The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey written by Salman Rushdie, is a non-fiction book that gives the reader insight to the internal turmoil taking place in the nation of Nicaragua. Salman Rushdie is a British-Indian novelist who gained his fame for his fantastical novels about the post-colonial relationship between cultures of the East and West. Rushdie became interested in Nicaraguan affairs when the Regan administration started its “war” against Nicaragua. “I was myself the child of a successful revolt against a great power, my consciousness the product of the triumph of the Indian Revolution” (p. ).
Rushdie made his trip to Nicaragua in July of 1986. He came to know a wide range of people, from the President to the everyday citizens. His perceptions were always heightened by his sensitivity and his unique flair for language. “I did not go to Nicaragua intending to write a book, or, indeed, to write at all; but my encounter with the place affected me so deeply that in the end I had no choice” (p. 5). In this book Rushdie brings us the true Nicaragua where nothing is simple, everything is contested, and life-or-death struggles are an everyday occurrence.
The central theme of the book is almost immediately realized. Rushdie talks about how in order to understand the living, it is necessary to first understand the dead. This is a powerful statement because it gives you an idea of how many lives were lost during the Nicaraguan Revolution. He immediately follows this statement by describing in great detail the presence of the toppled statue of the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. This contributes to the image that Nicaragua is a nation in shambles after the constant turmoil of the past.
Rushdie spends a lot of his time in Nicaragua with members of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, otherwise known as the FSLN. The FSLN was the group that led the campaign in the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship. They then proceeded to govern from 1979 to 1990. Rushdie spent considerable time with the leader of the FSLN, President Daniel Ortega. Rushdie made it clear that Ortega (along with the rest of the nation) did not like the Reagan administration. He quoted Ortega as saying that Reagan was ‘worse than Hitler’.
The economy of Nicaragua was hugely dependent on imports, and US influence was of enormous importance. However, relations between the two nations began to plummet as the Cold War heightened. The USSR had recently funded a communications site on Nicaraguan soil to help them communicate with other socialist nations. With a rising fear of the USSR and other socialist nations, the US immediately accused it of being a spy base. Not shortly afterwards the US began to take action against Nicaragua by issuing an economic blockade.
Because the Nicaraguan economy relied so heavily on imports, this had a profound effect and contributed to the collapse of the Nicaraguan economy. “It was impossible to spend even a day in Nicaragua without becoming aware of the huge and unrelenting pressure being exerted on the country by the giant standing on the northern front” (p. 24). While the USSR and Cuba funded the Nicaraguan army, the US financed the contras. The Contras were the various rebel groups that opposed the FSLN. The Contras received both overt and covert military and financial support from the US through the CIA.
The goal in supporting the Contras was to establish a friendly government in Nicaragua and to steer them away from socialist views. With the great imposing influence from the north, and the blockade of imports of almost all necessary resources, there was not much that the Nicaraguan government could do against the global superpower. Because the FSLN was in contact with the USSR, and the US’s great fear of a socialist take over, the Nicaraguan government thought a direct US invasion was eminent. They in no way whatsoever would have been able to counter an invasion, so they prepared by arming the people with AK-47’s.
They believed that if the US thought the casualties would be high then an invasion would not be conducted. They saw this as the only way to deter a seemingly inevitable attack. This conflict is called a proxy war. A proxy war is one that results when opposing powers use third parties as substitutes for fighting each other directly. However, Nicaragua would get they’re revenge when they brought a case against the US at the International Court of Justice in 1986 (the same year Rushdie visited Nicaragua). The US was ordered to pay Nicaragua 12 billion ollars in reparations for undermining the nation’s sovereignty. Nationalism in Nicaragua was in a state of definite confusion. Citizens felt that the government could have been giving a much better effort to help the people even with such limited resources.
There are various incidents where large amounts of food were spoiled due to pure ignorance by the government. In chapter 10 Rushdie talks about the price of goods being so high that some shoes could cost a worker a months salary. “The shoppers knew that not all the shortages could be blamed on the war” (p. 0). Rushdie took all the chatter as a sign that the people had turned against the Sandinistas. However, when Rushdie asked the people if the government should talk to the Contra or make accommodations with the US the answers were not what he expected. People were quick to say no, the war must go on. The People were not one-hundred percent satisfied with the current government in place, but they were in so way shape or form ready to give in to the nation that sunk them into even deeper economic hardship.
In a later interview with President Ortega he said “we believe we are fighting for the whole of Central America. We are fighting to say, this is not somebody else’s back yard. This is our Country” (p. 131). Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey is a book that many people felt gave great insight into what was taking place in this Central American nation. Rushdie mixes with this account a personal analysis of the political dialectic in Central America.
However, some feel that Rushdie was quick to overlook Sandinista totalitarianism and censorship due to his ideological sympathies with their cause. After reading this book I feel that regardless of his views towards the government, Rushdie did a good job in creating mental images of the situation in Nicaragua. I now have a much better understanding of what actually took place and what factors influenced these outcomes. Nicaragua is a nation that has been under constant turmoil and recently been greatly affected by the actions of foreign governments.