Bread and Circus in Nicaragua

Opinion. 

Panem et circenses, or “bread and circus,” is a Latin phrase always used pejoratively to describe the practice of a government keeping its population contently distracted by providing food and low-quality entertainment for the masses.

Originally, it described the custom of the Roman emperors giving away wheat and circus games—chariot races, gladiator battles, and watching Christians torn by wild beasts—as a way to keep the people disengaged from politics. Julius Cesar would distribute wheat for free or at subsidized prices to about 200,000 poor plebeians. 

In Nicaragua, ever since the current government has continued in power, there have been an increasing number of diversions brought from abroad. Clearly, these shows are aimed at working class people who are capable of paying the price of admission. I’m not trying to curse such forms of entertainment, but I think we should stop and think about how politically convenient it is that these spectacles coincide with the interests of the ruling class. If we know the historical and political context in which we live, we know very well that nothing that happens here is mere coincidence. 

Over the past six years we have seen an increase in the number of amusement parks and official piñata parties for children. We’ve seen busloads of people conveyed to the central square to hear speeches on days like July 19 and for other events considered worthy to “celebrate” in exchange for food and liquor. Likewise, to do honor to the concept of bread and circuses of the Roman era, we cannot fail to mention the “virtual soccer stadiums” sponsored by the Sandinista Youth to project Spanish league soccer games on large screens in arena-type venues. 

Let’s also remember the government-sponsored prayer groups of people who gather at traffic roundabouts in Managua with large speakers blaring, and the public school students who are forced to attend. These same students are also used for political campaigning during election season, proving the government is not interested in educating young people but conditioning them and entertaining them to mask their nonexistent popularity. 

The Catholic Church has also spoken on this subject. According to the Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez, religious manipulation by the government is constant. The government’s use of symbols, religious holidays, and religious talk for political purposes are abusive and interfering. We can see how they use and rely on the Catholic faith and traditions to present a ridiculous spectacle (circus) and give away the basic foods (bread) to the needy. They know very well that those who receive these alms don’t realize it’s the same government that has raised the cost of living to almost unattainable levels for most people and then “sympathize” publicly with the neediest. 

Without objective thinking and a lack of clear vision, we are destined to witness the slow and inevitable destruction of the country. We allow the sequester of reason by political interests, or because of fear of true freedom of expression and thought. We fall into a voluntary servility and develop a need for permanent spectacle. 

Commercial and political advertising constantly bombard us with images and messages that distort our sad reality. When citizens allow others to insult our intelligence by participating in vulgar spectacles put on by liars who manipulate media according to their interests, we are allowing ourselves to be treated as stupid subjects when in fact we are citizens. When we give in to spectacle and abandon our ethics and critical thinking, we lose all dignity, contributing to the moral decay of our country. 

We must see clearly that the trend in politics is to offer insulting theater and “nice” slogans to trick people into trusting a group that is thirsty for power and money, and a leader who is once again leading us to the precipice. 

Cristiana Guevara-Mena is a lawyer and young blogger living in Managua. A version of this article ran on the author’s blog, Ensayos Politicos, a bilingual blog on national politics and youth issues.

  • cat

    boring >>>> yoam yoam yoam

    • Abu Sharif

      Cat, the paid orteguista comment writers get more and more lazy. Write some paragraphs to earn your money or other favours.

  • jimmycoffee

    Bravo Cristiana,
    It is very rare to hear such opinions coming from within Nicaraguan culture itself. I also know how complex and disproportionately difficult the struggle to replace the existing system will be. Not least because really there is at present, little credible alternative. But it starts with educated and committed voices within Nicaragua ,desiring and instigating political and social change; rather than with outsiders pointing out obvious short-comings in a poor country. Those who have little choice but to live in the system, should be those that define it. I raise my hat to you.

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Thank you very much!

  • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

    Please feel free to visit my blog http://www.ensayospoliticosbilingues.blogspot.com

  • Aurora

    Thank very much with this article.. I agree with you honestly every time I see how people is losing the dignity every time by getting the few things that the government gives to them. Without mention the poor quality of the public education in Nicaragua. Thus produce more ignorant people and creating a new generation without expectation to have a better life..!!

    hahaha And also the public buses to go the beach from the goverment. !!

    PLEASE GOVERNMENT !! BE REALISTIC GIVE DIGNITY JOBS AND JUST SALARY

  • Jon Cloke

    The Catholic Church has spoken on this subject, has it? This would be the same Church that underpins its own power through various forms of panem et circenses and uses its own form of ‘low quality entertainment for the masses’ to continually intervene in the political life of Nicaragua, would it?

    Personally speaking, the entertainment of watching politicians of every political belief fawning and cringing for the favour of Obando y Bravo has always been may favourite circus act…

  • gunner

    Doña Christiana- when have things ever really been different here? Perhaps your generation will achieve what has not been done before. Thanks for your good efforts.

  • Ken

    Especially since I’ve been openly critical of a couple of your other pieces, let me say that I think this is well done. You state your thesis, support it with evidence, and wrap it up. Not much more can be asked.

    To quibble, I wonder if this statement is accurate: “it’s the same government that has raised the cost of living to almost unattainable levels for most people and then “sympathize” publicly with the neediest.” The evidence that I have seen seems to show that the cost of living hasn’t risen that much and that the neediest have improved their situations. Blaming the government for something that may not be factually accurate and even if it were would not necessarily be the government’s fault seems a rhetorical stretch that should have been either cut or defended.

    Your move to include the Catholic Church may also have been unwise, at least without more explanation and development. This strikes me as a whopper of a topic in its own right. Nothing you say about the Church annoys me. I’m just left wondering if we need to go there. That may be another can of worms and deserve a separate piece.

    But good job overall.

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Thank you!

  • mike

    As I read this, I was impressed with the truth and honesty of the author. Only at the end did I realize who wrote this. I commented on an earlier piece you wrote, impressed in the same way as I am with this, not afraid to expose the weaknesses and abuses of the Nicaraguan system…..if only the politicians had your strength and courage…..

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Thank you very much! Comments like this inspire me to carry on writing.

  • G.

    Dear Cristina, I just tweeted you my address. Could you please get in touch with us, who work especially in education in the country side? And: a Spanish version of the B&C blog would be great, to share it with all the poor people who don’t understand English …

    Thanks in advance!

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      I didn’t get the tweet. But please email me! There’s an “email me” box on my blog! I would love to work with you.

  • Daverick

    Congrats Cristiana for your article, im a humble and particular cab driver and i agree with you completely its so obvios what the government is doing with the “people” specially the young ones who will suffer eventually for their own ignorance.
    Keep writting articles like this so our voice can be heard throw you, thanks again, take care, god bless you.

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Thanks to you!

  • Timoteo

    Congratulations, Christina. A very powerful article. I am a long time visitor to Nicaragua, and am appalled by the endless barrage of political slogans, garish pink billboards, occupation of los rotundos, staged events like the July 19 th celebration in Managua, FSLN thugs at peaceful rallies, etc. A small business owner and friend of mine in Managua talks of Daniel treating the citizens of Nicaragua like children, giving them candy, and hoping they will be satisfied. Bread, candy, all the same. I was in Costa Rica a month ago, where a cab driver was telling me with pride how the government there dissolved the national army in 1949, and made the decision to put the money into public education. Think of the potential that Nicaragua has, if it did something like that! Instead, Daniel prefers to paint himself as the put upon victim of imperialist forces, constantly threatening his existence, while he embraces the likes of the presidents of Iran and Libya, and poor old Fidel. As for the Catholic Church, you are absolutely correct: in recent years it has taken strong public stances in supprt of the people, and in opposition to the government. The era of Obando y Bravo is over. He is a relic of a bygone time, as is Daniel. I look for the awakening of the Nicaraguan people, as you do. Please keep up your courageous writing. Viva Nicaragua!

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Thank you very much! I WILL continue writing!