Walking Through the New Nicaragua
Thoughts, journal entries, and other writings from a term with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua
Presented to the Peace Studies Department in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course Peace Studies Internship
Nov 21, Pension, Yali
Table of Contents
Bethel College Peace Studies Internship Contract
Mark Becker graduated in May, 1985 with a major in History. In 1985 he is a candidate for a Peace Studies major, having completed all requirements except the internship. Mark will do his internship during the 198-5-1986 school year with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua.
The following is our understanding of Mark's internship:
1.0 Mark will be responsible for raising his own support for language school costs and for Witness for Peace.
1.1 Mark will pay Bethel for eight hours of credit ($1248).
1.11 Since Mark has already graduated from Bethel College, he will only pay half tuition ($624).
1.12 In addition, since Mark will be working in a nonrenumerative position, policy guidelines state that one third of the collected fees ($208) will be retained by Bethel for administrative purposes aid the remaining two thirds will be reimbursed for subsidizing the nonrenumerative internship.
1.2 Mark will be financially responsible for his travel costs to Central America and back, two months of language study in Antigua Guatemala, and raising $1000 support for Witness for Peace.
2.0 Mark will receive eight hours of credit for his internship.
2.1 The first two months (September and October) will be spent in intensive language study in Antigua Guatemala.
2.2 A six month term with Witness for Peace will begin on November 2. 1985. As a long term volunteer, Mark will have three main responsibilities:
2.21 Hosting short term delegations, handling logistics, setting up interviews, acting as a translator, and accompanying the groups during their time in the country.
2.22 Gathering information and documenting effects of the contra war for dissemination to the North American public.
2.23 Standing with the Nicaraguan people as a part of a peaceful and nonviolent U.S. presence in that country.
3.0 Mark will keep a journal of his experiences in Central America. He will also make a report to the Peace Studies department upon his return to Bethel College. He will concentrate on the following areas:
3.1 First, while studying Spanish in Guatemala he will study the political, cultural, and social conditions in that country. This will give him some background against which to compare his later experiences in Nicaragua.
3.2 In Nicaragua, he will primarily be carrying out the goals and tasks of Witness for Peace. Within that context, he will be paying attention to the following points:
3.21 What does it mean to be a pacifist in a war torn country? Do his North American views have relevance in this situation? What (if any) is the connection between his recent involvement in the anti-draft movement with revolutionary movements in Latin America?
3.22 Coming to a clearer understanding of Liberation Theologies.
3.23 Acquiring an understanding of those who are disillusioned with the Sandinista Government.
3.24 Observing the role of indigenous populations (such as the Miskito Indians) in a revolutionary situation.
3.25 Learning about U.S. politics from "the other side of the tracks."
Covenant for Long and Short Term Delegations of Witness for Peace
Together, we make the following covenant:
Our Threefold Purpose
To develop an ever-broadening, prayerful, biblically based community of United States citizens who stand with the Nicaraguan people by acting in continuous nonviolent resistance to U.S. covert or overt intervention in their country. To mobilize public opinion and help change U.S. foreign policy to one which fosters justice, peace, and friendship. To welcome others in this endeavor who vary in spiritual approach but are one with us in purpose.
The core of this paper is edited excerpts from the journal that I kept from the time of my acceptance as a part of Witness for Peace's long term team in August of 1985, through two months in language school in Antigua Guatemala, my six month term with Witness for Peace in Jinotega, Nicaragua, and my reentry to North American realities in May and June of 1986. Included as an appendix are reports that I wrote as part of my work with Witness for Peace, letters to elected representatives in Congress, and newspaper articles on my work in Nicaragua
The intent of this document is not to argue my political viewpoints, but to candidly present my thoughts and feelings on my experience. I tend to consider my journal a very personal document and I am only sharing it now with you, my personal friends, as a means of communicating what changes I went through while in Nicaragua. I am not attempting to tow any particular political line here and, therefore, do not intend for this journal to have a general circulation.
In writing about my experiences in a Latin culture, I found it necessary to occasionally use certain Spanish words that more fully describe a point than an English translation would. Hence, I present a brief vocabulary list:
acto - a religious or political event, rally, meeting, or action.
Lastly, I would like to thank you, Paul, for all the work you have done to make my peace studies internship a success. I really appreciate it. Thanks, Kevin, for proofreading this paper. (I really should have typed it on a word processor.) And thanks, Garth, for that quote that kept me going through times that I would have otherwise turned back from:
You can either chose to live your life and die;
Aug 9 South Dakota
Aug 14 Bethel College
Aug 19 Arvada, Colo.
Aug 21 Bethel
Aug 24 Bethel
Aug 26 Bethel
Aug 29 Matamoras Bus Station, Mexico
I finally left Tuesday morning after an apple pancake breakfast with Nathan and Su. I made it to the south side of Fort Worth when I stopped for the night. After another whole day of riding (my motorcycle), I made it to Brownsville--over a thousand miles in two days. The heat, the wind, a thundershower, and a saddle sore butt complicated by a recently received gamma globulin shot all made it a trip that I am glad is behind me. I was quite exhausted-the sleep last night at the Brownsville VS unit (where I left my cycle) sure felt good.
Aug 30 Tapo Station, Mexico City
Coming in on the bus, I was astounded by the level of poverty-a level that I don't remember seeing when I was here one and a half years ago. At first I thought I was in for an awful case of culture shock, but I am gaining my confidence back. Communication is going better. I really can't tell that I've lost anything that I really learned in Spanish Class two years ago. People have been real nice to me, struggling through language barriers with me and in directing me to the Guatemalan embassy where I got a visa. There are certain ironies, like Dutch keeps wanting to creep to the front of my mind, which really makes me miss The Netherlands.
On the Metro, shortly after I had been warned to watch my money, etc., closely, I noticed that over US$60 was missing from my right front pants pocket. Ouch, that hurt. Oh sheeze, I really could use that money. I feel real irresponsible now, as if I let down all the people whose financial contributions made this trip possible. But it was a very crowded Metro and I guess that that sort of thing happens. It makes me much more paranoid-I carefully watch all of my stuff but realize that if I didn't notice a hand in my front right pocket I probably won't notice when the next item loses me. I just hope that it isn't dad's camera--that wouldn't go over well at all.
Aug 31 Hotel Refugio, Antigua, Guate
At the border a customs official took one look at my passport picture and exclaimed something to the affect of "Oh my!" I never felt that looking clean cut was important in Mexico, but it suddenly seems to become everything in Guatemala.
So I had my introduction to Guatemala. I found a bus to Guatemala City and it turned into a lesson on how to stretch a simple three hundred kilometer trip to a seven-hour journey by stopping in every little town and screaming out for passengers. I can get so impatient.
On the way to Guatemala City we came over a hill and there in the valley were about ten PMA soldiers, At first I didn't understand-were these military soldiers or guerrillas? Were they going to rob us or shoot us? But they let us go on after making all the men get out of the bus for an ID check. Then I asked another passenger who they were. They were the Guatemalan military looking for guerrillas or people who were helping them. It seems that on every street corner there is a National Police station. This is obviously a militarized country and I watch carefully what I do or say. It was a relief to know that these people were the military-it seemed to make them more predictable. I wonder if and when I will run into guerrillas.
Sept 1 Central Square, Antigua
Later I met another man who told similar stories. He said the best idea would be for me to get out of Guatemala--maybe to Honduras. I came here for excitement and for an experience, I may be in for more then what I originally bargained for.
Sept 2 Central Park, Antigua
Sept 3 Bedroom, Antigua
Sept 6 The Park, Antigua
Sept 12 Antigua
Sept 16 Antigua
Sept 17 Antigua
Sept 18 Antigua
Sept 21 Antigua
Sept 24 Antigua
Sept 25 Antigua
Oct 1 Antigua
Oct 5 Lake Atitlan, Panajachel
On the way out here we caught a ride with a guy from Israel, I wonder how safe it was riding with him. With all of the military aid that Israel supplies to Guatemala, I imagine that he would be quite the target for a guerrilla attack.
Oct 8 Antigua
"You can either choose to live your life and die;
Oct 15 Antigua
Oct 24 Antigua
Oct 28 Guatemala
Pension, San Salvador
Oct 29 Choluteca, Honduras
Oct 31 Hotel Moderno, Estelí, Nicaragua
Anyway, after we got on the bus to Estelí we started talking to some soldiers and they were more friendly and helpful. They told me where to get off for the school where Tim is working. Tim's been great in cluing me in on what is happening here. He really has helped in interpreting the news stories I was reading in Guatemala over the "protests" of the Catholic Church here in Estelí.
Nov 1 WFP Little House, Managua, Nicaragua
Nov 5 Short Term Team House (STTH), Managua
We run role plays here. We're on a bus attacked by contras. I begin realizing more and more that I don't want to die here- that Nicaragua's freedom doesn't mean that much to me. I said that last night in our personal reflection: "I don't want to die in Nicaragua." Today more and more people repeated that same line- "I don't want to die in Nicaragua." I guess that expresses what a lot of us are feeling.
Nov 7 STTH
"We are twelve Christians from North America joining with those (the Witness for Peace team) already here in opposing the war of the United States government against Nicaragua.
We will be here for at least six months living and working non-violently in the war zones, standing in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people in their suffering.
We are here this morning because each of us considers the U.S. policy of terrorist war against Nicaragua to be intolerable, immoral, and an impediment to peace, justices and freedom in this country. These vigils have been going on for two years and still we await every day as do the Nicaraguan people and the people of the world, some concrete actions for peace by the U.S. government instead of the insincere rhetoric for peace which is regularly disseminated from Washington, DC.
We come here insistent, we come here urgent, and we come here citizens of the U.S. demanding an end to this war.
Joining us in similar vigils every week in their hometowns are our compatriots in Charleston, W.V.; Colville, WA; and Debuke, Iowa, among others.
We hope this circle of peace and love will spread until the positions of our government change."
We went to the lake again this afternoon. I started walking around it. It was so peaceful and beautiful-it was hard to believe that a war was going on in this country. I just wanted life to stop and stay there. Why can't we always be like that?
Nov 11 Little House
Nov 12 Little House
Nov 14 Pensión La Colonia, Matagalpa
Nov 15 Hotel Tito, Jinotega
Nov 16 Jinotega
I begin to feel a bit of the effect of this experience in Nicaragua on me. "Simple lifestyle" comes to mean something else. How Garth, Tim, and I lived last year in our trailer at Bethel is really quite rich compared to many people's lives here. It all becomes relative and I realize that I just want to live on a level that I'm comfortable with.
Nov 20 Pensión, San Rafael del Norte
Then we continued on to San Rafael. James fell in with some kids who play basketball, he seems to fit in here. Julieta can't wait to get to Yali-that's like her home away from home. But where do I fit in? It seems nowhere, I really want to get away and speak and live only Spanish.
