Andrea Scott responds

Editor’s note: given the overflow of reader response to Ms. Scott’s first opinion piece last week, she asked for this opportunity to explain and defend herself.

Last week I wrote an article about a trip I took to Nicaragua in 2011. After reading some of the comments, I was confused, upset, and surprised. My original title for this article was “Lessons Learned Abroad,” however it was published under the headline, “Do handouts help anyone in Nicaragua?” I strongly believe that some readers did not understand the context of this article, and that some judged the article because of the changed headline, which probably affected their views on the message. The intended message of my article was to explain value of exploring and appreciating different cultures.

First, I did not state that all Nicaraguans are lazy and poor. Some readers did not understand that my experience in Nicaragua was beneficial in many ways. The purpose of writing the article was to enlighten others about the importance of interacting with and understanding other cultures. After reading some of the comments, I realized how quickly we judge one another. Therefore, before I begin to address some of the issues and the comments about my article, I would like to ask some of the negative readers a few questions.

1). Have you ever left your country? If so, at what age did you start traveling? Did you share your experience with others from different backgrounds?

2) Did you have a good or bad experience?

3) How did you prepare for this trip? Did you read about the country’s culture? Did you befriend or interact with some of the people?

4) What did you learn from this experience? Has it changed your views about life?

If you have never left your country or had a different cultural experience, why do you want to attack me? I am only inspiring individuals to learn, appreciate others, travel, and try to find similarities in different cultures. I left my country at a young age, and if I had never left my country I don’t think I would be interested in learning about other cultures or traveling the world. And I probably would not be the young lady I am today.

My experience in Nicaragua was not a walk in the park. I faced many difficulties in adapting to the culture. I did not visit only Granada; my classmates and I traveled to several cities in Nicaragua. But we were on a bus, and we did not stop to explore. I do remember the sights, sounds, and the buildings. I also remember becoming homesick. My naïve attitude while visiting Granada is similar to some of the negative comments that I received about my article. Like those comments, I judged before coming to understand, or appreciate the differences and similarities of our cultures.

Later, with only a few days left in country, I decided to learn more about Nicaragua by interacting with some of the locals. Before arriving in the country, my classmates and I read the history of Nicaragua in order to prepare for the trip. Even though I read books, and my professor had prepared me beforehand about living and accepting different culture, it was still difficult. I believe that reading about and being schooled on a nation is not the same as living and experiencing that culture in person.

Everyday people make statements about issues, but I believe that an individual has to experience and understand the matter independently in order to appreciate it more. The most important factor about my trip to Nicaragua is that I had a cultural experience, I helped individuals, and I shared my experience with several people, who want to leave their surroundings and travel the world.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to meet the Nicaraguan lady on the stairs and the little boys at the restaurant. They changed my views about the world, and they have helped me to become mature, and independent. Some of the viewers stated that the Nicaraguan lady is mentally handicapped, therefore she could not tell me “thank you.” I never wanted a thank you from her; I just questioned in my mind why she did not seem grateful. It does not matter if she did not say thank you because I just wanted to help.

This lady taught me to be independent and thankful. Some of us are poor, homeless, or even alone in this world. I think that we all have to be strong, have faith, and believe in ourselves to create a better future. For the individuals with mental problems, I hope that there are more generous people like me, who are willing to aid others. The little boy taught me to be a risk-taker, and to “fight” and stand up for what I believe and want in life.

I stated in my article that some Americans are losing their initiative to achieve success and happiness independently because they are relying too much on government’s aid and handouts. I noticed this trend in other countries that I have traveled in. We should not take this observation as an attack on our cultures; however we should recognize that the problem does exist, and we should try to find ways to solve, or help this issue.

I have a question for individuals who face difficult obstacles every day. Do you allow these problems to affect your opportunities of reaching goals and pursuing happiness?

You shouldn’t let anyone or anything stop you from creating a better life for yourself. I have been poor, without a home, and without a father, but I have many achievements. My traveling experience has led to many of my accomplishments. It’s amazing how we better ourselves by helping others. Why do we stress differences among one another, yet avoid the fact that we are all the same, regardless of the culture?

