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F L O R E N C E E . B A B B

Recycled Sandalistas: From Revolution to Resorts

in the New Nicaragua


In the post-Sandinista period, Nicaragua has adjusted to the new terms of a neoliberal economy by turning to tourism development as a leading industry. As the nation is refashioned as a safe and desirable tourist destination, efforts have been made to conceal evidence of the recent revolutionary past that might discourage visitors from traveling to the country. Nevertheless, there are indications that selected images and memories of revolution are making a reappearance and may prove marketable for tourism.

This article argues that the twin projects of neoliberalism and nationalism may be served by this seemingly contradictory process. The Nicaraguan case offers an example of how the past figures in the remaking of postrevolutionary nations for tourism in the era of globalization. [Keywords: tourism, revolution, Nicaragua, cultural politics, globalization]

Managua, Nicaragua what a wonderful spot,

featured a lengthy article on travel in the “new” Nicaragua.

There’s coffee and bananas and a temperature hot.

Here, however, the term has acquired a new meaning. The

Managua, Nicaragua is a beautiful town,

author gushes, “Here come the foreigners: ‘ sandalistas’ with You buy a hacienda for a few pesos down.

backpacks, businessmen in short-sleeved shirts trying to

—Irving Berlin, recorded by Guy Lombardo, 1947

look tropical casual, church missionaries sweating under

straw hats, and me” (2002:100). He goes on to confess that

And why must we develop tourism in this God-forsaken

country? Because it’s the path to salvation for the

although he is a journalist, on that day he was doing what

national economy.

many other U.S. tourists have been doing in Nicaragua:

“scouting property” (2002:100). In fact, many of the 360

—Comandante Tomás Borge, 20031

small islands in Lake Nicaragua are up for sale and are be-

INAPRIL2002,Icameacrossanadvertisementinthe ingpurchased“forasong”byU.S.residentslookingfora New York Times for sandals from Barneys with a single bargain. Although the article describes Nicaragua as “a little word that caught my eye: Sandalista (2002:7). It was not rough around the edges” (2002:99), readers are assured that only the word but also the bold font used that clearly in-a trip is well worth it, because the country has had a real vested the word with political meaning. Surely, I thought,

makeover since the revolutionary period (1979–90).

there are few readers of the Times who will realize that this For the past 15 years, I have observed the quickening

was a term used in Nicaragua during the 1980s to refer to in-pace of change in Nicaragua2—or at least the appearance of

ternational supporters of the revolutionary Sandinista gov-

substantial change, even if the country has been on a rather ernment then in power. Certainly, most of those attracted

grim program of neoliberal free-market development since

to the photograph of a single shoe, a sort of upscale version the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election. The measures that

of the rubber tire-soled sandals worn by the rural poor in

have been mandated by the International Monetary Fund

Latin America, here selling for $165, would make no such

and administered by the U.S. Agency for International De-

connection (see Figure 1). But when I was in Nicaragua over velopment have produced a turn toward economic priva-the summer and showed the ad to several U.S. citizens liv-

tization and the shrinking of state-led social development.

ing in the Central American country, they reacted as I had.

This has meant rising unemployment, ill health, and grow-

Seeing the ad took their breath away.

ing illiteracy for a majority, while a small elite benefits from Another recent invocation of the word sandalista is new products on the market, new restaurants and clubs, and

found in the February 2002 issue of Condé Nast Traveler a new look to the capital city of Managua, where a third of (Wilson 2002:98–112), the glossy travel magazine, which

the nation’s population lives (Babb 1999). Other parts of

American Anthropologist, Vol. 106, Issue 3, pp. 541–555, ISSN 0002-7294, online ISSN 1548-1433. C 2004 by the American Anthropological Association.

All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center Street, Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.



American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

adventurous backpackers uneasy. Today, in contrast, the na-

tion attracts these travelers and others desiring more luxurious 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 reports 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

( 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 country 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.

FIGURE 1. Advertisement for sandals, appearing in the New York Scholars of tourism have theorized the development of

Times, April 14, 2002. (Courtesy of Barneys New York) 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

the country, notably the colonial city of Granada and the

advance the argument that tourism offers “staged authen-

Pacific Coast, have also seen a host of renovation and con-

ticity,” inviting visitors to “make incursions into the life struction projects designed to attract moneyed interests and of the society” (1999:97). More recently, writers have em-tourism. Examining these localities in the midst of a fairly phasized that representations and readings of tourist sites rapid process of change can tell us much—beyond this par-are always contested, so that the sites and their meanings

ticular case—about the politics of location in a period of

are subject to interpretation (Hanna and Del Casino 2003;

globalization (Appadurai 2001; Gupta and Ferguson 1997).

Rojek and Urry 1997). My work follows this line of research Two decades ago, Nicaragua was the destination of

insofar as I view tourism as a set of cultural practices that

“tourists of revolution,” in the wry words of poet Lawrence are under constant negotiation and that may illuminate

Ferlinghetti (1984). Now it is being refashioned as the des-broader social and historical processes. Most significantly, I tination of another category of tourists, some adventurous

have sought to contribute to studies of tourism in past and and environmentally conscious and others simply eager

present “danger zones,” in this case a revolutionary society to find an untraveled spot in the tropics. Here I consider

experiencing prolonged instability and civil war, being ever the remaking of the country, from within and without,

mindful of the ideological projects that are under construc-as Nicaragua struggles to make tourism its leading indus-

tion as nations establish the historical accounts that they try (surpassing coffee production), and as an international wish to represent (Gold and Gold 2003; Rojek 1997).

