Chapter 19

Today’s La Prensa has a front page story announcing a Grand March of Workers for Sunday morning at the Plaza Ana Maria. I’ve seen posters in the city advertising the event, and it seems like there may be a big crowd. But La Prensa’s story is more than an announcement: it is an exhortation to attend, something akin to old Bolshevik posters urging Workers! Soldiers! Peasants! and Students! to Unite for the Nation! This is supposed to be a newspaper? My crude translations are enough to tell me that journalism in Nicaragua is played by a different set of rules.

On my way home from the cathedral, I share a taxi with a Rastafarian. His dreadlocks are awesome. I have no idea how common Rastafarians are in Managua, but he stands out for me. A gringo and a Rasta tooling through the streets of the capital: an odd couple indeed. When I try to make conversation, he asks if I’m C.I.A. “No,” I answer with a laugh. He’s the first person in Nicaragua to link me with any unsavory image. In fact, I’d prepared myself to be a target of unending anti-American vitriol. Who else but the Nicaraguans had more right to hate Americans these days? But no one has shown me the least bit antipathy, slight or malice. And it’s not like there’s a lack of anti-Yankee propaganda. I saw one billboard near the cathedral displaying a machine gunning soldier and words about Estados Unidos and Invasion.

For the other side of the coin, I have only to turn to Donald. During one of our increasingly high-pitched arguments, he says that people here are “waiting for the invasion. They want the invasion to come!”

Grenada has come and gone but Reagan has no guts for an invasion here. Not with U.S. troops. There could be no quick and easy victory. Hell, they nearly bungled Grenada, the tiny island most people couldn’t find on a map if they tried.

“There isn’t going to be an invasion, Donald. I know that. The American people won’t let it happen. If you want the Sandinistas out, you’ll have to do it yourself.”

Driving through a shattered mid-town neighborhood on the way to a market, I see that the business and residential streets here are separated from the marketgrounds by an open dump. It might have been the earthquake, now 15 years ago; it might have been the incessant poverty infecting any urban center. But this place was an open sore that words and ideologies and guns will never heal. It needs real action. Desperate action. And here’s Donald telling me the people want an invasion. Yeah, that’s just what they need.

My big rally is less than a week away. I’m not yet sure of the time, but the date is set for Thursday, November 5, at the Plaza de la Revolucion. For now, things are moving at the right speed.

Saturday’s no big deal. Spend my time wandering the markets and streets. Meet my first Nicaraguan Communist at Roberto Huembes Market selling party flyers that aren’t very interesting. He tells me in halting English how the Sandinistas aren’t Communists at all. The state, for example, does not own all the factories and the other means of production. The Sandinistas are, he insists, nothing but capitalists. Capitalists?

The streets I walk do nothing to alter my grim view of the city: block after block of Sandino graffiti and political slogans. And from what I see, the majority of shops that do have business signs have some kind of connection to autos, trucks or motor parts. Like a junkyard strip in a seedy Midwest village or the waterfront in an oily East Coast hamlet.

In the crowded streets and squares armed soldiers are everywhere though they don’t seem to be on active patrol or other official business. I never see them stop or question anyone. No glaring stares either. Passersby pay them no attention. Guns in the streets make me uneasy only in the manner with which they carry their weapons — with a casual flair, rifle barrels pointed waisthigh. I hope to God these people are well trained.

The next morning I’m outside the Huembes Market again, at the Plaza Ana Maria. Looks like a basketball court to me. Organizers are beginning to set up by 8:30, and I notice a large number of red flags being unloaded from a van. Workers are handling about a dozen bloodred flags highlighted with the hammer and sickle. I pull out a few thousand cordobas and try to buy one, a Nicaraguan Communist Party banner. But the guy won’t bite. Wonder what he’d have done for a $10 bill? Unfortunately my American cash is back at the house. This brief spectacle only reinforces my notion that we had a poor idea back in the States about what’s happening here. I mean, the Nicaraguan Communists are ready to march in opposition to the Sandinistas!

A lot of photographers and notebook-toting reporters are cruising around. One photographer catches my eye — blonde Caucasian woman in safari shorts. I make it a point to get close.

“Who are you working for?”

“U.S. News & World Report. I’ve been shooting in and around Managua for the past few days. And you?”

“Freelance. Came down from Boston about a week ago. My name’s Larry.”

“Candace. I live in San Francisco, but used to in Boston. Still know some people there. So you’re writing freelance?” she asks, looking at my notebook.

“Yeah. My main interest is the rally on Thursday about the Arias plan. Should be a big deal. Otherwise I’m just trying to find out what I can.”

“You came all the way from Boston to do a story on a rally? Freelance? That’s, ah, ambitious.”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s important and I’m interested.”

For the moment I’m more interested in Candace. Attractive and my age.

“Where are you staying? The Intercontinental was full up so I took this room at a place way on the other side of town. It’s not so hot. Not a restaurant or anything decent around.”

“I ran into this Nicaraguan who knows English, used to live in the States. He invited me to stay at his home. I got real lucky, I guess.”

“Have you had anything to eat?”