Nov 22 Yali
Nov 24 Yali
Nov 25 Pensión, San Rafael
The walk from Yali to San Rafael is about seventeen kilometers, or so they say. We left Yali at 2:30 and walked for four or four and a half hours. I think only three vehicles passed us, but that's OK. I really don't mind walking. We walked the last hour or so after sunset, but that was OK because the moon was almost full. An IFA (army truck) roared by with a spotlight shining into the roadside. The realization that "there's contras in them hills" jumped to mind and we begin talking of contingency plans in case of an attack. I really wasn't scared, I just don't care to be out in the country after sunset, that's all.
Nov 27 Hotel Tito, Jinotega
Today we went out to Tamalaque by Pantasma with Padre Douglas and two doctors. Padre holds a mass while the doctors check out people. Julieta and James fill prescriptions and I try to help for awhile but decide that I'm just getting in the way so I take off down the road. We were in a valley--it was really quiet, except for the sounds of birds and locusts. How peaceful it could be to live there. About ten days ago, there was a contra attack there. "Deje apoya a la contra no más muertos," the writing on the wall said. ("Stop support to the contras, no more deaths"). I wouldn't mind participating in more concrete actions like this. But still, this was mostly just a political action. One of the doctors (who is from Basque) admitted this. Pushing medicine isn't the answer. Some of the people's customs need to change--they need to pay more attention to their diet and sanitary conditions. This would help them a lot more then the medicine will. I start thinking about what I would be like if I had been raised there. How would being raised in a traditional culture affect me? But then I looked around me and I wondered what the difference between this place and rural, isolated South Dakota would be. I looked at some of the people and it seemed as if they were the same as my friends from High School-just reflecting the values and norms and views of their surroundings. Then I wondered how much of my politics came from my education and how much comes from within and I decided that I probably would have turned out the same with similar values and concerns.
Nov 28 Selva Negra
Nov 30 Selva Negra
Dec 6 Jinotega
Dec 9 Bocas de Vilan
This morning Tim and Terry (WFP coworkers who brought me out here) continued on to Wiwili and just kinda left me here all alone. I wasn't really sure if I really felt up to this, but what choice did I have? At least I'm getting more Spanish now and, to my satisfaction, I'm holding my own. I smile when I realize that I can now understand "Padre Douglas" without the "s" when I couldn't have a month ago. Now I'm waiting to go with a woman to Flor del Pino de Vilan to help her pick coffee.
Dec 10 Manuel's farm, Bocas de Vilan
I'm quite apprehensive about my health here. Hogs and chickens wander freely about everywhere-I feel like I'm in a pig pen back home and the house seems like that red cabin in the trees (in which we kept pigs) that I always wondered if people once lived in. The dirt floors don't bother me (actually, there is a fair amount of concrete) and the food is great (although I probably shouldn't be drinking the refrescos, but I'm not getting enough liquids in my diet); I just feel like I'm compromising some basic sanitary measures, I hope that it doesn't catch up with me.
These kids sure seem curious about my bags. When I begin to open it up they jump and are right there to watch, So last night I went through everything and showed them everything that I had. I hope that they were satisfied. One of them said something about a "regalo" (a present)-I hope they weren't expecting one. Sorry, I'm not Santa Claus. Manuel asked how much my sleeping bag cost. I always get embarrassed when someone asks that. But everything is on such a different level here. Twenty dollars for my backpack is too expensive here. Sometimes it gets to me how people stare at me here, but I guess I stare at them too.
Dec 12 Doña Carmen, Flor del Pino de Vilan
We live on a dirt floor here. That's OK, but when the kid craps on it they go outside the front door to where the pigs hang out and bring in some dirt to clean it up. They pee and throw all sorts of trash out of the kitchen door and I then walk through it all the time. They eat beans and corn tortillas all the time, but I begin to realize that this land is relatively rich with fruits and veggies and they could be eating a diet a lot better and varied. Really, it's surprising that they don't seem to have more problems with sickness. It's surprising that I'm not having more problems then I am. Life here doesn't have to be this way-it could be a lot better. Maybe I could come here and live and show them a better way.
Anyway, so I spent my first day picking coffee-five and a half medias of it, if that means anything to you. Suzana (Carmen's fifteen year old daughter) picked ten. If I had come here as a brigadista to pick coffee for two or three months, I think I would be quite depressed at this moment. It's quite tedious and meaningless work, but at least I'm getting a lot of time to think. It's easier then walking beans, and I probably could stand it if I was getting paid five dollars an hour. That's quite a capitalistic admission, isn't it? As it is, though, a crew of about six of us didn't even pick five dollars worth of coffee all day yesterday. Sometimes I wonder how these people can make ends meet.
Dec 13 A creek someplace in Nicaragua
Anyway, these people are always so curious about my bags. Once I saw three or four of them watching me stuff my sleeping bag in its storage sack. Argentina, the little girl, saw my frisbee and asked what that purple plate was. So I showed it to them. I threw it and promptly lost it. When I found it, Doña Carmen said it was just a plastic plate and so she washed it for me. I guess she'd think it stupid to pay five dollars for something like that.
Dec 14 Jinotega
Anyway, I came back from Bocas de Vilan this afternoon. I spent the morning picking coffee at Epifanio's. I really like that family-it's so much more fun then the heavy atmosphere that hangs over Manuel's. Manuel told me that the night that the contras kidnaped three of his sons he ran after them imploring them in the name of Jesus Christ to leave them go. They didn't listen. When I asked if it would be a bother to have me spend the night in his house he said that there was lots of room-his house was empty now. Just feel the pain.
Dec 15 Jinotega
Dec 18 Bocas de Vilan
James and I were talking about the ambushed Frente vehicle. I told him about Marion's grain elevator and that Nicaragua doesn't have a corner on pain and suffering. Yeh, he said, but that was an accident-the Frente vehicle wasn't. I guess a more proper analogy would be the South Church-both that and the Frente vehicle were the result of an evil and malicious intent.
Anyway, I went back to Jinotega this weekend to meet Peter and we came back here together on Monday to begin setting up for the Seminary Delegation that is coming in January. The fear of getting blown up, especially while on the road, becomes wearing after awhile. How can I live with this day after day? Even worse is the realization that when I go, this journal will probably go with me and all the work of leaving behind a tribute to myself will have been for nothing.
Dec 20 Hotel Tito Jinotega
Dec 22 WFP house, Estelí
Telcor (the communications office) can be a bit strange. They never seem to have change, so they give you stamps as change instead. It would be interesting to start a Nicaraguan stamp collection-what do their stamps say about the revolution? They gave me red Lenin stamps for my letter to Barb in the Philippians. I wonder what the government there will think of that.
Dec 24 Poneloya beach
Dec 27 Little House, Managua
Dec 29 Little House, Managua
Jan 1 STTH, Managua
Jan 3 Hotel Tito, Jinotega
Jan 5 Mag & Justin's, Jinotega
J.J. & the Contras
We arm the world
We arm the world
We've armed the world
We'll arm the world
It's freedom for the privileged few
It's freedom for the privileged few
Jan 6 Museum San Rafael
Jan 9 Julieta's Ranch
Burn It Bright!
1.) Sweet, sweet, sweet Jesus Christ
And set them free
To set them free?
2.) Blood, blood, blood is on the land
3.) Peace, peace, peace, there's no peace
And grow up too soon!
4.) Just, just, just, is it just?
In the name of truth?
And kills for pay!
5.) Peace, peace, peace, we want peace!
6.) Love, love, love is the light
Jan 13 Little House, Managua
Jan 16 Jinotega
I finally left Managua this morning. It would have been just as easy not to. I felt incredibly apprehensive and nervous. I came with the Kansas delegation as far as Sebaco and then started hitching. I just wasn't in that mind frame. Going to San José de Bocay really scares me, I feel like a dreadful fate lies out on that long road to nowhere. But still I have to go-to not go would be cheating life. I can't turn back now. There's only one way to go-and that's onward, I wonder if I'll still feel that way when I reach the end.
Jan 18 Jinotega
Jan 19 Coop Ernesto Acuña
Ernesto Acuña-it's a cooperative of campesinos with a high level of political consciousness who asked the Sandinistas to organize them into a CAS (Cooperativa Agricultura Sandinista) where they would farm all the land together. I guess it's a bit unusual to find campesinos like this. Peter and the other WFPers who've been here really seem to love this place. I'm doing OK. We'll just be here for a short time (we're leaving early tomorrow morning already) so I really don't have a good feel yet for the place. I've talked some with the brigadistas who are here picking coffee and the Germans who are working on the water project, but I feel that language is still being a barrier. I'm finding that I can understand quite well, but that I have problems getting people to understand me.
Jan 20 El Cua
Jan 21 El Cua
San José de Bocay
But we got here-the end of the road. There's two kids from the city of Matagalpa here. They kinda seem out of place. Victor had trouble guessing where we're from-he could only come up with Russia. I wonder where he got that from. Well, tomorrow we can start in on such things as our work might be.
Jan 23 Frente Office, Bocay
The Sandinistas don't want this war-they only want to defend their revolution. Just think of the possibilities if it wasn't for the war! Louis admitted to having problems in learning to deal with the poor campesinos of this zone. He's not alone in his frustration-we feel it too. Some of it is a cultural gap, but it's also a development gap. I'm too cynical to believe that technology will save us all, but I'm beginning to see the importance and power of education. Yesterday afternoon we went to visit an asentamiento on the north side of town. At the first house, we dropped in on we found a woman with eight children ranging from two months to sixteen years of age. All of them (including her husband) lived in a house with a dirt floor and plastic sheets for a roof.
The floor space was about nine feet by twelve feet. Peter and I could not imagine where everyone slept. It is raining all the time, even now in the dry season. During the rainy season, the floor must turn into a sea of mud. Yet, they've been there for eight months. None of them could read or write-not even as much as signing their names. Someone needs to teach them about birth control. In the next house we visited, a mother held her kid (maybe about one year old) as he peed on the floor. Someone needs to teach them about basic health and sanitation measures. Their diet probably consists wholly of beans and cornmeal tortillas. They miss entirely the minerals and vitamins gained from fruits and veggies. Someone needs to teach them basic nutrition.
The asentamiento we visited yesterday is called Ramiro Cruz Luna and in general consists of the displaced families who live now on the outskirts of Bocay. Twenty-three families came here about a year ago, but since December seventeen more families have come-all voluntarily. Every day more and more people come in from the surrounding mountains to escape the fighting that's going one. This morning Ramón Torrez, who is in charge of the asentamientos here, took us to the Héroes y Mártires (Heroes and Martyrs) asentamiento, several kilometers north of Bocay. This asentamiento has two parts to it-the first fifteen families or so came in 1981 and have since formed what they call the colectivo (the collective)-a CAB similar to Ernesto Acuña. They farm about one hundred manzanas (about one hundred seventy acres) of land. In the last couple weeks, about fifteen more families have also come here from the mountains and settled there. About one half of them lived in houses, the rest were in tents or under plastic tarps.
