This past July, Reality Tour participant, Larry Heath went on the Reality Tour delegation to Nicaragua to explore Fair Trade and alternatives to neo-liberalism. Read on as he shares his experience with us.

Our tour coincided with the 31st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship on July 19.

Throughout the ten days leading up to the celebration, I witnessed the mixture of hope for a more prosperous and democratic country and the disillusionment and cynicism over the terrible economy and legislative paralysis that currently exists in Nicaragua. Unemployment is rampant.  Selling trinkets on the street and washing windshields on cars stopped at intersections are examples of the kinds of activity people engage in to have some kind of income.

The National Assembly is so polarized that no majority exists to make basic decisions, such as appoint Supreme Court judges or members of the Supreme Electoral Commission.  Also, incumbent Daniel Ortega blatantly is violating the Nicaraguan constitution by running for a second presidential term. During the tour I could easily see that governance and respect for the law are huge issues that appear almost insurmountable. Elitism, impunity and a lack of transparency in governmental economic activity undermine the fabric of Nicaraguan society.

I was impressed with civil society organizations that have emerged outside the sphere of partisan party politics to deal with these many problems. Our group met with unionists, worker groups, fair trade advocates, university students working on environmental issues and a women’s network, as well as experienced a home-stay with a number of families who work on their 3 or 4 acre coffee farms and belong to a cooperative which allows them to get technical/economic assistance, as well as a fair price for their coffee.

During the home stay and throughout the entire trip I was continually impressed with the resiliency and resourcefulness of Nicaraguan citizens and equally impressed by their extraordinary historical, i.e. colonialism, US imperialism, and environmental, i.e. recurrent devastating earthquakes and hurricanes, dilemmas. I left the country after the tour feeling very connected to its people and had a renewed commitment to continue to advocate for fair trade and for a more just foreign policy to Central America.