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Nicaragua: The Great Leap Backwards?

Nicaragua: The Great Leap Backwards? image
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Ved in Nicaragua for nine months in 199192, during which time I interviewed and photographed a number of Nicaraguan women - women who I first carne to knowas friends. I told them that after my trips to Nicaragua I always carne back to Ann Arbor and spoke and wrote about my experiences and the people I had met. This time I hoped to bring back stories of Nicaraguan women in their own words. I first met and carne toknow Tomasa Hurtado Vallecillo in the mid-late 1980s during three trips to Juigalpa, as a member ofAnn Arbor Sister City delegations. Her brother, Candido Vallecilo was the Sandinista mayor of Juigalpa during the first years of the Nicaraguan revolution. Tomasa's mother, Mercedes Vallecillo, was a Sandinista activist in the years bef ore the 1979 revolution and continúes to work with Sister City projects. What follows is excerpts from an interview with Tomasa Hurtado Vallecillo, conducted in June, 1992. Dwas born n Juigalpa in 1 933. My parents were Vicente Hurtado Morales and Merceditas Vallecillo Pérez. My mother s still alive and at my side. My papa died five years ago. My papa was of peasant origin. He was a wonderful father. He always lived with us. We were 6 sons and three little daughters. All are still living. My mama was always a mother who denied herself and was dedicated to her husband, to herchildren, to herhousehold, and she also was a seamstress. Today she still is very active n her housework, in everything. I have six sons and two daughters. In spite of all of the difficulties, I have been able to give my children an education. My two older sons, for ecomomic reasons, are not as well prepared. But yes, they studied, and even though lifehasbrought many changes, I have finally prepared my sons to be professionals. Today, my husband and I live a life of the poor, but we are very close and we have many friends. Life in Nicaragua today is very difficult. Sons of workers like myself aren't able to study because life is very hard. The economie situation in my country is too hard. In my youth I did not have the joy of studying. I lived together with my parents on a farm. We were peasants, nothing more. Life in the countryside was quite difficult at that time. Our youth was spent sharing the work with our parents, making tortillas, grinding the com by hand. To cook our food, we cut up firewood in the country side with a machete. We herded the cows. We made cheese. My mama was the cook on a farm. She cooked foragreatmany workers. Mypapaeamed 15cordobas and mymamaeamedeight córdobas a month. It was too little with so many children. We did not have the pleasure of going to school. The little that we children know, we know from my mama. It was because she taught us at home. She taught me to read and to write. I was the smartest. I leamed to sew, to weave, and to make embroidery. I have been married twice, and now I spend my time looking after my children and my grandchildren. One of my daughters is a single mother and I take care of herchildren - look afterthem so she can work and help me. My life at the present time is spent living together with my children, my husband, my grandehildren , and in havingf riends; poor, but with dignity. Also, I spend'a little time n organizing work. Within my neighborhood, Zone 8, I am the head of the Communal Movement (CM). I enjoy it. To be an organizer s a privilege because one has contact with different groups. Maybe, if it weren't formy organizing, I would not have had the great pleasure of knowing my friends in Ann Arbor. So it gives me a lot of pleasure to be an organizer. Tomorrow, the ninth of May, we will begin a project helping our friends in Ann Arbor to build three classrooms at the Rosa Lanza Elementan School, l'll meet with the commission we have formed. l'm in charge of beginning the work which we hope to finish within six months. We hope that someone from Ann Arbor will come and take part in the inauguration of the classrooms so that we feel satisfied and they will feel sure that together we have made a reality of the dream that we always shared [the classrooms have since been completed]. Right now children are experiencing a critical time with education and health problems. I have been very nvolved with the Communal Movement since 1 981 . The Movement isan organization- which has valued and continúes to value the well-being o( the poor, the well-being of social projects- which works on behalf of the dispossessed, who at times get th rown out on the street. So we, not with violence, but in friendship - with words of conviction - go to the municipal govemment or another organization to convince them to let that person stay in their house. Because now, there's a critical living problem. So, the Movement is always in favor of the poor- looking out for the well-being of children, the old, of those wounded in the war - be they Sandinista or from the Nicaraguan Resistance [Contras], We cry out for the same rights - the Resistance as well as the army. The same need, the same hunger that the Communal Movement and the rest of the people have s shared by the Resistance - those wounded in the war, the widows, the children orphaned from both sides. So, those of us here don't look out only for ourselves, or fora certain group. We look out for everybody regardless of religión or ideology. Yes, there are problems right now. One example is the problem in getting enough water to Zone 8. We went before the delégate from the water commission and told him that the water situation was really critical and that we need to make people aware of the dangers of cholera and how to prevent it. We also told him that availability of water and treating the water is one of the most important factors in preventing cholera. If INAA [the state water company] doesn't give us water, where are we going to get water? We were able to get the delégate to open the pipes so that water could come here to Zone 8. It doesn't come every day.butwegetwatereveryotherdayoreverytwo days, and thafs sufficient because we can fill enough containers with water. In additior., MINSA [the state health department], with tht help of the Communal Movement, has a campaign against cholera - closing taminatedwells, gi ving out Clorox, and explaining how to treat the water. Also, we're giving out oral rehydration packets and telling people they have to give this to children and adults at the first signs of cholera or diarrhea. Before, with the past government, we had a great responsibility as revolutionaries. For example, if someone was having a problem getting afamily memberto the hospital, each of us hadan obligation to go and bother their neighbors and say to them, "Look friend, or brother, or compañero, do us a favor. In the house next door to you, there's a problem. There's no one to take your neighbor to the hospital. Do us a favor. Go on and take rum." While now, some high government official, or the manager of some organization could live right next door to me, and even f I am dying, they won't give me a hand, much less offer a car to take me to the hospital- while we still have a creed of charity, more than ever. We in the Movement have had a role in helping people in which entire families have died and been buried. One that I kno w about nvolved the son , the papa, the mama, and the brother. So we organize ourselves and go from house to house to ask for donationsforthecasket. Can they give us coffee? Give us rice, sugar? We arrange the wake and burythedead. Meanwhile, thereareotherssitting behind closed doors watching televisión, and if I knock on the door they refuse me, saying, "We have nothing. We can't help." It didn't used to be that way. I have lived under three govemments: under Somozismo, the Frente Sandinista, and today under the UNO. This government is a Somocista govemment without a Somoza because it has the same policies. Today we're even worse than under Somoza. At least before we had jobs, but nowthere are no jobs. We older people, who have lived under three govemments, neverthought we would be moving backward, a great regression. Under the revolutionary govemment, things were better. First, they were concemed about education. The first step that the govemment jndertook was the literacy campaign which taught the peasants, everybody , to read and write so they weren't ignorant anymore. The current govemment, the old Somocistas that carne back from the U . S. , think that the worker they left here ten, eleven years ago is the same person. And no! They met up with a different people. These are not the blind, ignorant people with a black band over their eyes that they left behind; people who couldn't see. The Revolutionary govemment carne and got rid of ignorance by teaching people to read and write. On Sun. Jan. 30 at 2pm, Phyllis Ponvert and Debbie Billings will read from their interviews with Nicaraguan and Guatemalan women - at Common Language Bookstore, 21 5 S. 4th Ave. We older people, who have lived under three governments, never thought we would be moving backward, a great regression.