The Trees of Life go Down in Managua.


As you may be aware, Nicaragua is undergoing social upheaval.

Thirty dead, many more injured and damage to property in the main centres of population.

The origin?

President Ortega announced that to resolve the deficit in the social security budget an increase in the contributions of both workers and employers was required, coupled with a five per cent cut in pensions.

The upshot was a howl of fury bringing people out onto the streets in protest, only to be met by young party thugs and riot police.

For many, the pensions cuts were the last straw in a process which has disenchanted them with President Ortega, his wife – and Vice President – Rosaria Murillo and the tripartite oligarchy of the Catholic church, big business and the Sandinista party which has ruled Nicaragua since 2006.

The Sandinistas – and President Ortega – are now a far cry from the movement which overthrew the dictatorship of the Samoza family in 1979. Then its black and red flags were the symbol of hope…hope for a better life for the ordinary family in a country whose assets had been stripped to the bone.

Unfortunately the first task of the new government was to beat off attacks by the right wing ‘Contras’, based in Honduras and, lamentably, Costa Rica. A guerilla war of unequal forces, which eventually came to an end in 1989, and which slowed down the hoped for advances, despite a reduction in the illiteracy rate from fifty per cent to 13 percent in just a few months, resulting in a business led government being elected in 1990 and a return to the misuse of public assets while cutting spending on education and health and trying to reverse the Sandinista land reform which gave property rights to the rural poor.

The Sandinistos lost election after election until Ortega came to an agreement with the third business led government. They would change the constitution to allow a candidate with more than 35% of the vote to be elected on the first round. In return, the incoming Sandanistas would not prosecute members of the outgoing government for corruption.

Ortega returned to power backed by the Catholic church and the business sector….and the black and red of the Sandanistas become the blue on pink of the new regime….increasingly controlled by his wife….which has become increasingly authoritarian – and corrupt.

Rosario Murillo seems to be following in the footsteps of Grace Mugabe and Winnie Mandela…though instead of the latter’s ‘Football Club’ she has the Juventad Sandinista…gangs of young thugs who attack and intimidate any opposition and who were much in evidence over the days of violence that have shaken the country.

Murillo peddles a type of New Age spiritualism with a dash of Christianity…thus the Trees of Life , based on the Klimt painting, which she had had installed all over Managua at vast expense. They consume an obscene amount of electricity for a country where rolling power cuts are the norm…they have had to be guarded by private security officers…real trees have been cut down to accommodate them…an all too accurate representation of image over action, the very thing with which even veteran Sandinistas reproach the current government.

There might be some residual respect for Ortega…but none for his wife who seems to be preparing her ascent to power with the aid of her armed thugs.

So no surprise then that the ‘trees’ were one of the first targets of the protesters…

tree of life destroyed

I found it interesting that these were not Trees of Liberty, on the model of the revolutionary American and French  societies, which you might expect from a once revolutionary party.

Too dangerous to plant a Tree of Liberty in Managua? Clearly…it might remind people of the hardships they suffered to bring about the free society of which they were now being deprived…

Not that the Trees of Liberty had had a free pass….

Revolutionary France planted them in cities, towns and villages on the model of the Boston Tree of Liberty made famous  by the reaction to the Stamp Duty Britain wished to impose on its American colonies. They were regarded as national altars, the exemplar of freedom, and attacks on them were severely punished….even to death under the guillotine.

Needless to say, with the advent of Napoleon, followed by the restoration of the Bourbons, the trees had a hard time of it. They were to be destroyed, though in more radical communes cuttings were made to keep the soul of liberty alive…

I suspect that their hold on people was more than just revolutionary fervour. Though decried by the Catholic church…and by the Puritans… the old fertility symbol, the Maypole, still attracted people…probably more for the festivities associated with its erection than for anything else…and the Tree of Liberty gave it life again in a ‘respectable’ form.

Not that it is completely forgotten, even now. Driving through the Correze many years ago  I was astonished to see maypoles in domestic gardens. Wound in tricolour stripes they bore a notice

‘Honneur a notre elu’.

A homage to the elected councillor…who, no doubt, had been obliged to wet the  whistles of his voters as the pole was installed.

Somehow I cannot see these installed in Managua….

But I can hope that the spirit of those who fought and died under the black and  red flag will triumph again to regain freedom for Nicaragua.



