Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Great Man is Gone - a tribute to Padre Miguel D'Escoto

Padre Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a priest of the Maryknoll Missionary Society, died on the 8th of June.  With his death, Nicaragua and the world lost a great man.  Let me tell you just a tiny bit about him.

In January of 1973 and as a response to the displacement of thousands from the massive earthquake that hit Nicaragua the previous December, Padre Miguel formed the Nicaraguan Foundation for Integral Community Development (FUNDECI), a nongovernmental agency, which continues working til this day. 

He and this foundation asked us to come work in the Ciudad Sandino area and surrounding rural communities in 1993.  His staff was wonderful for us in our early years getting us established and pointing us in the right directions.  This giant of a man graciously agreed to serve on our Advisory Board in order for us to "use and abuse" his name for funding sources to do our work and help us with Nicaraguan government bureaucracy.

That is how we got to know Padre Miguel personally, while the world knew him as the leader that he was.  After becoming a priest in the Maryknoll Missionary Society, he practiced the principles of Liberation Theology.  Though born a son to a diplomat of the dictator, Anatasio Somoza, he became a non-violent participant in the revolution to overthrow that dictator and he helped set up a new government to serve the poor.

He was the foreign minister of Nicaragua from 1979-1990 in that newly formed government.  In 1983, he was one of five priests that Pope John Paul II chastised in front of international cameras when the pope visited Nicaragua, because they all worked in the government.  John Paul II then suspended them in 1985. 

Not to be able to celebrate mass deeply wounded Padre Miguel. In August 2014, Pope Francis rescinded that order.  Soon thereafter Padre Miguel joyfully celebrated mass once again.

During his time as foreign minister, the United States supported the contra fighters in the Contra War.  Padre Miguel was a voice for human rights and for sovereignty of the government that replaced the dictatorship of the Somoza family.  He was also a strong voice within government encouraging them to live up to their own goals of the revolution. 

As a strong believer in non-violence.  In 1985, he went on a month long fast  marking the 40th Anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing  to call for the U.S. to stop financing and supporting the terrorist activities of the contras ... many around the world fasted with him.  Soon after in February he led a peace march of 300 km into the war zones, many joined him in the 15 day march with bloodied, blistered feet.

In 1986, Padre Miguel was the brainchild behind Nicaragua successfully winning a case against the United States for their illegal mining of one of Nicaragua's harbors in the World Court...the only time anyone has ever won a case against the U.S.

In 2006 after the Sandinista party won again the majority giving them the presidency and the majority in the Assembly, Padre Miguel was appointed as Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations and was elected the UN General Assembly President in Sept 2008 - Sept. 2009. 

He said in a press conference:

     "They elected a priest. And I hope no one is offended if I say that love is what is most needed in this world. And that selfishness is what has gotten us into the terrible quagmire in which the world is sinking, almost irreversibly, unless something big happens. This may sound like a sermon. Well, OK..."

Although he was an international figure, he was an easy person to be around.

He was funny and kind.  He believed in what the Nicaraguan Revolution could have become - if it had been given a chance - and boy! could he tell stories.  

One story he told was revolved around a Danny... about what a good reporter Danny had been; about how Danny would come to his house and they would talk way into the night; about how he didn't know what happened to Danny after he became anchor...[Lightbulb!  He's talking about Dan Rather!]...but his reporting just went downhill after that.

His humility and frankness was refreshing in this world.  His love for this world and his desire that the world become healthy and how we needed to love.  He was a huge voice to stop climate change and end poverty.  We, humanity, could use many, many more Padre Miguels and we will surely miss him.

During the Revolution when a hero fell, his or her name was called and everyone repeated three times Presente! (Present [with us])
                        Padre Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann
                         Presente!  Presente!  Presente!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Begging for Health Care

It is sad to see fathers and mothers begging for money for their children's medication.   Ten years ago here in Nicaragua, it was almost a daily occurrence; now, rarely.  

What changed? 

The Sandinista government takes the constitutional guarantee of health care for all much more seriously than the previous Nicaraguan governments.   