Andrea Scott is a recent graduate from Lindenwood University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and works for the St. Louis Language Immersion School District. Her dream is to leave a legacy through her writing.

  • John Shepard

    Good response. Nicaragua is a rich country, great people, great future, but lots of warts. A Marxist hijack of their revolution, coupled with sympathetic (and much needed) handouts from numerous other countries, created a tweak in the culture that persists today.

    Most Nicaraguans I meet just want to move on. They know what is wrong, and don’t need anyone to tell them about shortfalls in education, lack of employment opportunities for university graduates. They live it.

    There is also big optimism, and a sense that, finally, the future is NOW.

    • http://www.BuenViajeTours.com Jessica

      Agreed, again.

  • Rosario

    Hi Andrea, I am Nicaraguan and I was also confused, upset, and surprised at the comments you received on your last article. It is amazing how people can be so rude when you were just describing a story of personal growth through your experience visiting Nicaragua. It’s so counter productive to attack anyone. I applaud your last article and am glad you looked to publish it through the Dispatch. It shows courage. What you said about “some Americans are losing their initiative to achieve success and happiness independently because they are relying too much on government’s aid and handouts. I noticed this trend in other countries that I have traveled in.” – You are totally right. And yes, handouts DONT WORK and are NOT sustainable. Unfortunately many in Nicaragua have gotten into the mindset of “give me give me give me”. (Obv there are always exceptions) It was great that you put that out there as much as it can be a controversial statement.

    You are welcome back in Nicaragua if you decide to return. ¡Saludos!

  • Lenny

    Albeit not your intended headline, I thought No, handouts don’t help anyone, regardless of location, because they stiffle a work ethic and create people who think themselves to be entitled. Handouts give things, but no values…

    When I read your original piece, I fully understood what you were intending to say and firmly believe that the negative responses you received were because you are a Black American. If your name was Inga Svensen and you were a blond Swede, I am sure the comments would have been quite different.

    I am married to a Nicaraguan and love the country and its people, but have personally observed the ‘give me, give me’ mentality that Rosario wrote about in her comment above as well as the ethnic animosity that people are subjected to all over the world. Nicaragua is not an exception.

    Another observation I have made during my trips is that creativity and hard work for positive, ethical and legal pursuits rarely exists. There is also not much of a work ethic among the ‘ middle class’ — An example: My husband and I live in the US and have a VERY small garden. When visiting family and friends in Nicaragua, I noted that even with a 12-month growing year and far more land than I have in the States, they prefer to purchase inferior fruits and vegetables that can be grown in their homes –tomatoes, peppers, garlic from China, etc. Nobody wants to get their hands dirty. I purchased seeds for gardens and when I was giving them away, the seeds were rejected and I was told “I don’t want to work like a Black” — a VERY rude way of distancing themselves from the history of slavery and, in some cases, their own ethnicity. (Believe me, if mitochondrial DNA tests were performed on the so-called ‘whites’ / chele of Nicaragua, I am sure they would find VERY different ethnic backgrounds than their self-perceptions).

    The bottom line is that I find your piece to be honest and accurate and think you should not ever apologize for writing the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts and sometimes albeit rarely and if we are lucky, the truth makes for changes.

    • Erik Jota

      “When I read your original piece, I fully understood what you were intending to say and firmly believe that the negative responses you received were because you are a Black American. If your name was Inga Svensen and you were a blond Swede, I am sure the comments would have been quite different.”

      Oh…please…

      • http://www.retirenicaragua.wordpress.com Debbie Goehring

        My sentiments exactly Erik!

  • Adolfo

    @Lenny

    I am Nicaraguan, but have spent most my life in the states. I understand that as an American or a Westerner it is difficult to understand Nicaragua’s entrenched social dichotomy, the division between “rich” and “poor”, “chele” and “negro”, european descent vs indian, white vs dark.