clientele discovers a new region to call its own. Until re-

The first section of this article considers prerevolu-

cently, the revolutionary nation was considered off limits

tionary travel and later “solidarity” travel to the country to uninformed travelers and its inconveniences made even

through textual and ethnographic analysis. The second

Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


section, based on my travel to tourism sites and inter-

scribed as “imperial eyes” producing “the rest of the world”

views with tour operators, government officials, and tourists (1992:5).

themselves, examines the way in which Nicaragua has un-

During four decades prior to the Nicaraguan revolu-

dergone a transition from being a revolutionary destina-

tion, the Somoza family dictatorship held sway and im-

tion to one of interest to mainstream travelers. The third

posed harsh conditions for the majority of citizens of the

section presents evidence from recent research that, con-

country. Nevertheless, the Somoza period held certain plea-

trary to my earlier expectations, indicates that the revo-

sures for the national and international elite. The widely

lution is making a reappearance on the tourist circuit. By

traveled British writer Maureen Tweedy wrote a memoir en-

considering the Nicaraguan case, I will illustrate what may titled This Is Nicaragua (1953), in which she compared the also be observed in other postrevolutionary societies such

country favorably with her own. She paid Nicaragua her

as Cuba, China, and Vietnam, as the past figures in the re-

highest compliment when she wrote, “The placid river flow-

making of these nations for tourism in the present era of

ing so gently through the cattle sprinkled meadows beyond


Nandaime reminds me of the upper reaches of the Thames”

(1953:60). She admired the people as well for their simple, friendly manner, writing, “In the springtime, in preparation NICARAGUAN TRAVEL, PAST AND PRESENT

for Holy Week, the thrifty peasants build huts and shelters Long before revolutionary Nicaragua was remade as a tourist of pineapple leaves, palms and bamboos, to rent to the pic-destination, the country captured the interest of foreigners.

nickers and bathers who throng the beaches” (1953:61). The

In earlier times, the country attracted some adventurous

book concludes with Indian legends, and then advertise-

travelers who were making their way by sea from one coast

ments for Coffee Planter and Exporters based in Managua, as to the other in the United States or who were going on to

well as for the capital city’s Gran Hotel and Lido Palace Hotel Europe via the Central American Isthmus. No less celebrated (see Figure 2), which offered amenities to foreign guests.

a traveler than Mark Twain ventured there with a com-

Folkloric and modern images of the country thus shared

panion by ship from San Francisco during a transatlantic

the same textual space.

voyage in 1866–67. This was only a decade after William

The Sandinista victory in 1979 drew another class of

Walker, the U.S. expansionist, defeated warring factions in travelers to Nicaragua. Journalists, artists and writers, engi-the country and made himself president, ruling for a year

neers, and activists of many backgrounds made their way

before he was routed. Writing Travels with Mr. Brown for the to the country, often in delegations, from the United States San Francisco Alta California, Twain described the passen-and elsewhere. Some stayed for a time and wrote books

gers’ arrival at the Nicaraguan port town of San Juan del

based on interviews with militants and celebrated figures,

Sur during an outbreak of cholera. He and his companion

for example Margaret Randall’s Sandino’s Daughters (1981), found “a few tumble-down frame shanties—they call them

or memoirs, notably Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Seven Days in hotels—nestling among green verdure

and half-clad yel-

Nicaragua Libre (1984) and Salman Rushdie’s The Jaguar




low natives, with bowie-knives two feet long,” the citizens Smile (1987).3 Some visitors came simply to see the revo-of the town (Walker and Dane 1940:39). Some four hun-

lutionary society for themselves and others determined to

dred passengers endured 12 miles of land travel by horse,

stay a year or longer in order to contribute to what many of mule, and vehicle to Lake Nicaragua in order to cross the

them viewed as the most significant process of social trans-Isthmus. This gave the two men a chance to appreciate

formation in the Americas since the Cuban revolution. A

the passing scene, about which Twain wrote, “Our interest

cottage industry in guidebooks for internacionalistas (inter-finally moderated somewhat in the native women


national activists) grew out of the solidarity movement in-




never did the party cease to consider the wild monkey a

flux to Nicaragua during the 1980s.

charming novelty and a joy forever” (Walker and Dane

The new travel guides were an amalgamation of brief


historical and cultural background, emphasizing the pro-

In the 1880s, a female member of the east coast

found changes recently brought about, along with practical

elite named Dora Hort made the trip from New York

information about where to find cheap lodging and meals,

by steamer along with her sister, a gentleman compan-

survive the tropical heat, and link up with other solidarity ion, four nephews and nieces, and a male servant, cross-workers. One, entitled (like Tweedy’s book) This Is Nicaragua ing the Central American Isthmus before taking a boat

(1988), was made available in several languages by the

bound for San Francisco. The fascination that this Victo-

Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism and could be purchased on

rian lady traveler held for Nicaragua and its people is re-

arrival in Managua. It mimicked standard travel books in

vealed in her memoir, Via Nicaragua, published in 1887.

its attention to the natural environment and the everyday

Hort describes the arduous trek through jungle with bril-

concerns of getting around a new place, but with one major

liant birds and an “imbecile” guide who led them across

difference: The guide begins by celebrating the “General of to the “uninteresting, desolate hamlet of San Juan del

