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  Number 365 | Diciembre 2011
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Nicaragua

What was the revolution? What is Sandinismo?

The FSLN’s official discourse insists that Nicaragua is in “a second stage of the revolution.” We thus need to examine in depth how the first stage, that of the 1980s, is remembered. These fragments from a more extensive book, are remembrances of the revolution on the agricultural frontier and conclude with the urgent need to review, rethink, rewrite and re-imagine the revolution and Sandinismo itself.

Fernanda Soto Joya

In the years following the revolution, FSLN leaders reaffirmed their traditional discourse in open negotiations with rightwing governments, media interviews, political campaigns and celebrations of the revolution’s feats, especially the massive grassroots gatherings on July 19. At these events the collective memory of Sandinismo (the Sandinista ethos) was ratified, tweaking it according to whatever was going on at the time.

It was all quite contradictory: some speeches clamored for reconciliation and a kind of forgetfulness while at the same time revalidating stories from the past that revived expectations of avenging the governing Right’s political bombardment and insults. Party members’ commitment to the revolution’s ideals were remembered at the same time that the enormous differences—not just economic—among them were accepted as natural, necessary or inevitable, even as these differences were exacerbated with the passage of time. Over the 15-plus years this process went on, the historic moment of the revolutionary triumph was reconfirmed and old Sandinista stories were idealized and entrenched. The collective memory of the revolution that prevails today is a complacent one, inhibiting internal questioning and stressing the vital importance of defense. I wanted to “open windows” into this memory, to understand it better.

How do they remember the revolution?
How do they view Sandinismo?

I don’t think there’s been enough public discussion of how grassroots Sandinistas remember the revolutionary years: those who fought in the war, who experienced that era in the countryside and who, after the electoral defeat, when it came time to compete, had fewer resources with which to do so. It’s assumed that the Nicaraguan population only “repeats the line” and in this there’s just emptiness and the need for survival. But if, as Sandino said, “Only the workers and peasants will go all the way,” it’s fair to ask, a decade after the end of the century, what those “revolutionary subjects” think about the past and the present.

How do they remember the revolution? What do they think about Sandinismo? These questions lead to others: What do the revolutionary memories reflect today? And most important: Is that memory counter-hegemonic? What is the revolutionary legacy? My research attempts to understand how the Sandinistas reconstructed revolutionary memory, what it says about the relationship of a sector of the population with Sandinismo and what revolutionary legacies appear in this memory. I’m looking for answers to these questions by recalling and interpreting what I lived through, saw and heard in the mining municipality of Siuna, in “the mountain,” on Nicaragua’s old agricultural frontier.

Windows into the peasant memory

The importance of talking about peasants’ memories is to learn how one of the subjects prioritized by the revolution recalls this political project. The revolutionary self-image exalted the rural population and described the “mountain” as the perfect arena for struggle. In Fire from the Mountain, Omar Cabezas describes a world in the mud and shadows of the wilds where the guerrilla mettle was forged and continuity was given to the Sandinista tradition that went back to the time of Sandino, the General of Free Men. Cabezas’ writing made it seem as if the very sap from the trees imbued the peasants with a political legacy that, coupled with poverty and exclusion, led them to become Sandinista collaborators first and then guerrillas. In the 1980s the literacy crusade put urban dwellers into close contact with their rural compatriots. Later, the agrarian reform, for all its mistakes, showed a clear commitment to the peasantry. It’s thus relevant to ask how they remember the revolution today and what legacies they think it has left them.

Another reason for opening windows into peasant memories is that my first work experiences in the Nicaraguan countryside brought me close to those who fought against the revolution, peasants who didn’t fit the Sandinista description. Those encounters allowed me into a hitherto unknown area, rapidly unraveling the images of the countryside the revolution had drawn in my mind. There was nothing heroic about “the mountain.” Only occasionally did it appear like a prosperous dream in the midst of deprivation. The rest of the time it was a no-man’s land ruled by the law of the jungle.

At that time I was involved in programs concerned with the rural population’s welfare, but never with knowing what those people aspired to or what they understood by welfare. Many colleagues didn’t disguise their rejection of rural life, yet they were responsible for “pulling” the peasants out of poverty. Such contempt for rural people is nothing new; it was evident in the general disinterest in listening to and under¬standing them.