    First, . I could talk about the historical precedent the Spanish set by strongly discrimminating and establishing practices that created the preliminary conditions for the inequality we see today.

    Try to understand the social context of Nicaragua. There is still a strong divide between indigenous/indio or dark, and people who are white ( “chele” ) with more European descent. You see it all around you in Nicaragua. You see a white guy in the back of the car? The chofer(driver) is dark. Go into the homes of Nicaragua’s conservative in Granada, there maids are all dark. You hear it in the language “No seas indio”, which means “Don’t be Indian”. This type of discrimmination is encoded in Nicaraguan society DNA. People do not even question it, and it is a cultural norm.
    Hmmm. Let’s see if I can elaborate on this. Having lighter skin is considered a very attractive phsyical characteristic in Nicaragua. Why? Because of the social context. Light skin means you come from a family with money, that your descendants were from spain. Light skin means you are educated. Light skin means you have a job, that you are not some “indian off the street”. And it goes both ways. You may be lightskinned you may not have a lot of money. Your family maybe broke and bankrupt. But the darker mestizo Nica population will assume you are rich and wealthy just because your skin. It may sound antecuated to Americans and old-fashioned, but perhaps it helps you understand how deeply rooted it is in Nicarguan culture.

    I recognize I am a very Americanized Nicaraguan, and there is a dilution of “pure’ Nica culture due to so many of us raised between Miami and Nica, New Orleans and Nica, California and Nica etc. There are a few things of NIcaraugan culture I cannostand, and they are all intricately related, and the belief of being superior and entitled is one of them.

    Until we Nica’s view eachother as equals, nothing will change. The racism and discrimmination and mistrust goes both ways up the ladder on this 2 division social stratificaiton. As long as that culture of privelige, entitlement exists, the corruption, discrimmination will continue.

  • Luciana Rojas

    I don’t think that the title was the problem, the problem was the content, I hope that the comments to your original article help you to be mature and learn something about my country. It’s easy write a blog, but it’s not easy been smart and analysis the power of our words.

  • http://opwr.org Kevin Shea

    Yes, the title was provocative and misleading. GOOD response. Now, keep learning.

  • Susan Oppenheim

    I interviewed an employer in costa rica once who owned a restaurant.i asked a fish or a fishing rod?she said first I would give a fish because they are hungry then a fishing rod.Nicaragua has such extreme poverty.Where to realistically begin and who will do it?

  • http://www.retirenicaragua.wordpress.com Debbie Goehring

    Andrea, first I want to thank you for responding to your original article. It exposed, like a raw nerve, many sensitive issues that we face daily in Nicaragua and cracked open the door to exploring alternative solutions for these problems. As a result of your article, the Nicaragua Dispatch created a “Volunteer Opportunities” page, where organizations can post ways in which tourists and visitors can help.
    Through your article, we began to understand a visitor’s first impressions of Nicaragua, the frustrations, fears, and helplessness one feels when thrown into a culture of begging. It isn’t pretty! The majority of people who responded are expats living in Nicaragua. We see the poverty everyday. It’s a dirty world, which we can’t easily or comfortably ignore. You recognized the magnitude of problems we face daily and gave us an opportunity to discuss the complex issue, as well as find solutions. For that, I am very grateful.
    Personally, I don’t think the title was misleading because you definitely encountered culture shock. You reacted to the culture of begging like every new visitor who steps off the plane into an impoverished country. The majority of the comments you received were not in response to your feelings of culture shock, but in response to your comparisons of poverty in the U.S. and Nicaragua and your assumption that poverty can be overcome if one just works harder and takes more initiative. That is an all too common myth that dehumanizes the poor and a mindset that is prevalent throughout the world. We must work together to explode that myth. The issues of poverty are complex. With your insight, maybe we can work together to bring to light these problems and bury these myths of poverty.

  • mnelson

    Thank you Adolfo. Your’s is the kind of informative writing journalists aspire to achieve. Insights, experience, power … no naivete or defensiveness. Brief and to the point. Consistent and easy to understand. Lots of good information based on objective analysis. Andrea can learn a lot from your contribution.

