18 Sep 2017 - Management Committee meeting at 6pm at Richard Attenborough Centre, Leicester
PROJECT UPDATES and NEWS:
Nicaragua Now - news and stories from and about Nicaragua
Generous donation of £1000 from Southern Housing Group for projects in Masaya.
Masaya is a city of around 120,000 people, situated twenty miles south-east of the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. It is the administrative centre of the smallest and most densely populated department in Nicaragua.
Dramatic volcanoes and sparkling lakes dominate this part of the country. The climate is tropical with a rainy season from May to November, when the land is verdant and fruits and flowers are in abundance. For the rest of the year the weather is hot, dry and dusty. Natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and earthquakes are common and constantly threaten the lives and livelihoods of the Nicaraguan people. Hurricane Mitch in 1998, destroyed crops and devastated Nicaragua’s fragile infrastructure. This was followed by poor harvests for 3 years exacerbated by severe drought across Central America. In 2000, the epicentre of an earthquake destroyed homes in Masaya and further damaged crops in rural areas.
Masaya’s historical centre is typical of Spanish colonial settlements, with open plazas and two large baroque churches, built in the 16th century. Otherwise, buildings on the criss-cross streets are usually single storey and houses are mixed in with shops, bars and small workshops in neighbourhood areas called ‘barrios’.
Most people living near the centre of town have small, well-built houses with piped water and sewerage. Conditions are less favourable in the outer ‘barrios’ where there may only be a shared tap and access to water is intermittent and pit latrines and traditional wood burning stoves are the norm.
Not all roads in Masaya are paved and people generally walk, cycle or use the buses which are plentiful, noisy and always full to capacity, but services run frequently from Masaya to all the major cities and most small towns. Few people own cars and those who do seize the opportunity to run a taxi service, charging a flat fee for local trips.
Like Leicester, Masaya has a history of manufacturing footwear and clothing and is well known for its large, bustling market which sells a rich variety of fruits, vegetables, foodstuffs, flowers, household goods and a wide range of artefacts which are hand-made by local people.
The Nicaraguan arts and crafts industry is based in Masaya, operating mainly in small family-run workshops in the indigenous district of the city. Artisans use traditional techniques to produce a range of crafts including woven mats, baskets, leather goods, masks and hand embroidered costumes, as well as hammocks and decorated wooden rocking chairs for which Masaya has an international reputation. There is also a strong artistic tradition among painters working in the ‘primitivista’ style. Large murals and smaller works on canvas vividly depict an idealised view of the lives of ordinary people and the dramatic landscapes that surround them.
Masaya is also the folkloric capital of Nicaragua and the Masayans love any and every excuse to celebrate. The city is especially lively during the Festival of St Jeronimo, the patron saint of Masaya. Every Sunday from September until November the streets are filled with people of all ages dancing in colourful costumes to the sound of the marimba.
Nearly half the population of Masaya is under 16 years old and though primary and secondary education is mainly provided through the state system, there are charges for stationery and textbooks and uniforms which many families struggle to afford.
Children attend school in shifts either in the morning, the afternoons or the evening as many young people work to supplement the family income. Only the basic subjects are taught, class sizes often exceed 50 students and resources are desperately limited - few schools have science or sport equipment and the libraries facilities are limited.
Whilst there are some opportunities for young people to develop their interests outside of school, these too are sometimes restricted by the lack of facilities.
Nicaragua is recognized as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti. In spite of this, the Nicaraguan people struggle hard to overcome the problems of poverty and they show great willingness to work together in community groups to bring about practical improvements. Personal involvement at a local level, such as volunteering to promote health or to run children’s centres in the different ‘barrios’, provides much needed support and is a benefit to the whole community.
Masaya and its environs feature throughout Nicaraguan history. In the late 13th century the Chorotega and Nicarao people fled from the aggressive Aztecs in Mexico and settled around Masaya and the Apoyo volcanic crater. When the Spanish conquistadores first arrived in Nicaragua in 1529 their first settlement, Granada, was established 10 km south of Masaya on Lake Cocibolca. Masaya was officially founded as a city in 1819.
Following Nicaragua’s independence from Spain in 1821, political rivalries between the conservative city of Granada and the more liberal city of Leon prompted a series of American interventions. In 1912, a Liberal rebellion led by General Benjamin Zeledón was brutally crushed by US Marines who paraded Zeledon’s dead body through the streets of Masaya. This act was witnessed by the young Augusto Sandino (who was born in Niquinohomo on the outskirts of Masaya), and gave rise to his 25 year engagement in guerilla warfare to force US military and business interests out of Nicaragua. Sandino was an elusive enemy and the marines did eventually leave, but only to be replaced by a new military unit called the National Guard with the young Anastasio Somoza García at its head. Somoza seized control of Nicaragua in 1937 and began the family dynasty that was to control Nicaraguan politics for 42 years.
In the 1960s, inspired by Sandino’s popular support of agricultural co-operatives and exploited workers, his ideals were resurrected in the new political movement known as the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) which instigated the revolution for social and political change. The Sandinistas’ military strength gained popularity in spite of continued blows at the hands of the National Guard in the 1970s. In 1978, in response to the assassination of the editor of the national newspaper La Prensa, which flaunted media censorship, the largely indigenous population of the Masaya neighbourhood of Monimbó rose up in a five day protest, after which the National Guard massacred hundreds of Nicaraguans. The Sandinisatas, with Daniel Ortega at the helm, overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and they set about redistributing land and running literacy campaigns. But the communist tendencies of land reform did not sit well with the business communities or the former members of the National Guard who regrouped outside Nicaragua as the ‘contra revolucionarios’ (Contras). When Reagan took office in 1981 the US financed the Contras and imposed an economic embargo which fuelled the civil war. By the close of the 1980s, the Sandinista economy was ruined and could not support a prolonged war of attrition. At the same time, the Iran-Contra scandal (in which funds for the Contra forces were illegally raised by selling arms to Iran) blew up and meant that both sides of the conflict were suffering.
In 1990, contrary to expectation, the Sandinistas were voted out of office and handed over the government to, Violeta Chomorro, widow of the slain journalist. Although she set out to rebuild the nation by reinvigorating the failing economy and was successful in encouraging foreign investment and debt relief, her economic streamlining policies and mass privatization had a negative impact. The economic turmoil turned into an economic crisis and by 1993, 60% of the population were unemployed, 70% were in poverty and 80% of the population could not afford to eat three times a day.
The 1996 election of Arnoldo Alemán was characterized by irregularities and scandal which continued throughout his presidency and many believed his abuses would return the FSLN to power in 2001. Despite a softening of the revolutionary Sandinista image and the gathering of a broad-based alliance (La Convergencia), the liberal candidate, Enrique Bolaños used reminders of the hardships of the civil war and a smear campaign against Ortega to win people over. Masaya remained a strong Sandinista town until the Bolaños years.
In 2006, the tables were finally turned as allegations of corruption in the Bolaños government and splits in the Liberal party drove people to elect Daniel Ortega once again.