Nicaragua: Bottomed Out

Nicaragua: Bottomed Out

Last October I climbed to the roof of a decrepit apartment building in Managua’s eastern quarter. Originally a roost of the wealthy during the Somoza regime, it was mangled by the 1972 earthquake that leveled much of Nicaragua’s capital. Today, like dozens of other concrete hulks that still litter the area, it remains occupied by squatters, refugees from civil strife and then structural adjustment, dazed beyond worry that the grimy, fractured walls might give way. These people remind one that although Nicaragua is no longer at war, and even as a handful of new Miami-style mini-malls have materialized to sell imported goods at Miami prices, most Nicaraguans are worse off than when the earthquake inaugurated a period of social upheaval whose memories still haunt Nicaraguan politics.

From atop this low-rise warren I could see the plaza by the shore of fetid Lake Managua where presidential rivals Arnoldo Aleman and Daniel Ortega had addressed their followers in separate rallies the day before, in the final moments of a polarized, fear-mongering campaign. Alemân, a populist, table-pounding machine politician who’d been jailed under the Sandinistas, cried that Ortega would bring back the conflict, press censorship, and property confiscations of the Sandinista era. Ortega countered that Aleman would be the second coming of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.

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Lima