  • Rachel Greenwood

    I have lived and worked in Nicaragua for ten years. The experience has reinforced some things I believed before, and changed others. I agree with some of the other comments about how the history of Nicaragua, and most of Latin America, has created prejudices and social divisions that are so ingrained most people don’t even think about them.
    I have met Nicaraguans who have succeeded in making a decent life for themselves and their families through making an enormous effort, to stay in school, take evening courses and work hard at whatever job they can get; and they pass that ethic on to their children.
    I also see a fatalism that keeps many poor people from making a real effort to do more than get by from day to day. And I see an attitude of dependency, whether it is that the government, a charity or the well off people they see on the street, that someone should help them out.
    I agree that these folks need help. But handing them money or food on the street is not the help they need. It just reinforces the attitude that those who have more can and should take care of them. In many cases parents are exploiting their children, and setting them up for the same dismal life in the future, by keeping them out of school and sending them out to sell or beg.
    I suggest that, if you feel something for the poor, for the ragged children or old people begging on the street, don’t give them a handout. Inform yourself about the many organizations working to provide these folks with social services and education, pick one that interests you, and support their work.

  • Darrylle

    “Do not stand on a high pedestal and take 5 cents in your hand and say, “here, my poor man”, but be greatful that the poor man is there, so by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.” – Swami Vivekananda

  • Ken

    Ah, the headline issue . . . It happens all the time and does often set an unintended tone. I guess now Tim has to write another editorial explaining/apologizing for his headline–or might we just move on? I mean, I have no idea what “trend” exists to show more people relying on government aid and handouts, but I’m happy to drop it.

  • Abu Sharif

    … but neither do ALL Nicaraguans like to work a lot … It’s just too hot. Politicians start their speeches “este pueblo trabajador …”, y el pueblo les cree también eso, porque les gusta también esa mentira …

  • http://www.nicaragua-guide.com Darrell Bushnell

    I can’t say I feel much better after reading your second article. Your questions this time were obviously defensive then asking us if we had ever left the country or if it was our first trip abroad. Most of the people that responded were either heavy travelers or people that live here in Nicaragua as locals or expats. We are quite familiar with the issues and wish we could solve them by just working harder or informing others to work harder. Instead many of us are helping the community by our efforts through foundations and community projects.

    We would be interested in hearing your views after you have lived here for a few years or at least made extended visits. We have lived here for seven years and visited for five years before then. I constantly tell myself that I am merely a guest in this wonderful country because I still must confess that there is much around me here that I do not understand. That is the essence of cultural differences.

    • Rebecca Ore

      Whole thing has made me very very cynical about short term missions, and I was cynical again. Either come to live for a while or come as a vacationer.

      The issues around poverty in Granada may be exacerbated by its attractiveness as a vacation/retirement spot. Contrary to the usual boosters, being a tourist location can be less than idea. Wages in Nicaragua are quite low, and if the prices in a city go up because of an influx of people with non-Nicaraguan earned money, the situation for the lower end of the service industry can be worse than being subsistence farmers (not always and not everywhere, and mileage varies — seeing things in black and white terms means you don’t have enough data).

