Book Report: The Jaguar Smile
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The book has 14 chapters and a prologue. “The Jaguar Smile” starts with an introduction. What is interesting is that it was written in 1987, and 10 years after the book first saw the world. The plot tell that the author visited Nicaragua 21 years ago, where he witnessed a difficult political and social situation. The story deals with Salman Rushdie’s traveling around the country. He was invited as a head writer by the Sandinista Association of Cultural Workers in 1986 so his mission was also to meet politicians with President Daniel Ortega, Luis Carrion, Sergio Ramirez, Violeta Chamorro, and Ernesto Cardenal.
Rushdie writes a book in a form of narration, where he addresses himself to his readers. He shares his impressions about the country. Rushdie was so impressed by Nicaragua that he made a decision to write about outstanding war-torn country and the willpower and optimism of its people.
When the book was first published, the president was Ortega. When it was reprinted, another president Chamorro was in power. Under his communist power, the Nicaragua was being rebuilt. New laws and rules were published. Now, the president is Ortega again.
Salman Rushdie analyzes politics, land, and poetry of Nicaragua. At the same time he presents obvious information about human’s life in a country at the time of a revolution.
Rushdie discovers ethnicity of heroes, their culture, and how they turned into unresponsive objects. He gives an example of why people wear masks. It is convenient for politicians and warriors to play the comfortable role they are supposed to play.
The writer sees the situation from the inside as he speaks not only with high-rank people but with ordinary people too. His communication touches on vital questions such as war, the hope for peace, and the Sandinistas. He raises a problem of the unprotected people in Nicaragua. These people depend on political games that were played by their leaders as well as on other countries' plans as to their land.
Rushdie provides a picturesque description of his opinion about the younger Daniel Ortega, who still is learning how to make a speech and does not want to discuss “the year he missed the miniskirts in Managua” (Rushdie, 2003).
Rushdie has a different opinion on the problem of press freedom compared with hosts. The Sandinistas blocked La Prensa soon after the US Congress selected extra financial support to the Contras.
The author compares the poet with a press and founds it unspeakable. "Everyone censors the press in wartime…The issue of press freedom was the one on which I absolutely parted company with the Sandinistas. It disturbed me that a government of writers had turned into a government of censors" (Rushdie, 2003).
Salman Rushdie touches on central political themes of that time in the book. As it becomes clear from the book, he is a real admirer of the Nicaragua. He appeared in the centre of political life of the country. For more than half a month, he communicated with many high-ranking leaders of the Sandinista Party. It was the period of Contra attacks. The point is that the World Court made the USA compensate Nicaragua for the harm that it had done. Its population at that time was more than 3 million. Rushdie claims that in 1986-87, CIA usually estimated around $400 million against Nicaragua. About $300 million went to control Nicaragua's neighbors. The author writes "...you had a grand total of $800 million being spent on dirty tricks and destabilization, to bring to heel a country of under three million people...In the five years of the war, the Nicaraguan economy had suffered an estimated $2 billion-worth of damage" (Rushdie, 2003).
He wrote, “When the International Court at the Hague ruled against the US, it also upheld Nicaragua’s claim that the US was liable to pay reparation for the economic damage. The Court also rejected the US argument that Nicaragua was the ‘regional aggressor’, and that states in the zone were therefore entitled to defend themselves against it” (Rushdie, 2003).
Rushdie talked to many people and the greater part of them were sure that US attack was predictable after the Contras unsuccessfully kept troops. FSLN used AK-47s in the areas where high level of Contra activity was noticed. Rushdie could not even imagine that El Salvador passed out military hardware to their peasants.
In order to accomplish the second task it will be better to use contemporary political theory that, according to David Held, consists of four distinct tasks:
1. Firstly, it is important to explain a philosophical aspect of the Nicaragua Revolution;
2. Secondly, it is important to explain political events that are described in the book;
3. Thirdly, it is important to discuss historical events that led to a development of a political situation in Nicaragua;
4. Finally, it is necessary to make a conclusion of why events happened as they did in the story and to determine whether political events described had any effect on global politics.
If to take into consideration the long and bloody way of Nicaragua to independence, it is possible to state that there always existed a strong philosophical aspect for changes. The nation becomes a nation when it knows price of freedom. Moreover, the history of this state tells us about its destiny during long years of slavery. In my opinion, the first and the most important aspect that led to revolution in Nicaragua was the revolution in Cuba. On the other hand, it is conceivably problematic to state that Nicaragua was actually “postcolonial”. However, the Sandinista revolution can be classified as a violent move towards a postcolonial regime. Therefore, it is not startling that the rapidly increasing gay and lesbian movement in 1980s in Nicaragua was predetermined with the Sandinista revolution and with pushing for rights and reception of queer people and communities.
Revolution in Cuba was the main precedent in Niagara and it without any doubt can be named the most important historical event that led to development of the political situation in Nicaragua that is described in the book. It should be underlined that Cuban experience motivated Nicaragua leaders to replace the model of Che Guevara’s freedom movement in their country. They believed that it was possible to gain equal economical and political rights for the rural populace and in that way build a strong army.
