Nicaraguans like to joke that their “national flower” is the ubiquitous multi-colored plastic bag that litters the sides of highways and speckles the countryside with brilliant, non-biodegradable hues.
The saddest part of that joke is that Nicaraguan litterbugs—like modern day Johnny Appleseeds—are the ones responsible for spreading these filthy “flowers” across the country by throwing trash from bus windows, tossing it from park benches or simply dropping it where they stand.
But as tourism grows, so too has the demand that Nicaragua start to clean up after itself. After all, if you’re going to invite someone over your house, the least you can do is pick up the garbage off the living room floor before answering the door.
Keeping Nicaragua clean is not just about tidying up for tourists. Garbage strewn about the streets is a serious health and sanitation problem that speaks of poor education and a lack of self-esteem. No one should live in squalor.
That’s why first lady Rosario Murillo is calling on Nicaragua to clean up its act.
Under the tautological banner of “Live Clean, Live Healthy, Live Pretty, Live Well,” the first lady has launched a “permanent campaign” to neaten Nicaragua by convincing folks to not use the streets as an open-air dumpsters.
The clean-up campaign is being coordinated with members of the Sandinista Youth who have been organizing street mime exhibitions and neighborhood trash collections to educate people about the importance of keeping public areas clean.
“When we convert these areas into trash heaps, when we make our immediate surroundings and public areas ugly, that is aggression—it’s a lack of love and we are called to mind the beauty, for our sense of self-esteem and respect, to respect ourselves, to love ourselves, and to care for ourselves, which is also about caring for harmony and for the aesthetics of daily life beyond poverty; we can be poor but clean, poor but honorable, with community and nature,” Murillo said on a full lung of air during a recent broadcast carried by her family-run media outlets.
The first lady said that the government will work to keep to keep public areas tidy and government buildings freshly painted.
“We can’t keep converting the parks we open into dumps that are lacking in love, lacking in health, lacking in esthetics, lacking in Christianity, because that is a lack of community spirit, a lack of wellbeing and service to our fellow man, love and service to our fellow man,” she said.
Murillo said government workers should also be “clean, neatly kept, and aesthetic,” because cleanliness “begins with us.”
Poverty, Murillo said, is no excuse for messiness.
“It’s one thing to be in a situation of economic need, but it’s another thing not to be clean, orderly, neatly kept or loving,” Murillo said.
Despite Murillo’s calls for tidiness and the Sandinista Youth’s sporadic trash-collection efforts in different barrios, it’s still unclear what makes the first lady’s cleanliness crusade permanent or systematic. The first lady has not announced any school-wide education campaign or comprehensive neighborhood outreach programs, nor has the government spokeswoman mentioned any improvements to state sanitation services, recycling programs or waste-disposal alternatives.