  • Theresa

    Hello Andrea,
    Pompous, young arrogance is all part of growing up. At first glance, you had expectations of gratitude. Did you know the paradigm of Latin Culture which says that you, the wealthy, have an obligation, first to god and then to the people, to give that which you can. To expect that a receiver would feel grateful, points to your lack of cultural history, on the ground. There is no Hammock here for poor folks. No SSI, no Welfare, no food stamps, no disability benefits for being a drunk or addict ,no unemployment either! no nada! The issues of black/white, skin color are ancient and deeply buried in mythology. It has sadly affected many humans on this planet, that the Original Gods were beings of Light (white). Poco a poco, we who live in Latin America, observe and learn, and are touched by a human kindness and sense of trust, seldom seen, without personal benefit in the Northern Hemisphere, and trust me, I have lived in all of them. The un-corrupted nature of the majority of Central Americans, and their lack of avarice, generosity and amistad, is remarkable. Live here, try to understand this culture by BEING HERE and facing it, solving it, questioning it, hating it, confused by it,and have you mind and heart changed/ This is not for the frail of heart. You cannot know this from a book, a teacher in a university, or a short vacation as a do- gooder tourist,but only by living in it, if you are brave enough to do it, and to discover, underneath the poverty is a richness of soul and bravery to trust, that “even the birds of a feather have no care for tomorrow” ( biblical thing, poss inaccurate but you get the idea.) You may learn a lot about trust for tomorrow. Sadly, what North Americans may have lost, is the innate comfort to know they can survive. Here, these folks, know how, and put us all to shame with out SUV’s and stuff! I am honored to have been included and accepted, and taught by an ancient people who treasure the Alma (soul) and go on going on, no matter what, and seldom think another is responsible for their lives. Try it! I dare you!

  • TylerD

    Well, I read both articles and am surprised to find a rebuttal that is only ever so slightly less condescending and self-serving than the original article. Ostensibly, the purpose of the article is to highlight the dangers of losing faith and over-reliance on aid (of which, I can assure you, there is much less to be had in Nicaragua than in the US), but the real subject of the article is you and how great and compassionate you are:
    “We immediately reached into our pockets to give her our money.”
    “[...] I was proud of myself for helping someone in need.”
    “I enjoyed the performances but I did not want to continue giving away my money. Instead, I decided to share some of my food with one of the children.”
    “I faced many difficulties in adapting to the culture.”
    “[…] I helped individuals […]”
    “[…]I just wanted to help.”
    “[…] I hope that there are more generous people like me, who are willing to aid others.”
    “I have been poor, without a home, and without a father, but I have many achievements.”
    So, Andrea, perhaps the message may have been clearer had it now been clouded by your curiously vague self-eulogy.

    For the record: I have lived and worked outside of my country; I began traveling at a young age; all of my experiences abroad have been and I expect will continue to be “good;” and I am an avid proponent of learning about a place before you go there, with the expectation that you learn what it’s really like when you get there.

    In closing, I have a few recommendations: In addition to reading more about Nicaragua and its history and governance, you spend some time reading up on cultural relativism, the difference between causal and confounding variables (in regards to why people may be homeless/poor in the second poorest country in this hemisphere), and maybe also Google “modesty.”

    And, most importantly, get off the tour bus next time – if you’re not going places to make new friends for life, then you’re doing it wrong.

    • TylerD

      I don’t know if I’m the idiot or if autocorrect is to blame, but that sentence should read:

      “So, Andrea, perhaps the message may have been clearer had it not been clouded by your curiously vague self-eulogy.”

      Apologies for any confusion.

      And, please, take the comment with a lively spirit; we live, we learn. I’m quite sure you are a great and compassionate person, but your self-lauditory writing style is likely to be immediately off-putting for many audiences and it limits the effectiveness of your message.

  • Ana Anonima

    Andrea, you can be sure that the color of your skin had nothing to do with the responses you got here. If your photo had not been included, I would have thought you to be a white Republican male. You can also be sure that most, if not all, the responders have traveled and lived in other countries, especially Nicaragua. After all, this is the Nicaragua Dispatch, not some generic “news” outlet. It’s not that we don’t understand. It’s that many of us have a different opinion.

    I first left the US when I was 24 and within two years had traveled to 6 other countries and lived in one.

    That country was Buddhist and I learned way back then that “begging” wasn’t what it seemed. Foreigners saw the monks with their “begging bowls” go out each morning, saw people putting food into them and sometimes giving clothing. My Buddhist friends educated me to the fact that the monks were not begging. They were providing people with an easy way to make merit with Buddha.

    Two other posters in these comments have also made reference to that manner of thinking: the one who quoted the swami and the one that mentioned that part of Latin culture that encourages those who have to share with those who have not.

