Friday, March 25, 2011

Walker and Wade's Nicaragua

I like Thomas Walker and Christine Wade's Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle, 5th Edition (2011).  It is clearly sympathetic to the revolution, but takes pains to remain even handed.  That means having no illusions, for example, about the political direction Daniel Ortega has been taking while also praising successful policies he implemented in the 1980s.  I highly recommend it as an excellent political history.  I would be tempted to use it in a class, but I don't tend to go that far in depth in a country study to merit an entire book.

The first half of the book is historical chronology, and the second half is separated by different issues: economic, cultural, political, and international.  Nicaragua has a fascinating history, and the writing is very good.  Who can resist sentences like the following?

On September 20, a young poet named Rigoberto López Pérez infiltrated a reception honoring the dictator and pumped five bullets point-blank into Somoza's corpulent hulk (p. 28).

My only complaint, and a relatively minor one, is that the facts can really stand for themselves in Nicaragua so there were far too many uses of the words "alleged" and "apparently," usually referring to some nefarious connection to the United States.  But there were so many such nefarious connections that including rumors weakens the overall argument.

I agree with their assessment of Ortega: "The Ortega government was both openly defiant and curiously submissive to the demands of its old enemy" (p. 213).  The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Tambopaxi 3:27 PM  

Greg, Thanks for the referral; looks like interesting book. I'm gonna get it for my Kindle.

Anonymous,  8:05 PM  

Greg, Thanks for the kind review. It's a tremendous privilege to work with Tom on any of our projects, but especially so on this one. Keep up the great work in the blogosphere!

Christine Wade

Anonymous,  11:45 AM  

It may well be the best book in Nicaragua, but if so that simply tells us more about the rest of the literature than it does about the quality of this book.

It's tiring enough to start to read the book and see that it goes through  the 'blame all the outsiders' meme that Latin American leftists so love. But it got really bizarre when I read that the IADB is enforcing US policies! Have the authors ever talked to anyone at the IADB covering the country? Do they know of the US Treasury's support for debt and fiscal management? Do they know that Nicaragua has an Extended Credit Facility with the IMF, with full support from Ortega's government?

Why do leftists always blame the US for everything in Latin America? Here's something that would have been useful, compare developments in Nicaragua with the English-speaking Caribbean, parts of which are still colonies! Yet most of those Caribbean nations don't wallow in self pity and do what they can with much less resources than Nicaragua.

Nicaragua's problems are not that it lives under the shadow of an eagle, or any other bird. Its problems are mainly homegrown. Weak institutions and little difference between left and right when they govern. Today in 2011 the biggest issue is not the US, it's Ortega's destruction of what little institutions exist in the country. 

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