Free Men,” national hero Augusto César Sandino who was

Sur” (Agos´ın and Levision 1999:223)—which has become

killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934, and by herald-

a popular resort town in recent years. Early travel writers ing “a new geography for a new nation” (1988:xi–xiii). In-like Hort exemplify what Mary Louise Pratt has aptly de-

deed, the Sandinista government redivided the country into



American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

FIGURE 2. Advertisements appearing in travel writer Maureen Tweedy’s This Is Nicaragua (Ipswitch, England 1953).

political and geographic regions and gave revolutionary

named for an urban combatant who was shot in the neigh-

names to the streets and neighborhoods of the capital city.

borhood by the National Guard in 1978. The barrio is some-

The new political culture was imprinted on the national

times referred to as “Gringolandia,” since so many U.S. and landscape, not only through rezoning and renaming but

European travelers have made its inexpensive hostels their

also through the widespread painting of murals and con-

base camp. Buses arrive and depart frequently in this barrio struction of monuments to the people’s history of struggle

for neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, so that there is a (Kunzle 1995; Sheesley 1991; Whisnant 1995).

steady flow of budget and activist travelers making their way Some guidebooks were clearly directed to the new breed

through Central America, along with others who stay much

of visitors to the country. Not Just Another Nicaragua Travel longer in Nicaragua. From the barrio, travelers may walk

Guide (Hulme et al. 1990) proclaimed its intention loudly, to the shore of Lake Managua and pay respects nearby in

and ads in its front matter included not just hotels and car Plaza de la Revoluci ón (now renamed Plaza de la Rep ública); rental agencies but also language and culture schools, fair there they may visit the National Palace (now the National

trade coffee outlets, and the Bikes Not Bombs recycling out-Museum), which was famously taken during the insurrec-

fit in Managua. Readers were congratulated for choosing to

tion by Sandinista Comandantes Eden Pastora and Dora

travel to a place that was “poised on the cutting edge of his-Mar´ıa Téllez, and the tomb of the celebrated martyr Carlos tory,” serving as a “perfect vantage point to study the world”


(1990:9). The country was summed up in a few words: “Rev-

After the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections to the op-

olution. Empty beaches. Lifelong friends and cheap rum.

position candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, some loyal

Priests, poets and rocking chairs” (1990:9). Many young

solidarity workers remained in the country and some curi-

people from the United States used the book to find their

ous travelers continued to arrive looking for traces of rev-way to Managua’s centrally located Barrio Martha Quesada,

olution. Their number was much reduced, but they could


Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


FIGURE 3. Cartoon appearing in In These Times in 1987, entitled “The American Leftists,” with references to internationalist supporters of the Sandinista revolution. (With permission from Jennifer Berman) be recognized by their oversized backpacks and copies of

casual remark presages the rapid sales of islands to foreign-such “alternative” resources as the Ulysses travel guide to ers, as recently trumpeted in Condé Nast Traveler.

Nicaragua (see Figure 3). In its second edition, author Carol Wood’s (1999) tone is still sympathetic to the Sandinista

government and what it accomplished, but she acknowl-


edges that Nicaraguans became weary of the U.S. opposition

The Chamorro government did not bring about the eco-

that produced the Contra war and the economic embargo.

nomic recovery that had been promised following the

There is more attention to the natural wonders of the coun-

national election, but political stability was gradually

try than to its politics. Indeed, the guide even urges visitors achieved with the cooperation of the Sandinista party.

not to miss touring the Isletas, the small islands in Lake

When the United States failed to offer assistance at the

Nicaragua, noting that “It’s a great spot to dream about liv-level expected and international coffee prices plummeted,

ing on your own little tropical paradise” (1999:162). This

Nicaragua sought to develop tourism. By the mid-1990s


American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (INTUR), in collabo-

Before making my way to INTUR (part of the govern-

ration with the national universities, promoted tourism as

ment’s Ministry of Tourism) in Managua in 2002, I had been

a key area for professional training. Reports of increasing interested to discover its colorful and attractive website.4

levels of tourism showed that while the largest influx of vis-The site offers a brief introduction to the country, a friendly itors still came from the Central American region, a new

appeal to tourists, and advice to those investing in the

class of tourists was coming to the country from the United tourist industry or buying up private property. The IN-States and Europe. Efforts were made to capture more of this TUR office itself, tucked away just a few blocks from the

market, through improvements in infrastructure catering to

landmark Intercontinental Hotel, was not as impressive. A

tourists and more effective means of marketing the coun-

woman at a desk in the small reception area welcomed me

try as a tourist destination (Ministerio de Turismo 1995). By and offered several brochures featuring the usual half dozen the year 2000, the annual number of visitors to Nicaragua

attractions, all outside of Managua: Masaya and its volcano, approached 500,000, significant in a country with a popu-Granada, Le ón, San Juan del Sur, Montelimar, and the R´ıo

lation of four million—although as many as half came for

San Juan (serious travelers would also be told about Selva

business rather than pleasure. The goal became to entice vis-Negra and the Atlantic Coast). She told me that on a typical itors to stay longer and spend more money, and to provide

day only about three visitors come to their office. Across

more facilities for them to enjoy during their stay (Instituto the street, there was more activity in INTUR’s documen-Nicaragüense de Turismo 2001:5).

tation center, as secondary school and university students

To that end, a number of sites have been enhanced

crowded the few tables there. The woman heading the cen-

and promoted for tourism. The premier Pacific Coast beach

ter confirmed that they were students of tourism, which

destination Montelimar, which formerly was owned by the

has replaced computer school as young people’s best hope

Somoza family and then nationalized under the Sandin-

for future employment. The walls of the room were deco-

istas, was sold to the Spanish interest Barcel ó and turned rated with framed pictures of the country’s natural beauty

into a five-star, all-inclusive resort. San Juan del Sur worked and folklore; a portrait of a woman entitled “India Bonita”

hard to attract cruise ships to its sleepy fishing village and to was emblematic of both aspects that INTUR hoped would

appeal to a younger and environmentally conscious clien-

enhance tourism (field notes, June 18, 2002).

tele to come to newly constructed guest houses and hotels.

