Even the airport in Managua is named after the national hero, Augusto Calderón Sandino
Managua without a downtown
Did you know that….. How often have you heard that question and got a bit irritated because someone tried to check you out if you knew this or that? I guess that you knew as little as I knew, that Managua does not have a downtown. I asked Carlos while we were driving around this big city of 1,8 million people, if he could take us to downtown. A long silence followed, and then a very blunt answer: “Managua has no city centre, there is no downtown. It collapsed during the disastrous earthquake in 1972 and was never rebuilt, it was regarded dangerous to construct anything there.”
The National hero and symbol, Sandino, overlooking the capitol from the ruins of Somoza’s palace
Carlos takes us to the top of the city, the hill is really the edge of an old volcano, and the dictator Somoza used to have his palace up there, overlooking the big city and the beautiful Lake Managua. During the earthquake in 1972 his palace tumbled down and now there are only some small leftovers and of course the basement where he used to keep his prisoners. The dictator liked to have his prisoners intimately close to himself and his children. I read an interview with Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, editor and publisher of the then opposition newspaper La Prensa. Coming from a distinguished family that had produced four Nicaraguan presidents, he became a dedicated enemy to the dictator and was fighting for democracy and republic. Somoza kept him imprisoned and tortured him over months at different times. Chamorro wrote a book about his imprisonment. The most chilling section was an account of the time he spent imprisoned in a specially constructed zoo within the private Somoza compound. Cages there were built with two compartments, one for a big cat and the other for a political prisoner. “Dozens of men spent days and even months locked up with lions, panthers and jaguars in this garden of the modern Borgias”, Chamorro wrote.
Outside the ruins of the palace there is a surreal exhibition of a gift from a colleague dictator and fascist, Benito Mussolini, a small mini tank from before the second World War.
So Managua has no downtown, and it is a city concept of its own. From above it looks like a great forest with lights underneath. Because of the tropical heat everybody wants a tree to throw shadow over their daily life, and therefore we have a city without a downtown, without tall buildings and looking like a green forest. All lightened up by strange metallic trees with lots of electric light, representing the Trees of Life and initiated by the First Lady, the wife of President Daniel Ortega.
Trees of Life, and in the middle Venezuela’s former President Chavez, a close friend of the Sandinista regime
To finish my story – Pedro Chamorro was assassinated in 1978, and this led to a national uprising. A long war followed, the revolution under the leadership of the Sandinista movement, and eventually the revolution was successful and the dictator fled the country and was assassinated outside the country.
A fascinating history, a blood stained history, and still Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America. I was deeply impressed with the YMCA in Nicaragua and all what it is doing to empower young people both in the big city and in lonely rural areas.
Not easy to get a good shot of San Jose a cloudy day
So we are again early up and heading for the airport to fly to San Jose and meet with Xenia Brenes and Daniela Agüero, the “Matriarchal leadership” of Costa Rica YMCA, Xenia is the National General Secretary and Daniela is the President. She is a lawyer and working as an advisor in the Parliament.
Xenia and Daniela
Xenia and her team are deeply involved in Children’s’ Right and work for the poorest of the poor among the children of her country. Supported by the government and in collaboration with other organizations in the country the YMCA is running very successful Camp activities and also working with groups of children in San Jose.
Xenia is representing the World YMCA in a global coalition of NGOs working to promote the rights of children, together with organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children. She and her friends lobbied the state President to have the government sign the Children’s Right Declaration and in this way Costa Rica became the 10th country to sign it, and thus making it a functional and established declaration.
We had lunch together overlooking San Jose, and in the middle of the Lapaz Waterfall Gardens, a beautiful natural reservoir including even big cats that brought my thoughts back to Managua and the modern history of Nicaragua.
Young, big cat above, adult, big cat below
The big waterfall is down in the valley, and we went down and down and down, very steep steps and stairs, and I started to wonder about the climb up again, even worry a bit. We made a break in front of the waterfall and made a group photo.
Straight after that I started to observe that none were climbing up, everybody were going down. And then the revelation:
We have used to day to discuss different aspects of both Costa Rica YMCA and the World YMCA Strategy, and tonight we are invited to Xenia’s home for dinner and a meeting with the National Board. Another inspirational evening is waiting for us, and since I was given an afternoon break, I can write todays blogpost early and probably catch up on sleep this night. Tomorrow we are going to the camp outside San Jose to meet with young people of the YMCA.
Happy weekend, folks!