Thursday, January 07, 2010

Nicaraguan Revolutionary Graffiti

In the spring and summer of 1986 I spent several months in Nicaragua, accompanying friends who went down to build their journalistic careers. The Sandinistas were celebrating the 7th anniversary of their successful revolution against the US-backed Somoza regime; the war against the US-supported "contra" (from the Spanish for counter-revolutionary) rebels in the rural north and east of the country was at its height. I had not much to do but walk around and take photos: I took hundreds.

One of my fascinations was the graffiti. Coming from New York City I was used to seeing lots of graffiti. But this was different: this graffiti all had something to say. It was difficult to judge the age of all the graffiti I saw. Some clearly dated from the years of the revolutionary struggle in 1978-1979 itself, and some was related to current election and political issues. The ruling FSLN was a vibrant, popularly-supported force. But it was clear that there was a vibrant political life in general, and not everyone in opposition to the FSLN was a right-wing stooge of the US.

Here's some of the graffiti I documented. All these photos are by me, and I reserve full copyright. I'll post another batch later.

A wall in Managua: On the lower right, "Seguimos de frente con el Frente" was current 1986 FSLN graffiti, a sort of pun: "We stay in front with the Front." The larger graffiti is years older, from a leftwing faction of the FSLN. "Por un gobierno popular democratico - Guerra Popular Prologanda FSLN GPP": "For a people's democratic government - Prolonged People's War FSLN". The lower left graffiti is from CAUS, a trade union federation, from the constitutional debate: "The constitution should establish a republican and parliamentary government. CAUS"

From a wall in Rivas: Competing left and right. "...FSLN es votar por el pueblo" says a vote for the FSLN is "Voting for the people." "Viva el PLI - No al comunismo" from a right-wing opposition party, "Long live the PLI, no to Communism."

From a wall in Masaya, competing leftwing parties debate. "Vote for the the Program and the Candidates of the PCN (Communist Party of Nicaragua." and "Long Live the First of May, International Workers Day - PCN." This is challenged by the Maoist/Hoxhaist Workers Front: "Abajo los falsos comunistas! (F.O.)" "Down with Fake Communists! FO"

Also from Masaya, yet another leftwing party speaks out: "Carlos Marx vive y transforme el Mundo (PSN)" "Karl Marx lives and transforms the world (Nicaraguan Socialist Party)"

In Managua, stencilled graffiti to "Vote for the Communist Party."

On the earthquake-ruined cathedral in Managua, "El Pueblo Dice NO MAS SOMOZAS." "The People Say No More Somozas"

From Masaya, a clever stencil from the FSLN. Designed like traffic signs: "No Girar de U. No Girar a la Derecha. Solo Izquierda. Siga de Frente. FSLN." "No U Turn. No Right Turn. Only Left. Continue Forward. FSLN."


  1. I've been digging around for my friend, Steve Millen's article on Nicaragua. As I recall, he went there a bit before you, actually heard some shots fired in anger by Contras. Steve had a weird misguided loyalty to the SWP that I was never able to understand but he also had a wonderful sense of humor. You and Steve would have either liked or disliked one another. I can't say. Steve was not a New York disco gay leftist. He was a midwestern punk rock gay leftist. A mutual friend used to have Steve's Nicaragua writings posted at his website, but he seems to have taken them down. Steve, tragically, died in 1990. I still miss him terribly.

  2. Hey Jon...he sounds like a cool person to know. Sorry I didn't get the chance.

    I'll put up some more of these kinda pics soon. A lot of my photos are on slides which I don't have technology to scan. Eventually.

    I haven't really ever written about Nicaragua... it was a great trip but I wasn't there on a solidarity mission or anything so constructive. Words will eventually come.