Appendix 2C : Supporting Nicaragua, Twinning with Puerto Cabezas

At the September 1984 Policy Committee meeting, it was decided to establish a friendship agreement with a town in Nicaragua, Puerto Cabezas. This Appendix gives more information about the background of what was happening in the country.

To back up its support of the new Conservative government in 1909, the US sent a small detachment of marines to Nicaragua from 1912 to 1925. The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916 (terminated in 1970) gave the US an option on a canal route through Nicaragua and naval bases. US marines were sent again to quell disorder after the 1924 elections. A guerrilla leader, General César Augusto Sandino, fought the US troops from 1927 until their withdrawal in 1933.

After ordering Sandino’s assassination, General Anastasio Somoza García was dictator from 1936 until his own assassination in 1956. He was succeeded by his son Luis, who alternated with trusted family friends in the presidency until his death in 1967. He was succeeded by his brother, Major General Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The Somozas ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist, reducing its dependence on banana exports, exiling political foes, and amassing a family fortune.

Sandinista guerrillas, leftists who took their name from Sandino, launched an offensive in 1979. After seven weeks of fighting, Somoza fled the country on July 17, 1979. The Sandinistas assumed power two days later. On January 23 1981, the Reagan administration suspended US aid, charging that Nicaragua, with the aid of Cuba and the Soviet Union, was supplying arms to rebels in El Salvador. The Sandinistas denied the charges. Later that year, Nicaraguan guerrillas known as ‘Contras’ began a war to overthrow the Sandinistas.

Elections were finally held on November 4 1984, with Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista junta co-ordinator, winning the presidency. The war intensified in 1986–1987. Negotiations sponsored by the Contadora (neutral Latin American) nations foundered, but Costa Rican president Oscar Arias promoted a treaty signed by Central American leaders in August 1987.

Violetta Barrios de Chamorro, owner of the opposition paper La Prensa, led a broad anti-Sandinista coalition to victory in the 1990 elections, ending 11 years of Sandinista rule. Enthusiasm for Chamorro gradually faded. Business groups were dissatisfied with the pace of reforms; Sandinistas, upset with what they regarded as the dismantling of their earlier achievements, threatened to take up arms again; and many people were disillusioned over governmental corruption.

Former Managua mayor and Conservative candidate Arnoldo Alemán won the 1996 election. Former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was his closest rival.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed more than 9,000 people, left two million people homeless, and caused $10 billion in damages. Many people fled to the US, which offered Nicaraguans an immigration amnesty program until July 1999. Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

In the November 2001 presidential elections, Enrique Bolaños, the ruling Liberal Party leader, defeated Ortega, who was attempting a comeback.

In August 2002, former president Arnoldo Alemán was charged with fraud and embezzlement, and in 2003 he was sent to prison for 20 years. Current president Bolaños triumphantly called it the ‘frying of the Big Fish’. The anti-corruption watchdog – Transparency International – ranks Alemán among the most corrupt leaders of the past two decades.

The country received an enormous show of support from the international community in 2004 when the IMF and World Bank forgave $4.5 billion of Nicaragua’s debt.

Editorial Comments

Text unedited from Kath’s version. This Appendix relates to Chapter 2.

Manchester City Council currently lists sister city links with the following cities: St Petersburg (Russia), Wuhan (China), Chemnitz (Germany), Angeles (USA), Faisalabad (Pakistan), Córdoba (Spain), Rehovot (Israel) and Bilwi (Nicaragua). Bilwi is another name for Puerto Cabezas.
Source: Manchester City Council website.

Whilst this gives some background information about Nicaragua, it doesn’t shed light on why the friendship agreement was desired at this time (1984) and with this particular city.

Update 4th October 2017

I have added more information in a blog post that relates to both the friendship agreement and the death of Councillor Margaret Roff on 18th October 1987 in a hotel fire in Puerto Cabezas.

Margaret Ledwith tells me that in the mid-late 1980s, there was a very active Nicaragua Solidarity Group in Manchester, which often held meetings and events in the town hall with a number of the more radical politicians of the time in attendance, sometimes hosting Nicaraguan people. Also in the introduction section of her book, Community Development: A Critical Approach, she says:

“Participatory democracy in Nicaragua captured the hearts of those everywhere who campaigned for a just and peaceful world. The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign was central to my life. In Nicaragua, in 1985, staying with the people of Puerto Cabezas in particular helped me to experience participatory democracy in action under the Sandinistas, advised by Paulo Freire. Literacy and health campaigns swept the country led by young people, filling this tiny country with hope.”

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