34 thoughts on “The Trees of Life go Down in Managua.”

  1. It’s a terrible thing Ortega announced yet he’s in the same situation as many other Governments, a welfare bill that’s getting out of hand and less money coming in to support it. They’ve chosen similar methods to try and cope with it. His wife is just ridiculous though, spending money that isn’t really available. If he dropped her, he might survive himself.
    xxx Huge Hugs Helen xxx

    1. The nepotism is one of the major factors in dissatisfaction…all Ortega’s sons have had top jobs handed to them…damn fool concerts and events are staged at great expense…none of this helps anyone in the real world of Nicaragua.
      The attacks on the students when they came out in support of pensioners were a major turning point. Nicaraguans value education…having only had access to it so recently. Students are not regarded as idle layabouts doing degrees in Harry Potter studies, but as people who will improve the quality of life of the country…attack them and you hit a strong nerve.

    1. Friends working in S.A. at that time have a different viewpoint on her means of keeping herself at the head of the movement….and don’t forget that in arranging the handover of power the future president, Mbeki, was the man who let the economic levers lie where they had previously done…he was the willing puppet.

  2. Anyone following in Winnie Mandela or Grace Mugabe’s footsteps is sure to be a national disaster. I still am trying to fathom out why Winnie had a 19 gun salute at her funeral, Perhaps they were celebrating their goodbyes rather that saluting her funeral!!! Hope that you are both well, or as well as possible. Take care Diane

    1. So glad about your barn…a liberation struggle of your own!
      Pure hypocrisy, that funeral…if it was not there are some people with serious lapses in their memory.

  3. There was something on this on the radio, (WS?) but not much.
    Just another central American struggle to ignore.
    She does appear to be the power behind the throne, so many women are.

  4. It was fairly easy for a small band of revolutionaries to lay their constitution and bill of rights over a large population of disinterested, reasonably self sufficient immigrants who had access to enough land to support themselves. It’s been difficult to sell “common good” since 1785, or so. And even more difficult to retain it. No answers here.

    1. The ability to support yourself and your family is vital…when governments deliberately sabotage that ability by their fiscal policies then they need to be overthrown…but that takes a lot of doing because they won’t go quietly…

  5. It gives me a stomachache to see the news these days, no to close to no good news and the bad news impacts so many. We need a news revolution where we see people being fed, animals rescued, immigrants being welcomes, and dictators put in jail. But then that’s my fantasy. I do appreciate your saying it like it is. Just wish it wasn’t so darn grim. That said big hug to you, Leo, and your gang.

    1. I see a lot of good news on our local online service…people getting together to improve roads, setting up funds to help people who have lost their houses to fire…just like your community in the recent disaster. Perhaps we should stay local…

  6. You always give me something to think about and I
    am always impressed by your scope of knowledge. I had never read your quote by Jefferson until I read your
    Blog. You really are amazing. We both send love to you and Leo.

  7. Oh dear, a familiar story of idealism followed by corruption. And ludicrously expensive vanity projects like the Trees of Life. I hope the tide turns again and idealism returns.

    Pension cuts are now commonplace in the UK as struggling companies try to balance the books and decide that pension funds could be milked for large sums of money.

    1. Yes, I read that companies are using the money to buy back shares to boost their price…and, by some coincidence, boost the value of the share packages the bosses award themselves…

  8. Oh my. The world is such a mess in so many ways. Thank you (I think) for informing me about things beyond my ken. I’ll be honest, I’ve been reading Comet in Moominland and that was pretty grim in parts, but infinitely preferable to the news.

  9. I used to wonder how anyone could put up with politicians like this. I’ve now started to appreciate how the decay actually starts quite easily and openly, and we all get used to things that would have seemed inconceivable not so long ago. Anyway, my vote would always go to Little My.

    1. There was a march in Managua on Sasturday…tens of thousands calling for a peaceful solution. Now we see what the government proposes – apart from the resignation of the head of the police service – and how and if the varied interest groups manage to produce a programme for change.

  10. New boss, same as the old boss. It’s a cliche because it’s so often true. The thing is, given the scope of technology, kleptocrats everywhere know how to make best use of fraud, media manipulation and brute force to get what they want, no matter where they are. These sorts may be slightly more polished in the US and UK, but the end result is the same whether in the First World or Third – they’re all out to plunder and pillage.

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