    You might also think of this as the Divine Creator’s way of giving you the choice of how to respond: with compassion and charity or with judgement and hostility. I had the impression that you responded with judgement and condemnation and the assumption that you could tell simply by looking at them that these beggars could have been working for their living, in a country where even the college educated cannot find a job. Perhaps you felt they were trying to make a sucker out of you? And perhaps some beggars, here and in the US, are trying to sucker others. But since I’m not clairvoyant enough to know what has brought them to that moment, I’d rather err on the side of compassion. Of course, that is my choice and you have the right to make a different choice.

    What I found objectionable in your original article was the apparent assumption that those getting public assistance in the US are somehow less moral than you and other able-bodied employed persons, and that they should be scolded and condemned. Your writing has the tone of the political right which calls such programs as Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and unemployment insurance “handouts” when, in fact, working people paid into those programs, sometimes for decades, before ever asking for those programs to come through for them in their time of need.

    I commend you for overcoming hardship and obstacles in your past, but I don’t appreciate the seeming assumption, then, that if you could do it, so could everyone else. Unless you are psychic, you simply can’t know, just by looking, whether someone is chronically ill, mentally or physically.

    As a woman and as an African American, you have surely overcome the most difficult barriers one can meet in American culture. But please don’t think you did that because you are morally superior to those who haven’t been able to do the same. I’m all for promoting personal responsibility but I know that sometimes there is nothing a person can do, or could have done, to keep from ending up where they are.

    I wish you success as a journalist; and I hope you will dig deeper and be less judgemental of those who have not created the successful life you have. Think about this: where would you be if tomorrow you were struck down today by an illness that is unknown, invisible and has no treatment? In some cultures, at least in the past, those who were a drain on the resources of the community were “put out on an ice floe and allowed to die.” In the US, there are those who have hoarded so much wealth that they are able to move it offshore, not pay taxes to the tune of over $300 billion dollars, and then scold those who don’t have adequate housing or food for holding out their hands. Why not dig deeply into that phenomenon, the sense of entitlement of the ultrarich? Why not investigate how and why it is that the ultrarich, in Nicaragua and the US, depend on keeping a class of undereducated and underemployed to staff their factories and farms? Or that soulless corporations have the right to buy lobbyists and “elected” representatives as if those corporations were human beings, but without the possibility of suffering human punishment when they do illegal and immoral acts?

    • The Cat

      Ana Anonima, bien dicho. What you wrote and how well you expressed yourself is exactly how I feel.

  • Jack Daniels

    I have been visiting Nicaragua for the past 14 years at least on an annual basis, mainly in relief mission work in and around Chinandega. I am not a proselytizer, only someone who wants to work next to others and learn their culture and to establish friendly relationships to watch families and areas grow and prosper. To the average Nica, I’m sure I’m viewed as a “rico Norte Americano.” I have also visited Leon and Granada many times as well as other areas of this beautiful country with its precious, friendly, appreciative and beautiful people. I know of and have met the lady you write of on the steps of the Plaza Colon in Granada and the lady on the side steps of the church. They are mentally ill and genuinely in need of help. I am also familiar with the other “characters” in the town….the abuela who sets up her food stand everyday at dawn; the begging mother who always seems to give birth to a sick baby every year; the men who refuse to look for work, citing the jobs available to them aren’t macho enough but send their wives and children out to scavage trash and beg; the children who relentlessly pester you while you are trying to eat at local restaurants; the mariachis; the man in the wheelchair and his teenage daughter appearing at the same time every night begging; the outright able-minded and able-bodied young beggars; the smooth-talking con man on restaurant row with his hard luck story; the “big-headed woman & corazon” dancing for tips; the acrobats and break dancers; the glue sniffer children who don’t even try to hide it any longer and their suppliers, both Nica and Gringos in Parc Centro who could be described as child molesting perverts doling out glue for God knows what price or expectation from the children. I want to stomp a mudhole in their perverted asses, but being a foreigner have determined I would end up in more trouble than the perverts who openly carry on these activities in front of the police in Parc Centro as well as the underage prostitutes and their “mamas” on the parc corner near hotel Colonial who would blackmail you for money not to file police charges against you if you are stupid enough to seek their “daughters” services. I do not profess by any means to be an expert on the Nica culture in these regions, but have learned for the most part that creating dependency and unearned gifting is a tool to gain a power base, both political and otherwise. As one gentleman commented here, he has gifted bicylcles only to see them disappear (they always seem to get “stolen”), but when he financed the bikes, the outcome was quite different. I’ve often had Nica’s, especially in Leon ask, “Why do you spend so much money to come here and work and build….whey don’t you just send us the total amount you would have spent traveling?” We have learned that does not work and to continue the traditional work ethic and desire to prosper, that we can not “give” anything to those who are able to work for it. It’s like it is what Americans call an “entitlement” and stifles the desire to better one’s self. Now, before I give anyone who appears to be able to earn it, I require that theyhe give me something or earn it in some way through a token payment, finance it, work for it, perform a community service, or some form of clean entertainment. Otherwise, it will just be another “stolen bicycle” and the will to prosper transcends to dependency. And yes, Andrea Scott, handouts do help, but only those who are truly in need and unable to take care of themselves. You took a big step in your short time in Nicaragua to question and delve so that you may not end up making the same mistake many other’s have on short term missions, vacationing, etc. As one writer on this subject recently wrote, some of these mission groups are turning our country into a nation of beggars. Nobody wants that.