Jan 25 Pensión, El Cua
Anyway, the Frente told us that sixty-three families-367 people-had come voluntarily out of the mountains to San José de Bocay this year. We got a different perspective when we actually talked to the desplazados (the displaced). First of all, we didn't actually find sixty-three families-we weren't sure where all of those people were at. Second, the families claimed the army had brought them there-apparently with the two helicopters that flew over all day long. We asked them why the army had moved them, "Because they were taking everybody," they would answer. We asked if the contras had bothered them, "No one bothered us, neither the contras nor the compas (Nicaraguan soldiers)," they told us. What? There they were, living in the middle of the war zone with combat going on all around them and they didn't have any stories of contra attacks or atrocities to relate to us? That's why sometimes I have a bit of a problem buying fully into the WFP line that the Sandinistas are good and God-like and the contras represent the epitome of evil and all things bad and would rape and kill their own mothers if given half the chance. But there are shades of gray. Although I remain very committed to my socialistic principles, I wonder if there's anything to be gained by distorting reality in order to more forcefully make our point.
Yesterday morning we caught one of those 5:00am transports out of Bocay. We stopped in El Cedro--an asentamiento about an hour south of Bocay. El Cedro (which is also a CAS) has been there since March of 1983, but it was totally destroyed in a June 9, 1985 contra attack. They are still rebuilding the houses, but haven't started yet on the school. Peter got a series of testimonies there-from people who had been kidnaped, raped, or had their husbands or other relatives kidnaped and/or killed by the contras. In the afternoon we continued on to Bocaycito (another asentamiento and CAS) where we talked with a woman whose husband has been killed by the contras one and a half years ago on the road between El Cua and Bocaycito, and three kids seventeen to nineteen years old who had been taken by the contras and forced to fight with them this fall. Now we are waiting for a ride back there (after coming to El Cua to spend the night) to try to find a woman whose husband was killed by the contras about ten days ago.
There's really a difference between the campesinos of asentamientos such as El Cedro and Bocaycito and those arriving in San José de Bocay from the mountains during the last several weeks. The campesinos in El Cedro and Bocaycito were more pro-process, are green and carry AK-47 machine guns, and (to use the terminology of my friends) have a higher level of political consciousness. One friendly compa at El Cedro was rambling on and on about the revolution, as all of these people are apt to do, but he made a couple points that I thought were worth noting. He gave three reasons for campesinos being with the contras-either they had been fooled by the contras, were scared of what might happen to them if they didn't help the contras, or they had been kidnaped. He also noted that many of the desplazados who hadn't been bothered by the contras probably had been left alone because they had family members fighting with the contras. This may actually be an accurate observation and a valid explanation for why they didn't have stories of contra abuses to tell us.
Feb 1 Peñas Blancas Border station, Costa Rica
As in El Espiño on the Honduran side of Nicaragua, here the Nicaraguan border station is set several kilometers back from the actual border. Just on the Nicaraguan side of the border, they have dug a trench with rifle portholes, have tank traps along the road, and a rather heavily armed presence on the border. It definitely appears as if they are expecting (or at least preparing for) an invasion from the Costa Rican side of the border. And the airplane overflight makes a person wonder if they are trying to provoke such an incident.
Costa Rica, for not having an army, sure seems well armed. The soldiers here do not have the old beat up AKs I grew accustomed to seeing in Nicaragua. I don't know enough about weapons to know what type they are carrying, but they are definitely nice, new machine guns. Already I miss Nicaragua, especially its affordable standard of living (life is expensive here). Maybe this trip will be good for me and help me appreciate Nicaragua more. "So you live here, Marcos," the Nicaraguan immigration officer said as I left. Yeah, I'll be back in a week. I feel at home there.
Feb 2 Mom & Dad's, El Amanecer, Panama
There was a guy on the bus who was Nicaraguan but had been studying in Costa Rica for two years. He didn't like the Sandinista government and didn't want to do his military service. Yeah, I guess maybe I'm out of my country for the same purpose (different reaons though, perhaps). yeah.
A footnote to my story on the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border incident yesterday-a Costa Rican civilian there said it might have been a contra plane that flew over trying to create an international incident that would make the Nicaraguan government look bad. Although this explanation has various problems (like, why wouldn't the Sandinistas shoot it down then, or at least follow it to where it landed and capture it?) it demonstrates to me the danger in jumping to obvious conclusions.
Feb 3 Panama
Feb 12 Jinotega
Feb 14 Jinotega
There is a West German water project that has been going on there for a year. I talked with eight of them for a couple hours. We talked a bit about revolution and nonviolence. In a way, I really felt akin to them. The Green Party, for them, was too conservative-it works within a system that needs to be overthrown. Several of them had done some sort of draft resistance in Germany, but here they were in Nicaragua carrying AK machine guns. They really felt a need to defend themselves. If the contras attacked, they would get killed, they said, regardless of the fact that they were Germans. They were helping the Sandinistas and this would be sufficient reason for the contras to kill them. They mentioned the story of the two German women who had been working on that same water project several months before whom the contras had taken off of a public transit pickup on the road from Jinotega to Loma Alta and raped them. It seemed to be very much on their minds. They also told me the story of a German doctor who was stopped and killed by the contras on the road between Pantasma and Wiwili in 1983 (I believe), even though they knew who he was and what he was doing. They laughed at me for thinking that my gringo blood could save me; they thought that I was being naïve.
When I first thought about heading out there today, it was the story of the two women, ironically, that flashed through my mind. That had happened on that supposedly safe and free of contra stretch of road I had traveled out on. These Germans don't ride on the public transit anymore-"you don't know who you are riding with." They thought I was crazy for traveling alone and unarmed. "You could disappear and no one would know it." Now they only ride on Frente or army vehicles. My mind jumped to James and how he and Julieta almost were on an ambushed Frente vehicle and how he thought we should stay off of them. I felt trapped. Choose your way to die. But when it came time for me to go back to town, I was on a Frente vehicle-they had me too apprehensive to get on a public transit pickup. I am well aware that most of the drivers of those pickups are contra-sympathizers.
One of my main personal agenda items in coming here was to work through my feelings on nonviolence and my position on pacifism. I'm still very much at the same point where I was before-it's an irrelevant issue. I'm not at a point where I really have a choice. Like my German friends, I resisted the draft, and militarism in the US because it's unjust, oppressive, and exploitive-not because of its violence. They face the irony of now fighting for justice. For me, I do not see picking up a weapon here as having any constructive results--the struggle is Nicaraguan. I have not even been asked to pick up a gun, they ask us to go back to the States and change U.S. policy against Nicaragua. Another irony-I mention that unlike them, WFP is not trying to improve the Nicaraguans' lives, but to change US policy so that they can improve their own lives. But the Germans disagreed with me-their work was only a medium for changing German policy, to give them experience here and legitimacy for going back to Europe and trying to affect change there. The fruits of their labor here they saw as being quite minute.
Feb 19 Little House, Managua
On Sunday, February 16, the contras attacked a pickup by Somotillo. Four Nicaraguan women and Maurice Demierre, a Swiss agronomist who had been working for over two years in that area with the organization Brothers without Borders, were killed. Several people in WFP knew Maurice. The papers are full of news about these murders, the vigil at the U.S.Embassy tomorrow is in memory of Maurice, and there will be a mass for him at UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) tomorrow nights. Several things run through my head:
1.) If Maurice hadn't been injured, if it was only the four Nicaraguan women, this incident wouldn't be receiving near the news coverage that it is. Somehow internationalistas' lives have a worth higher then those of Nicaraguans, especially Nicaraguan women. I wonder if this worldview will ever change.
2.) The thought that this might be a "good" thing--Today at a press conference in DC, Mary Dutcher released the WOLA report that we've been working on. This appears to be a clear-cut case of a contra atrocity-it should add considerable weight to the report. The irony of going out of our way to locate clear-cut examples of what we are trying to stop.
3.) We had just pulled out of Somotillo at our December retreat-the zone was so quiet we didn't think we needed personnel there. I think this attack caught us by surprise. Julio noted that when the FOR delegation was in Nueva Guinea there wasn't much contra activity there; when they left it suddenly increased again. Maybe our presence in a place is more effective then we generally give it credit for being. We've been thinking about pulling some people out of Jinotega because it's so quiet there, maybe they should be sent to where the war really is. Now I'm really hesitating over whether that would really be such a good idea.
4.) How long will it be before it's one of us? I'm getting deep into Howard Zinn's & People's History of the United States. It leaves me feeling frustrated and exasperated. Zinn outlines so well where I'm at-not really a communist, more of a socialistic-orientated program for improving people's lives-not only in the U.S. but all around the world. But we are fighting against a deeply entrenched capitalistic system that creates a coalition of liberals and conservatives that oppose true social change. How can we really make change? And at what cost? Pacifism becomes more and more of a non-issue; the struggle is for justice.
Feb 20 Managua
I'm reading in Zinn about the Vietnam war. That must have been a lot worse then Nicaragua is now. I guess we still have it easy-we need to do our work while the going is easy. Maybe the best thing we can do is to speak truth--to continue to uncover Reagan's lies. Maybe that's all we can do.
Feb 22 Managua
Feb 27 Tipitapa
March 1 Managua
March 5 Jinotega
March 7 Managua
March 11 Managua
Yes, I'm becoming more militant-placing the need for justice over the need for peace. But how does this play itself out in reality? I guess I am a de facto pacifist. But I look at the world around me-what kind of world do I envision creating? Can I hope for anything better then Nicaragua? I feel real hurt when I read of alleged Sandinista abuses. I expect them to be perfect-it shatters my world when they're not. A lot of what is reported is lies--I have to keep reminding myself of that. Events are misinterpreted or taken out of context. Today I came across a pile of censured material from La Prensa (the opposition newspaper) from several days in February. I was surprised how much--and what sort of material was cut. Couldn't the Sandinistas go ahead and let them print their lies and slanted propaganda? Won't truth win out in the end? It really destroys my idealism to begin to realize that this may not be reality, that the world is not black and white and that we may have to compromise on our ideals to achieve our ends. But this flies smack in the face of my earlier beliefs that an end is not worth achieving if we have to sacrifice our methods in the process. So…Life isn't always quite that easy, is it?
March 14 Jinotega
I spent all day yesterday in Matagalpa trying to get a letter of introduction from the asentamiento office for our trip next week. The director of the office, Carlos Paladino Murillo, asked me what my impressions of the asentamientos were. He made no attempt to hide the fact that the Sandinistas had made mistakes. He readily admitted that the EPS (the army) had forcefully removed campesinos from the mountains in the region north of San José de Bocay (as opposed to them coming voluntarily, as we had first been told). He felt caught in a bind-would they leave these campesinos in the isolated regions of Jinotega where they would be used, abused, and fooled by "La guardia," as he kept referring to the contras? Or would they pull them back into a zone where the army could protect them, even if this would not be what the campesinos wanted? He kept asking me rhetorically, "What would you do?" I kept wanting to tell him of Warren's recent experiences in Nueva Guinea. I told him of my desire to visit that area north of San José de Bocay. He had just returned from an eight-day trip through that area. He didn't laugh at me for wanting to go there, but said that if I got permission he would be willing to take me. I'd have to wear a uniform--camouflage to keep me from being spotted by the contras and shot at. I'm sure that Ed and Sharon (our WFP co-coordinators) would love that idea. I was surprised at his willingness to take me on such a trip-I'm sure that that area is not exactly a showcase of the possibilities of the Sandinista revolution.
