Nicaragua Film Provides Election Year Reflection
A new film by Swiss director Kristina Konrad provides a long awaited 20-year retrospect of Nicaragua, its frustrated revolution, and the lives of some of those who dared to dream and risk everything for a brighter future. It comes just under a year before the November, 2006 general elections.
The 84-minute documentary, titled: "Nuestra America: Todo cambia cuando te has decidido" (Our America: Everything changes when you’ve made a decision,) was premiered in Nicaragua to packed audiences December 19-23 in Managua, Leon and Granada. Earlier in the month it won an award at the prestigious Havana Film Festival as the best film about Latin America by a director from outside the region.
Our America asks complicated questions like: Where is Nicaragua today?, Did Yesterday’s Nicaragua really exist? It provides answers from a human, feminine and internationalist perspective, avoiding rhetoric or simplistic explanations about the Sandinista Revolution (1979), the loss of political power (1990) and the situation of Nicaraguans today.
Nearly two decades after filming in war torn Nicaragua, Konrad returns with a photograph of two young women in a battalion of the Sandinista Army, hard pressed to defend the country against the “Contras” trained and armed by the US under the Reagan administration.
The director, full of her own vivid memories and questions of what happened, first finds Magaly Cabrera, today a struggling lawyer in Leon who works with indigent clients. With Magaly, she searches and finds Cecilia Rojas, now a door-to-door salesperson for Avon cosmetics.
Both live simply raising their families with economic difficulties. As they recall their past and describe their current lives, the viewers, like the director, gain valuable insight into the open wounds of a chapter in Nicaraguan history closed like a slammed door.
When asked where the revolution left its mark, Konrad said it was Nicaraguan women that benefited the most. “For the first time women could leave their traditional role.” Reflecting on their reliability and sense of responsibility she adds: “There are still many [international] organizations that work in Nicaragua and everyone says they prefer to work with the women.”
Back in the capital, Managua, Francisco Ramirez, 53, describes his experiences over 30 years as an employee at the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the only two large buildings that survived Managua’s devastating 1972 earthquake.
Ramirez worked at the hotel when the dictator Somoza was its main owner. He stayed on when the victorious young Sandinistas took over the luxury establishment as a temporary seat of government and lodging for displaced militia members. In the following decade he saw many foreign young people pass through “poorly dressed and with foul odors,” and he was still around in the 1990s after it was re-privatized, now to foreign hands. Ramirez is the prototype of the worker loyal to management. With total frankness he explains his philosophy: “Classes have to exist. There has to be rich and poor. Without the rich there would be no one to give work to the poor.”
Another interviewee is Herty Lewites, 63, then the popular Sandinista mayor of Managua. Lewites was filmed before he finished his term in early 2005. I asked Konrad for her reaction when she leaned that Lewites had challenged Daniel Ortega for the Sandinista nomination for president?
“When I interviewed Herty he was still the mayor of Managua. I heard things because people liked him. There were rumors. I have his answer to a question that I didn’t use in the film, about whether he would like to be president. He replied: ‘I believe that anyone would like to be president if the people supported them.’” The documentary allows viewers to get to know Lewites, his past as an active collaborator of the guerrilla movement fighting Somoza, his years as the Sandinista Minister of Tourism and some of his ideas on life and Nicaragua.
Enrique Fonseca, 73, an indigenous poet, is restless and insightful swinging in his hammock behind his humble rural home. Without saying it, he plays with the unpredictable Nicaraguan “gueguense” that surprises when least expected. He and others note the human costs in the war to overthrow Somoza and then to defend the country, which barely had time to breath between conflicts.
Fonseca asks the question on the minds of many young Nicaraguans, who were either virtually abandoned by their revolutionary parents who gave their all to the revolution and the monumental task of building a new country from scratch, or were born in the post-revolution period. The question “for what?” reflects a painful recognition of so much sacrifice for apparently so little.
However, the courage of the young Nicaraguans that fought to end Somoza’s rule and then defended the revolution can be summed up in one scene early on in the film while the director is still looking for the two women in her photograph.
Josefina Ulloa, 46, recalls, as if it were yesterday, the tense moments over 25 years before when she belonged to a squad of ten poorly equipped Sandinistas looking to seize weapons in the countryside in order to fight Somoza’s National Guard.
At one moment a complaining youth in her group said he was going to return home because he didn’t have a weapon. Josefina recalls that there was “no room for traitors or cowards” with so much danger facing them. She told the young man: “If its because you don’t have a weapon, take mine”, and she picked up a piece of wood and continued on.
Her nighttime mission was to enter the house of a “Juez de Mesta” –the local power of the dictatorship in the countryside- to obtain his weapon for the revolutionary cause.
Trembling inside, she busted into the house pointing her piece of wood as if it were a rifle, screaming that the house was surrounded and telling those inside not to turn on the light (which would have revealed her bluff). She then demanded the feared man turn over his pistol.
Through pure courage she accomplished her task, like so many others carried out by her generation, committed to give their all for a better future.
Things became much more complicated after losing power on February 25, 1990. The film comments that the FSLN –born as a guerrilla movement in 1961 and which governed from July 19, 1979 to April 25, 1990- has become just one more political party, hinting that it lost much of its previously held ethical capital.
In her personal reflections on the Nicaraguan revolution, Konrad noted that she had come from wealthy Switzerland: “It was my first experience in a poor country and first experience with a revolution. What most impressed me was seeing an entire country in motion. Their was hope that things would get better.” She added, “Not everything was roses, there were also a number of things that didn’t work; they had little experience. However, they struggled a lot, their was great movement and I can also remember the humor of the people. I never laughed so much than with the poor Nicaraguans in the middle of the war. And besides, everyone made poetry!”
The documentary also shows that the ideals of the revolution are still simmering on the back burner, independent of the difficult situation the country finds itself today.
For those without much knowledge about Nicaragua the film gives an ample look at the country’s recent history without sermons, one of its greatest and needed attributes. For those who hold the Central American country dear to heart, you can count on an emotional and thought provoking hour and a half.
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