We arrived in Managua on Saturday evening, July 18. Upon renting a car and beginning our drive to Isla de Ometepe we had the pleasure of being swept into a massive celebration in the streets. July 19, 2009 was the 30 year anniversary of the Sandinista victory over the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle ending a dynasty of oppression.
There are few experiences as joyous and encouraging as watching a people celebrate triumph over oppression. My wife and I had the privilege of witnessing this firsthand in Venezuela in November of 2006 as well. When Hugo Chavez won his re-election it was further validation for the populace that they had the true, participatory, democracy of which they had dreamed. When we met community members in several major cities in Venezuela in the days and weeks before the election we were amazed by the sense of autonomy that they expressed. We attended a rally with over one million people in attendance. I had never seen a crowd actually glow before. The feeling of control over their futures was tangible. About a week before the election we asked two women who were local educational leaders what they would do if Chavez lost. Their response was that in the end, it did not matter. What he had accomplished already at that point was irreversible. The people were empowered, and no figurehead or elected official could take that power away.
Such was the feeling driving with the buses and trucks overflowing with people into the center of Managua. Their joy and friendliness overtook us. People were reaching out from the tops of moving buses and hanging out of windows to hand passer-by’s and cars Nicaraguan flags, waving peace signs, and shouting greetings to everyone they saw. As we drove deeper into the festivities we realized how big of an event it was. Hundreds of school buses and vans packed with people were driving in with many more already parked. Cars covered in flags and symbols of the FSLN (the Sandanista Front of National Liberation) had their hatchbacks open, blasting music and sharing their excitement. It is an incredible feeling to be surrounded by thousands of strangers in a foreign country and feel so secure. There was nothing but gratitude and cheer in the hearts of these Nicaraguans, and as we slowly passed countless vendors selling chicken and rice and pastries and by endless chants of Agua, Agua, Agua!, we noticed that the massive police presence seemed more participatory than authoritative.
We inched our way through the traffic and crowds and slowly made our way to the Panamerican highway. As we headed south to San Jorge to catch the ferry to Ometepe, we listened to the radio coverage of the celebration and to the speakers there describing the experience of what was then, and still is, one of the most successful social movements in the history of Latin America. The experience continued as we headed south through Jinotepe and Nandaime and Rivas as we saw countless more buses and vans full of celebrants on their way to Managua.
Liberation and empowerment are the foundation of peace and prosperity. As we look forward to the next week of visiting Fair Trade Certified coffee cooperatives and meeting the farmers and producers that supply us in the global north with what we so easily take for granted, there could not have been a more appropriate way for us to have been introduced to the people of Nicaragua.