MANAGUA, Nicaragua.— A 1972 earthquake left the city in ruins, but the ancient cathedral, like a good boxer, stayed on its feet. Although today we can see the cracks in its columns, and the toll taken on one of its two towers, the building's endurance is a reminder of the nation's mettle.
Prized by pirates and invaded by the U.S. Marines on several occasions early in the 20th century, the Central American country has known few moments of tranquility.
The Sandinista revolution that triumphed July 19, 1979, was the people's response to the inequality and underdevelopment that reigned during the dictatorship of the Somoza family, supported by U.S. administrations from the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt to those of Gerald Ford, with perhaps the honorable exception of Jimmy Carter.
"Somoza is a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch," Roosevelt said, the story goes, when he questioned about backing the regime that betrayed Augusto César Sandino's movement and murdered tens of thousands before being overthrown.
The revolution initiated literacy programs, awarded land to those working it, reformed the police and the army. The young Sandinista guerillas, with broad popular support and the solidarity of countries like Cuba, changed the face of Nicaragua in a short period of time.
The United States, on the other hand, used all possible means to undermine the country's fragile economy, and created an armed resistance, leading to a civil war. When the White House faced Congressional opposition to its funding of undercover operations in Nicaragua, the Reagan administration began selling weapons to Iran - which was supposedly prohibited - and used the money to pay mercenaries in Nicaragua, the "contras." The Iran-Contra scandal ensued.
Amidst civil conflict and U.S. intervention, the 1990 elections went against the Sandinistas. Over the next 16 years, neoliberal governments led to a growing gap between rich and poor, and little was done to achieve social stability in the country.
THE NICARAGUAN MIRACLE
A 2006 election victory put the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) back in charge of Nicaragua's destiny, with Comandante Daniel Ortega taking the lead, but in a different historical period.
The results of the FSLN model of national reconciliation, peace, and unity, in place since that time, are recognized not only by the vast majority of citizens and international organizations, but can also be seen and felt in the environment of a new Nicaragua.
The shoreline of Lake Xolotlán, which until a few years ago had become a public dump, now features an urban parkway, dotted with playgrounds for children.
A water treatment program initiated in 2009 has eliminated the rank smell of the water in the past and health threats to the population of the city.
According to experts, if no more residual water is funneled into the lake, and the treatment plan continues, it will still be another 20 years before swimming in the lake will be safe.
Caring for the environment is one of the Sandinista government's basic concerns. Along the country's largest fresh water lake, Cocibolca, 20-some eolic power windmills of the latest technology are being erected and will produce enough electricity to serve 160,000 homes.
The department of Rivas receives some of the most consistent winds in the world and plans are directed toward doubling the amount of eolic energy generated. Potential likewise exists for the development of generating electricity with biomass, geothermic heat, water, and solar power.
In Puerto Sandino, in the central-western region of the country, recently installed was a 12.5 MW solar park with 46,000 photovoltaic panels, the largest of the three in operation within the country at this time.
Ninety percent of Nicaraguans have access to electricity, up from 50% in 2005. The Sandinista government faced a totally collapsed electrical system in 2007, with a capacity of only 500 MW, and entirely dependent on oil. Currently, more than 53% of the electricity used in the country is clean energy and the hope is to reach 90% over the next decade.
The economy has grown consistently at an average of 5% for the last several years, one of the highest rates in the region, bested only by Panama. This growth has benefited the majority thanks to government social programs which serve the most vulnerable.
The Zero Hunger program supports the acquisition of farm animals in rural areas, with female-led households prioritized. The program entered a new phase this year, no longer providing free benefits, but rather offering loans to support eventual self-sufficiency.
A housing program, Plan Techo, has improved living conditions for hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, including many who lost their homes during natural disasters, while the Zero Usury program provides credit to small and medium-sized businesses at fair interest rates.
According to a World Bank report, in 2005, 46% of the population lived in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty. Over the last several years, the Sandinista government has reduced these figures almost by half, with poverty standing at 24.9% and extreme poverty 6.9%.
The country has likewise achieved some of the best indicators of citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the reality that some neighboring countries are among the world's most violent.
CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE
The FSLN won a resounding victory in the November 2016 elections, with President Daniel Ortega and his running mate Rosario Murillo, garnering 72% of the vote.
The old two party system, with alternating liberal and conservative administrations, has not recovered from the discredit it earned running the country from 1990 until 2006. A recent survey by the M&R polling company confirmed their worst fears.
The survey indicated that the Daniel-Rosario team enjoy an approval rating of 70%, while 77.1% of Nicaraguans believe that the Sandinista government generates hope; 77.4 % say it is leading the country on the correct path; and 82.1% think the Sandinista leaders have promoted unity and reconciliation.
With municipal elections just around the corner, coming next November, the FSLN maintains its position as the preferred party with the support of 56.8% of the population, according to the survey, as compared to 38.3% who have no allegiance to any party, and only 4.9% who favor the opposition.
Nicaragua, just like its cathedral, has not only resisted the violence of its volcanoes and earthquakes, but also a history of oppression, war, and neoliberalism, and has retaken the road toward progress following a course charted by the FSLN.