March 17 Jinotega
The next day (March 16), I went up to Somotillo for the acto commemorating the one month anniversary of Mauricio's and the four mothers' deaths in the ambush. We started out with a mass at Jiñocuao, where the four mothers were from. Then we stopped at the cemetery where the four women were buried, and walked the twelve kilometers to where the ambush took place. There we planted five crosses. It was almost dark when we planted them. Ria Reasoner sang her song "Gracias a los Nicas." I got so pissed-thinking about how the U.S.-supported contras deliberately killed them. I had to wonder when we'd have to plant one for our own-I hope never. Anyway, then we walked to Mauricio's grave in Somotillo. After finally eating we left at 9:15 for Managua. I wonder how good of an idea it was to go back at night-we were close to the border and I hadn't seen anyplace in Nicaragua with such heavy security. The bridges were heavily guarded and surrounded with mine fields. At night they were lighted underneath and they made us turn off the truck lights when we crossed-we never really understood why. At one point on the way to Somotillo, they made us get out of the bus and they searched it-I'm just not used to that sort of activity here in Nicaragua.
March 19 Jinotega
March 21 Little House, Managua
March 23 Managua
March 26 STTH, Managua
March 27 Little House, Managua
We have taken up posts at the phone and are taking turns monitoring the radio during these Easter holidays so that we are prepared to respond if the present crisis should worsen. Now, the crisis seems to be blowing over. We still do not have a clear picture of what happened on the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. In Jalapa, Julio reports that all is "tranquilo" ("quiet"). But in Jinotega, Julieta said the contra had ambushed and killed six policemen by Pueblo Nuevo-an area that I had considered to be quite safe. I feel like I really should be in Jinotega and that I'm not carrying through on my WFP responsibilities. The Senate just passed the $100 million aid bill for the contras. It is a disappointment, but as we didn't celebrate when the House defeated the aid bill we won't mourn when the Senate passes it. After all, they do not bring us salvation and life, but they only talk of death and destruction.
I worry about my return to the States-how I will react to the continual bombardment of lies and how my recent turn toward a more militant nature will affect my ability to communicate my concerns. I can't see myself becoming involved in legislative work-I don't see that avenue resulting in the needed changes. In a way, it would be much easier if they would just get on with it and invade instead of leaving us in the uncertainty of this low level war. Then we would have an organizing advantage, something concrete to fight against.
And pacifism-I still won't register for the draft because that would be for aggression and exploitation. I won't pick up an AK here because we are not here to fight the war for them. The U.S. needs to be overthrown because it is an obstacle to any real change, but at this point it would be hopeless and self defeating to try to do it with guns. I, therefore, remain de facto a pacifist (I guess) although I still have to be confronted with the issues that would allow me to process the point and a situation that would present me with the options that would make it a real choice as opposed to simply a given.
April 8 Jinotega
Carrie started changing my vocabulary this weekend. It's not "if I come back," but "when I come back" to Nicaragua. I don't know when it'll be-maybe a couple years, maybe this summer (if I have a good enough excuse). A couple days ago I had a dream in which I was leaving and I was just bawling my eyes out. I feel so privileged to live in a country like this-that actually tries to be for people instead of for more profits for the wealthy. It makes me sad to think of leaving and it blows me away to try to imagine that in three weeks I'll be gone. Why am I leaving? I don't really understand. It's as if it's just something that must be.
April 10 Yali
Pensión, San Rafael
Alejandro was showing us some pictures tonight. James and I first met him playing basketball here five months ago. At that time he was in the SMP (the draft)- and a month later was demobilized. He won an award for his fighting, plus a trip to the Soviet Union. I remember him showing us how much he liked fighting. Then I had a flash of him shooting other people-other people who probably were fighting for the same reasons he was-probably (to a certain degree) involuntarily. It was a flash that made me cringe. The idea of people killing people just like them-that's the basic reason why I'm a pacifist. It just flies right in the face of my gut reactions and who I am.
April 11 Jinotega
April 13 Jinotega
Last night Tim (Lohrentz) and I talked on the phone. We both had the same message-neither one of us is at all ready to leave Nicaragua. Right now we are tentatively looking at staying another two weeks or possibly a month more. It just doesn't seem possible that I could be leaving two weeks from tomorrow.
April 15 Tax Day
On the way to Bocas de Vilan we stopped in at the Zonal Frente office in Pantasma because the Zonal Delegate there, Antonio Zamora, was supposed to have arranged the truck for us. When we got to his office he wasn't there. There just had been, at 9:00 that morning, an ambush in Bocas de Vilan and he had gone out to it. Manuel was real worried-he was sure that the contras had come and burned down his house and killed his family in an act of retaliation against his sons for their having escaped. Imagine the relief when Zamora came back and said that everyone was OK, Manuel responded, "That's it. That's the last night we're spending in Bocas de Vilan." We had heard that the road might be mined, but Zamora said it was clear. He returned to the sight of the ambush and we followed him to Manuel's house a couple minutes later.
For a family traumatized by all the fighting, they sure didn't move very quickly to get out of there. It was already noon and we still didn't have a truck, so Manuel decided to have his family spend the night in Malecon, back up the road in the Pantasma valley. Because of the size of his family, we had to make two trips with the pickup. On the way back from the first trip we had an empty pickup so we picked up people walking back to their houses in Bocas de Vilan. One of these riders talked Manuel into getting us to give her a ride to her place on the other side of Bocas de Vilan. I kinda jumped at the chance to take her because I hadn't been down the road yet to the sight of the ambush.
When I got to the ambush I suddenly became rather frightened. It was the first time that I had been anywhere in Nicaragua that I just as soon would not have been there. The ambush had been at the bridge just below Epifanio's place. A Ministry of Construction water truck had just crossed the bridge when it was attacked. A pickup coming from the other way was also hit. Both were burned, the driver of the truck and two drivers in the pickup killed, and a woman in the pickup wounded. The truck was still smoldering in the middle of the road, the pickup had gone off the side into the ditch. About fifty soldiers surrounded the scene. I asked a compa (a soldier) if we could go around the truck-sure, no problem. As we went on I became more and more scared. What did Manuel think he was doing sending us into this kind of a scene? I had Joe ask another compa, if it was sure that the road was not mined, I felt like I was losing my stability. Just above where the ambush had taken places we stopped to let the woman off, Mario, one of Manuel's sons who had just escaped from the contras, walked her home. We waited about half an hour while the sun was setting and we were in sight of this ambush scene while Mario, who had just left the contrast had to say goodbye to a girlfriend. He definitely didn't have the fear that some of the rest of us did. When we left to go back to Manuel's place, a compa yelled, "I hope the guardia doesn't get you." Sheeze, thanks a lot.
We finally got the second half of Manuel's family loaded up. They had been sitting rather tranquilo in their house all day, but when they got on the road they immediately were on pins. Joe, who was riding in back with them, said they were watching on hilltops and behind trees. "Early in the morning and late in the afternoon is the worse time for ambushes," they were saying. Great. Thanks. We could have gotten this whole show on the road hours ago, you know.
Meanwhile, I was driving naively not thinking that we might be the victim of an ambush, but thinking that the contra war had created yet another refugee family and that, but for a different turn of the cards, we could have been in the middle of the ambush that morning. That thought was unsettling. I started to cry. I felt like I was losing my head. No, when you're driving on these roads you can't let your vision blur-you won't see the potholes and land mines. So I turned my mind to other things, started singing Dire Straits "walking hand in hand like lovers are supposed to be" and thought of friends far away. My mind slipped back to matters at hand and I began to cry again. No, you can't let your vision blur…
I woke up in the middle of the night after a series of the worst war dreams that I've had here. As after a nightmare, I couldn't fall back asleep. My mind turned to the situation at hand and I began to cry. Several hours later I finally fell back asleep after finally shifting my thinking to friends far away…
We came back to Jinotega this morning. We still hadn't gotten the truck and Manuel was not interested in going back into Bocas de Vilan without any army protection. So we loaded up part of the family up for the trip to Jinotega-three infants, nine kids, four bigger kids, and their grandmother. Later, the Padre sent his driver out with the pickup to pick up Manuel, his wife, and two sons. Mario, of all people, stayed in Bocas de Vilan. Now the whole family (except for Mario), twenty-one persons in all, is staying in Padre's church until they find a house.
Antonio Zamora told us the women hurt in the ambush was at the military hospital Apanas, so when I got back to Jinotega I continued on to Matagalpa to get permission from the EPS (army) public relations office to enter the hospital. I got a ride on a cattle truck and rode up on top of the rack in the wind. I alternatively thought of reality and began to cry, and then started to sing Dire Straits and think of friends far away in order to stop. We met a truck coming from the other way with Julieta in it. We waved like crazy for as long as the stretch of road allowed us to see each other.
At the public relations office I talked with the director, Daniel Soza. He was great-carefully getting all of the data on the nature of our visit to the hospital, complete and accurate so that we wouldn't have any troubles getting in. It's people like him and Zamora who care so much about Nicaragua, the revolution, and people that makes working here such a blast that I wish I didn't have to leave.
Speaking of leaving, Tim and I talked again tonight on the phone. We pushed back our departure date till May 11. That feels good-it will give me more time to finish up some things I'm not quite done working on. But the events of these last few days just proved to fully remind me why I'm not interested in another term right now. I just don't have the maturity to deal with the sorts of things I'm being put through.
April 19 Jinotega
April 22 Pensión San José de Bocay
Ramón is an "old timer" who fought with the Sandinistas before the revolution and is really pro-process. But he seems to want to use us for his political ends. Ramón took us to a UNAG (Union of small farmers) meeting where they discussed getting credit from the bank for the next year. In a way, it was just a propaganda meeting in which Ramón talked about the importance of production. The meeting began and ended with everyone standing, taking off their hats, and singing the Sandinista Hymn (although Ramón did most of the singing). The second time, one person didn't stand up. Ramón insisted that he stand, and the scene caused me to flash on my behavior in the states. There I wouldn't stand or sing the national hymn. It would be nice if things were different here. I wish they wouldn't have to engage in such blatant propaganda- I can't get used to it, no matter what its political ends are.