Although Managua has had a major facelift, with im-

Selva Negra, in the mountainous north, also sought to capi-

proved roads, a new city center, hotels, casinos, and shop-

talize on a more robust tourist industry to draw visitors to its ping malls in the area left devastated by an earthquake in

German-style cottages and restaurant, where guests could

1972, Stephen Kinzer, writing in the New York Times, re-visit the local coffee plantation and walk through tropical cently described it as “still among the ugliest capital cities in forest to spot howler monkeys and exotic birds. The colo-the hemisphere” (2002:10–12). Visitors to the city are gen-

nial city of Granada was privileged to have a more com-

erally there on professional business, as I learned during for-plete makeover as a charming destination or stopping-over

ays into the Princess Hotel, Holiday Inn, and Hotel Legends.

place for those traveling through the country. Already an

Employees at the hotels offer suggestions about night spots architectural marvel and historical draw, the city received and a few places worth visiting in the city, but in general international support to renovate and restore its cathedral, Managua is regarded as uninviting to international visitors convent, central plaza, cultural institute, and oldest ho-who would rather venture out to other parts of the coun-

tel, making it attractive to international visitors. By adding try. Tour operators often recommend just a half day in the

canopy tours of the nearby forest and boat trips to the Islecity to see the ancient footsteps of Acahualinca (evidence of tas, the city has catered to the diverse interests of travelers early human presence), the National Museum and the Na-in recent years.

tional Theatre, and the view from Sandino Park. Those who

Research over the last decade in Nicaragua has al-

stay longer might visit the artisan market known as Huem-

lowed me to observe the refashioning of Managua, Granada,

bes, the malecón (promenade) alongside Lake Managua, or Montelimar, and other well-traveled areas—indeed the

(until Hurricane Mitch) the volcanic Lake Xiloa just out-

country as a whole—as part of the national effort to attract side the city—but they find a better market for shopping

tourist dollars (Babb 2001a, 2001b). On arrival at Managua’s in nearby Masaya and a lovelier lake in Catarina just 40

international airport, recently spruced up with five million minutes away.

dollars in U.S. support, visitors are greeted by signs for high-Indeed, many bypass the sprawling capital alto-

end hotels and the Hard Rock Café, in addition to the old

gether by going directly from the international airport to

signs for Victoria Beer and Flor de Ca˜

na rum. Since 2000, I

Montelimar about an hour away on the coast or traveling

have gone where tourists travel, consulted tourist agencies, in tour groups through Central America and stopping only

and interviewed those in the industry and government as

in the more historic cities of Le ón and Granada before head-well as tourists themselves. Thus, I have considered how

ing on to San José, Costa Rica. The ruins of Old Le ón have formerly revolutionary Nicaragua has readied itself for an

a unique distinction in Nicaragua as a designated UNESCO

influx of newcomers who may know and care little about

World Heritage Site (Patrimonio Mundial). The colonial city the country’s unique history and who expect to find a well-of Le ón may soon emerge as the most popular destination in established tourist industry in place.

the country for tourism (as some operators predict), but for Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


now Granada draws the greatest number of international

Granada when he told me that at present there are only

visitors, as well as a growing expatriate community of re-

about 450 beds in first- to third-class hotels in the city of tirees from the United States.

some 100,000 residents. Most people who travel there are

Visits to Granada, which claims to be the oldest city

either backpackers, who spend little money, or Nicaraguans

in the hemisphere (much of it destroyed in a fire ordered

coming back to visit relatives over the holidays, who spend by the failed dictator William Walker in 1856), provided

even less (but who may bring gifts and monetary remit-

opportunities to observe and query travelers and residents.

tances). Thus, despite heavy reliance on financial support

They are a diverse group, ranging from the so-called relax

from Spain, Sweden, and other nations to restore the city

category of international travelers and long-time residents to its former grandeur, the present potential for tourism is in Managua wishing to get away from the “big city,” to day-limited (Stadtler, personal interview, June 22, 2002).

trippers traveling in from the Pacific Coast, to backpackers Nevertheless, tourism was touted in a two-page article

pleased to find cheap accommodations in a place modern

from the New York Times (Rohter 1997: sec. 5, p. 10) that was enough to have Internet cafés and a laid-back attitude. Well-still displayed prominently five years after publication on a heeled visitors stay at the landmark Hotel Alhambra with its stand adjacent to the Alhambra’s registration desk. Entitled arcade looking out on the central plaza or at newer and more

“Nicaragua on the Mend,” the article averred:

expensive places like the Hotel Colonial. Several restaurants Seven years after its brutal civil war, the country is at

cater to this clientele, who are sought after by guides clam-peace and putting out the welcome mat

For more than





oring to provide package tours for fees that are very high by a decade, the only foreigners likely to visit Nicaragua

local standards (field notes, June 21, 2003).

in any numbers were “internationalists,” sympathizers

European and U.S. travelers on limited budgets stay at

of the Sandinista revolution inspired by the idea of

the Hospedaje Central (Central Hostel) or other inexpensive sharing the hardships and dangers of a country under


Ordinary visitors were encouraged to stay away.

