Rainbow-over-primary-school-Teustepe-Nicaragua-February-1990

Nicaraguan Snapshots, 1990-1999 – Notebook and Image Gallery

I was asked a few days ago by someone who contacted me via my Nicaragua Canal updates page if I had any photos for publication available from Nicaragua; the answer unfortunately is no. At least not at the moment.

I visited Nicaragua five times during the 1990s, a couple of those for extended periods, and have plenty of images on slides and film available. But those are currently about 5,000 miles and some nine months away; these are the only scanned images I have at the moment, all culled from my dormant flickr account, and finally given a permanent home here. They’re divided into three sections:

  • images from the municipality of Teustepe, a community about 75km northeast of Managua that I got to know fairly well when I coordinated a sister city organization linking it with Athens, Ohio. The photo at top is Teustepe’s Primary school, taken in February 1990.
  • the second group are images from the northwestern town of Posoltega taken in April 1999, about six months after storms swept in by Hurricane Mitch devastated the area.
  • and the third a small hodgepodge including a selfie before the word was a thing.

All are low resolution scans of either slides or prints; most had seen better days. Enjoy!

Teustepe

Afternoon shadows, Teustepe, February 1990.

Vendor taking a break during a baseball game at Teustepe stadium. February 1994.

The little boy didn’t seem to mind playing with dried cow dung. Rapid deforestation and clearcutting here, primarily for grazing, left this area among the driest area in the country. Teustepe, February 1990.

Teustepe Police Department, high noon.  As two of the gentlemen worked on the jeep, I asked if I could take a photo. The other two quickly joined to be in the picture. They were playing around with that jeep for nearly three weeks but eventually they did get it to run. Teustepe, 10 February 1994.

Jimmy Sosa. I met Jimmy during my second visit to Teustepe, in 1992, and he immediately stood out from the dozens of kids who would regularly flock to the place where we were staying. Everybody wanted us to give them something, except for Jimmy. He was content simply listening to stories, asking questions, and telling stories. He loved to share an animated tale about how his father, a die-hard Sandinista, was killed by a long-time friend when the two were on opposite sides of the war just prior to the overthrow of the Samoza dictatorship in July 1979. This is taken in front of his house, Teustepe, Nicaragua, February 1994.

At a community meeting just outside town. February 1994.

Humberto Gonzales on his farm, the first entirely self-sustaining farm in the area. He uses/used manure to power his generators. Teustepe, Nicaragua, 11 February 1994

Humberto’s kids at home, February 1994.

Emergency room in Teustepe’s health center, February 1990.

A little more than two years after taking this, I was laying on that hard wooden slab, desperately waiting for a pain reliever. The day before, a hammock I was dozing in collapsed, dropping me about five feet onto a concrete floor. The next morning everything hurt –really really bad. As I waited, a little boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, was brought in. He fell off of a pick-up truck, and had dirt and gravel embedded in his head. He was put on a wooden slab next to mine, face down, with his head over a little garbage can. A doctor arrived and proceeded to scrape the stuff out of his head with a scalpel. No anesthetic. Every scream from that little boy reverberated through my body. Eventually I got my pain killer, administered through the biggest needle I’ve ever seen. July 1992.

I think I really scared the second kid from the right. Scan of a print with pushpin holes. Teustepe, February 1994.

Myriam Largaespada de Oliva, first woman mayor of Teustepe, in her office at the Alcaldia (Municipal Hall). The portrait on the wall is of then Nicaraguan president, Violetta Chamorro, the first woman elected as a head of government in Latin America. Teustepe, Nicaragua, 02-July 1992. (Bad scan of a mediocre print of a slide).

Store owner and his daughter, 23 February 1990.

Tortilla salesman, February 1994. I returned five months later, tracked him down and gave him a copy of this print.

Typically parched. February 1990.

In the countryside some 10 kilometers from Teustepe. What struck me most about this scene was that it could have been taken in some pockets of Appalachia. February 1990.

Donald Cordoba, one of the first friends I met during my first visit in 1990. At 15, Donald was jailed by Somoza’s US-armed and trained National Guard, had his finger nails torn off and was branded. A powerful, passionate speaker, and ardent Sandinista. At his home in Boaco, Nicaragua, Feb 1994.

Aftermath of Hurricane Mitch – April 1999

On 30-Oct 1998, torrential rains brought in by Hurricane Mitch filled the Casitas volcano, forcing the slope, pictured in several of the images, to collapse. It produced a massive river of mud more than a kilometre wide that swept through the area, killing nearly 3,000 people immediately, taking out several villages and smaller settlements, and displacing several thousand more. Some survivors, stuck in the mud for several days, had limbs amputated. These were taken six months later. Normalcy was still a long way off.

