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Recycled Sandinistas: From Revolution to Resorts in the New Nicaragua


542 American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004
FIGURE 1. Advertisement for sandals, appearing in the New York
Times, April 14, 2002. (Courtesy of Barneys New York)
adventurous backpackers uneasy. Today, in contrast, the na-
tion attracts these travelers and others desiring more luxu-
rious accommodations. While postrevolutionary Nicaragua
remains one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, it
is suddenly getting the attention of those who shunned it
only a few years ago. Nicaraguans themselves are divided
between cynicism and a desire to bring needed revenue to
their impoverished, neoliberal economy. I am interested in
discerning how these developments are being experienced
locally and globally, as the Nicaraguan nation is recon-
structed as a safe and desirable location that offers both the
“traditional” and the “modern” for foreign consumption.
Furthermore, and more broadly, I am interested in the
ways that some places appeal to travelers who are seeking
more than a comfortable holiday at the beach or visit to
colonial towns. Recently, we hear of not only “political”
tourism but also “danger” tourism; not only religious pil-
grimages but also “red” pilgrimages to postsocialist coun-
tries; not only “socially responsible” tourism but also tours
to the world’s “trouble spots.” Newsweek International re-
ports on organizations like San Francisco–based Global Ex-
change, which takes groups to such destinations as Kabul
to “vacation in the remains of the Afghan capital” (Eviatar
2003). Other groups visit “areas under siege” in Israel and
the Palestinian territories, or learn about “social struggles”
in Chiapas, Mexico, and the “legacies of war” in Vietnam
(www.globalexchange.org). Having traveled with this orga-
nization to Cuba twice over the past decade, I am aware that
some group members particularly relish going to a coun-
try designated as illegal for U.S. tourists, requiring special
licenses for entry. I will suggest that Nicaragua holds the
same allure for travelers who desire to see for themselves
“the land of Sandino,” even years after the demise of the
revolutionary government.
Scholars of tourism have theorized the development of
what is today, according to many sources, the world’s largest
industry. Dean MacCannell’s classic text The Tourist, first
published in 1976, delved beneath surface appearances to
advance the argument that tourism offers “staged authen-
ticity,” inviting visitors to “make incursions into the life
of the society” (1999:97). More recently, writers have em-
phasized that representations and readings of tourist sites
are always contested, so that the sites and their meanings
are subject to interpretation (Hanna and Del Casino 2003;
Rojek and Urry 1997). My work follows this line of research
insofar as I view tourism as a set of cultural practices that
are under constant negotiation and that may illuminate
broader social and historical processes. Most significantly, I
have sought to contribute to studies of tourism in past and
present “danger zones,” in this case a revolutionary society
experiencing prolonged instability and civil war, being ever
mindful of the ideological projects that are under construc-
tion as nations establish the historical accounts that they
wish to represent (Gold and Gold 2003; Rojek 1997).
The first section of this article considers prerevolu-
tionary travel and later “solidarity” travel to the country
through textual and ethnographic analysis. The second
the country, notably the colonial city of Granada and the
Pacific Coast, have also seen a host of renovation and con-
struction projects designed to attract moneyed interests and
tourism. Examining these localities in the midst of a fairly
rapid process of change can tell us much—beyond this par-
ticular case—about the politics of location in a period of
globalization (Appadurai 2001; Gupta and Ferguson 1997).
Two decades ago, Nicaragua was the destination of
“tourists of revolution,” in the wry words of poet Lawrence
Ferlinghetti (1984). Now it is being refashioned as the des-
tination of another category of tourists, some adventurous
and environmentally conscious and others simply eager
to find an untraveled spot in the tropics. Here I consider
the remaking of the country, from within and without,
as Nicaragua struggles to make tourism its leading indus-
try (surpassing coffee production), and as an international
clientele discovers a new region to call its own. Until re-
cently, the revolutionary nation was considered off limits
to uninformed travelers and its inconveniences made even
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