Today when I sat down to check email, this is what Mike had sent me from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight:

Here’s a disturbing stat about the state of medical care access in the United States: A study of GoFundMe crowd sourced fundraising campaigns found that $930 million of $2 billion analyzed was for medical campaigns, or people who had to beg on the internet to pay for medical procedures. [Bloomberg via Ross Baird]

Instead of begging in parking lots, people in the United States are begging on-line. 

Many people who voted for Pres. Trump and the current congressional members did not
know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the same as Obama Care and are losing their coverage.

Even our own son, Joseph, is losing his college's health insurance because of the repeal of the ACA.  The small college used the ACA to insure their students who were not covered elsewhere for a fee.  

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, The Atlantic published an article about how the U.S. still stood entirely alone in wealthy countries who do not provide universal health care for its citizens.  

Though not on The Atlantic's map, Nicaragua does provide universal health care... such as it is.  Nicaragua provides an insurance plan for people, who are formally employed, and universal care for those who are not enrolled and are by-and-large the most other words, it has both single payer and universal health care plans.  

photo by Bart Cleary
Unfortunately the wealthy Nicaraguans have access to much higher quality private care that allows them to not bother or invest in the public care which lowers the quality of care the rest of the country.

Good or not-so-good, the reality in Nicaragua is: if a kid is sick in the middle of the night...a parent can then go to the hospital, have a doctor exam the child, either admit the child or send the child home with medicines without ever paying a bill or being harassed later to pay the bill.  

We have had first hand experiences with this: Sarah - and later Joseph - had an allergic reaction with their throats starting to tingle, they received care without paying a dime. 

No one should ever have to beg for health care.  No one.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Sometimes one has these days…you know the type…when you feel exhausted and just plain weary and then when walking from one place to another, God’s own bird drops its waste in your hair and on your clean shirt.  Sigh.

Most of my weariness today comes from once again being called anti-American, which I just don't get.  Here are some questions for you, the reader, to ponder…
  1. If citizens from Belgium, France, Norway, Italy, et al, call themselves Europeans…AND if citizens of India, China, Japan, et al, call themselves Asian…AND if citizens of Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, et al, call themselves Africans…THEN why is it that most citizens of the United States of America think that they - and only they - are Americans?  
  2. To put it another way, how can I be “Anti-American” when I point out to college students that the country where I am a citizen (the U.S. of A.) has supported regimes and a terrorist war in the past and is now plotting to block international loans for social programs in the country where I now live (Nicaragua)…WHEN both countries are part of the continent of North America?  I have been accused of being anti-American since the 1980s when I learned about the history of Nicaragua and came to Nicaragua while the country was being terrorized by U.S.-funded rebels.  Accused publicly in newspapers!
  3. WHEN did criticisms of one’s own national agendas become unpatriotic?  Occasionally, I have  happened upon a clip of Fox News blasting Pres. Obama ad nauseum, but I personally never heard the network called unpatriotic.
  4. And lastly…why are these things considered  unpatriotic by many?...

a.       having a global awareness,
b.       having an awareness of the suffering of others (including homeless vets),
c.      understanding how empires and international corporations use people of color, and
d.       having an awareness that most places of power protect the people in power, not those living in poverty.

Are we so blinded by the stars and stripes that we cannot question and call for our own nation to be better than it is? 

“But look at all the good things the U.S. does,”  people say.  

Many U.S. citizens treat their government like a child…one that has to be protected at all costs even ignoring their own faith, let alone someone else’s faith; one that has to be coddled “France was mean to us so we are now going to call fried potatoes freedom fries;” one that has to be reassured constantly and never challenged....

The U.S. is over 200 years old…I know, I was there for its 200th birthday watching blurry fireworks because of the tears in my eyes.  200 plus years would lead one to think that the U.S. is in its "adult stage."  

Demanding that we as a nation be more just, work for peace, strive to care for the most vulnerable and  be respectful of all its citizens as well as other sovereign nations of the world is not going to break a fragile persona, but it will make us better and stronger.

Maybe I'm stupid, but I just don’t get how feeling that way is "anti-American."