Friday, October 27, 2006

university, politics, therapeutic abortion

Hi everybody,

There are a bunch of things I'd like to write about today, but first I
want to thank everybody who wrote to me in response to my infant
mortality essay. I haven't gotten back to all of you individually
yet, but I have really appreciated your sympathy and your courage in
allowing yourselves to be touched. I also will convey your sympathy
to the family.

So, on Wednesday I went to Managua to give a talk to a class of
Anthropology students at the UNAN, or the Universidad Nacional
Autonoma de Nicaragua (I think I've got that acronym right, but don't
quote me). It was my first-ever lecture given in Spanish, and it went
pretty well, especially considering it was about 100 degrees in the
classroom. The topic was "Anthropological methodology", and I had a
half hour to talk. But happily, the students paid attention, appeared
to understand me despite my accent, and even asked some good questions
at the end.

After my part was over, I stuck around to listen to the rest of the
class. At the end of the class, one student got up to make an
announcement, and it seemed that this class is actually a group of
students who go through the whole university together. They work
together and plan trips together and even do political organizing
together. It sounds like a great model.

Another thing that really impressed me was how politically engaged
this university is. (And I've read that it's not the only one, the
other major U in Managua is the same or more so, although I haven't
spent much time at that campus.) It is pretty much a one-party
environment—you see NO propaganda except for the Sandinistas, although
I did see one person with a t-shirt for the schism branch of the
Sandinistas. When, in my lecture, I mentioned the campaign and the
campaign theme of the Sandinistas (reconciliation and peace), a couple
of my overall very respectful listeners actually silently cheered.

What a difference from the general political disengagement and apathy
among the students I taught in New York! It's not as if there are
large differences between the general social profile of the students
at the UNAN and at CUNY. Both are public universities, both charge
low tuition, and both student groups are generally upwardly mobile
children of lower economic classes, probably working or on scholarship
to get through college. The major difference is, perhaps, that in
Nicaragua they have had a very recent historical experience of actual
major changes being made to the system of government in response to
political activism. Most of these students would have been small
children when the revolutionary government lost the elections of 1990,
but their older siblings and parents were very possibly closely

So, speaking of the elections… a CID/Gallup poll that came out
yesterday indicates that Daniel Ortega, the president of the
Sandinistas in the 1980s and the current Sandinista presidential
candidate, is running eleven percentage points ahead of his nearest
rival, the schism liberal candidate, Eduardo Montealegre (2.8 % margin
of error). People who are supporting the Sandinistas aren't relaxing,
however—there is worry about electoral fraud, as apparently was a
problem in the 1992 elections in which according to the official
results Daniel Ortega lost by a very thin margin.

I've been paying attention to the claims made by the campaigns, and
it's been interesting to me to see that three out of the four major
parties are claiming that the Contras (or the Resistance) support
them. Daniel Ortega's vice-presidential running mate was a negotiator
for the Contras. And both Liberal candidates have ads in which
prominent Contra commanders endorse them. I don't see anything
similar from any other group, although the Sandinistas are perhaps
also trumpeting the support they have from the Catholic church, a very
new development (more on this in a minute). But why are the
Resistence leaders such a hot commodity? I have a suspicion, although
I don't know for sure, that it is not because the opinions of the
ex-Resistance are so respected. Rather, I think that if I claim the
support of the Contras I am saying that the war will not return if I
am elected. At least, this is definitely what the Sandinistas are
saying, and probably the other parties, too.

In a bizarre, nightmare-like scenario, Oliver North was in Nicaragua
earlier this week. Yes, the same Oliver North who managed the
Iran-Contra affair, in which weapons were sold to a group in Iran,
against express orders given by Congress, and then the money was used
to fund the Contras, again against several express orders given by
Congress. The same Iran-Contra affair which should have warned the
people of United States to be on the alert against permitting the
executive branch to gather more power and dispense with checks from
the Congressional and Judicial branches. This is the same Oliver
North who was fired by President Reagan and convicted on several
counts related to the affair, although his sentence was overturned on
a technicality. Apparently the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua forced North
to call his visit a "private" one, in which he was going to visit some
friends. However, these friends included the mainstream Liberal
candidate and a former Contra commander, and part of his tourist
activities included laying a wreath at a monument to fallen Contra
soldiers and giving a press conference in which, predictably, he
warned about the red menace should Ortega win. Very amusingly, he
also said something like, Nicaragua has suffered enough from foreign
intervention. (Although he himself was referring to left-wing
regional governments.)

Anyways, about the Catholic church: yesterday, in response to an
agreement with the church, the Nicaraguan Congress outlawed
therapeutic abortion. Abortion for other reasons was already illegal
in Nicaragua, however, an exception was made for instances in which
the life of the woman was in danger. Now, however, a doctor can be
thrown in jail for 1 to 7 years if she or he performs an abortion to
save the life of the mother. This includes, by the way, the abortion
of an ectopic pregnancy, in which the embryo has implanted outside the
womb and has no chance of ever surviving. According to the newspaper,
approximately one in fifty pregnancies is ectopic. If the embryo is
not extracted, it is extremely dangerous for the woman and can lead to
internal hemorrhaging, which is a life-threatening condition.

One of the Congressmen who made statements defending this vote is
described in the newspaper as assuring that "he never had sent any of
his women to have an abortion, without clarifying how many women he
had." (This could also be translated as "his wives".) The
unbelievable level of chauvinism in this statement, and in the law in
general, turns my stomach. And I'm not the only one—there were strong
protests outside the Congress yesterday, and both doctors and
theologians made statements against the provision.


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