“No. Not really. But I know there’s vendors in the market. Right over in that building.” I point back to the place where I’d dined several times.

“Yeah. But they probably don’t have anything vegetarian, do they? I don’t eat meat.”

“I have no idea,” and think what a strange, out-of-place notion. People who can’t get enough to eat all over and she’s worried about tofu.

“Well, I’ll go check it out. Doesn’t seem like anything’s gonna happen for a while.”

“Nice talking to you, Candace. Take it easy.”

“Bye.”

Melodramatic scenes of the beautiful photographer and the daring journalist spending passionate evenings in Managua momentarily dance through my head.

More people are filing into the plaza. But many in the area have other things to do than protest. A group larger than those in the main plaza are queued up about 30 yards off in a bus terminal.

About 9:00 the attending groups — mostly labor unions and opposition parties — begin massing around their banners. Some pose for photographers. Others try to outshout everyone near them for the attention of anyone who’ll listen. The biggest group wears pink paper sun visors. Pink. All this chanting and posing goes on for an hour. One guy gives a speech.

At 10:00 the entire plaza suddenly takes to the street. We walk out to a main highway, spread out the width of the road, and march. The sun is already merciless, but plenty of drink and ice carts tag along. Those enterprising vendors: doesn’t matter who’s doing what. If there’s a crowd, sell ‘em something.

From the beginning I keep to the sides of the crowd, trying to get a wide-angle view. Photographers are madly dashing about, trying to stay in front of and above the crowd. I can occasionally see Candace out there, ripping off shot after shot. All the while I try to stay within eyesight of a man in jeans who had been pointed out to me as a Nicaraguan Communist Party deputy. Back at the plaza, a Brazilian reporter filled me in on a few things, including a statement that the local commies are a rightist group. Maybe something got lost in the translation, but that’s what he said. Anyway, the Brazilian points out this party deputy and I keep him in sight. For what reason, I can’t say.

I will say one thing about the Communists. Their red flags hands down make the most striking visual image in the march. Broad swatches of crimson red amid the sea of white and muted pastels. The entire crowd looks to be 2,000 or 3,000 strong.

Along the road I see one cabbie, on the other roadside, thrust up an arm in support of the march. A pedestrian does likewise. And I see lots of handshakes between marchers and onlookers. After a short time the marchers turn off the wide highway into a narrow residential street. Many people poke their heads out doorways or stand and look as the marchers walk by. Some even cheer. But as far as I can see, there is no sign of wholehearted public support.

An hour into the march, I’m getting tired of the walk. That’s all it is, an unending protest march through the streets, except for a few times when we stop and someone makes a speech. But I figure there’s nothing else going on. And something may happen. Then I run into a middle-aged white man looking very much out of place. Turns out he’s a reporter for the San Diego Union.

“You’re really smart to have worn that hat. I can’t believe this sun,” the balding, unprotected reporter says after I introduce myself. From Comiskey Park to the river landing in St. Louis, to the dirty streets of Managua, that ChiSox cap has done me good.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I can’t keep my information a secret and tell him about the party deputy.

“You speak Spanish, Larry?”

“No.”

The reporter walks up to the guy and talks with him for several blocks. I feel shortchanged, walking behind this drip who’s doing the interview I should. When he finally drops back a few steps he says the deputy claims the commies are marching over “bread and butter” issues.

Two hours into the march. Most of the people, unlike me, don’t seem winded. Sandinista police are shadowing our parade but they’re not out in force. One or two around if you make the effort to look.

Back into the business district, me on the sidewalk, I see this neatly dressed man bolt from crowd central with a tape recorder in hand, being chased by two or three others. Running for all he’s worth, the guy darts past me to my left and down the street. My first reaction is he’s stolen the recorder. But that doesn’t jive. Why would a guy dressed like him do something like that? About 25 yards behind me, the pursuers catch up and pin the runner against a wall. Then a horde of people, including photographers, swarm in. It’s a melée, and I see the runner getting punched. Should I go over? Wish I had a camera! But I don’t go. Must be the violence. It’s all over in minutes, and I trot off with the rest.

On Monday El Nuevo Diario runs a screaming headline about the attack, accompanied by three photos. I wasn’t in any. Whoever took the pictures had been fast or lucky or both. Two stills have the runner in full flight. Turns out the guy is a reporter for Voice of Nicaragua radio who had been interviewing the head of the local Communist Party. The interviewee reportedly got angry when questioned about the presence of American officials in the march and the rumored U.S. Embassy support of other anti-government activities. The Communist official reportedly got so incensed that he attacked the reporter who then ran off, right past me. I wonder if the local press knew the commie was a hothead and figured they might get a rise out of him.

La Prensa only mentions the incident at the bottom of its march story. The headline blares out that 20,000 people attended. El Nuevo Diario claims 3,000. A cop estimated 3,000 to the San Diego reporter, while a march leader I heard claimed 10,000 to 15,000.

Whatever the numbers, it appears that the government-line press — as well as La Prensa which claimed its people were roughed up at El Calvario — now has its own example of opposition “attacks.”

Made in Managua book published by Quimby Archives 1990.
Illustrations by Tim Gallivan & Miko Sandor.