Dry river carved by the river of mud. Casitas in the background.

A makeshift refugee camp.

At the refugee camp.

At the refugee camp.

Casitas without its top.

A family at a refugee camp near Posoltega.

In the storage center at the refugee camp.

Posoltega Mayor Felicita Zeledon Rodriguez. Recently (December 2014) deceased.

At Posoltega City Hall.

Barren landscape.

Mudslide aftermath.

Where mud flowed.

A building destroyed by the mudslide.

Sisters playing at a refugee camp.

Bulletin board at city hall.

Camp leader.

And a closing mix

Dugout canoe on Ometepe Island. I walked by these gentleman early in the morning as they began carving out the tree. When we passed by again in late afternoon, they were nearly finished. Near Balgue, Ometepe Island, Lake Nicaragua, 17 February 1994

Student demonstrators, Managua, April 1999. He’s holding a ‘mortero’, kind of like a homemade M-80 launcher. Scan of a slide. More about this image is here.

Monument for the victory over Somoza. Made from melted AK-47s. Managua, February 1994.

Remains of the old cathedral. Along with much of central Managua, the cathedral was destroyed in the December 1972 earthquake which took upwards of 20,000 lives, and left 3/4s of the city’s population, then about 400,000, homeless. Through the newly-formed National Emergency Committee, Somoza, the last dictator of the Somoza dynasty which had ruled since 1936 and head of the ruthless National Guard, personally administered the tens of millions of dollars of international relief aid. Predictably, much of it simply vanished, creating one of the first major upsurges of popular support for the insurgent FSLN (Sandinista) guerillas. Roberto Clemente, the first Hispanic American elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, died in a plane crash on 31-Dec 1972, while en route to Managua to personally deliver and guarantee that relief reached those who needed it. February 1994.

And finally, here’s me with Carlos Fonseca, a co-founder of the Sandinistas and martyr of the revolution. In front of the Palacio Nacional, Managua, February 1994

 

 

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Lake Nicaragua from Ometepe Island, February 1994

Nicaragua’s Canal Dreams

This dreamy view was taken from a coffee cooperative located just below the midway point up the Maderas volcano on Ometepe Island on Lake Cocibolca, or Lake Nicaragua, taken in February 1994. My apologies for the lousy scan. But it’s here for a good reason beyond the pleasant memories it helps to recall.

I’m using it to kick-off a new page here entitled Canal Dreams, one I plan to regularly update over the next 4-5 weeks with news on the Nicaragua canal project. As an FYI the page‘s introduction is copied below. Thanks for reading.

~~~

In June 2013 the Nicaraguan government granted Hong Kong-based firm HKND a 50 year concession to build and operate a canal that will connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. With a price tag estimated at $40-50 billion, construction of the 278-kilometer (172mi) long corridor will be the largest and most expensive civil engineering project in Central American history, and one of the most ambitious ever attempted on the planet.

Supporters of the project, led by Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, argue that realizing this canal dream, one entertained since the Spanish conquistadors arrived 450 years ago, will create tens of thousands of jobs and produce record economic growth – the only real option to finally lift the country, the second poorest in the hemisphere behind Haiti, from poverty.

Those against have voiced serious concerns about the project’s feasibility, the wide-ranging authority the deal has given HKND and its billionaire boss Wang Jing, and the environmental damage the canal will cause to fragile ecosystems and Lake Nicaragua (also known as Lake Cocibolca), Central America’s largest source of fresh water. Many shipping and transit industry observers have question the need for another canal just 500 miles north of Panama’s while other critics wonder if it will ever be built. Most of all, the project, whose groundbreaking is officially set for December 22, has been blasted for its lack of transparency. It’s projected to be completed in 2019, and in operation by 2020.

I’ve recently begun conducting research and collecting information on the canal project; a regularly-updated working intro is here. This timeline is a companion page where I’ll be highlighting relevant news and updates that might also be of interest to others. I’ll try to post updates 4-5 times per week through the end of December 2014, when I’ll have to direct my attention elsewhere. The majority of the links here are to English language sources, but I hope to also present some translated summaries of Spanish language stories when time allows.

I welcome any and all information or links you’d like to share. Feel free to leave them in the comments on the Canal Dreams page or if you’d prefer to remain discreet, get in touch here. I’d especially like to hear from people on the ground in Nicaragua. I will honor all requests for anonymity.