  • Jon Cloke

    At the heart of what you write is the phrase “some Americans are losing their initiative to achieve success and happiness independently because they are relying too much on government’s aid and handouts.” There is a fundamentalist assumption here that happiness is endlessly and always in the hands of the individual, that the individual should do without the state (irrespective of having paid taxes for it) and that therefore ‘failure’ is the responsibility of the individual, not the social structures and in particular the power structures within which they find themselves located. Even a cursory knowledge of the contemporary USA would surely tell you that the rapidly growing social inequality, the obscene wealth of the 0.1% versus the lack of even basic health care for 43 million Americans (for instance) does not arise from the laziness of the individual – if you still believe this, then a quick read of Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’ should disabuse you.

    You say you have been poor yourself; I would be interested to hear the details of that, but even you must know that poverty in the US is a whole different creature from poverty in Nicaragua. You seem to believe that poverty stems from a psychological poverty of the individual and that the state helps to maintain this poverty, which although a popular conservative meme in the US is an incredibly naive way to think of the predatory creature that is the state in Nicaragua.

    The state in Nicaragua is the ‘estado botin’, the property of elites who pay no taxes themselves and who take it in turn to help themselves to the spoils of regressively taxed Nicaragua, in turn levied most heavily on the poorest. The next time you go to Miami you might like to ask yourself how many of those lovely condominiums, built or owned by ex-patriate criollo elites from all over Latin America, were paid for by money extorted from the poorest people in the hemisphere.

    The reality in Nicaragua can best be described by the experience of a friend of mine working in Masaya during the ‘terremotito’ of 2001, when there was a large amount of destruction to buildings in Masaya and to the homes of the poor communities near to the laguna of Norome. My friend was at a meeting with a member of the then-government where action was being taken to repair the damage and to assist the homeless; when the government representative was presented with request list, his answer was: “these people have never had anything; why should we give them anything now?”

    This man, coming from an elite family and a position of massive wealth, would agree absolutely with you in blaming the poor for their lack of individual initiative, even as he and his friends and family increased their wealth by stealing money donated for earthquake reilef – presumably he (but I hope not you) would regard that as admirable personal initiative.

    I think therefore that the negative reaction by many of the respondees to your initial posting stems from what we in the trade would call concern over your ‘positionality’ – you see ‘the state’ and ‘the poor’ in fairly simplistic terms, coloured by one aspect of the accepted socio-cultural wisdom in the US and ignorance of elite depradation in Nicaragua – because if there’s one section of the population of Nicaragua that is utterly dependent on aid ‘welfare’, it’s the same amoral rich elites who would agree with you that the poor should be left to fend for themselves…