Unfortunately, for the FSLN, the model was not livable. In this struggle, most of the leaders were killed, and the guerilla warfare crashed. However, the rest still used counterinsurgency techniques and the revolution in Cuba as a tool and inspiration. However, they were not capable to eradicate the FSLN entirely.
Political events that are described in a book influence the history of Nicaragua from the very beginning but pays more attention to the revolution of 1970-1987, the contra war in Nicaragua, and its consequences. In my opinion, these events happened as they did in the story because Nicaragua was at that time known as communist’s possession and because of the resistance movement against the CIA. The rise of revolution enforcement can be explained by the fact that people in Nicaragua had a history very similar to the one of slavery. First, they suffered from a dictatorial rule of the Somoza family, and after those hard years, they suffered more than seven years of CIA attacks. Only revolution could change the situation in the country.
As to the principal patterns of political behaviour these major players can be named: the US, CIA, SNLF, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. Their functions in historical events in Nicaragua are as follows: the supporters - the Soviet Union and Cuba, the opposite forces – the US government and the inner country formations - CIA and SNLF.
The period of dictatorship regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle was characterized by a political and economical disorder in the country. After this, in 1979, members of the opposite left parties, Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF), took power in Nicaragua in 1979. These new rulers of the country and their government were supported by the Catholic Church and the US with Jimmy Carter in chief. However, as soon as Ronald Reagan became a president, this support disappeared at once because the Sandinistas were committed to providing assistance to the FMLN in El Salvador. The US stroke a blow on Nicaraguan economy by means of imposing sanctions and embargo in the early-to-mid 1980s. It also supported Honduras that acted in order to prevent formation of a peaceful government in Nicaragua.
On the contrary, the Soviet Union and Cuba financed the army of Nicaragua. So here, it is possible to see contradictions of two main leaders on the world scene of that time, the USA and the Soviet Union, who by means of supporting the opposite forces fired the conflict inside and outside the country with un-stable political and economical situation. In my opinion, it was easy for opponents to support one another enemies in order to apply to themselves not on their territory.
Then, after the case in 1986 that came into world justice history, the International Court of Justice made the US pay Nicaragua about $12 billion as compensation for subversion of the national sovereignty of the country.
If to speak about the influence of Nicaragua affairs on world politics, it is possible to underline that it was the first time when such a small and full of non-democratic features country had won the case in International Court against the US. So, this obviously influenced other countries' attitude towards small postcolonial states.
After the fall of Somoza’s dynasty, the newly established government approved a consultative assembly, in other worlds the Council of State, on 4 May 1980. New legislation system of laws, new methods of ruling of country's budget were proclaimed. In the period from 1979 to 1980, the US administration tried to start working with a new Nicaraguan government. Then the changes concerning this question were made and at last the United States offended the government of Nicaragua by their support of El Salvador.
However, after 1979 some vital changes reshaped social and political life of Nicaragua. Economy of the country was destroyed by the Somocistas regime. Most of its lands were in his possession. Such branches of industry as production of cotton and sugar were brought down. Somoza or his adepts “owned or gave away banks, ports, communications, services and massive amounts of land”.(1970-1987: The Contra War in Nicaragua).
Rushdie witnessed a mixed economy in the country. People showed him around and pointed out private property in the neighborhood of state-run farms. He characterized negatively Ernesto Cardenal (this poet demanded Nicaragua to become the first country with nationalized poetry).
Rushdie had an opinion that this imperfect country could be much better than it was. "And imperfection, even the deep flaw of censorship, did not constitute a justification for being crushed by a super-power's military and economic force" (Rushdie, 2003).
If to analyze the possibilities and recourses of Nicaragua, it becomes clear that the hard situation in the country was artificially created by top rulers in power. State property was dismissed by private sectors that were concentrated in the hands of some people. This all scotched the development of economy and culture and made Nicaragua easy to be controlled by other countries.
Nicaraguan Revolution brought huge reorganization of all three economical sectors of the country. Therefore, the country obtained a new status of agricultural centre among other countries of the world. “The principles that presided Agrarian Reform were the same ones for the Revolution: pluralism, national unity and economic democracy" (Said).
Nicaragua was demolished by war. There were numerous victims. Peace dialogue started only in 1988, after the national government won a struggle against the Contras. After the revolution Nicaragua had won, vast worldwide compassion and some countries (also from Europe), organizations, and private individuals started to cooperate with Nicaragua in order to reconstruct the country.
The revolution demonstrates that general democratic rules are equal for all countries. The United States, Europe, and Latin America faced the situation when the infringement of political tolerance led to fights and misunderstandings inside and outside the country. It was, probably, the first big revolution movement in American continent that had a timing and nature transition to democracy.
Today, 30 years after the revolution, the situation in Nicaragua is still difficult. “Critics say that the system of dictatorial, one-man rule once known here as “Somocismo” has now been replaced by “Ortegismo”” (Enders, 2009). The country lives in poverty and things are going like in those days when Salmon Rushdie visited it. The people are interested now only in their safety and peace in the country. “After the revolution — and the U.S. funded Contra-led civil war that left the country divided and destitute — it is understandable that many Nicaraguans simply want peace and stability” (John Enders, 2009). Nicaragua’s foreign associates are worried about its future. There is lack of unity in Nicaragua today.
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