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The Jaguar Smile: a Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie

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The Jaguar Smile: a Nicaraguan Journey is an account of the political as well as a social life of the people of Nicaragua at a time when everything in the country seemed contestable. The narrative is told from a third party, the writer who is actually not a citizen of Nicaragua but who identifies himself with the complexities that were facing the country at the time. Through the sharp understanding of the history of Nicaragua, Rushdie gives the reader of this masterpiece an insight in internal struggles which takes place in Nicaragua. Indeed, Rushdie a British with immense fame in fantastical novels explores the post-colonial relationship between the different cultures that are operating in Nicaragua and which gives the impetus to the current circumstances in which Nicaraguans find themselves in. apparently, in the last years before the coming of the writer to the country, there had been a struggle between Nicaragua and the United States administration under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Narrated in first person style, Rushdie observes. “I was myself the child of a successful revolt against a great power, my consciousness the product of the triumph of the Indian Revolution” (Rushdie, 2011). And his short stint in the country, actually three weeks, takes him across the country and he interacts with many people, from the common citizens to the president of the country. The picture that Rushdie delivers to the writer at first glance is a country facing serious political, social, and economic challenges and where, “nothing is simple, everything is contested, and life-or-death struggles are an everyday occurrence”.

The central theme that the writer brings to the reader is that of a country where the living and the dead have many things in common with the allegory intending to bring out the clear understanding and the scope of blood shedding occurring within the boundaries of this nation. Interesting, the atrocities that are occurring in the country are perpetuated by the world’s superpower nation, which precipitates the Nicaraguan Revolution.  The description of the toppled ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle is an emphasis of the fact that Nicaragua faces a serious democratic challenge and continues to suffer from the constant turmoil of the past. The interaction of the writer with the members of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, popularly known as the FSLN brings out the writer as a sympathizer of the events that had led to the current state in Nicaragua. Overall, the description is about the struggle for power from the time of Somoza dynasty in 1927 and how the United States played a crucial role in shaping the political events in the country. Moreover, the analysis of events leading to the rising of the Sandinistas is an indication of the dynamism that the Nicaraguan nation has undergo since its independence from the Spanish. As a matter of fact, Rushdie analysis of the situation in Nicaragua beginning with the rising of Sandinista in 1960s explains how the events in the country shaped global politics with the world’s superpower, the United States, in the middle of the struggle and affecting the neighboring countries. Moreover, the Sandinistas, upset with what they regarded as the dismantling of achievements in the earlier years and threatened to take up arms again. Moreover, the country was just emerging from a period of serious corruption as perpetuated by the last regiment of the Somoza dynasty which had triggered different stakeholders to withdraw their financial aid to the country thus making people to be disillusioned.

The principal patterns in the political behaviors in the country had started in 1927 with the rising to power of Somoza and subsequent events that reinforced the political divide that had been simmering in the country for many years. In one instance, the rising of small groups to oppose the government and the continued patronage that the government accorded them was an indication to the people that the small militia groups were capable of transforming their lives. The events in the neighboring countries like Chile and Paraguay also reinforced the escalation of guerrilla activities in Nicaragua. Moreover, the government of the United States also did not have faith in the government of Nicaragua and therefore sought to support the militia groups that were specifically formed to oust the government from the power. For instance, the government of the United States under President Reagan had ordered the paramilitary officers from the criminal investigation agency to offer financing, advisory, arming, and training services to the rebels who were fighting against a corrupt and unpoular government. This operation was mainly targeting the Sandinista government which has through uprising toppled the long serving Somoza dynasty. In essence, the country was in the midst of political upheavals at a time when the economic social and political landscape in the country had been destroyed by a 1973 earthquake which had literally brought down almost 90 percent of the capital city Managua. More important, the relief that different groups had given to the government for the affected people had been channeled to private activities by the government of the day and people had become disenfranchised as a result of the selfishness and lack of sympathy from the country’s president. One thing that stands out clear from the analysis is that Sandinistas had inherited not a country but a privately owned kingdom that has been led by the Somoza dynasty for the last 50 years under the backing of the United States. And now that the Somoza dynasty had collapsed and the United States would definitely lack an ally in the country, it was logical for the government of the day in the United States to use means that contravened the international law to support its agenda in the country.

In this process, the pattern is evident in the transfer of power from one member of the family to the other with consistent support from the United States. During the period when the president was outside the family, the claims were that the president was a puppet of the Somoza family and was patronized by the government of the United States and the allies who were supporting the government at the time. Moreover, the continued disasters that befall the country seems to be blessings in disguise because it is the continued and persistent corruption by the government that anchors the revolutionary groups in the minds of the people and even when they embark on suppressing some groups such as the press, the people have no option but to support the revolution because the other regime has failed to improve the lives of the people for a period of fifty years.  Subsequently, the continued role of US government in supporting the insurgency in the Nicaragua despite the fact that many election observers had declared the Sandinistas government as legitimate having been elected through a fair and free was an indication that the US had hidden interests in the management and control of the country. Interesting the US government under the presidency of Ronald Reagan disapproved the election as illegitimate given the fact that Washington had not sent any observers to the elections but instead went ahead continue with their support to the insurgency in the country at a time when the citizens of the Nicaragua were yearning for break from a long-term regime that had caused a lot of problems to the in a period exceeding a half a century.