April 23 Rio El Cedro
Yesterday afternoon we went to talk with some of the new families at the asentamiento in Bocay. It just really bummed me out-just bounce in, "Hi! I'm from the States and why don't you tell me all about how it feels being abused by the contras?" It seems so shallow and fly-by-night. Talking with Manuel and his sons was so much more meaningful because we actually had a relationship with them and knew them. I agree more and more with Julieta and her feelings of the need to do permanent presence as opposed to documentation. I do recognize the importance of documentation, it's just... The permanent presence can be pretty paternalistic too, for that matter. I remember Peter at one point asking the question if a place felt the need to be "accompanied (by a WFP delegation) through their time of suffering," What do we know about life and death to really help a people like this?
Anyway, we blew into El Cedro early this morning. We found Paulo Ramos, the responsable, right away. We had a good but short talk with him, I kinda like him-he seems to have his act together. There has been recent combat in the area- two weeks ago a band of six hundred contras passed by here and two or three days ago there had been another combat. But the BLIs (the army's rapid deployment force) do a pretty good job of handling the contras and they didn't do any damage to the coop. It seems to be in a pretty static state of being-no new families, no new stories. So we spent an hour or so this morning talking with Antonio, a desalzado who left the contras and is on his way to El Cua to turn himself in to the Ministry of Interior in order to take advantage of the amnesty law.
April 26 Jinotega
We finally left El Cedro on the evening of April 24 on a truck to Bocaycito carrying medicine for the Ministry of Health. The late afternoon isn't the safest time to travel, but we really did need to be moving on.
In Bocaycito they had just finished celebrating the fourth anniversary of their founding. The combat in the area is military-the civilian population is pretty much being left alone. We found out that they were starting a new co-op in San Benito, a couple kilometers outside of Bocaycito, so we began walking there.
On the way there, we found out that apparently the contra had killed a man by La Chata, close to El Cua. We finished walking to the coop, talked a bit with a couple leaders, and left to try to get to La Chata. Again, we ran into transportation difficulties and spent the rest of the day waiting for a ride to La Chata. Early this morning we started walking there. We stopped in La Chata, just long enough to get the basic story on this guy who had been killed, and then we continued on into Cua. There we immediately got pulled into the State Security office where they proceeded to basically chew us out for being in the zone without their permission. Then a vehicle was leaving for Jinotega so we got on it (because we really wanted to get back here) without doing anything else in El Cua.
April 28 Jinotega
May 2 Managua
May 6 Managua
May 11 Hospedaje Familiar, Tegucigalpa- U.S. occupied Honduras
We got to Honduras. They charged us two limpira apiece to look through our luggage. They did us the favor of confiscating all of our communist propaganda so that we wouldn't be shot as communists further up the road. Took my Omar Cabezas book (which I hadn't finished reading) and my communist Nicaraguan tourist map. But they wouldn't take my communist La Prensa though-they claimed that it was just toilet paper. They told us how bad Nicaragua was. Immigration only gave us four-day transit visas (we were planning on staying about a week). No, they didn't give them to us-they charged us five limpira apiece. They told us four days was long enough to see what we would want to see in Honduras. By this time I was rather pissed and didn't care to have anything else to do with Honduras customs/immigration, or Honduras itself for that matter. On the taxi ride to San Marcos de Colon I just started thinking about how much I missed Nicaragua--the atmosphere and friendly officials. That's really worth a lot to me. I really don't understand why I left. I told people that I was coming back in a year or two, but even as I leave I know that once I'm gone it's forever. The world's big and I have to be moving on.
We caught a bus to Tegucigalpa. Elias Sanchez, Doris' old boss here in Honduras, was nice enough to pick us up from the bus station. He took us to this hospedaje (hotel) and bought us supper. We had a great discussion with him about the political situation here. I was quite impressed with him, really. Wonder how many people like him there are here. He told us that if Paul McKay can't find a job in the U.S. he should come back and work here.
We went out walking the streets. I walked into a store-there were eggs and soap and toilet paper on the shelf. Culture shock. Powdered milk, too. Five limpiras. I bought the same thing in Nicaragua for 400 cords. Broke me up-these guys are really being taken for a ride. Maybe there is more here, but can people (the real people) afford it?
May 12 Hotel San Pedro Sula, Honduras
May 14 Linda Shelly's, San Marcos, Honduras
May 15 Pensión Nazereno, Esquipuias, Guatemala
Salvadoreans have been called the Germans of Central America and watching them work really brought out the Protestant work ethic in me. But they are also learning a lot about working together and raising themselves ("levantarse"). They will have a lot to add to the New El Salvador after the revolution. In addition to the workshops, we also saw their agricultural project (but 11,000 people will never achieve self-sufficiency on 300 manzanas of land) and the schools (with their own Salvadorean teachers). These people aren't just kicking back and taking a vacation-they're working hard to make something out of their lives.
Tim asked me how these camps compared to asentamientos in Nicaragua. All asentamientos aren't the same, but generally they lack males of my age bracket, or if such males are there, they are in the militia and dressed in green and carry AKs. This population is unarmed and males my age are dressed in civilian clothes. I was surprised how high the morale was in the camps-seemed to be higher then in the asentamientos. These people seemed to be working together better. The Nicaraguan asentamientos have more room--houses aren't built one right on top of the other (though these houses were better constructed then those in Nicaragua-often in Nicaragua there is a lack of material to properly finish the houses) and land is more plentiful for distribution for farming. But really, my experiences (on both levels, really) are much too limited to really draw much of comparisons.
And so we left Honduras, a land which really didn't want us anyway and charges outrageous rates for its buses. And we came to Guatemala where they didn't have any customs check at the border but, instead, two military roadblocks in the short distance (maybe ten kilometers) from the border to Esquipulas.
May 19 Finca Ixobel, Guatemala
I read in the paper today that eight Germans who were working on a construction project in Nicaragua were kidnaped by the contras. Guess their AK's didn't save them, eh? Really hope they're OK. Dreading the day when I pick up a paper and read that some of my compañeros have been shot…
May 23 San Salvador
May 25 San Salvador
But more then anything our purpose was political. In the cathedral we visited Oscar Romero's tomb and met a group of about fifteen people who had sought refuge there from the army's bombardments in the campo. They had only come in the last week or two. Then we went to the University. We walked around and read the graffiti-slogans celebrating the struggle of the FMLN against the oppression in the country. It felt great to be back on a college campus, and it made me wonder why I was in such a big hurry to graduate in the first place anyway.
Then we met Blake Ortman, the MCC country rep in Salvador. He drew a completely different picture of the nature of the struggle here in El Salvador than one is normally apt to gather. He also opened doors for us to visit victims of the oppression.
The next morning (Saturday) we went with Nathan, a Beachy Mennonite worker, to Guazapa where he works. Guazapa is at the base of the Guazapa Mountain which is famous as rebel headquarters-only thirty kilometers or so from San Salvador. He showed us a bit of his work-a water project and a clinic.
And then, in the afternoon, we went to the Domus Marie Refugio where about five hundred people were living, afraid to leave because of the oppression of the Army. They had been there for years-since about 1980. A group of people crowded on a hilltop, surrounded by a wire fence-never able to leave, always having to be there. In a way it was like the Mesa Grande camp in Honduras-they cooked together, had a carpenter shop and a sewing shop. They were in this together. Just when we were leaving we started playing with some kids. They piled all over us-fascinated by these gringos, by my glasses and by Tim's camera. They were just bubbling over with energy, being cramped up in that tight area. It had been a long time since I had had so much fun with kids.
Then we went to the mother's committee of the disappeared. We listened to them tell of their stories of oppression and terror. They told us to go tell Reagan what the situation was like there. It seemed like an awfully big task they laid out for us to carry out. I'm not sure I'm up for it-I'm not sure I'm capable. By the end of the day we felt wasted.
May 28 Hotel Central, Huehuetenengo, Guatemala
We came back from San Salvador to Antigua Guatemala. We went to Doña Luisa's for supper, which is what I really wanted to do in Antigua anyway. We spent the next day in Antigua and then continued on to Panajachel. Now we are in Huehuetenengo. I mostly wanted to come here because this is where my brother Wiren was ten years ago with Team Missions. Tomorrow we leave for Mexico.
May 31 Terminal Autobuses del Norte, Mexico, DF
I found Omar Cabazes book La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde in a bookstore here. I just had to buy it to spite Honduras and powers who make situations like Honduras possible whose customs we may still have to pass through. They can't beat the truth that easy. If they take it away there, I'll just buy another copy in the States.
June 1 VS Unit Brownsville, Texas, U.S. occupied U.S.
It was a long terrible bus ride last night. Somehow we missed Mexican customs-still not sure where they were supposed to be. U.S. customs-just gets me really nervous and feeling bad about it. First, immigration: The man takes my passport and asks, "Where were you born?" South Dakota. "What's South Dakota famous for?" The Black Hills, I guess. "Which Indians lived in South Dakota?" Well, Sioux, where I'm from. Then he puts Tim to the same interrogation. I guess we passed the test because he gave us back our passports and sent us to customs: "Where are you coming from?" they asked. Mexico City, "How long were you there?" A couple of days. "Are you bringing anything from there?" Yeah, some souvenirs." Are you carrying any medication?" No. They look at our passports and see Tim's Guatemalan stamps. They dwell on this point. "How far have you been?" Well, I've been to Panama. He turns to Tim, "And you?" Almost as far, Tim answers. I could have hit him. It sounded like a lie. They let it slide. If he would have said Nicaragua, we probably would have been detained for further questioning. They gave us back our passports, finished searching our bags, and one asked me, "Have you ever lived in Virginia?" Ah...no. Why? "Just wondering." I couldn't wait to get out of there. Tim seemed to take forever in getting his bags closed up.
June 5 little bro Ivan's, Arvada, Colorado
Really not too much culture shock. I went through most of the cultural adjustment gradually by traveling back overland. Still, I'm not used to the wealth. Ivan sends me to the store for milk. Well, where I come from, if you're lucky enough to even find milk it comes in only one size and shape and form- a liter in a plastic bag. I stared dumbfoundedly at the cooler with about ten different kinds of milk, trying to figure out which one Ivan might have meant. Otherwise, it's some of the typical stuff- like not used to addressing strangers in English, and not used to being completely functionally literate in a society.
But the biggest thing is people's attitudes. Like the guys running the Honda shop in Brownsville-they told me I needed a new battery for my cycle and that it cost $42.95 and, well, if I only had $41.73 it wasn't their problem and there was nothing they could do about it. That place was just such a full expression of everything I despise about the U.S. capitalistic system. Or when the mechanic of whom I asked to borrow a wrench to change my spark plus and he refused. Oh. Sorry. I forgot. People aren't supposed to trust people here. Lock the doors and pull the curtains and hide in your house. I wonder why this world has to be such a mean, cold, cruel place, until I realize that the world isn't like that- it's only the system here in this country. So I vow that I'll do something about it. I'll be the one who goes around being nice to people, doing nice things for them. Down with cold prickles. Three cheers for warm Fuzzies!!!
June 15 South Dakota
I don't consider myself a public speaker at all, but at least this was good practice for situations that I may take a little bit more serious. Yeah, Life?
