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Nicaragua: Updating the Literacy Victory

Nicaragua: Updating the Literacy Victory

By Sergio Ferrari

Interview with Father Fernando Cardenal. Twenty-five years after the Sandinista triumph of July 19, 1979 in Nicaragua, he does not hide complex and contradictory feelings that incorporate, at the same time, "frustration and extremely positive experiences."

Twenty-five years after the Sandinista triumph of July 19, 1979 in Nicaragua, he does not hide complex and contradictory feelings that incorporate, at the same time, "frustration and extremely positive experiences." This is stated by the Jesuit priest Fernando Cardenal, a leading actor in that revolution that shook Latin America. First, as Coordinator of the National Literacy Crusade and later as Minister of Education of the Sandinista government, which led to a strong sanction by the Vatican authorities. Today, at age 70, reincorporated to the Society of Jesus, he works as director of "Fe y Alegría", a popular education movement with a presence in marginal neighborhoods.

A Complex Balance

The frustration resulting from that experience is not the result of the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Front (in 1990), but, particularly, of the corruption of a part of the leadership after the elections, he points out. "I could not bear it. It was a true ethical aggression that forced me to withdraw. My body and my soul did not resist it."

In contrast, the deeply positive, "that motivates my hope and my current utopia" is the "living memory of thousands and thousands of young people dedicated with everything to transform the society in which we were living." Thousands of daily scenes of "heroism, solidarity, a spirit of service to the point of offering life itself", the Catholic priest emphasizes with emotion, remembering the nine murdered young literacy teachers and the fifty who died in accidents or from diseases in the mountains during the Crusade.

Relive the Valor of the Gesta.


A "pragmatic" religious, a committed citizen, the balance of the decade does not paralyze him in his present conviction. "I look forward. And the near future points to 2005, when the 25 years of the Literacy Crusade will be commemorated" that received the Nadezhda Krupskaya prize from UNESCO for having achieved in five months the feat of lowering the illiteracy rate of , at least 51 to 13%.


A day is scheduled for next year that will last from March to August - the same time that this massive citizen mobilization took place in 1980-. And that it seeks to be "something great and important for Nicaragua today", emphasizes Fernando Cardenal.

This initiative has several objectives. A fundamental one: "launching a deep reflection on what Nicaragua is going to do with education, that is, with its future. We are playing to be a country of poverty and emigration or a nation of social and human development"

Another no less crucial objective, "will be to moralize today's youth. To infect them with that literacy spirit so that they can face the deep economic, social, ecological, political and moral crisis"

That day, according to the priest, will be made up of a huge number of activities. Each one will commemorate in their neighborhood, in their region "no one is the owner of that collective feat that belongs to all of us"

Among the specific activities, it is contemplated the edition of 5000 copies of a book that collects anecdotes of that citizen feat; the manufacture of 100 thousand stickers ("like the number of the literacy teachers"); the layout of an interactive CD that constitutes a kind of encyclopedia of the Crusade. Additionally, an International Congress is scheduled with the intention of "conceptualizing, making theory about the practice that we then starred in"
To ensure this initiative, it is necessary, as at that time, a "new commitment of international solidarity to support this commemorative action", emphasizes Cardenal.

Motivated by "the certainty of the immense inner strength that human beings have to give themselves to love and solidarity to build a new society." Despite the crisis we are experiencing, I identify with Paulo Freire -one of the conceptual mentors of the Crusade- who said that "true hope sometimes tires, but never dies"

Recreate Hope

"In a conference in Spain, my brother Ernesto said that socialism failed because it was not carried out, while capitalism has failed because it has been carried out", underlines Fernando Cardenal, who recognizes that the full significance of this reflection is not always recognized.


At this moment, he continues, in the world there are 3 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day. "We all know many statistics in this regard about the situation in Nicaragua, Latin America and the entire world. These are obvious figures that prove capitalism has completely failed on all continents "

And remember that, when the Berlin Wall fell, Bush Sr. declared triumphantly: "only we are left." "It was a great truth since the Soviet Union had been destroyed. Only the United States and capitalism remained," acknowledges the Nicaraguan priest. Who immediately affirms: "14 years later, what reigns in the planet is war, hunger, malnutrition and misery. Three billion people live (or die) in extreme poverty. That is not the fault of the Soviets. That's over. Only they were left, the capitalists. It's their responsibility. " The pause and the final conclusion. Precisely for all that, despite "the confusion and discouragement, it is more than ever the time of utopia, of dreams" and hence the emblematic value of commemorating the Literacy Crusade of 80, a utopia come true "

* UNITE press service
Swiss NGO Platform for North-South-North People Exchange


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