The Election From Abroad

FSLN political ad. These are everywhere.

I wrote this in the fall of 2012 during the US Presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I thought given the nature of this year’s insane election season it would be a nice repost for perspective! Enjoy:

 

I’ll sit in my room and read articles and check Facebook to see what’s going on in the States and sometimes I’ll have the tv on CNN watching news when after coming home from work my host dad, Manuel, will come in and ask me, “¿Cómo va la jugada?” How’s the game going? Or the “play” rather. The “play”, referring to the election in the United States, really looks like one when you are outside the country looking in.

Frankly, this couldn’t be a better time to not be in the country, when the tv’s are filled with negative ads that bend truths, and everyone becomes hyper-political all of the sudden. The second part hasn’t entirely been avoided cause people pour their souls out of Facebook about how Obama is a commie or how much Romney hates poor people, or the one’s who talk about how much they don’t care about politics, so much so that they’ll tell everyone that they don’t care. For me, as an American observing the election from outside the country, it’s been really liberating. I watched most of both conventions without distraction, the debates online, got to read articles I want to about issues, and then the best part is I get to explain to the Nicas just what exactly is going on.

What I’ve really taken from watching the election from the outside is that people in America FREAK OUT over the littlest things. You think Obama is a socialist? Cause of what, wanting to tax the rich more? Here in Nicaragua, his political ideologies are equivalent to that of Ronald Reagan. Arch, right-wing conservative. Although, many will tell me that we Americans are slowly making progress with Obama. Here, things like healthcare and education are a constitutional right to the people, like our free speech and right to bear arms. Funny concept, huh? In fact, it is required that 6% of the federal budget goes to the public universities including mine, La UNAN. The cost of tuition? $15….. per semester. And getting into the public universities is still a rigorous process to get accepted, much like ours, with placement exams and specific criteria to meet. They mean it when they say “public university”. The campus is decorated with political murals and many of them you’ll see the number “6%” written on them. Now that’s socialism, and they’re pretty proud of that wacky system, although they call it “El sandinismo” like “Sandino-ism” after their icon Augusto Sandino.

Nicaragua’s political culture is palpable. You see and feel it everywhere. Literally every street light is painted red and black, the colors of the Sandinista revolution. Some is graffiti left over from the 80’s, some is new. Red and black flags painted on street corners, walls, and cars. I remember one time, we were hiking up this mountain in what I thought was the middle of nowhere and lo and behold, there’s a large boulder painted red and black. The paintings were done to not just to inspire people to join the cause, but also to signal to others which parts of a city had been successfully liberated by the rebels. It’s like the “V” in the movie V for Vendetta, but real. Billboards of a cheery President Daniel Ortega smile down at you at every round about. I remember when my host family picked me up for the first time from our program orientation. We talked small-talk for about five minutes, then all of the sudden,

“Christian, we were 18 when the revolution happened. Hey, did you know Samoza (the military dictatorship) was killing people? He killed kids, Christian!”

Stunned, all I could really say was “Oh, wow…” On a weekly basis, we’ll be at the dinner table and they’ll tell me their story.

My host mom, Mercedes, participated in the clandestine movement in Managua during the revolution, when Somoza’s National Guard soldiers were going house to house searching for and killing people harboring Sandinista rebels. Her house was one of these safe houses, and her job was to create make-shift first aid and supply kits for the rebels as they participated in guerrilla warfare in the city. She also said she would go around and collect tires, pile them up then light them on fire. The smoke was used to communicate with the other groups hiding throughout the city. They also created road blocks and damaged the streets so that tanks could not pass through.

Manuel, my host dad, was a captain in the Sandinista army. When the Contra War started in ’83, he was sent to the border of Honduras, where they fought the Contras and waited for what he said they thought was “an inevitable US invasion” at the time. Their stories really put things into perspective for me. I couldn’t imagine hiding out in some house in Denver from my own military as they went house to house killing people. I then can’t imagine standing in the mall in Washington DC, celebrating overthrowing the American government. It must have been some time.

I also got to vote  in the US election while I was here. The process wasn’t all too hard thanks to the internet and our program office having a scanner. I filled out a few forms online, printed, signed, scanned, then emailed the ballot and I was good to go. I thought I was gonna have to go to the embassy on election day and figure it out from there, but thanks to existing in the 21st century, the process went smoothly.

We have it pretty good in the States. It was funny for me to see Romney talk about one in six Americans being in poverty while I am living in the second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere.

Poverty, huh? You don’t see houses in the States made out of scraps of metal while people burn trash to heat their stove for cooking. Neighborhoods don’t get flooded with everyones discarded trash every time it rains. Parents don’t have to send their kids to school to get just one free meal that day. Don’t get me wrong, we have people who are struggling to get by in the US, but it could be a lot, lot worse. America is fine. And we’ll be alright regardless of whoever is president. Watching our election from such a politically charged country has sincerely been a treat.

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