Given the enormous exclusion in which the Nicaraguan peasant population lives, especially those furthest from the Pacific’s urban centers, I decided to go beyond the analysis describing those the revolution identified as privileged recipients as subjects that must be “developed.” I was interested in understanding how these men and women analyzed their past and conceived their present. My interest was born of a mixture of wanting to understand their experience and needing to hear what they think and feel and how they perceive that experiences then and now.

When the nation is the farm

The conflict of the agricultural frontier’s rural population with the revolution must be analyzed against a backdrop of various realities. During the Somoza dictatorship, governmental presence in this area was minimal, which many saw as giving them carte blanche to freely colonize “the mountain” and seek to improve their lot.

While the new Sandinista government had a greater presence, many felt it didn’t acknowledge the importance of the colonizing work these peasants had undertaken and even constrained their personal enrichment logic. Much of the agricultural frontier’s rural population felt nullified as people by the Sandinista government’s agrarian policy. And although the revolution proclaimed development, they felt its actions were limiting their own development. Many peasants chose to fight militarily against the revolution and did so clinging to the counterrevolution’s nationalist line—very similar to that of the Sandinistas—of defending the homeland.

Which nation were those peasants defending? For the peasants on the agricultural frontier, their farm is the nation. Although this seems a simplistic and somewhat exaggerated assertion, it’s true that what mainly motivated these settlers’ struggle was defense of their farms.

The nation they laid claim to was one where they could “work in peace.” They fought for a return to an imaginary limitless and ownerless land where the freedom to acquire property and improve their living conditions prevailed. Interestingly, one consequence of the revolutionary process has been an extension of the range of rights currently held by the anti-Sandinista peasant population. In a paradoxical contradiction arising from those times of war, Siuna’s Liberal peasants are today demanding more from government, claiming more freedom.

What does “freedom” mean
on the agricultural frontier?

In my opinion, the struggle of the agricultural frontier’s rural population has been for full citizenship and “good government.” For these people “good government” means one that not only provides the promised benefits but also acknowledges the region’s peasants as pioneers of rural progress. In the eyes of these men (and I say men because the discourse on colonization of the “mountain” is predominantly masculine), their colonizing history is what reaffirms their right to the citizenship and equality enjoyed by the rest of the nation. This history is what distinguishes them from the indigenous and Afro-descendent Caribbean peoples, confirming and reaffirming them as mestizos, freeing them from all suspicion. They are proud of having wrought civilization and development by colonizing “the mountain” and they want government to acknowledge this.

Agricultural frontier people want good government and reject government not only when it doesn’t fulfill its promises—i.e. when their rights don’t materialize—but also when it disrespects them and their ways of working. The success and acceptance of the Liberal discourse in areas like Siuna doesn’t lie in what Liberal governments or leaders do or don’t do—they rarely deliver on their promises—but in their political speeches, whose fundamental premise is freedom. That proclaimed freedom is an essential motivation for frontier people and is one of the issues keeping certain rural structures intact.

The biggest difference I noticed between Siuna’s Liberal and Sandinista peasants is the way the latter—from their involvement in the revolution—saw the State. They saw it as providing freedom and saw “civil rights” as an expression of this freedom. While Liberal peasants felt hat the revolution limited their freedom, the Sandinistas believed that it expanded theirs. And for them, freedom acquired new meanings. It was no longer just to move forward and take over new land.

Siuna, April 2007

My stay in Siuna ended in April 2007, just three months after Ortega returned to power. By then, caution about the new situation was already noticeable among Liberals in town. They didn’t know what would happen. Meanwhile, the Sandinistas—a minority in that area—publicly expressed their great joy. Many hoped that all the good things from before would return, but now without the bad: meaning without war.

One of the FSLN’s first steps in 2007 was to structure grassroots, community-based authorities called Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPC). A neighbor was one of those put in charge of organizing the CPC where I was doing my research. He told us he was having a hard time organizing people and that many didn’t want to participate in the CPCs. He was also having problems choosing “trustworthy” Sandinistas to support this organizational process. A friend reminded him that “even people who did important things in the FSLN ended by leaving it.” He said not to look so hard, because even the most trustworthy could no longer be trusted and mentioned the names of several former Sandinistas who were by then in the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The CPC organizer answered: “But those are people with money!”

In those words I heard a deeply-rooted view: those from the FSLN aren’t just with the poor but live like the poor, whereas those who left the FSLN are the rich, and at bottom were always right wingers, those who betrayed and sold out. This view contends that “the people” stay faithful and go on being like an enormous homogenous mass.

