Wednesday, October 26, 2011

War and Sandinismo: Voices from Estelí, Nicaragua

This August 2011 I went to Esteli, Nicaragua for two weeks as a medical translator for an organization called IMAHelps that my Granny has been volunteering with for over ten years.  This was my second time translating with this particular group in Nicaragua.  Last year when we went to Somoto I was the only gynecological translator at the hospital and we were pretty isolated in our hotel in the evenings so I was unable to connect with locals about history and politics of the Nicaraguan revolution.  However, this year the organization had the great pleasure of working with local volunteers from the Sandinista Youth and the Lions Club of Esteli.  We even had a few gynecological translators from the Peace Corps who were able to give me a few breaks halfway through the “medical mission” so I could conduct my interviews.  I suppose this is just a long way of explaining why I was in Nicaragua to begin with and how I managed to connect with some cool people that were willing to be interviewed about their views and experiences of the Nicaraguan revolution/Sandinista Revolution/Contra War.  
One of the first things I did to prepare to interview people was to do a little research about the Revolution and Contra War.

What follows is a historical cheat-sheet I made myself:
Like a lot of Latin America, the Cuban Revolution which took power in 1959 inspired hope in Nicaragua that a revolution could overthrow the Somoza dynasty.  (The first Somoza ruled Nicaragua starting in 1937 and the dynasty ruled for over 40 years.)  The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was formed in 1961 by Marxist college students and after years of training and organizing the FSLN, more commonly known as the Sandinistas, finally overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.  The FSLN was named in homage of the Nicaraguan radical and guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino who fought U.S. occupation in Nicaragua in the 1920s and 30s.  The FSLN, originally the organization which led the revolution, later evolved into a political party which led the country from 1979 until 1990.  The FSLN was led by President Daniel Ortega from 1985-1990 and both Ortega and the party have been back in power since 2007.  The Contra War was the anti-Sandinista counter-insurgency of militias funded by the US CIA  which fought from 1981 until 1988.  
I also decided to do a little research to check out what Nicaraguan Revolutionary Cinema was all about, especially since I had never heard of it.  What I found was that, as Jonathan Buchsbaum points out in his book Cinema and the Sandinistas: Filmmaking in Revolutionary Nicaragua, while film was the largest source of mass culture during the Cuban revolution, by the time that the Sandinista’s came to power it had become television.  Regardless, Cuban revolutionary advisors in Nicaragua began INCINE, the Nicaraguan Institute of Cinema, which began by making newsreels under the advice of the Cubans.  However, though the Sandinistas looked to Cuba for inspiration, support and comradship, when it came to revolutionary cinema they tried to break with the models created by Cuba et al. They neglected the newsreel model and aimed to be less propagandistic and dogmatic as they began making short documentaries which portrayed real people, did not fear being critical of the revolution, and finally made their last films (before folding due to lack of funds) fictional stories of devastation caused by the Contra war. 

I decided to make a short video of interviews about Sandinismo and the war with real people to get a glimpse of the complex affects of war, even if it is for a socialist state.  In fact, my first mistake was to ask about “the war,” believing I would hear about the Contra war of the 80s but really people identified the term with the revolution in the 70s as well as the war.  However, the variety of responses reflects the later INCINE documentary model which does not simply portray the revolutionary process as positive but allows for critiques.  I was happy to speak to both supporters and one strong critic, though she chose to be anonymous, something that begs the question of how tolerant current Sandinismo is to criticism. She mentions in the video that she was pregnant during wartime and has nothing but bad memories.  This particular experience is something that the man who speaks about the love and brother/sisterhood* he found in the ranks couldn’t have experienced.  Celvin Quintero comes from a family of Sandinistas and speaks about the war proudly, yet only learned of the war from history books.  His mother was also pregnant during the war but because she doesn’t talk about it he grew up without the personal experience that the woman interviewee had to inform her dislike.  While the stories vary, I was surprised to find that though each person I spoke to did mention that there was a lot of death, the things they seemed to remember most was the economical effects.  Lack of food, milk, and work were factors that forced adults and children, guerrillas and civilians to make great sacrifices such as leaving their homes and entering war zones. 
The reason I spoke to the people I spoke to, that is people over the age of thirty, was because when I spoke to the Sandinista Youth they had incredibly different experiences of Sandinismo than did their parents and grandparents.  I chose to speak to one of the Youth in a separate interview (which I will be posting) about Sandinismo rather than the revolution.
I hope this video gives a small glimpse of the very recent Revolution and War in Nicaragua and, in classic Revolutionary Cinema style, provokes the viewer to learn more in the hopes they will be inspired to take action.

*The reason I am not translating hermanidad to brotherhood is because the Sandinistas encouraged women to fight as well and there was a large portion of women who did so.

No comments:

Post a Comment