Fundraising letter for Mark and Tim's service in Nicaragua
Two recent Bethel College grads (Tim Lohrentz and Mark Becker) are going to Nicaragua this fall to work, live, and stand in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people. They need your financial, emotional, and spiritual support as they go to a war-torn country. In exchange, they will be your contacts and communication link with the situation in Nicaragua. Upon their return, they will be willing to discuss and give talks on their experiences. Please pass this request for support on to other interested persons.
I will be leaving on September 5 for Nicaragua. I will be working for up to a year (on a voluntary-service basis) at a school sixteen kilometers north of Estelí after completing language studies in Estelí. It is an agricultural school, and was visited by the Paul McKay-led Bethel trip in June, 1983. A Radio Shack TRS, paid for by the Save The Children Foundation of Canada, will be used for the school's accounting and a number of agricultural applications. I will implement the programs and teach the staff how to use it.
About $500 is needed for additional computer software, language school, and return-travel costs (overland). Send tax-deductible contributions to Box 252, N. Newton, KS 67117. Please make checks payable to "Jubilee Mennonite Church," with "Nicaragua Fund'' written on the memo. May we all learn to live together before we all die together.
I am going with Witness for Peace as a part of their long-term delegation in Nicaragua. Witness for Peace is a faith-based movement dedicated to changing United States' foreign policy toward Nicaragua from one of covert and overt intervention to one that fosters justice, peace, and friendship. As a long term volunteer, my responsibilities will include:
I will leave an August 26 for two months of language study in Guatemala. My six-month term with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua will begin on November 2. Financially, I need $1000 support for my Witness for Peace expenses and $600 for language study. Tax deductible contributions can be sent directly to Witness for Peace, 1414 Woodland Dr., Durham, NC 27701. Checks should be made out to the Eschaton Foundation with "WFP-Mark Becker" noted on the memo.
REPORT: Cooperative Carlos Fonseca; asentamiento Loma Alta
On February 14, 1986, I, Mark Becker, traveled to the cooperative Carlos Fonseca and the asentamiento Loma Alta in the Zone of Pantasma in the Department of Jinotega.
Carlos Fonseca is a CAS, a cooperative that shares a common means of production and in the defense of the cooperative. The cooperative was formed twenty months ago (June 1984) by displaced families from Ventaron, a cooperative in the Zone of Pantasma that was destroyed by the contras. Fourteen families (about 120 people, including children) now live there. They are organized under a directorate of four people. The cooperative is comprised of twenty-nine well-built houses. Of the fifteen houses not used to accommodate families, one is used as living quarters for a West German Brigade, and the others are used to store supplies and other materials. Thirty Brigadistas from Managua were also there working on the coffee harvest. The cooperative has fifty manzanas of coffee and planned to finish the harvest the next day (February 15). They had harvested nine hundred quintales of coffee-a good harvest. Besides coffee, the cooperative has a bit of corn, but nothing more. I asked one member of the cooperative what the food situation was like; he responded, "We aren't lacking much." Although on occasion groups of contras have been known to move through this area, this cooperative has never been attacked. Things seemed to be well under control and running smoothly.
Loma Alta is a recently constructed asentamiento next to the cooperative Carlos Fonseca. As with many other new asentamientos in the region, the twenty-nine "houses" are simply tin roofs supported by concrete poles with leveled off dirt floors. Slowly work is progressing on the latrines. Eight families now live here, most of them came from the surrounding areas. The first family arrived three months ago (November 1985) from La Cruz. This family is comprised of a mother with five children, the father died fighting with the Sandinistas three years ago. The family was looking for a more secure place to live. Two months ago (December 1985) a family arrived from Dewale. Three boys from this family are in the Sandinista Army and the rest of the family felt that it was too dangerous living close to the mountains where the contras are. Although most of the houses in the asentamiento were unoccupied, this family chose a house on the far edge of the settlement--away from the other families. This house was the closest to Dewale-they still have their farm there and every day the father walks there to get the coffee harvest in. Presently they are trying to sell the farm.
The last families to arrive in Loma Alta came a month or two ago from Oscar Tursio because of fear of the many contras that moved through that area. Another family had come to Loma Alta simply because of the work. There are close connections between this asentamiento and the cooperative Carlos Fonseca and many people from the asentamiento work with the cooperative on the coffee harvest. In one house I encountered a woman from La Cruz who was taking care of a friend's house in the asentamiento while she was away for a month. This woman from La Cruz expressed a great interest in moving to the asentamiento also. She saw it as a haven, a secure place with sufficient food. At present it is doubtful that many more people will come to Loma Alta; but most of those that do come will probably, like this woman, come for convenience's sake.
About a year ago a group of West Germans started work on a project to bring clean drinking water to the cooperative and asentamiento. Now a brigade of eight Germans is working on this project that the Germans hope to complete within two months time. A man in the cooperative told me that they welcomed the Germans as "a force, a help to improve our lives."
Within the last year the cooperative has built a new school building and classes should be starting within a month when the two teachers come. This school is just one more example of how together this cooperative is.
Visits to Asentamientos in the Zones of Asturias and Pantasma
On March 18 & 19, 1986, Witness for Peace Long Termers Mark Becker and Julieta Martinez, along with Sue McKinney from the Durham office staff, visited the asentamientos of Loma Alta and El Diamante/Santa Ana in the zone of Asturias; and Estancia Cora and La Pradera in the zone of Pantasma. This is a report (written by Mark Becker) on those visits.
March 18, Loma Alta
We made our first stop at the cooperative Carlos Fonseca, which is comprised mainly of people who have been in the asentamiento of Loma Alta for almost two years. Since Mark Becker had recently visited this asentamiento (see February 14 report), and since there were no new members, we did not spend much time here.
About five days earlier (March 13??), a group of about one hundred contras had passed through that area but did not attack. The cooperative/asentamiento has a new school building, but they were still waiting for the teachers to arrive for classes to begin. They do not have a health center. The German brigade working on the water project had just left, although due to a lack of material the project was not completed.
El Diamante/Santa Ana
Next we visited the asentamiento El Diamante/Santa Ana. Here we spoke with the responsable Jacinto Perez Palacio.
This asentamiento was begun on February 16 to 18, 1985 after continual intense fighting (the last combat had been on February 5, 1985) had made it impossible to work it that area. The land for the asentamiento had been acquired from three haciendas (El Diamante, Santa Ana, and La Estrella). The government paid 42 million cordabas to the former owner, Francisco Casco, for the land. The people were moved here from Ventarron, La Cruz, and Los Cedros (all settlements within a couple kilometers of the asentamiento) and the other three asentamientos in the zones of Asturias and Pantasma (Loma Alta, La Pradera, and Estancia Cora).
Originally, one hundred houses had been planned in this asentamiento. A number of people have left the asentamiento and now only seventy-five houses are planned. Seven houses are finished, but all of the seven or eight families that we spoke with lived in the small, dark type of building used to house workers on an hacienda. Although work on the asentamiento was progressing, we did not receive clear data on the make-up of it. Everyone in the area seemed to be treated as part of the asentamiento, and there seemed to be a goal of filling up the houses whether they were needed or not.
Last year the school had two teachers and about fifty-two students. They were waiting for the teachers to arrive for this school year while we were there. At one point, they had started an Adult Education program with fifteen people, but it lasted only a month-mostly because of the war. They have a Health Center with a resident nurse and a doctor that visits once a week. Thirty-five to forty people visit the Health Center every day.
The government is in the process of distributing land to members of the asentamiento. Coffee, corn, beans, and vegetables (cabbage, potatoes, and tomatoes) are grown in that area, and people are getting loans from the bank.
El Chile/Bocas de Vilan
We spent the night here. They reported that the area had been calm with less combat. There still is no word from the fifteen people kidnaped on the night of October 25, 1985.
March 19, Estancia Cora
At the asentamiento Estancia Cora we briefly spoke with the responsable, Francisco Aguilar. This asentamiento was begun in February, 1985 of people from Prisionero, La Rica, Santa Cruz, La Vigia, and Wiwili. Originally, Estancia Cora was a hacienda before becoming an UPE (state farm) and now an asentamiento. It consists of 1400 manzanas of land on which is raised cattle, coffee, beans, and corn.
At present, there are one hundred houses in the asentamiento. Sixty-eight families (a total of 384 persons) live there, and plans are to bring in thirty-six more families. There is a school (the teacher was to arrive the following week), an adult education program, and a health center. Forty-nine of the people are organized into a credit and service cooperative (CCS) known as Daniel Teller P. Members of the asentamiento are also organized into a militia for defense purposes, although the asentamiento has never been attacked.
After this introduction, we visited several of the families that had arrived within the last week. The families had been displaced from their homes for about a year, but had spent the intervening time in Wiwili or Tamalaque. They were not receiving food from the government because they had been displaced more then three months ago. Several people complained of the unequal distribution of land. Some people received as little as one manzana of land, others as much as eight. Also, some received land ready for planting and others had to clear theirs.
Next we visited the asentamiento La Pradera. Here we spoke with Alejandro Huerta who was filling in as the responsible while Anthony Zamora, the responsable for this asentamiento and of the zone of Pantasma, was on vacation.
La Pradera consists of the asentamiento and the cooperative Juan Castilblanco, which is a CAS. It was formed in mid-1984 from the remnants of two cooperatives that the contras had attacked an October 18, 1983. These were the cooperative Juan Castle in Malecon and Jacinto Ernante in Carcon. At present, there are fifty-eight families (a total of 310 people) at La Pradera/Juan Castilblanco. Twenty-four families are recent desplazados, which are part of the asentamiento, the other thirty-four families are part of the cooperative. The desplazados came from Corozal, Cuartos Esquinas, San Sabu, and Ventarron. Most of them were moved here because they have family members in the army and therefore were targets of contra attacks.
One hundred houses are planned for this asentamiento. At present, seventy are finished. A German brigade was helping build the houses, and there appeared to be sufficient building supplies. There is a school with four teachers, and a health center-although a nurse makes only monthly visits. In addition to cows, people raise coffee, corn, and some beans. Land is distributed on the basis of one manzana for every male over ten years old. Much of the work is mechanized (they can hire people with tractors to plow their fields). A militia provides the defense. The contras attacked the cooperative in October of 1985, but they did not hurt anyone or damage any materials.
Because we were in a hurry to return to Jinotega, we did not have much time to talk with people in the asentamiento. We did, however, talk with two families.
The first one had left San Sabu six months previously. There were twelve people in their family, and they were busy constructing the three houses that they would be living in with materials they had received from the Ministry of Housing. They were raising corn, beans and cabbage on their one and a half manzanas of land. They had been brought here because of the threat of the war. The contras had kidnaped a brother eight months ago; three months later he was found dead after a combat. In 1982 the contras had killed another brother who was an adult education coordinator. In 1983, an uncle and a cousin had also been killed, supposedly by the contras.
