By Becca Renk
This week Nicaragua celebrates its Independence Days – on September 14th the celebration of the Battle of San Jacinto won against U.S. filibusters in 1856, and on September 15th the commemoration of Central America’s independence from Spain in 1821. Becca Renk, who lives in Nicaragua, penned the piece below.
At my daughter’s sixth birthday party – she was born the week of Nicaragua’s Independence Days – instead of playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” we played “Pin the Rock In Andrés Castro’s Hand.” Party games aren’t really the norm in Nicaragua – in our rural village, children are usually expected to endure birthday parties quietly sitting in chairs until it’s finally time to dance to reggaeton while wildly beating a piñata to a pulp. Nevertheless, the kids at Orla’s party didn’t need much explanation – of the game, or of Andrés Castro. The first-graders were happily blindfolded, spun around and stabbed sticker “rocks” at our drawing of Andrés Castro and his outstretched hand. They already knew the story of one of Nicaragua’s biggest heroes, just as they already knew at least one Ruben Dario poem by heart.
In 1856, U.S. Southern expansionists known as “filibusters” were in Nicaragua fighting for William Walker’s cause of claiming Central America for the American South in order to enlarge the American empire of slavery. On 14 September, 160 Nicaraguans – including 60 indigenous warriors armed only with bow and arrow – faced 300 of these “filibusters” at the Battle of San Jacinto. Andrés Castro was a 25 year-old Nicaraguan sergeant, and when his gun ran out of ammunition, he famously picked up a rock and threw it, hitting and killing a filibustero. His actions inspired the troops and helped win the battle…and he’s been inspiring Nicaraguans ever since. Today if you go into literally any public office in Nicaragua, you will see a painting of Andrés Castro on prominent display.
Andrés Castro is just one of Nicaragua’s Davids… as in David v. Goliath, wherein the Goliath is inevitably the United States, the imperialist Yankee, referred to in Nicaraguan Revolutionary song as “the enemy of humanity.”
General Augusto C. Sandino is, of course, Nicaragua’s biggest David figure. In 1927 with his “crazy little army” of just 30 men, Sandino dared to fight the U.S. Marine Corps…and won. At least, that’s how Nicaraguans view it. For six years Sandino evaded the Marines, fighting a guerilla warfare where his army would attack the Marines and disappear back into the mountains, this war culminated in the U.S. Marines withdrawing from Nicaragua. Assassinated in 1934 by the U.S.’s handpicked strongman in Nicaragua, the first Somoza in the ruthless dynastic dictatorship, Sandino was the inspiration for the founding of the Sandinista National Liberation Front which eventually overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979.
Given its history of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule followed by two hundred years near-constant U.S. interventionism, it’s no wonder that Nicaraguans identify with David. During the 1980s this interventionism took the form of the U.S.-funded, CIA-trained Contras who attacked schools and health care centres, murdering school teachers, nurses and children. The United States also mined Nicaragua’s harbours in an effort to overthrow the Sandinista government.
So David used all the available stones: Nicaragua took the U.S. to the World Court, and in 1986 the ICJ ruled that the United States had violated international law in breach of U.S. obligations “to not use force against another state, not to intervene in its affairs and not to violate its sovereignty.” The ICJ ordered the U.S. to pay more than US $17 billion in reparations. The U.S. – Goliath – refused to comply. More than 30,000 Nicaraguans died as a result of the Contra war and the country’s economy was destroyed.
Despite the Sandinista’s subsequent loss at the polls in 1990 – an election where the U.S. poured millions of dollars into its candidate of choice, Violeta Chamorro, and threatened the people of Nicaragua with more war if they did not vote for Chamorro – Nicaraguans today consider that their David is still on his feet, palming a rock.
Steady improvements in the lives of average Nicaraguans – poverty rates cut in half, free universal health care, free schools through university, credits for women-owned businesses and farmers – have won the Sandinista government four democratic elections in a row. Each election has earned the ruling party a larger percentage of the votes; last November the Sandinistas garnered nearly 76% of votes countrywide. Thanks to the government’s quick evacuation of thousands prior to two Category 4 hurricanes within two weeks in 2020 and its efficient rebuilding efforts afterward, more than 80% of the vote in the largely rural and indigenous North Caribbean Autonomous region went to the Sandinista party.
The U.S. Goliath – after decades of plotting and scheming, including funding a violent coup attempt in 2018 and sustained destabilization attempts since – is still on its feet, fighting against the David of Nicaragua through disinformation, manipulation of international media, and unilateral coercive measures – illegal sanctions. In its rhetoric, the U.S. pushes the lie that Nicaragua is run by a dictatorship consisting of one strongman – President Daniel Ortega – and his wife, the Vice President, Rosario Murillo; they call it the “Ortega Murillo regime.”
This analysis written from behind a desk within the Beltway is laughably out of touch with the Nicaraguan reality – you only have to walk down any street in Nicaragua and ask ordinary people about their country to see this. No one will mention the names Ortega or Murillo – in part because Nicaraguans don’t refer to the President and Vice President by last names, only first names – but also because the project to improve the lives of Nicaragua’s poor majority is not a project of any one person. It is a project of the Sandinista Revolution: a people’s revolution in which the majority of the population actively takes part. Nicaraguans are proudly fighting alongside David in the fight against the Goliath of poverty. Indeed, the average Nicaraguan considers themselves protagonists in their own David v. Goliath story. Nicaraguans don’t talk about a “regime,” or even the policies of a government…they talk about “our programs, our projects, my revolution.” That inclusion and sense of ownership is precisely why the Goliath of the United States is so threatened by the revolutionary project of Nicaragua’s David.
So today, 166 years after defeating the filibusterers at San Jacinto, the David of Nicaragua is still fighting the Goliath of the U.S.
Nicaragua is fighting against the Goliath of U.S. controlled media which prints outright lies.
Nicaragua is fighting against economic Goliath imposing illegal sanctions on its country.
Nicaragua is fighting for breathing room to continue to improve the lives of its people.
Nicaragua is fighting to defend its sovereignty.
Anyone who claims to have the interests of the Nicaraguan people at heart should know that we, too, must fight against Goliath of the United States.
We, too, must fight at the side of David.