The FSLN’s “moral superiority”

Many FSLN members’ air of moral superiority seems very like the well-known image of power that looks down disdainfully on the rest. That’s why many think the FSLN government is right to bolster conservative religious narratives advocating traditional values because “that’s the only way people understand.” For many the problem of the eighties was trying to change what can’t be changed.

In that perspective, “the people” are still being portrayed as uncivilized, ignorant, uncouth and dimwitted. Opinions like this show the strengthening of a narrow worldview that limits processes before they begin, assuming that the way the population acts reflects our “values,” that these values are culture and that culture is something like a biological inheritance, like inheriting your father’s nose or your mother’s eyes. This vision offers very marginal hopes for change.

Religious metaphors, the appeal to nationalism and identification with “the people” strengthened the attachments of a sector of the population to the revolution and the party representing it, the FSLN. At the same time, traditional ways of understanding and exercising power were internalized and became natural: the revolution conceived as benevolence, as giving to us, responding to us, protecting us, loving us... It’s a sentimental story where the ideological discourse is mixed with commitment, debt, nostalgia, loyalty, guilt, pride, heroism/manhood… Outside it is pain, unhappiness, disappointment, selfishness, revenge, rage.

In fact, the problem isn’t with these sentiments as such but the associations we bring to them. Because power can be understood another way; we can rethink heroism so it includes the very many small acts that remain outside; we can transcend interpretations anchored in benevolence.

The FSLN wants to control
how the revolution is remembered

It’s not surprising that many of the current political disputes in Nicaragua revolve around memory. Even more interesting is that the most intense dispute isn’t between Sandinistas and anti-Sandinistas, but among those who define themselves as Sandinista. In this battle, the FSLN has managed to keep its hegemony over most Sandinistas, even though the hatred vented against dissidents suggests anxiety. Perhaps this is because the MRS is made up of well-known and significant personalities from the eighties with whom long-standing Sandinistas can identify. This irritation may even be nothing more than a reaction, seeking to punish disobedience and the questioning of the current FSLN leaders’ authority.

The anxiousness of the FSLN leadership to control how the revolution must be remembered also lies in that narrative’s power to legitimate their actions in this new stage of government. The FSLN claims that Nicaraguans are now in “the second stage of the revolution.” As one woman said: “I’m not talking about the first revolution but this one now, the second.”

If we’re now in a new revolution, the collective Sandinista memory becomes evidence of what the FSLN can do, of its possibilities for change. But this memory leaves aside fundamental elements from that past and this present. For example, amongst other important things not openly discussed are the negotiations by certain party members over the last three decades: what exactly did they consist of and what impacts have they had? Some take for granted that this questioning isn’t necessary because everything the FSLN does is revolutionary and, even if it isn’t, at least it always prioritizes the marginalized sectors. For some, the repetition of past stories is sufficient confirmation of this long-standing commitment.

A frozen image of the
revolution prevails

It’s worth bearing in mind British feminist academic Jacqueline Rose’s observation that, as paradoxical as it sounds, talking about something can be a way of not talking about something. It’s why it often seems that talking about the revolution is a way of not talking about the revolution. Although the official discourse talks about equality, mentions socialism and questions capitalism, the political proposal growing out of that is confusing and what we see in practice is a repetition of old ways of doing politics.

This shows a frozen image of the revolution that doesn’t permit debate about that time, its legacies, what should be retrieved, what should be improved or even left behind. The defensive tone of the current so-called revolutionary ends up sidelining questions like: Why loyalty to a party and not to ideals? The only thing that’s clear and not at all confusing is the insistence on discipline. In the FSLN any deviation from the official version of the past seems to imply betrayal, that whoever tells it any other way is showing evidence of a dark, reactionary side. The responses have been to separate such traitors from the FSLN circle, consequently excluding them from any economic or political benefit—which are inseparable—the party can provide.

In the end, the collective Sandinista memory becomes a sentimental history that associates Sandinismo with the affective universe “engendered from the most crystalline side of the heart.” Often such sentimental rhetoric subsumes political analysis, turning it into a matter of feelings and loyalties that impede questioning the Sandinista political narrative and reaffirms the resulting attachments. In a memory built in this way the word revolution is trivialized and essential aspects of that project—the political and social transformation of Nicaraguan society—are left in the wings while loves and hates take center stage and ideological discussions are simplified.

