Nicaragua remains a mysterious and unknown land to many outsiders and is even an enigma to those of us who have chosen to live here or visit frequently. Equally enigmatic is the figure of President Daniel Ortega. Opinions are polarized about who this man is, what he has done and what he is trying to do in Nicaragua. Those who favor him tend not to tolerate any criticism and those who oppose him usually will not recognize any of his accomplishments. (Almost sounds like the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S.)
Finally, a book has been written that may not change your opinion of President Ortega, but provides a well-researched biography of the man who has sacrificed much for his country.
Certainly Ortega has stumbled many times but he returns again and again to take the reins of power with a renewed confidence to get it right this time. I think the book “Unfinished Revolution: Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s Struggle for Liberation” by Kenneth E. Morris does a fairly good job of describing the trials and tribulations of President Ortega’s life and how they created a man more complex than his critics would like to believe. In addition, this book is a good history of the past 30 years of Nicaragua.
Morris’ book begins with a brief history of Nicaragua from its discovery by conquistadors in 1522 through the Somoza dictatorship. It leads quickly to the birth of José Daniel Ortega Saavedra on Nov. 11, 1945, then begins to fill in the details of Daniel’s life, many of which you may be surprised to learn.
The book continues right up to the 2008 municipal elections.
While a biography, this book also gives a good political history of the past 30 years including the democratic presidencies. It provides a history of the Sandinistas with their ideals and the resulting realities. Best of all, it is written well and keeps the reader interested, which is a rare feat for a book which focuses on a life that formed the political history of Nicaragua. At 248 pages it is not a heavy read and I plan to read it again.
One of my college professors said, “You have not learned anything if you have not changed your opinion about something.”
This book may not change your opinion of Daniel Ortega, but it will help you understand why he is the man he is. The book covers and discovers many of his successes and many of his shortcomings. At the very least, you will learn much of the man that now leads the beautiful and emerging country of Nicaragua.
For real Nicaragua buffs, there are several other books that are also good reads about this country. I suggest:
Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer and Merilee S. Grindle
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie
Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution by Matilde Zimmermann
Where is Nicaragua? by Peter Davis
The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War by Gioconda Belli
Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
Darrell Bushnell moved to Nicaragua six years ago with his wife Amy, who has the Centro D’Arte art studio/gallery on Calle Calzada in Granada. Darrell keeps busy writing newsletters and articles for various organizations about Nicaragua and has the www.nicaragua-guide.com website for expats living in Nicaragua or thinking about it.