The second family had been in La Pradera for seven months after leaving their home in Flor del Pino de Vilan. They had to leave after a son had been kidnaped by the contras more then a year ago. Another son had been killed on July 30, 1985 while in the SMP (the draft). Now only one son remained, and the mother was afraid of losing him also. There were eighteen members of their family, and they were building the three houses that they would live in. They were trying to grow corn on their one-and-a-half manzanas of land, but because of the heat they had had a bad harvest. Even so, they were planning on remaining in their new home.
March 20, San Isdro
The following day we visited several of Julieta's friends in the asentamiento of San Isdro. This group of twenty-two families had been moved several times-first to Las Praderas which was attacked on August 15, 1985, then to Sisle, and now to San Isdro, a former hacienda. They were finishing up the coffee harvest and beginning to rebuild their lives in their new homes.
Contras Ambush Two Vehicles in Bocas de Vilan
On April 14, 1986, on the road to Wiwili about five kilometers north of Pantasma, a band of contras ambushed and burned a civilian pickup of the FSLN and a Ministry of Construction water truck. Three people were killed and two injured. Information for this report is from Antonio Zamora, the FSLN zonal delegate of Pantasma; and Maria Teresa Yubankz Morales and Julio Cesear Barahona, both passengers on the pickup. Mark Becker, Mary Dutcher, Peter Kemmerle, Julieta Martinez, Joséph Regotti, and Cathy Thomas collected information for this report. Mark Becker wrote the report.
Bocas de Vilan, Jinotega, May 5, 1986, (WFP). At about 9:00 am on April 14, 1986 a group of contras ambushed and burned a civilian pickup truck form the FSLN in Wiwili and a Ministry of Construction water truck in the district of Bocas de Vilan, about five kilometers north of Pantasma on the road to Wiwili. Three people were killed and two were injured.
According to Julio César Barahona, a worker for CORCONO (Corporación Comercial del Norte) and a passenger on the pickup which was heading south to Jinotega, the contras attacked the pickup with a RP-7 grenade and gunfire. Two drivers for the FSLN, Silvio Palacio and Byron Benerio, were killed.
Enrique, a worker for BICOCA, was seriously wounded, and a woman, María Teresa Yubankz Morales, recieved a bullet wound in her right leg. Both were taken to the Military Hospital Apanas, north of Jinotega.
Four other passengers, Barahona, Marvin (from the Juventud Sandinista), and Carlos Aguilar and Cristobál (both from the FSLN) managed to escape in the dust and smoke. The seven men in the pickup were armed civilians.
According to Yubankz, an unarmed civilian who had hitched a ride in the pickup, the contras found her laying injured by the side of the road. "Look at the old woman. We should kill her," they said. But no one wanted to carry out the act. Yubankz, a thirty-eight year old mother of eight and a worker in a fish factory in San Juan del Sur, was returning from Wiwili where she was visiting a son who is completing his military service, to Jinotega where she had another son in the Military Hospital Apanas.
After the picup was ambushed, the contras ambushed and burned a Ministry of Construction water truck which was on the same road heading north. Carlos Aguilar, a passenger on the pickup, tried to warn the driver of the truck of the ambush, but the driver failed to hear him. The driver, Francisco Eleo Centeno, an unarmed civilian who was alone in the truck, was killed by a bullet wound in his head.
Contras Burn Asentamiento at El Diamante
On April 28, 1986, counterrevolutionary forces attacked and burned the asentamiento at El Diamante, about six kilometers north of Asturias in the Department of Jinotega. The contras kidnaped one man. and injured two militia and a little girl. Witness for Peace volunteers Cathy Thomas and Mark Becker, along with Doctors Maj and Justin Stormogipson, visited El Diamante the afternoon of the attack. Mark Becker wrote the report.
EL DIAMANTE, JINOTEGA. May 1, 1986, (WFP). In the early morning hours of April 28, 1986, a group of about two hundred contras attacked and burned the asentamiento of El Diamante.
El Diamante, a former hacienda, is about forty kilometers northeast of Jinotega, just off the road to Pantasma. Because of contra activity in the zone, about thirty families have moved to El Diamante from the surrounding area since the asentamiento was formed in February of 1985. Most of the families lived in the small row houses of the former hacienda, although seventy-five new houses are being constructed.
In the battle between the contras and eleven militia members attempting to defend the asentamiento, two militia were slightly injured, one was kidnaped, and a young girl received a bullet wound in her leg. The contras also burned the living quarters of twenty families. The residents of El Diamante and the asentamiento of Santa Ana were evacuated to Asturias for the duration of the attack, which lasted from about 5:00 am to 7:00 am.
According to Anastacia Urrutia, a resident at El Diamante, the contras kidnaped her son, Leones Urrutia Benavida, age 19, tying his hands behind his back and taking him with them. A five year-old girl, Jamalet Hernandez Obando, received a bullet wound in her thigh. Hernandez and the two wounded militia, Emilio Centeno and Victor Zamora, were taken to the Apenas Military Hospital north of Jinotega.
Summary of Both Contra and Wfp Activity in the Department of Jinotega
January - March 1986
Marilyn Gordon, Paul Allen, Sue Severen, and Peter took the seminary delegation to Bocas de Vilan to work with families who have lost members to the contras in the October 25, 1985 kidnapping. The delegation stayed at Epifanio Tinoco's houses, and twelve of thirteen short-termers (plus Marilyn) got sick.
James and Julieta picked coffee with desplazados at San Isidro. This group of families has been the victim of several contra attacks, being moved to La Pradera, Sisle, and now San Isidro.
This all changed in the middle of March when, in an apparent attempt to prove to the U.S. Congress that they were still a viable fighting force, the contras pushed deep into the country. We first realized this when on March 20, we tried to go to Yali and found the road closed. We since have heard rumors of kidnappings in this zone, but nave not been able to document any. Since this incursion there has been a lot more activity, especially in the zones of Yali and Pantasma. But this has been happening since March and hence will have to be saved for the next quarterly report.
Mark Alan Becker
De donde fue el hospital OCON, 1 c. abajo, ½ c. al N
I am a student at Bethel College. Presently I am living in Central America for nine months doing a Peace Studies Internship. For six of these months I am working in Nicaragua with Witness for Peace. We are a faith- based organization and work closely with the churches both here in Nicaragua and in the United States. We have people stationed all over the country in order to talk with people affected by the war with the purpose of disseminating this information to the North American public.
Most of my work takes place in the Department of Jinotega, in the northern part of Nicaragua. In December, I spent several days working in Bocas de Vilan with Manuel, a local religious leader. On October 25, 1985, three of his sons, along with twelve other religious leaders in the community, were kidnaped by the contras. Since then nothing has been heard from these fifteen people. Without his sons Manuel's house seems empty and sad; some of his crops go unharvested.
In January, Peter Kemmerle (a co-worker) and I traveled to the area of El Cua and San José de Bocay in the eastern part of Jinotega. There we talked with people who, because of the war, had been uprooted from their homes and moved to "asentamientos" or resettlement villages. We talked with people who had been kidnaped, raped, or had family members killed by the counterrevolutionary forces.
In Bocaycito, an asentamiento about twenty kilometers south of San José de Bocay, we met three teenage boys who had been kidnaped last September by the contras and taken to Honduras for training. In December they were sent back to Nicaragua with orders to kidnap more civilians to fight with the contras. In January they escaped, but are afraid to return to their homes in the mountains for fear that the contras may return and kill them.
Repeatedly, I encounter stories of the contras' use of terror and violence. School teachers, health care workers, religious leaders-in general anyone who tries to improve the life of the Nicaraguan people, are targets of attack for the contras. The contras are not bringing freedom to Nicaragua, but rather pain and suffering. The United States' support and funding for the contras only increases this terror. Left alone, the Nicaraguans could get back to the tremendous task of rebuilding their country after decades of Somoza's brutal dictatorial rule.
February 24, 1985
Rep. Tom Daschle
At present I am working with Witness for Peace in the Department of Jinotega in Nicaragua. My co-workers and I live and travel in the war zones of Nicaragua and gather first-hand information on the situation here.
President Reagan is planning on asking Congress for aid for the counterrevolutionary forces which are attempting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. The disastrous affects that passage of this aid would have on the general population of Nicaragua is very apparent to those of us who live with the Nicaraguan people. I strongly encourage you to oppose passage of this aid.
The "contras" are not freedom fighters who are struggling for democracy. Rather, we encounter story after story where they have raped, kidnaped, tortured, terrorized, and murdered people. On February 16, 1986, the "contras" attacked a civilian vehicle on the road outside of Somotillo in the Department of Chinandega. They killed Maurice Demierre, a Swiss agronomist working with the peasants in that area, and four mothers. Numerous others were injured, including children. None of the people on the vehicle were armed.
In December, 1985, I spent two weeks living and working with the people of Bocas de Vilan in the Department of Jinotega. On October 25, 1985, the "contras" had kidnaped fifteen people from this area. Manual, a local religious leader, lost three of his sons (ages 18, 20, and 22). Without the much needed help of his sons, he is having difficulty harvesting his crops. Amanda, a brilliant 21 year old woman, cannot teach her younger neighbors to read and write because the "contras" kill teachers and anyone else who tries to improve the people's lives.
Manuel's story and many others similar to it are recounted in the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) report recently given to you. I encourage you to carefully read this report. As a person who has worked on this report, I can attest to its accuracy and independence from the Nicaraguan government. It is clear that passage of more aid to the "contras" would only mean more death and suffering of innocent civilians. I call on your moral sense of duty to do all that you can to stop the killing here in Nicaragua.
March 3, 1986
Thanks very much for taking the time to share your views with me regarding proposed U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan rebels. If I am to serve you effectively in Congress, it is vital for me to know your views on important matters such as this.
I have studied this issue for many years. Contrary to many reports of biased organizations, I have seen little meaningful progress by the Sandinista regime to accommodate dissent or to moderate their Marxist policies. On the contrary, the Ortega regime recently surprised many of its most ardent supporters by cracking down on independent political parties, labor unions, and newspapers. Even the Roman Catholic Church is not safe from the shameless harassment of the Sandinistas.
While the Sandinistas continue to drum up foreign opposition to the Nicaraguan rebels, more and more of their countrymen join the democratic resistance. This convinces me that some well-intentioned visitors are seeing only what the Marxist government wants them to see.
As long as the rebels vow to bring democratic power sharing to Nicaragua and the Sandinistas foreswear such moderation, I will lean toward supporting assistance to the rebels. However, I welcome your opinions on this issue.
Again, I appreciate your letter. If I can be of assistance to you at any time in the future, please feel free to let me know.
Mr. Mark Becker
May 2, 1986
Mark Alan Becker
Knowing of your interest in the issue of U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras, I am writing to update you on recent developments in the House.
As you way know, the House, on April 16, considered the Senate-passed version of $100 million in aid to the contras. Under a special rule, the measure was tied to the FY 86 Supplemental Appropriations bill, which the President has said he will veto. As a parliamentary tactic, many contra aid supporters voted against the aid and announced that they would force a new bill to the House floor so that the issue could be considered separately from the Supplemental Appropriations.