Along with equality, justice and solidarity, images always appear of the powerful Father-of-the-Homeland who “watches over us” and of a revolution that represents all the good that’s just around the corner. While waiting for this utopian future, loyalists, fed not only promises but also perks, “gifts” and benefits, defend their party. A strange vision is thus built: all Nicaragua turned into one great agricultural frontier, into a world of legal uncertainty with a fragile institutional framework, where strongmen offer us protection and welfare in exchange for loyalty and obedience.

Little criticism and lots of obedience

For a while, my romanticism, nurtured by years away from Nicaragua and childhood memories of revolution, convinced me that the greatest revolutionary legacy had been the political transformation of Nicaraguans: a transformation, of course, for the better. In my idealization, the revolution had formed leftwing political subjects, Sandinistas with a life- and world-vision marked by solidarity and equity. It was understandable: after all, my political education is based on the revolution. My own memory of those years is marked by the collective Sandinista memory, as is my political identity. I considered myself one of those subjects formed by the revolution and still think that I wouldn’t have been the same without the stories I heard and the lessons I learned in childhood.

Today I recognize that revolutionary legacies are much more complex and contradictory. Not only because the revolutionary government only lasted ten years, followed by almost twenty years when much that had been achieved was rolled back but also because of what happened during that time. In Siuna I saw the perpetuation of a society where it seems that some are “born to rule” and others “to be ruled.” I also saw that although the revolution questioned this status quo, it replicated it, maintaining authoritarianism and hierarchies, albeit with new faces. Even if Sandinista peasants do have a more elaborated political discourse than other rural people, little criticism and lots of obedience prevails when it comes to discussing contradictions within the party and among Sandinistas. And even more serious, the collective Sandinista memory popularized by the FSLN leaders doesn’t address these problems, it reinforces them.

While memory is essential in order to imagine the future, sometimes the imagined future may not be any different. The memory we build can reaffirm stories that perpetuate exclusions and may also be used to justify unequal arrangements in the present. Criticism is a possible alternative, but the collective memory the FSLN is attempting today limits this practice, even though some aspects of the past encourage questioning.

Defensive memories and
memories that fear being disloyal

During the time I lived in the Siuna region I heard many stories about the revolution and they left me with two impressions. First, the FSLN-approved collective Sandinista memory is the version that governs the remembrances Sandinistas make public. This memory idealizes the revolution and defending it is primordial. While it’s true that Sandinismo and the revolution have been constantly and unjustly under attack (the greatest proof of which was the war), staunchly defending them has reached the point of categorizing all questioning as a potential threat. According to this logic there’s only one correct version of revolutionary history and it’s the one that emphasizes the good. Any deviation is evidence that whoever is questioning it isn’t a true Sandinista.

Second impression: defending the revolution doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be questioning or dissatisfaction, although sometimes it would seem that expressing these opinions or talking openly about other, less agreeable memories is wrong or forbidden. Many fear that their words will be misconstrued and considered disloyal so, to avoid this, any questioning they bring up or any mention of a problem is followed by a reaffirmation of their Sandinista loyalties.

Interestingly, these stories aren’t at all disloyal and often are only a reaffirmation of the revolution “despite…” What their narrators seem to consider wrong is telling a part of the story that doesn’t appear in the “official” version, telling stories that shouldn’t be told to strangers. For some Sandinistas, talking openly about these things is the same as stabbing the revolution and the FSLN in the back. What are these other memories? Memories of dissatisfaction in the cooperatives, of army repression, of frustration at the loss of land they had before being cooperativized, of the lack of FSLN support in the years after the 1990 electoral defeat. Some tell them without criticism, others with, but even questioning the exclusion they felt demonstrates the weight of the Sandinista version of events.

Many Sandinistas refuse to mourn

Defensive postures predominate but not just due to imposition or to self-interest. Defensiveness can express political conviction, party pressure and the desire for “compensation” but can also express attachment. Idealization of the past and the loyalty expressed by defending it can be one of the ways to assume and accept the defeat of the revolution and the disillusionment that accompanied it. It can show revolutionary melancholy: a refusal to relinquish the link with what was lost, a refusal to mourn. To a large extent, this happens because mourning implies “killing again” that which is no longer there. Instead of mourning, some people choose to cling to the idealized memories of yesterday. In this sense, different memories are evidence not only of the different ways people connected to the revolution, but also the different paths they have taken to accept its end and what came after.