lodging a few blocks from the plaza. The popular Bearded





[Rohter 1997:10]

Monkey, a hostel operated by a young couple from England

and the United States, is reminiscent of the hippie genera-

But, the author asserted, “Nicaragua has changed enor-

tion. Guests at this hostel listen to mellow music from places mously” (1997:10). Quoting Nicaragua’s Minister of

distant from Nicaragua’s shores as they relax in hammocks,

Tourism, Pedro Joaqu´ın Chamorro: “We are on the brink

eat natural food at the small restaurant, borrow books and

of an awakening to tourism

We want to make tourism





videos from a lending library, and contemplate their travels.

the main product of Nicaragua, and we plan to do that by

Access to the Internet and to phones for making interna-

promoting our country as an exotic destination at a reason-

tional calls—as well as arrangements for getting a massage

able price” (1997:10).

or even a tattoo—add to the hostel’s “hip” appeal. Speaking Nicaragua is represented in various ways to different

with travelers at several of these venues in Granada, I found potential travel clienteles. To Nicaraguans themselves, no-that few knew much about Nicaragua’s recent political his-

tably the elite, there are efforts to eclipse the revolutionary tory, or if they did, it was little more than what they read past and show continuity from the Somoza family regime

in the Lonely Planet guidebook.5

through the present, excising the Sandinista decade in a

At the other end of the spectrum are the retired resi-

new revisionist history. A video produced a few years ago

dents who have come to live in Granada in recent years.

by the government’s Institute of Culture, Managua en mi Some have turned to Nicaragua rather than Costa Rica

corazón (Managua in My Heart, 1997), shows the capital (a neighboring competitor for tourism and property owner-city in ruins after the earthquake and, as if immediately af-ship) because they find it to be less expensive and to suffer ter, the rebuilding of the 1990s, with no indication of the less from the overdevelopment of tourism. One tour oper-social transformation that occurred a decade before—and

ator went so far as to credit the revolution for having held no irony as the spectacle of movie marquees and huge traf-off tourism development long enough that the city may

fic circles are deployed as hallmarks of modernity. Another now thrive. Capitalizing on Nicaraguans’ willingness to sell video, Tierra M´ıa, Nicaragua (My Land, Nicaragua, 2001), off property at locally high prices (only to see the value

is directed to Nicaraguans living outside the country, es-

soar quickly in the hands of foreign investors and property pecially in the United States, luring them back with the

owners), Granada’s historic center is fast becoming “Amer-

promise that “When you return to Nicaragua, it will all be

icanized.” All five real estate offices in the city are owned as you remember.” Nostalgic images in both videos serve

by U.S. citizens, men who see an opportunity to “get rich

up a shared history and cultural identity that scarcely ex-

quick.” In interviews with two of them, I discovered that

isted in order to endorse the present national project of

they fit the local pattern of older “gringo” males linking


up with local “Nica” girlfriends or wives who were young

The shared cultural identity that is frequently held out

enough to be their granddaughters—trophies and service

to both Nicaraguans and international visitors generally re-providers in their businesses and homes.

lies more on memories of the natural beauty of the land,

An Austrian historian now living in Granada, Dieter

its people, and ceremonial traditions than it does on any

Stadtler, has been central to the restoration project in the moments in the nation’s history. Localities like the Pacity. He qualified the enthusiastic reports of tourism in

cific Coast beaches, the mountainous north with its exotic


American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

birds and monkeys, and the R´ıo San Juan bordering Costa

of the arrangement. Men from the United States, traveling

Rica serve to invoke longings in those whose origins are

or living in Nicaragua, have told me of their surprise in

in the country, as well as in those who know these places

being approached by young women and girls—and, some-

only through INTUR’s website or the available guidebooks.

times, young men and boys—offering sexual services for

Music, dance, performances, and masks worn in traditional

payment. There is a gendered politics of tourism as women

fiestas and rituals serve to conjure idealized and timeless and girls cater to male desires, whether for sexual or other sentiments of belonging for insiders and exoticism for new-services. Of course, women travelers may also expect and

comers. Urban attractions like the central plazas of Le ón and enjoy the services of male providers in the tourist industry, Granada, with their colonial-era cathedrals, arcades, and

but from what I have observed these are far less often sexual monuments, invoke the nation’s often conflicted past when

in nature.8

Liberals and Conservatives of the two cities vied for control; the political turmoil of the 19th and early 20th centuries


is sufficiently distant that it may safely be remembered in One may ask which Nicaragua will be promoted and con-travel promotion literature and city tours. In contrast to

sumed in the future: popular or elite, traditional or modern, other parts of Latin America where indigenous culture and

environmentally conscious or exotic and culturally differ-

identity are utilized to encourage tourism, in Nicaragua only ent? How will the recent revolutionary past figure, if at all, the area of Masaya is known for its indigenous artisans and in the imaginations of travelers to the country? First, I will uses this association to draw domestic and foreign visitors consider the last several decades of tourism in the coun-

(Scruggs 1999). The Nicaraguan “myth of mestizaje” power-try and then turn to the evidence that the revolution may

fully erases cultural difference so that one finds only passing be making a comeback on the tourist circuit—even if the

references to enduring indigenous peoples and places. The

Sandinistas themselves have not returned to power.

