Nicaraguans fight for food, buses
In Nicaraguas capital, daily
battles are fought over inadequate transportation and food
shortages. Rebel Contras are of little concern.
to an estimated one million people, Managua is a city where
you can wait more than an hour for a taxi. And once one arrives,
be prepared: theyre crowded and in such poor condition
its amazing there arent fewer on the streets.
transportation offers no good alternative to getting around
in the sprawling city. Buses are jammed to twice their capacity
95 percent of the time. Two or three riders routinely cling
to the doorways perched on steps inches from the road. Everyone
in the streets seems to be either waiting for a bus or running
to catch one.
are a few of the more visible characteristics of the Central
American capital of a country at war with itself. The ongoing
conflict between the ruling Sandinista government and the
American-supported Contra factions began in 1982. The leftist
Sandinistas consolidated their power following an independent
revolution in 1979 that deposed the former dictator Anastasio
recently visited Managua for two weeks. I drove there because
my budget couldnt handle the cost of an airline ticket.
A tired 1975 Chevrolet Nova took me 3,000 miles from Allston
to southern Mexico. From there it was more practical to switch
to train as far as the Guatemalan border, and then onward
by bus to Managua. The southbound trip lasted twelve days.
traveler crossing over from Honduras on the Pan American Highway
quickly realizes that something is wrong in Nicaragua. The
first checkpoint facility resembled a 1950s drive-in restaurant
that didnt make it to the 1960s.
foreigners entering Nicaragua are required to exchange 60
U.S. dollars for domestic currency. When they handed me a
stack of paper money I was reminded of post-World War I Germany
and its wheelbarrows of worthless cash.
first Nicaraguans I met were soldiers. A uniformed kid looked
over my passport and a half-dozen of his heavily armed mates
rode with me in a microbus to our next stop. All this foreshadowed
what I was to find in Managua: the military was everywhere.
soldiers walked among the people while drab green vehicles
of all types accounted for half the citys traffic. Even
the unmarked passenger cars, especially the Soviet built Ladas,
carried a large number of uniformed personnel.
a populace ever had reason to dislike Americans, its
the Nicaraguans. A librarian at the American University in
Managua told me everyone he knew had been affected by the
revolution and civil war. Before I left the States several
friends warned me that I would wind up on the receiving end
of incessant anti-American emotions. But the only animosity
shown to this gringo was from merchants who got impatient
with my Spanish. And they usually laughed.
businessperson I talked with was an English-speaking 30-year-old
man selling records and tapes. All the albums he displayed
in a booth space at the Robert Huembes Market were by Latin
artists. A good number had revolutionary themes, but his major
concern appeared to be profits, not politics. No comida,
he said when the conversation turned to the big troubles.
He was another in a long line of Nicaraguans to tell me about
the food shortage.
day I ate a big meal at the Huembes Market. For the equivalent
of a dollar, I bought a plate of rice, potatoes, noodles and
chicken. For a few cents more I got soup and a soft drink.
Before I could finish a small boy walked up, said something
in Spanish and pointed at my plate.
ate my meals in the markets and restaurants. Except for once,
each time I wound up trying to avoid the young stare of an
old expression, hunger. I always believed that to understand
and record a powerful event like a war, a journalist had to
be in a jungle, by a trench or on a beach. But the effects
are more widespread. In addition to the food, the price of
the meal here also bought me a close encounter with some of
Nicaraguas non-combat victims.
Page, December 21, 1987 The Patriot Ledger (Quincy,
Illustration from poster announcing rally on November 5, 1987.