In defending the revolution,
what are they really defending?

Why are some people afraid of the thinking of others who don’t honor that defense? What’s at stake for them when they talk about that past? It’s impossible to give just one answer to these questions. Some point to economic interests, while others have spoken about the Nicaraguan take on politics and life, one that Andrés Pérez Baltodano, Nicaraguan professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, calls “resigned pragmatism.” And then there are those who emphasize the ideological imperatives: being a Sandinista is assumed to be equivalent to being on the left.

The years following the revolution have been filled with disappointments, weariness and pain due to poverty, with the violence that ensues from it, and to the consequences of war. Today’s great inequalities are exacerbated by the intensification of an economic system that the government is putting—every day and ever more determinedly—at the service of the rich and by a society ruled by individualism, consumerism and the pursuit of wealth. We live in a country and a world where success and good repute are directly proportional to the ability to amass money, regardless of how it is done. It is a place where politicians have lost the sense of public service and only seek to get rich, where many think that “not even God loves a fool” and that you thus have to be “smart” and grab all you can.

In this context, what I felt in the old Sandinista narratives from the “mountain,” in Siuna, were memories that reinforce the relationship with a party that becomes an intermediary of the people, offering it protection and economic benefits.

In the memories of many Sandinista peasants there is self-censorship or caution in expressing their disagreements and complaints: they fear being excluded from the benefits they could get from political connections. Others see their link with the FSLN as a stepping stone to achieving political position in their communities or municipalities. Even if such posts are modest compared to those fought over in the capital they ensure access to the advantages of power. And finally there are those who argue that they should defend the party because it represents not only their interests but also those of the neediest. All the above means that they defend the FSLN for economic interests and political positions, but there’s still much more.

What’s the revolution’s emotive force?

When we talk about Sandinismo we aren’t just talking about economic and political interests or cultural practices. We’re also talking about rational decisions based on a sense of community forged deep within Sandinistas (this is how we recognize this political project’s ideological force) in a sea of contradictory reactions and identifications that are also linked to a structure of feelings, to the affective world. What do Sandinismo and the revolution represent for a sector of the Nicaraguan people? What strings move this adhesion beyond what we’ve categorized as “interests”? What fantasies accompany Sandinismo? Among the many possible answers are benevolence and morality, with Sandinismo representing the benevolent and the moral, the symbolic area where the fate of the “unfortunate ones” is reversed. On the way to finding answers we’ll also find attachments, stories of personal commitment built over thirty years or more. In them we’ll discover the emotive force of the revolution, expressed and reaffirmed through memory.

The collective Sandinista memory reaffirms this way of interpreting and feeling the revolutionary past and the current Sandinista political project. This memory empha¬sizes the good, forgets the mistakes and demands defense. What is being defended? A past with which a sector already identifies—a just past—and also a past that represents what was dreamt of being or wished to be.

To question the revolution
is to question themselves

Idealization may be the way to accept the loss of the revolution and loyalty may be the expression of a refusal to mourn. But saying this doesn’t mean there’s no rationality in political decisions. It means rather that our political decisions are mixed with other elements. While some perceive political events or processes as something “external,” for others they are a part of themselves, scenes of self. Sometimes when we ask people why they defend the revolution and the FSLN, we discover behind their responses that they do so because the revolution is themselves and to question it is to question an essential part of their being. They do question the past but find it very hard to do so.

Not everyone takes on the past this way. For many the revolution didn’t have such an emotive load and very many others felt oppressed by this project. The revolution awakened other feelings in all of them. There are even those who have managed to establish another relationship with that past. It’s essential to take the emotive elements into account to avoid describing the “defense” of the revolution and the FSLN as just an expression of servility, opportunism or ignorance.

While idealizing the revolution and the FSLN may result from the impossibility or difficulty of questioning one’s own past, from a merely subjective limitation or the expression of emotions and desires, that’s not the end of it. There are also real and felt pressures from the party to keep its activists and supporters following a single line of thought and action, so they only tell the idealized version of that past. For some, the economic or non-economic consequences of deviating from that line can be considerable. It’s also clear that such a complex past escapes on its own from the lines and frameworks that try to contain it.

An idealized memory of
the revolution suits the FSLN

What we see today in Nicaragua are frozen representations that idealize or demonize the past and obscure the processes we are currently experiencing. The feelings associated with the revolution and Sandinismo play a central role in giving legitimacy to these representations.