recently constructed Güegüense Plaza in central Managua is

While there are few published sources that address

a singular landmark celebrating the foundational narrative

tourism during the Sandinista period, one analysis takes a

of mestiza Nicaragua as a land where the indigenous and

harshly critical stance on “political hospitality and tourism”

the European long ago fused into one shared identity.6

of that time. In a report published by the right-wing

Related to this homogenized depiction of Nicaraguan

Cuban American National Foundation, sociologist Paul

culture, there is little marketing of crafts and other prod-Hollander (1986) argues that the Nicaraguan wave of “po-

ucts unique to regions in Nicaragua such as one finds

litical tourism” followed the Cuban model in cultivating

in Guatemala, Ecuador, or Peru. Travelers may take home

global support for the revolutionary government in the

handmade hammocks, rocking chairs, wall hangings, black

1980s. He notes that visitors in solidarity tours were treated coral jewelry, leather belts, carved wooden birds, CDs of

to devoted service and generally close monitoring, result-

traditional music, and even shellacked frogs playing marim-

ing in a selective view of the country. Hollander singles

bas, but taken together this does not provide a great deal of out the Sandinista Minister of the Interior at that time,

revenue in the country. Some effort is being directed toward Tomás Borge, for his generous hospitality toward interna-producing higher-quality items for tourist consumption as

tional visitors, particularly those of high social or politi-part of a national initiative to support small industries and cal stature. While the report’s excessively negative view of microenterprises. However, tourists I have interviewed com-the revolutionary government and political tourists should

plain that the country’s artesan´ıa “all looks the same,” as be questioned, the account is nonetheless revealing of cer-if mass-marketed, and more foreign currency is spent on

tain aspects of the period. Hollander is correct in suggest-ephemeral pleasures such as lodging, dining, and sightsee-

ing that some travelers were so enamored of Nicaragua that

ing. An emphasis on adventure tourism has expanded the

they wrote uncritical, reverential travelogues.9 Staging tours offerings to include not only fishing, hunting, boating, and to appeal to visitors and leave them with a favorable im-swimming but also surfing, kayaking, forest canopy tours,

pression of the country is hardly unique to Nicaragua or

hot-air balloon rides, and biking down the sides of still-

Cuba, but these nations’ revolutionary governments have

active volcanoes.7

been highly motivated to counter mainstream U.S. views

Whether sex tourism will be added to the list (unof-

through carefully constructed tourism. The 100,000 visitors ficially) as a significant aspect of international travel to from the U.S. who visited Nicaragua between 1979 and the

Nicaragua remains to be seen, though there is already in-

time of Hollander’s writing (1986) did indeed play a part

creased prostitution, sometimes associated with nightclubs

in undercutting the effectiveness of Reagan’s Central Amer-

and casinos in urban areas and no doubt growing as a re-

ica policy when they returned home to earnestly spread the

sult of high unemployment and economic need. Young

word about the revolution that was under way.

girls await clients along the road to the international air-Munditur, a tourism company owned by a Nicaraguan

port and in Granada’s central plaza, and sex workers—

family, had its start in the pre-Sandinista period. In an inter-including transvestites—are now commonplace in certain

view, the head of the domestic travel division spoke about

locations around Managua. Massage and lap dancing are

the early years, dating from when they opened for busi-

commonly advertised now in urban centers, and reports

ness in 1966.10 Adán Gaitán was just 11 years old at the

indicate that sexual satisfaction is often an assumed part

time that Munditur was established by his family who, after Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


living some years in the United States and Argentina, re-

book (Berman and Wood 2002), offer only brief historical turned to Nicaragua to launch one of the earliest travel and background. Perhaps, like returning Nicaraguans, these vis-tourism agencies in the country (Gaitán, personal interview, itors will forget the revolution they never knew and seek

July 1, 2003). While attending the American Nicaraguan

fulfillment of the sort that Irving Berlin described in the school, he earned a few dollars by taking tourists to Masaya lyrics to the song quoted in this article’s epigraph: the sat-or Granada or on an afternoon tour of Managua—the tourist

isfaction of enjoying, or even purchasing, a place in the

option still offered today by a majority of tour operators in tropical sun.

the country. After graduating from the school, he worked in The government’s tourism office, INTUR, would clearly

the family’s travel agency (Munditur Viajes) and in Mundi-

like visitors to shed the notion of Nicaragua as a place of tur Sightseeing Tours before going on to study law. In 1976

political conflict and of danger, and to discover a land of he founded the National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR),

beautiful landscape and friendly people. Both the director of and he has continued to play a leadership role in tourism

Promotion and Marketing, Ra úl Calvet, and the head of the

development and in promoting what he calls “a tourist

Image and International Relations section of INTUR, Regina


Hurtado, expressed this sentiment (personal interview, June In the mid-1980s, when the Sandinistas were in power,

27, 2003). Hurtado emphasized the “image problem” in

the business was “confiscated,” and Herty Lewites, a Sandin-Nicaragua, which since the 1980s and 1990s has been

ista who is currently the mayor of Managua, was responsi-

viewed as “dangerous.” She confronts the problem by seek-

ble for seizing their tour vehicles and imprisoning several ing to give a positive impression to the international press family members. After the 1990 election of Chamorro’s gov-on whom they depend to build a market. To that end, they

ernment the business started up again, but the family’s ex-

work with mayors throughout the country and seek guid-

perience during the Sandinista period colors Gaitán’s politance from a world tourism organization. In addition, their

ical outlook today. He remembers the Sandinistas’ tourism

institute conducted a survey at the international airport and division, Turnica, and the consequences of state control of found that, in fact, many tourists came to Nicaragua with

travel in the country. He offers the example of the Intercon-vague notions of a country that had been at war but left

tinental Hotel in Managua, one of the few notable structures with admiration for the welcoming people they met there.

