Liberal Guilt - An American Tourist In Nicaragua

While my wife and I were recently in Granada, Nicaragua, we had a truly precious opportunity: the chance to have a long discussion about politics and history with a well-informed, well-spoken local. Thanks to Nancy's Spanish and determination to learn as much as she can about the culture and history of the places we visit (in addition to absorbing as much of their solar heat as she can), we were able to have a pretty rich conversation with a local and his daughter -- along with our American friend Jenny, without whom we wouldn't have met these wonderful people. The situation in Nicaragua is currently pretty dire for the people, with a president who has twisted the machinery of democracy into what is essentially a dictatorship. He siphons government funds into his personal coffers, uses the money to buy the Supreme Court, unilaterally overrules the laws of the National Assembly, and has replaced good military leaders, through "early retirement", with his own lackeys. It's a classic story of power and greed in a corrupt government, stifling the potential of an entire nation. And, as with so many similar stories, when you dig for the foundation of this greed and corruption, you find the foreign policy of the United States, providing arms and training to the world's warlords.

In the hotel where we had this conversation, on a courtyard wall next to the pool, is a mural of Granada, from the perspective of the American hotel owner's big, beautiful country home. Maybe he's a perfectly nice guy, an innocent benefactor of his nation's imperialism. The hotel was well maintained and generously overstaffed with smiling Nicaraguan women, and it helps bring tourist dollars into a country that could certainly use them. But it all starts to feel like tainted money when you're reminded of the "free market" colonialism, backed by military might, that makes it possible. (We tried to stay somewhere locally owned, and thought we were, but it turns out the Nicaraguan woman who we thought was the owner is just the manager.) We certainly enjoyed our visit, much as we did our vacation, some years ago, in Hawaii -- which was also the victim of U.S. expansionism in the age of Mark Twain (who explicitly promoted capitalist takeover in his early writing) -- but not without some good old-fashioned liberal guilt.

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