Introduction
The Indian townships are better managed than those of the Spaniards and
Mestizos; the plazas are kept freer from weeds, and the roads are in good
order. Probably nowhere but in tropical America can it be said that the
introduction of European civilization has caused a retrogression.
- Thomas Belt,
The Naturalist in Nicaragua,
1874
In Nicaragua the separation of the Indians from the rest of society is far from
so disastrous as in Guatemala or Mexico; but the fusion is not so intimate as
in Salvador or Costa Rica. The Indians, [are] preferable to the mestizos, for
the simple reason that the pure races are always superior physically and
morally over the mixed races .... So that they come to enjoy effective civil
equality rather than the
de jure
equality that they now enjoy, they must
decide to break out of their isolation and from their customary lack of
confidence towards outsiders.
- Pablo Levy,
Notas geograficas
y
econ6micas sobre la Republica de
Nicaragua, 1873
A few days after the Sandinista electoral defeat of
1990,
I set out in search
of a man named Victor Guillen whom I wanted to interview. I had been told
that he was managing a small state farm near the village of Pancasan in the
highlands of Matagalpa. That village was famous in Sandinista history as the
site of a military defeat in
1967
that came to symbolize both a heroic alterna-
tive to reformism and the depth of peasant support for the guerrilla move-
ment. Guillen had been one of the few survivors of that battle. However, I was
interested in talking to him about his childhood and parents; they had been
members of the Comunidad Indigena (communal indigenous organization)
ofMuyMuy.
Thick jungle underbrush crowded the road as it curved up a mountain and
then leveled out along a ridge. As I came to a clearing, I peered down into a
valley and saw what seemed to be a settlement dotted with corrugated tin
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