The battle against contra aid is surely not over. Even though the majority of Americans have made known their opposition to this aid, contra aid supporters continue to bring up the issue. As you can see from the enclosed article, however, contra aid supporters failed to collect the necessary signatures to bring the issue to the House floor in May. The next possible date for contra aid consideration is June 12. Meanwhile, we are hearing preliminary reports of possible progress in the Contadora negotiations.
I share your concerns about spending U.S. dollars, which are badly needed in this country, to fund a covert war in Nicaragua. I have opposed contra aid in the past; I opposed it on April 16; and I will continue to oppose it. I will be working with my colleagues to win the Congressional battle against contra aid and to support the Contadora negotiations. I hope you will continue to make your voice heard so that there can be no mistake about the way you feel about this crucial matter.
Once again, I want you to know how much I appreciate your interest in this issue. I hope you'll continue to keep me informed of your thoughts on any issues of importance to you.
With very best wishes, I am
June 30, 1986
Mark Alan Becker
Knowing of your concern about U.S. funding of the Nicaraguan contras, I am writing to update you on recent Congressional developments.
On June 25, the House f Representatives approved the Administration-backed plan to send $100 million in military aid to the contras by a vote of 221-209. I voted against the aid package. In my view, the United States should not be directing $100 million toward the escalation of a covert war in Nicaragua. We should be focusing our efforts on our farmers and the other people in this country who deserve our support.
Surprisingly, this vote comes at a time when the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, announced that it not only could not account for the full $27 million in "humanitarian" aid appropriated in 1983, but that much of the money it could account for had ended up in bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, and the United States. The reports of misuse of funds, including $3.8 million going to a neighborhood grocery store in Honduras, are truly appalling. To send $100 million more in aid, in light of these findings and at the current critical point in the Contadora negotiations, is both inappropriate and ill-timed.
I deeply regret the action taken by the House, and this vote is a major step backward in U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, I can assure you that the fight is not over. I will continue to oppose the Administration's ill-conceived military approach to the unrest in Central America and to support a diplomatic solution to the conflict there. I will also closely monitor efforts by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the GAO to investigate reports of contra atrocities and -the misus And unaccountability of U.S. funds.
I appreciate your interest in our nation's Central American policy and hope that you will continue to give me the benefit of your views on this and other issues in the days and months ahead.
With best regards, I am
June 26, 1986
Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
I have just returned from a six month term of service with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua. I worked in the rural areas of the Department of Jinotega in the northern part of Nicaragua. Yesterday, I visited your office in Wichita with Paul McKay, a professor of mine from Bethel College. Your aid suggested that I write you a letter giving you my impressions of life in Nicaragua.
In my work with Witness for Peace I met numerous people who have escaped from the contra forces. Almost always their stories were the same--the contras came by their isolated houses in the mountains at night and kidnaped the young males. These men were forced to march to contra bases in Honduras where they were intimidated, threatened, humiliated, disgraced, mistreated, brainwashed, and told that their relatives would pay if they tried to escape.
In my experience, the contras are not a popular cause in Nicaragua. People do not join the contra army out of any convictions; rather they are either kidnaped, fooled into joining, or join out of fear of what the contras will do to them if they do not join. These men do not want to fight, they want to go home, work on their farms, and live in peace with their families.
Nicaragua is a very poor country and $100 million could do so much for that country, I find it extremely unfortunate that the U.S. has seen it fit to spend this money on an inhumane army in a senseless war that will needlessly destroy that country.
Local man returns from service in Nicaragua
The Marion Record, Thursday, June 19, 1986
Mark Becker, son of Harold and Irene Becker of Marion, has recently returned from a six-month term of service with Witness for Peace in the Central American country of Nicaragua.
Witness for Peace is a Christian, faith-based organization which works both in Nicaragua and in the United States. Its purpose is to stand with the Nicaraguan people and to oppose U. S. covert or overt intervention in their country.
Witness for Peace began in summer of 1983 when a group of 150 North American Christians visited the town of Jalapa on Nicaragua's northern border with Honduras. U. S. backed Contras attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua sought to capture Jalapa and there set up a provincial government. The group of North American Christians were in Jalapa to pray and share with the Nicaraguan people in the midst of this war situation, but people also noticed that there were less Contra attacks in an area with U. S. citizens.
Since then, at the invitation of Nicaraguan Churches, Witness for Peace has expanded its work to include thirty to forty volunteers working in all areas of Nicaragua. Also, each month, three to five delegations of about twenty North Americans each visit the-country for a two week stay.
Becker, along with three other Witness for Peace volunteers, worked in the northern part of Nicaragua in the Department (or State) of Jinotega. Becker traveled to isolated villages to meet with the people in an attempt to understand their situation, and to document effects of the war between U.S.-backed Contra forces and the Sandinista Army.
The present Sandinista government of Nicaragua came to power of July 19, 1979 after overthrowing the brutal Somoza Dictatorship. The Contra forces are led by former officers of Somoza's hated National Guard.
"Many times we would meet people who would tell us of being kidnaped, raped, tortured, or of having loved ones killed by the Contras," Becker said. "This is the sort of activity that the U. S. government is supporting with our tax dollars."
On the other hand, Becker continued, his encounters with the Sandinista government were more positive. "We saw the Sandinistas, working in isolated mountain villages, bringing in teachers and health care workers, building houses, schools, and health centers. The Sandinista government is committed to improving the lives of peasants in Nicaragua, but often times Contra attacks prevent them from moving forward with their programs."
However, Becker emphasized, "Witness for Peace does not work for the Nicaraguan government. We work with Nicaraguan Christians and their churches. But we stand with the Nicaraguans in saying that the U. S. should stop its intervention in their country. Nicaraguans should be free to choose their own government, free from outside intervention."-contributed.
U.S. compounds errors in Nicaragua
Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, July 6. 1986
Editor: I see that once again the CIA is, in its backhanded way, giving the contras $400 million worth of covert support ("Contras to get secret CIA aid, paper says," June 30 Rocky Mountain News).
I lived for 6 months in Nicaragua, in the northern Department of Jinotega, working with Witness for Peace. In the course of my work, I met numerous people who had escaped from the contra forces.
The contras are not comprised of Nicaraguans who have voluntarily picked up weapons against the Sandinista government. On the contrary, the rank-and-file contra army consists of kidnapped peasants who are forced to fight against their will. if these peasants resist, the contra commanders will torture them and take revenge on their families.
The contras are not a popular cause, not in the United States and definitely not in Nicaragua. For 50 years under the Somoza dictatorship Nicaraguans suffered the effects of U.S. intervention in their internal affairs. If the United States invades Nicaragua, almost all Nicaraguans would fight against the hated imperialistic invaders, regardless of their attitudes toward the Sandinista government.
Continued U.S. support for the contras demonstrates an inherently flawed way of doing foreign policy, and it shows the Reagan administration's contempt for democracy and self-determination in Central America.
Bethel grads spend time in Nicaragua
The Newton Kansan, Thursday, July 10, 1986, page 5
By MATT BARTEL
Tim Lohrentz and Mark Becker say that between them, they've seen "about 90 percent of what's going on in Nicaragua right now."
The two recent Bethel College graduates returned in June from eight months of work there-Becker as part of the "long-term team" of Witness For Peace (WFP), an international human rights group, and Lohrentz as a computer programmer at a Nicaraguan agricultural school.
On Monday night, the two will discuss their experiences in a forum at 7:30 p.m. at Faith Mennonite Church. They plan to tell about their work in Nicaragua and their urban and rural experiences, in that wartorn nation.
Becker, a 1985 graduate in history, was in western Jinotega province of northern Nicaragua starting in November 1985, working for WFP to document human rights abuses there.
Lohrentz traveled, unsponsored by any group, to Estelí about 50 kilometers west of Jinotega, last September- his personal interest was combined with the efforts of a Bethel professor to arrange his stay.
Being stationed in northern Nicaragua- the area near Honduras in which U.S.-supported Contra rebel activity is most prevalent- meant that both had a chance to observe a nation at war, an experience they agree helped satisfy their purpose in going there.
"To learn about what is going on there is to learn what life is like for (Nicaraguans)," Lohrentz says. "For me, that's what politics is- what life-is like every day.
"People who have been (in the United States) for nine months could have a better overall understanding of Nicaragua than I would have living there for nine months as far as what is considered to be normal politics," he says.
"But I think my understanding is a much more human understanding of the situation," says Lohrentz. "I saw a lot of the trees and not so much of the forest."
Lohrentz and Becker's experience in Nicaragua at once presents a paradox- Lohrentz lived in an urban setting while running computer programs for an agricultural and livestock school, while Becker worked farther east in rural areas, concerning himself with what is usually a more urban concern: The political agenda of WFP.
But says Becker, "Where we come out is that we had a very similar experience. "Witness For Peace works in a rural setting because that's where the war is and that's what we're really concerned about," he says.
"There is little urban warfare because the Contras have so little popular support, plus there is an effective state security force," Lohrentz says, assertions based on his direct contact with the people there.
While Lohrentz worked to help manage the agricultural programs of the private, Jesuit School of Agriculture and Livestock of Estelí, Becker was working with other American visitors and Nicaraguans, interviewing survivors and viewing scenes of destruction from Contra attacks in northern Nicaragua.
"I could tell you many horror stories that we came across during our work there," Becker says. "People are kidnaped to serve in the Contra army." About a month before he left, Becker interviewed three men who escaped from such a kidnapping after several months of indoctrination.
Side-by-side in the rebel camp were initiation rites involving the forced consumption of hot peppers, forced daily prayer, and long lines of rebel troops at huts that served as brothels.
Although WFP documented as many human rights abuses as possible, those committed by the Sandinista government were reported through "channels to the government"' and punishment was handed out regularly, according to Becker.
Abuses that could be attributed to the Contras are recorded and reported publicly and privately in the United States, which supports the rebel forces, he says.
"We investigate all abuses by either side," Becker says. "But obviously, if you have a political agenda-which In our case is to stop U.S. support of the Contras-then it doesn't help to publicize the abuses of the Sandinistas."
Nevertheless, Becker's opposition to the Contra activity in Nicaragua does not necessarily lead to support of the Sandinista government.
"It's hard for me to defend a Sandinista government, especially when I disagree with many of its policies," Becker says. "And the vast majority of abuses that we were able to attribute to one side or the other were Contra abuses.
"For each one Sandinista abuse-which usually resulted in punishment for those involved- we documented 20 or 30 committed by the Contras that nobody ever does anything about."
Lohrentz says the Sandinista government probably has gone too far in placing restrictions on press freedom and declaring the state of emergency there, especially considering the widespread support it enjoys among its people.
"But Nicaragua today is a wartime situation and I guess they feel that everyone has to unite," Lohrentz says. "In wartime, speaking out against what the government is doing makes you guilty of treason in their eyes."