself within Europe (as Charles de Gaul so rightly predicted) in favor of the
"special relationship" with the U.S. and how that continues to problematize our participation in Europe and a lot more besides.
I sat and talked with two long distance lorry drivers on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica on my way back to RFPI and found myself being asked which Latin American country I liked best. It was obviously a loaded question and when I said I had found Nicaraguans to be extremely friendly, they smiled approvingly. I asked them if they were Nicaraguan. No, they told me, one was from Guatemala and the other from El Salvador. They told me that of all the Central American countries they drive through each week, they disliked driving through Costa Rica because of the discrimination they said they were subjected to, but when they entered Nicaragua, they felt they were coming home.
I wonder how opposition to the CAFTA talks will manifest itself this year in Central America. In Nicaragua, it looks like the struggle against water privatization is gaining momentum and will be big. In Costa Rica, those such as Rodrigo Carazo (Costa Rican ex-president and RFPI Board member) will continue to speak out against the agreement and RFPI will focus increasingly this year on covering this issue.
We are also focusing more and more on bringing you independent news from the Central American region in our new daily RFPI news shorts at 21.30 UTC. We hope to build on this Central American progressive news service with help from our colleagues in Nicaragua in the future. You, like us, will have noticed that some parts of the world do not seem to exist in other parts of the world. That's what we are all about here at Radio For Peace International and with your help and support, we will go on trying to facilitate access to the airwaves of these issues, people and countries who seem to be invisible or
"un-newsworthy" to other media groups who are not motivated by the same principles as we are.
Members of the group I met in Managua plan to work on a weekly progressive news report about Nicaragua for RFPI, and I also talked with people who work with indigenous groups in Nicaragua with whom we may work in the future in a project similar to the one we are currently embarking on with the Huetar indigenous group in Costa Rica where the radio station is located. We are helping them set up an AM community radio station and there are also plans to make a series of recordings of their oral history as well as a special project to preserve their language which is dying out. The Huetar eventually want to build a National Indigenous Learning Center and a school not just for indigenous children but for all children. We are very happy to be a part of such projects and we will update you on their progress as well as any new ones which may come up in Nicaragua in the future.
With trips such as this latest one to Nicaragua, we can build on our network bringing you even more independently sourced information and analysis from around the world.
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