~~~

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 316th straight, was taken on 20-Feb-1994.

Boat on the Panama Canal at Miraflores, near Panama City

A Boon, Pipe Dream or Scam? The Nicaragua Canal, a Brief Introduction

These are the Panama Canal’s Miraflores locks just outside of Panama City. The 101-year-old Atlantic-Pacific link may have competition before the end of the decade courtesy of the Grand Canal of Nicaragua, an unlikely but long-sought project on which ground is scheduled to be broken next month.

The plan?

To connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans with a 278 kilometer long canal via Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s biggest lake and largest source of fresh water. It’s to be between 27.6 and 30 meters deep, and 230 and 520 meters across at its narrowest and widest.

The price tag?

Including the construction of two ports, a free trade zone with residential housing for 140,000 people, an international airport, a series of tourism complexes, several highways and a power plant, cost estimates range from $40 billion and $50 billion USD, more than four times Nicaragua’s gross domestic product.

And who’s in charge?

Thanks to a generous deal granted by the Nicaraguan government, Chinese tycoon Wang Jing, a somewhat enigmatic businessman whose net worth is listed at $6.4 billion, a pile of cash that lands him just outside of China’s top 10 richest people, according to Forbes.

His company, the HKND Group, was granted a 50-year concession by the Nicaraguan government last year, a tax-free deal with an option to extend to a century. It remains a mystery how a company with no track record in large civil engineering projects, let alone one that will be the largest and most expensive in Central American history, could have been given the concession in a process that included no other bidders.

That’s just one question of many that have been raised since the announcement of the deal was made in June 2013. On most, neither Wang nor Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega –who has paved the way for the canal’s rubber stamp approval at every level of Nicaraguan government– have been particularly forthcoming. Indeed, the biggest criticism of the deal from the start has been of its glaring lack of transparency.

Ometepe

From Ometepe Island, February 1994

 

Continue reading…

Clinic emergency room, Teustepe, Nicaragua in February 1990

Emergency Room, Community Clinic, Teustepe, Nicaragua (1990)

I’ve been sick for the past few days so decided to dig deep into the ‘Illness on the Road’ files for today’s Pic Du Jour.

This is the Emergency room in the community clinic in Teustepe, Nicaragua, in February 1990. A little more than two years after taking this, I was laying on that hard wooden slab desperately waiting for a pain reliever.

The day before, a hammock I was dozing in collapsed, dropping me about five feet onto a concrete floor, and by the next morning everything hurt. Really really bad. As I waited, a little boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, was brought in. He fell off of a pick-up truck, and had dirt and gravel embedded in his head. He was put on a wooden slab next to mine, face down, with his head over a little garbage can. A doctor came, and proceeded to scrape the stuff out of his head with a scalpel. No anesthetic. Every scream from that little boy reverberated through my body. Eventually I got my pain killer, administered through the biggest needle I’ve ever seen.

Teustepe, Nicaragua, Feb 1990

 

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Old cathedral, Managua

Old Managua Cathedral (Pic du Jour)

This photo, taken in February 1994, is of the remains of the old cathedral in Managua which was heavily damaged in the 1972 earthquake that hit the Nicaraguan capital 41 years ago today. The 6.5 magnitude quake took upwards of 10,000 lives and left two-thirds of the city’s population, homeless.

Through the newly-formed National Emergency Committee, Anastasio Somoza, the last dictator of the Somoza dynasty that ruled the country since 1936, personally administered the tens of millions of dollars of international relief aid that arrived in Nicaragua in the quake’s wake. Predictably, much of it simply vanished and lined the pockets of his political and business allies, creating one of the first major upsurges of popular support for the insurgent FSLN (Sandinista) guerrillas that swept into power seven years later.

Roberto Clemente, the first Hispanic American elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972 while en route to Managua to personally deliver and guarantee that relief reached those who needed it.

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Fleeting Moment, with Mortero

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme this week is Fleeting Moment, like the one during which I made eye contact with this student demonstrator in Managua, back in April 1999. He’s holding a mortero, kind of a homemade M-80 launcher. They’re mainly used to make a very loud noise. They succeed with great effect.

These particular demonstrations were organized each April since the beginning of the 1990s to protest proposed cuts to university funding budgets. As far as I know they were still going on as recently as 2009. The Nicaraguan constitution mandates that six percent of the federal budget go towards higher education. Each year through the 1990s there was a threat to reduce it, thus the protests.

A student was killed by the police the day before so there was some tension – and plenty of tear gas. This was taken later in the day; earlier I ran when tear gas began flying in my direction, a reaction that provoked laughter from a student who was helping me as an interpreter.