It’s important to the FSLN that the collective memory recalls a revolutionary history of successes and commitments to the poor. This idealized past is what feeds its relationship with the Sandinista population. This past also gives legitimacy to the power structure within the FSLN and to the political project its leaders are currently promoting. This Sandinista memory is partially anchored in an extremely sentimental history that idealizes the revolution and places Sandinismo on the side of benevolence, reaffirming the nation as one big family and equating the FSLN with the people. It’s these love stories that justify the exercise of authoritarian, patriarchal, vertical, exclusive political power.

A memory that simplifies yesterday and today

The idealized memory talks of a struggle of good against evil, where the interests of the good are always, from the start, unquestionable. In the Sandinistas’ political speeches we see the traditional themes of the Left: denouncement of US imperialism, criticism of the national oligarchy and of the unbridled capitalism that will destroy the world… Consistency between this position and practice is spread very thin. The orientation of economic projects currently being undertaken by the Sandinista government is not publicly discussed; neither are the implications of political alliances they have made or the distribution of the economic and political benefits of projects and alliances. There are those in the FSLN who have no problem with the vagueness of these proposals, as long as they receive some benefit and a speech to remind them of the past, as if this rhetoric will “save” them.

The risk is anchoring all this in an idealization that doesn’t allow discussion of yesterday’s problems and what remains of that past. This idealization, inseparable from an exacerbated sense of defense, limits any understanding and overcoming of many of Sandinismo’s current problems and dilemmas. Sandinistas have yet to face the challenge of remembering the revolution by reaffirming the positive but also discussing the legacies that weren’t revolutionary. To do this means rearticulating revolutionary memories. These memories aren’t just in the past, they are part of a long process of continuous reformulations within Sandinismo, Nicaraguan society and what we call Nation.

Can we tell them and live with them?

Can we tell other stories about the revolution and Sandinismo? Yes. Already many Nicaraguans are questioning aspects of Sandinismo and the memory of the revolution and several are already telling other stories about this past. Many of the personal dilemmas of some people clearly lie in the difficulty of this task, not only because of the personal consequences it entails, but also the political and economic implications resulting from such an act.

In addition to telling other stories, can we live with them? Are there areas in Nicaragua where we could work on a memory that not only questions the hegemonic memory of Sandinismo but is also capable of questioning ourselves? I believe this too.

When I refer to rewriting Sandinismo, I’m talking about re-imagining it leaving aside the stories of sacrifice, benevolence and heroism, which are not unique to the FSLN. Sandinismo isn’t a matter of benevolence. It’s a political project that proposes changes and not because its members are good and love all humanity but because they are convinced that these changes will enable us to live better collectively.

Political projects aren’t “works of love”; they’re social responsibilities. To fight for what we believe in isn’t a sacrifice or a demonstration of heroism. There’s no sacrifice in acting according to one’s convictions. To fight for change is simply to show that we believe in what we say and do what we say. Commitments shouldn’t be to parties or leaders but to ideals and proposals. The revolution didn’t come to save souls but to build areas where justice isn’t a privilege, where we don’t say we’re poor because that’s how God wanted it, where nobody accepts obeying without first asking why.

Like the kid who bade me farewell…
My “formal” leave-taking of Siuna was in April 2007. That day, a Sunday, I took the Santa Marta bus, which passes by at 7am. It came in packed full. I had to get in by the back door and sit on a sack of beans between a fumigation pump, sacks of tied-up chickens, some kids going to a baseball game—I knew from their uniforms and gloves—and a poor whimpering little puppy. As far as Río Blanco the highway is just dirt and runs as if it were a kind of ditch, with the farms’ fencing almost at the same height as the bus.

Looking out the window to find out where we were, I spotted a 10-year-old boy, without shirt or shoes, riding a horse bareback clutching onto his mane, racing with the bus. I remembered all the movies, books and stories with this same scene. I thought of the stories of the agricultural frontier, of revolutionary memories. I asked myself if this race against the wind, against time, this desire to beat the machine, believing himself invincible, wasn’t also a metaphor for the freedom that so many imagined and are still reclaiming.


Fernanda Soto Joya is an anthropologist. These fragments are from her book Ventanas en la memoria – Recuerdos de la revolución en la frontera agrícola (Windows in memory – Remembrances of the revolution on the agricultural frontier), published by the Central American University (UCA), Managua, in August 2011.

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