Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Friday, November 21, 2008

  Boombas in Managua

I visited Managua last Sunday. It was - as my friends were telling me - a disturbing scene, particularly to someone unused to seeing gunpowder outside the hands of professionals.

The polarized election had nearly every telephone pole painted in some variant of each party's colors and many campaign signs were defaced.

There was a FSLN (Sandinista) rally on nearly every traffic circle I passed - two that I passed (near the galleria and metro central) had people equipped with what looked like hand made rocket launchers - short tubes, about 18 to 24 inches in size, with handles. They were shooting off fireworks that mostly went boom rather than had pretty colors. I mean, whooooosh - BOOM. whooosh - BOOOOOOOOOM! whoooosh - KA-BOOOOM!

No mortars, as some reported. But it was early. I didn't stick around after dark.

There were people, young and old, celebrating - lots of flag waving of both the Nicaraguan (blue and white) flag and the FSLN flag (red and black), and music, powered by generator trucks. Members of the opposing parties were notable by their absence, but all those present seemed enthusiastic, and only a very few drunk.

"Big Booms" occurred every few seconds at times. I mean, explosions to rival the best of a July 4th celebration - head-aching booms. As I noted in a previous blog entry, this sort of thing happens all the time in Nicaragua, firecrackers and fireworks are set off on nearly every occasion... but, man, there was an awful lot of it, everywhere, in Managua.

It was disturbing to see the rockets being fired off from within the crowd, and also obvious that the same devices could do a lot of damage if used horizontally rather than vertically. They weren't - but then again, the policia weren't bothering anyone celebrating, just sealing off the streets around the area and re-routing traffic.

I've always wondered: where does all that gunpowder come from? Some latent regulatory sense within me asks: "why does the government let the non-professionals have it?" - and my engineering side then asks "why don't I?" I have plenty of uses for the stuff. I could fix a few roads.

For all that, inside those malls, it was business as usual, no stores closed, no taped entrances. As I left Metro Central around 4 o'clock (I spent a few hours there getting my visa renewed), the front side parking had emptied of cars save my own, and mall guards - in bulletproof vests - were closing off the exits to the main road, where a much bigger rally was assembling just a block away.

We drove out of the mall up to the rally but had to turn around due to the sheer masses of people partying down.

The rest of the day was peaceful. I was amazed at how much the road network between San Juan Del Sur and Managua had improved - aside from a few bumps inside of busy towns, I encountered 0 - zero - potholes - in over 100km of driving - a huge improvement over my first visit 18 months ago, and accounting for a major increase of speed between those two destinations (with a detour in Caterina for pottery).

The airport - business as usual - the hotel - business as usual - otherwise just a normal day - well, one with explosions overhead every few minutes no matter where you went.

On my way out of Managua, I got stopped by some cops expecting a bribe. I had done nothing wrong, but I had broken the speed limit all day - and until a few minutes before was effectively in the country illegally - so it was kind of karmic.

400 cordobas (about $20 US) later my buddy and I were on our way. Having to bribe your way out of an unjustified ticket is just one price you have to pay for living in the third world, but I have to admit those cops made me pretty nervous before settling on an appropriate amount - I was already kind of disturbed and deaf from the day - AND had I not just freshly renewed my (late) visa I might have been in major trouble.

I am trying very hard here to document what I'd witnessed or done vs what I've heard. There are so many rumors swirling around, and the only place I've found approximations of the truth has been on the comment sections of websites such as Nica Living, and the on-going dialog over an economist article.

Several sources claim that Tuesday grew ugly, as Eduardo Montealegre (the losing PLC candidate for Mayor of Managua) staged marches in multiple municipalities and had planned a major march in Managua itself before being stopped by a rock-throwing counter-demonstration. He plans to appeal the election results to every authority he can find - and with good reason, among many other signs of election fraud was a multitude of ballots found thrown in a ditch. (still looking for backing urls for the above - the latter came from La Prensa a few days ago)

Update: The recount came back today, with the same results as before, a massive Sandinista win across much of the country. No credible observers, however, Montealegre called off a march in Estelí.

I hope my reporting comes across as a little more factual and correct than what appears in the Pimes.

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Comments:
"why does the government let the non-professionals have [gunpowder]?" -- You are making a terribly dangerous assumption, that all governments are benign, or that a benign government will remain that way forever.
Read history, Mike, and regardless what you may think of the current state of affairs in the US, remember that in the middle 1700s, it was the British government that became tyrannical and only because the colonists had weapons, and smart men, and could build alliances, were they able to throw off that tyranny.
 
Er, make that "David." [Old habits...]
 
Dear Ed:

I am well aware that the practical exercise and preservation of freedom ultimately resides in force adequately held by the people.

Too few members of other cultures seem to remember that. Force is scary, ugly, and yet necessary.

America itself is too far gone with the power held by the state for the population to ever assert itself again.

You can have democracy without freedom, however, and you can also have the tyranny of mob rule within a democracy.

All these forces balance out in odd ways, throughout the world. I am arguably more free living in Nicaragua than I ever was in America, and also considerably less safe.

I like it, I like being a free man - and I was happy that the police hadn't closed in with rubber bullets and gas - as they might have elsewhere.
 
Provocative answer, Dave. Lots to chew on. Thanks.
Interesting aside: Public expectations of Barack Obama's stance on guns has apparently provoked gun sales to such a degree that some are saying he has done more for gun sales and private possession thereof than any other President.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
/me == Ed.

Guns in the hands of governments are considerably more dangerous.

People may, or may not occasionally kill each other. It takes a government to commit genocide. And governments do, when they figure out a rational to do so. And it doesn't take much.

Power to the people.

Governments that fear their own people, are not legitimate governments.

Less safe in Nicaragua?

I don't see folks trying to figure out nefarious ways to kill off significant number of Nicaraguans. I don't think that Nicaragua is on the top hit list for the folks in the terrorism cartels, and I don't see Nicaragua being in Czar Vladimir II (putin)'s crosshairs.

Any sense of 'safety' that you had in the US, was a pure manufactured illusion.

How many ICBMs are pointing at Nicaragua do you think?
 
Thanks for the report from Managua. Having a business in San Juan del Sur that relies on a steady flow of visitors, when reassuring people I would like to make the trip to Nicaragua, I have always been proud to state that the country is on its fifth democratically elected president. While that remains factually correctly, I am concerned about the state of that democracy.
Hugo Chávez seems to be heading a parade going in a disturbing direction: toward corrupt, authoritarian regimes that are reversing the earlier trend toward democracy. And Daniel O. seems too eager to get in step. The only reassurance I see is that the "democratic process" has still not reverted to using firearms, at least not on a wide scale.
 
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