When a certain senior Nicaraguan politician was received at the Foreign Office by Lord Carrington, who was then Foreign Secretary, he was told how worried the British government was that Nicaragua was supplying arms to the rebels in El Salvador. With five hundred miles of common border, said Lord Carrington, it is inevitable that people will be crossing back and forth with guns. The senior Nicaraguan politician replied that if Lord Carrington looked at a map of Central America, he would see that Nicaragua had no common border with El Salvador. It must be Guatemala he was thinking of.
Henceforward somewhat disadvantaged at this meeting, Lord Carrington nevertheless went on to assert that with the FSLN in power he was worried about the future of democracy in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan diplomat replied that with Mrs Thatcher in power he was worried about the future of democracy in England. Carrington is said to have had the grace to smile and reply, ‘I take your point.’
To arrive in Nicaragua is at once to be disoriented, for since the earthquake in 1972, there has been, and is still no proper city of Managua. There are ruins, there are suburbs, there are scrubby bald patches of land, but there is no heart. For the announcement of the elections last February long lines of people trailed in from the countryside. They were visible for miles off in all directions even from what is meant to be the centre of the town. They arrived, listened and dispersed, once more in lines, once more visible for hours after they had left the square. The occasion was anti-climactic. I heard no good rhetoric in Nicaragua. In private the ministers of the government are witty and humane, but in public they do not always sparkle. The purpose of rhetoric is to persuade people to an argument of which they are not sure, or to which they are not yet converted. But the Nicaraguan citizen already knows clearly the two main realities of his life: that he is poor and that he is under threat from the United States of America.