that was not destroyed in the 1972 earthquake, which un-

INTUR has promoted tourism development through an

der the Sandinistas made no profit as income went into state incentive law, which benefits hotels, restaurants, and other coffers. Like other tour operators, he resents the period of highly capitalized venues that reflect large investments—

Sandinista government expropriation of private businesses

not the small-scale artisans whom tourists often desire to

and the legal decision made in the 1980s to keep travel and meet and from whom they wish to buy souvenirs. Nicaragua

tour companies separate, so that even today their business

has participated with its neighboring countries in a cam-

carries an extra tax burden.

paign to draw tourism to the region, targeting Europe in

When the ruins of Old Le ón were uncovered in the late

particular with the slogan “Central America: So small





1960s, Munditur was the first to offer tours there, and they big

” Yet Nicaragua also competes with Guatemala and




have continued to offer city tours in Granada, Masaya, and

Costa Rica for tourist revenue, and in those countries “the Managua. However, they have become best known for their

tourist product has been more clearly identified “(Hurtado, dove- and duck-hunting trips in the San Juan River area,

personal interview, June 27, 2003). Most who choose to

their “jungle safaris,” and sport fishing. Gaitán is proud

spend time in Nicaragua fit the category of “adventure

to play host to well-known business, media, and sports

tourists” (the backpackers) and do not expect a high level

figures from the United States—for example, people from

of comfort or sophisticated service infrastructure—though

Exxon, ESPN, Hollywood, and the Texas Rangers—and to of-

INTUR would like to “sell Nicaragua” to more tourists with

fer high-end tourism with great attention to detail. The kind money to spend.

of sport and adventure tourism that Munditur promotes re-

The wealthiest tourists may be those who stop briefly

lies on careful advance planning and a quality “product”

on cruises handled by Careli Tours, a Swiss-owned tour com-

(i.e., tour package), and their clients have little need to come pany with a Central America office in Costa Rica. However,

versed in Nicaraguan history and culture or to know how

those passengers landing at San Juan del Sur and traveling

to maneuver around the country independently. Gaitán

for a half day to Granada or Montelimar are not filling hotel would like to see Nicaragua shed its old image and attract

rooms or leaving significant revenue behind. More potential more travelers who are like his discerning customers; as he lies in those travelers visiting and occasionally remaining to put it, “The image of Nicaragua is like a lady that has not buy property in the colonial city of Granada. If there is con-washed off her old makeup to put on her new makeup.”11

cern about the cultural impact on the local population, it

For the majority of tourists who do not have a thou-

manifests only in the city’s requirement for historic preser-sand dollars per day to spend on the sort of travel described vation; foreign investors and retirees in general are better by Gaitán, guidebooks are all important in preparing them

able than Nicaraguans to maintain the colonial heritage,

to make their way around the country. Several in current

making them desirable property owners, at least in the short use, Let’s Go Central America (Gardner 2000), the Footprint term. INTUR officials have adopted the language of market-Nicaragua Handbook (Leonardi 2001), and the Moon Hand-ing, telling me that in order to attract such individuals they



American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

need a “national brand”—something to capture buyers’ at-

tention. Added to this, they seek to develop a “come-back

package” to appeal to the many Nicaraguans who left the

country during the Sandinista period and need to be coaxed

back with nostalgic and sanitized images of the country of

their childhood and early adulthood. The video Tierra M´ıa, Nicaragua (My Land, Nicaragua, 2001), mentioned earlier, is marketed to this target group, complete with discount

coupons to use on their return. For this clientele, references to the recent revolutionary past are to be avoided at any

cost (Hurtado, personal interview, June 27, 2003).

However, for some travelers there is a certain cachet

in referencing the revolutionary society that has left only traces. Several young backpackers indicated to me that they had selected Nicaragua just because of its “different” and

more “radical” image. One man from the United States told

me that his mother had been to Costa Rica but, for him,

Nicaragua held more hope of adventure: Whereas Costa

Rica represented comfortable middle age, Nicaragua had a

more youthful image. A young Russian woman traveling

with him came because she was intrigued by the coun-

try’s revolutionary past, and she made some comparisons

from her own experience living in a postsocialist society

(field notes, June 30, 2003). Some lingering “humanitar-

ian” groups that come to the country for shorter or longer

periods are better aware of the revolutionary past and, de-

pending on their politics, wish to revive the cooperative

spirit of the past or to replace it with a “forward-thinking”

entrepreneurial outlook suitable to the neoliberal present.

I want to suggest that in due time, and, perhaps, sooner

rather than later, the Sandinista revolution will be restored to history, even if rehabilitated to suit specific political desires. Kinzer, in his recent travel article on Granada, reflects on the distant past of a city torn apart by rival political factions and ravaged by William Walker in the 19th century

FIGURE 4. Postcard with iconic photograph of Sandinista woman with nursing child and gun over her shoulder. The image, cap-but only notes in passing “the civil war that tore the countured by photographer Orlando Valenzuela, has circulated widely try apart during the 1980’s” ( New York Times 2002:12). Some in Nicaragua and throughout the world.

years from now, I anticipate that tourists visiting Nicaragua may hear idealized references to the Sandinistas and their

struggle in much the same way that they now hear about

travelers would begin to have other images as well. When

the warring Conservatives and Liberals of the more distant

he described the problem as one of romanticizing the rev-


olution, I reached into my bag and pulled out a postcard

At INTUR, Ra úl Calvet spoke with me about the ten-

with another image of a young Sandinista with rifle over

dency, not only in Nicaragua but also elsewhere in Latin

her shoulder, this one the iconic image of a woman smiling

America, to reference the more distant past in relating his-with a nursing baby in her arms, from a photograph that has tory to tourist audiences (personal interview, June 27, 2003).