“Why are you running, silly, crazy gringo?”

I always thought that crossing paths with tear gas usually signaled a good reason to run.

Along the margins, on both sides of the street, kids stood by ready to sell bottled water to anyone who was gassed. I didn’t need any because I ran.

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Tesutepe 018

‘I’ve had cholera. You?’

 

I’ve read Love in the Time of Cholera twice. It’s among my favorite books.

The first time was in the early winter of 1992, when I lived in a small one-room cabin in the woods near Athens, Ohio. At the time I was preparing for a road trip three friends and I were about to take, driving my friend Bob O’s 1975 International Harvester Scout from southern Ohio to Nicaragua. When he bought it for two hundred dollars six months before our late June departure date, it was barely running.

That winter also included research into and writing about a new cholera pandemic that began early the previous year in Peru and which was gradually creeping its way north towards Central America.

By June we were prepared with fully recharged immune systems. We had several booster shots, drank polio juice dispensed from the university clinic, and took our anti-malarials. On the road we were extremely careful with what we ate. We drank and brushed our teeth with only bottled water.

During a seven-hour wait on the border between El Salvador and Honduras, Breyer was the first to get sick. Nausea, some vomiting, diarrhea. I was the first to make fun of her.

It hit me the next afternoon as we were approaching San Marcos de Colon, a Honduran town just eleven kilometers from the Nicaraguan border. We were running late, the border closed at five, so we were forced to spend the night. I could barely walk. Bob O dragged me a few blocks to a small privately operated clinic run by a young Brazilian doctor who, as it happened, was extensively involved in Honduras’ national anti-cholera campaign. And she wasn’t amused. I don’t recall her precise words, but they went something like this:

“I’ve been working my ass off to keep cholera out of this town and you greasy gringos bring it here.”

Cholera causes heavy and quick dehydration. It’s easily cured, but if not treated quickly, it can and does kill. It’s the worst form of diarrhea imaginable, unrelenting. The dizziness is profound, and I’ve never felt that parched or helpless.

We were quarantined for the next thirty-six hours, the first twenty of which where fairly unpleasant. The doctor immediately began treating us as if we had the bacteria swimming inside us, but we still had to provide samples which would be sent to the health institute’s main lab in the capital Tegucigalpa.

We were laying on brand new cholera beds, the kind with precut holes designed to fit virtually any ass size, when she handed us small glass containers. They reminded me of baby food jars. “Here,” she said.

When you’ve lost all control of that bodily function, capturing your own spouting fountain of cholera juice in a recycled baby food jar isn’t easy. It’s also a mess. I really don’t wish it upon anyone. Not even George W. Bush.

We were also advised to not, under any circumstances, tell anyone that we contracted cholera – not in Honduras, not in Nicaragua. The campaigns were effective, the doctor told us, but they’ve also spread considerable fear. People would flood the clinics demanding medicines. Terrified mobs could form to run us out of town. “This has happened,” she said.

Near Teustepe, Nicaragua. What struck me here was that I’d seen very similar scenes in rural Appalachia.

During our unintended stay, we met Mary, a Texan who was born-again a dozen years earlier and who had been coming to San Marcos for the past nine years to help with the clinic.

“I heard there were some sick communists in town,” she said, after storming into our room to introduce herself. I wasn’t feeling particularly talkative.

“Who are you and what the fuck are you doing here?” was all I could manage.

She smiled. “Every American who passes through here is a communist. But that’s okay. Jesus will forgive you.”

I wanted to tell her that Jesus was a communist but I was too distracted with positioning myself just right over the hole in the bed.

Over the next few days she rambled on about lots of things, among them, that a capful of Clorox bleach can cure just about everything. Her anti-communist rants were particularly amusing. “Seventy percent of Mexico is communist,” she said. “Most of Guatemala and El Salvador, half of Honduras.”

For the rest of the summer we called her The Church Lady. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on one thing, but I did grow to like her. We had conversations fun enough to make my vomiting and diarrhea slightly less unbearable. I jotted quite a bit of them into my notebooks. She later inspired a few haiku. Here’s one:

Says she – “I was blessed
Jesus set me up real good
With cheap real estate”

With lots of time to kill, we tracked down the root of our affliction to a small roadside restaurant in the mountains just south of Guatemala City. Breyer and I each had a salad which was obviously washed in contaminated water. Bob O and Jeannine did not.

