Nicaragua: The Pardon

Central America, when examined as the backbone of the Americas continental mass, presents a grotesque case study for any inquisitive traveler. Many distinguished “doctors” have come to offer their knowledge in the face of its deformities and none have been able to deliver a definitive cure or even a palliative solution. The Spanish abscess, the dictator’s dislocation, the communist cervical compression, the gringo paralysis – all have run their course here. Yet the people of Central America continue to walk tall, showing no signs of being hunchbacked by their history.

And why not, I asked myself silently as I kept the steering wheel steady and my eyes on the Nicaraguan border. Why should anyone feel hunchbacked by a history that they were hardly allowed to have a say in?

The names came at me at the same speed as the passing landscape, colliding with the windshield like kamikaze flies. Walker. Zelaya. Somoza. Chamarro. Sandino. Reagan. Bermúdez. Calero. Ortega. I had been reading Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer before the trip and everything that I had learned about the history of Nicaragua was now obstructing my view. I couldn’t see anything but the past in front of me. And those stupid flies on the windshield. These people were everywhere.

And of course, I was all stuffed up with this anxiety that I was supposed to be well-versed on what my country had done here and ready to engage in meaningful conversations about the before and after of the Contras. It’s a familiar head cold for any reasonably lucid United States native who dares to dip their toe into the rest of the world: the desire to act as an unofficial apologist for any and all U.S. foreign policy mistakes. I’ve never quite been able to shake this inexplicable feeling of personal responsibility for our foreign policy, as if my four-month-old self should have taken to the streets when President Reagan finally admitted to secretly funding the opposition forces in Nicaragua on March 7, 1987. Instead, I just chose to suckle my mother’s teat and take a nap.

Yet, as it has gone more than once before, it seems that all I needed to do was show up and someone was waiting to release me from my implacable guilt. Maybe this is why I travel. To reaffirm my humanity.

His name was Lester and I met him one night on Ometepe Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Damián and I stopped to have a drink at a little restaurant next to the farm where we were staying y entablamos una conversación con él. Inevitably, Nicaragua’s tumultuous past with the U.S. came up in bits and pieces and I was waiting in the wings with my heartfelt apology. But Lester just looked over at me with a sweet slight smile and said, “No te preocupes. I know you had nothing to do with all that.”

Yeah. I know. It seems like such a silly and obvious thing to say. Because most people are smart enough to know that a government is hardly representative of its people. But even so, I can’t tell you how good it feels every time I hear someone say that out loud. No pasa nada.The past is the past. It’s not your past, it’s not my past, it’s their past. We belong to a different world. And after Lester gave me his pardon, I felt my soul soar into the tropical night.

– Ashley

View of Concepción Volcano and the port of Moyogalpa


Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer

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