Evidently, the past political events in the country had submitted the people of Nicaragua to unfavorable to the thriving of the democracy through supporting of the Contras so as to destabilize the newly elected government of the country. More importantly, the people of Nicaragua also were facing difficulties in their economy partly because of the rampant corruptions in the past which had concentrated the public wealth in the hands of a few individuals who controlled much of the country’s resources. This is different from the numerous killings and rape cases that were unresolved in the courts because the past government was not willing to give justice to the people who had been affected to the past dictatorial regime (Leonard, 2003).

The long rule by the Somoza family and the prevailing dictatorship and corruption in the public had affected the people of Nicaragua to the extent that most of them viewed the support of the United States as an affront to the sovereignty of the their nation. Clearly, the Sandinistas were never the most preferred agents of change in the country, but because the other groups were being supported by the outsider agents, they opted to support the Sandinistas against the rule of the Somozas and by extension the regiments thereafter after the fall of the dynasty in 1979. The withdrawal of the support by the Roman Catholic church was also a point of contagion because many people viewed the church as acting on their best interest and therefore its withdrawal from the support of the government after mismanagement of the relief fund in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 1973 was an indication that the people had become fed up with the government of the day. During the time of the Sandinistas and the at which point Rushdie had visited the country, the people of Nicaragua had decided to give full support to the government of Sandinistas as a way of showing their discontentment with the actions of the United States in their country. Moreover, the international court of Justice had disapproved the acts that the United States had committed in the country but were in full support of the Revolution which had ousted the US backed government. This is illustrated by the admission of a woman whose mother had been killed during the Somoza’s regime who accuses the Sandinistas of doing many atrocities against the people but concedes that the revolution was worthwhile given that the previous regime was not giving the people of Nicaragua any hope upon which they would expect their lives to improve in the near future.

Consequently, the general feeling of the people in the Nicaragua was that of revenge for the Somoza, who by the assistance of the United States marine had killed Sandino, more than fifty years ago. Sandino was a guerrilla fighter who was fighting to emancipate the people of Nicaragua from the oppressive elements that had taken over their country. However, with the help of the forces from the United States, and who went ahead to operate in the country for the next 50 years that Somoza dynasty was in power, the country had faced insurmountable atrocities against any group with rampant and widespread corruption by government officers. In their eyes, Sandino was comparable to the US founder president, George Washington and therefore the citizens viewed any forces that opposed the occupation of United States in their country as propagating the tenets and principles that were espoused by Sandino. This is the reason when the revolution came and claimed a lot of lives in the country; the people still choose to support the Sandinistas because they could identify themselves with their principles and course. As argued by Andersen (2012), the sheer absence of a national identify among the people of Nicaragua or the absence of the constitutional tradition in the country was a support for the insensitive and inhuman approaches that the Sandinistas were using to censor the press and also the mishandling of the Miskito Indians save for the fact that these factors did not stop them from getting the sympathies from many people in the country and by extension the neighboring countries such as Paraguay who are suffered from the long rule of the Somoza’s in Nicaragua. This is partly the reason why the last Somoza leader was assassinated in Paraguay when he escaped to that country as a refugee. Technically the people of Paraguay were passing the message that they could not protect people who had caused a lot of harm to their own country.

The events that were happening in the Nicaragua can be described as an affront to the sovereignty and democracy of the people of Nicaragua. This is because even after the election of a government that many people inside Nicaragua believed that it was best for them, the government of the United States continued to support the insurgency against a democratically elected government and against the wish of the people. Moreover, the international community had also given a stamp to the elections which had put the Sandinistas in power yet the government of the United States believed that they could have their own government transported to the people of Nicaragua at all cost. Clearly, this was being committed against the ruling by the International Criminal Court which had disapproved the contact of the government of the United States in the country. However, this also did imply that the people of Nicaragua were satisfied with the acts of the elected government but were hopeful that change would be forthcoming in the near future (Andersen, 2012).

The political events described had tremendous effect on the global politics especially in the South America and other countries because it formed precedent actions in many countries where US had operations. This is because this cemented the view that US was operating to destabilize countries that were having wars and also affected by insurgencies in their boundaries. Around the same time, the US had just entered in Afghanistan where the Red Army were fighting with several groups there and thus it is evident that this was contributed by the events that were happening in Nicaragua. More importantly was the ruling by the International Criminal Court which declared the contact of external supporter as unwarranted and which required that the people of Nicaragua be compensated for the contempt they had been accorded.In conclusion, the book by Salman Rushdie is historical analysis of the events that had led the people of Nicaragua into the situation at the time when the writer is visiting the country. 

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