***
Aside:

Bob O’s car got us there, but it never left Nicaragua. He decided to sell it to a friend, Pedro, a former contra squad leader who would later become mayor of Teustepe, our sister city. One afternoon, Pedro and some friends drove into the countryside for what I think was to be a hunting trip. Along the way a spark ignited and the car, loaded with guns and ammo, exploded. No one was hurt.

I traveled overland on my way back north that summer –the other three chose to fly– selecting slightly different routes. Hoping to at least partly avoid the mass confusion, delays and bribes inherent in each border crossing, I chose a less-traveled one from Nicaragua back into Honduras via Esteli and Ocotal.

I got up early, hopped on a pre-dawn bus, and was first in line when the Nicaraguans opened their side of the border at 8 a.m. Soon after waving good bye, I walked the four hundred or so meters to the Honduran gate, which wouldn’t be open until 9. So I spent an hour, with no shade, sitting on the thick line you see separating countries on maps.

** **

__________________
Yes, that’s right.
C is for Cholera
in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge 2012.
Check out more participants here.

My explanation for this is here.

*** *** ***

 

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First time here?

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Yue Minjin ripoff Smile

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Photos from the Aftermath of Hurricane Mitch

I finally got around to scanning some slides I shot ten years ago when I visited Posoltega, Nicaragua, in April 1999, about six months after storms brought in by Hurricane Mitch devastated the area. The photo above is of a refugee camp set up in Posoltega, in the country’s northwest.


On October 30, 1998, torrential rains brought in by Hurricane Mitch filled the nearby Casitas volcano, forcing the slope, above right, to collapse. It produced a massive river of mud, at some points more than a kilometer wide, that swept through the area, ultimately killing upwards of 3000 people. It annihilated several villages and smaller settlements, and displacing several thousand. [A good Mitch summary on Wiki.]

Below are some scattered notes from the visit (some are still in a stash of stuff back in the US), but first some quick background:

Nicaragua dominated much of the foreign policy debate in the US during the Reagan years, so it was somewhat predictable that Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s tirade at the recent Americas summit brought the country back into the headlines.

When he was voted out of power in 1990, media attention on the country more or less vanished until Ortega regained the presidency in close elections in 2006. By then, after setting up a mutual immunity deal with arch conservative Arnoldo Alemán, who was president from 1997 to 2002, he had long since lost support from most senior Sandinista (FSLN) party partners, who left and formed other parties, taking with them countless party loyalists.

During its time in power, the Alemán administration quickly became synonymous with corruption and graft. An opinion poll published during my 1999 visit found that more than half of Nicaraguans viewed him as more corrupt than the former dictator Anastasio Somoza whom the Sandinistas overthrew 20 years earlier, and for whom Alemán worked. (Alemán was charged, eventually convicted and received a 20-year sentence, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court in what most view as part of the deal struck with Ortega.)

So, the widespread tales of corruption that the people in Posoltega (and in Managua) shared didn’t come as a huge shock. At an aid distribution warehouse (pictured above), several of the workers expressed their frustration with the federal government which was doing next to nothing to help the municipality, at the time governed by a Sandinista mayor. Bill Clinton visited the area during a Central American tour in March 1999; just prior to his visit housing construction materials were trucked in, along with 2000 bags of cement, a ‘donation’ from the government. After he left, the materials were hauled away under cover of night.

I spoke at length with Posoltega’s mayor, Felicita Zeledon Rodriguez, who said that after the initial influx of aid in the weeks after the rains finally subsided, nothing had arrived for more than two months. Among the numerous problems she faced was that the aid assistance was being taxed by the Aleman administration. Food was running scarce, she said. “The first harvest is in August, and it’s only April.”

Above is Jose de la Cruz Poveda, 17 at the time, who was one of the refugee camp leaders.

In Posoltega, my translator Tanya and I met Alvaro Montalvan, a reporter for Canal 12, who was investigating reports that much of the international relief aid sent to the stricken areas was actually being sold in various markets in Managua. We joined him and his cameraman as they headed to the Port of Corinto to check on the status of 28 cargo containers of relief aid which had arrived on March 19 from Los Angeles. We tracked down the port’s container operations chief, who eventually admitted that seven of those 40-foot containers couldn’t be accounted for. They simply vanished. And in the meantime, as the stocks in Posoltega’s relief center were dwindling rapidly, the containers above had been sitting port side for more than a month.

More pics, 18 in all, are in a flickr set here.

I know that there are numerous NGOs working in the region, and that a growing number of travelers are visiting that part of Nicaragua. This is a long since forgotten footnote of the country’s recent history, and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s visited or worked there over the past decade who can share any updates. I’m extremely interested in learning how people in the area have fared.