circulated widely in Nicaragua and beyond (see Figure 4).12

Stories of political conflicts of the 19th century serve to pro-This image is found on countless postcard racks as well as

mote tourism, while those of the 20th century may still

on T-shirts and other items sold to tourists.

scare it away. Nonetheless, there are some travelers who

A lively conversation followed about whether with the

are attracted to lingering notions of “danger.” Calvet de-

passage of time the revolution might be considered “safer”

scribed a young European who came to the INTUR office

for tourists—which the director found plausible.13 The evi-

and chatted awhile about travel in Nicaragua. As the man

dence of this may be seen in the widespread availability of was leaving, Calvet was surprised to see that on the back

revolutionary images on tourist items sold in popular mar-

of his T-shirt was the image of a Nicaraguan woman with

kets, and in the government resources recently given to turn an AK-47. He called the man back to say that it was fine if Sandino Park into a national site to draw both Nicaraguans

this was the image he chose to have of Nicaragua, but that

and tourists. High on a hill in the center of Managua, the

as director of Promotion and Marketing, Calvet hoped that

park’s towering silhouette of Sandino had been given a new

Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


lighting system before Mayor Herty Lewites inaugurated the

little to benefit tourism. Borge was particularly aggrieved by park in June 2003. Many came to the opening, which inthe high-level political appointment at INTUR of a woman

cluded a photographic exhibition that recalled the Presi-

who held him responsible for the death of her father in the dential Palace of the past dictatorship, located on the hill-insurrection—straining their working relationship as offi-

top before the earthquake brought it down. The mayor had

cials seeking to promote tourism.

plans to build a history museum to further memorialize the

While it may be surprising that Borge would make


tourism the centerpiece of his political activity, he empha-Around the time of the park’s inauguration, I learned

sized that if, for example, there were a U.S. invasion of Cuba, of a Sandinista Revolution Tour, departing from Managua

he would drop tourism in a minute to enlist to fight Yankee and traveling to visit monuments and museums in the city

imperialism. At the end of our taped conversation, I in-

of Le ón. I attempted to track it down, going from a hotel

quired about his views of the development of Managua’s

where it was advertised to the place where the tour op-

Sandino Park. Borge remarked that he himself was the prin-

erator was said to be available, but like many other ini-

cipal Sandinista held and tortured there while a prisoner

tiatives in Nicaragua, this one was ephemeral. Nonethe-

for nine months, and he supports opening the park to the

less, other solidarity tours have continued to operate in

public so that its history may be better known. It is clear the country, including the San Francisco–based organiza-that for Borge, tourism is an important economic venture

tion that takes groups for the annual July 19 march in honor for the country, but if it can be linked to furthering the goals of the triumph of the revolution and the Wisconsin sister-of the revolution to which he remains committed, so much

city project that takes activists to the country each June.14

the better.

Even Careli Tours considered offering a specialized trip in The 54-foot silhouette of the hero Augusto César

the footsteps of Augusto César Sandino, commemorating

Sandino that dominates the Tiscapa hilltop overlook-

the route he and his men followed (1927–34) in their op-

ing Managua is an enduring icon of the revolution (see

position to the Nicaraguan National Guard, although this

Figure 5).16 Created by Sandinista poet and artist Ernesto

did not turn out to be feasible (Henry Urbina, personal in-

Cardenal, the work was installed just as Daniel Ortega was

terview, June 27, 2003).

leaving office and Violeta Chamorro was entering as pres-

Given the capitalist orientation of neoliberalism and

ident in 1990. The symbolic value of raising the image of

the profit motivation of tourism in Nicaragua, it is notable Sandino on the site of the bunker and torture chambers of

that Tomás Borge, a comandante of the Sandinista revo-

past dictator Somoza was great, and because the military re-lution and current member of the National Assembly, is

mained under Sandinista leadership the site was protected.

the head of the Tourism Commission. In an interview one

Violeta Chamorro dedicated the area around the statue as

evening by the pool outside a small hotel he owns, he of-

a national park in 1996, and Herty Lewites, the Sandin-

fered a number of observations regarding what a Sandin-

ista mayor of Managua, made improvements in 2000. Now

ista perspective on tourism might offer (personal interview, there is a sign out by the Intercontinental Hotel beckoning June 30, 2003). First, he stated that the Sandinistas would tourists to follow the newly paved road and visit the statue win the next election and would not only make tourism

and well-kept park that honors the national hero and mar-

the number one industry but would also make it clean and

tyr. Although young Nicaraguan couples may wander there

healthful, free of the sex tourism and casinos that are tak-simply for the privacy it affords them and some tourists go ing hold in the country. He shared the concern of officials at there principally for the view of the city, other Nicaraguans INTUR that Nicaragua’s image of conflict and instability has and tourists I interviewed wanted to pay their respects to

been an obstacle to developing tourism, and he imagined a

the history that was made at the site.

tourism that would draw attention to the natural beauty of

Other monuments to the revolution have remained on

the land and the hospitality of the people.

view in the capital city. The tomb of Carlos Fonseca, founder When questioned about the historical understanding

of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (the FSLN

that travelers bring to Nicaragua and what they know about

party), is quietly guarded in the city’s central plaza, formerly the revolution, Borge responded that they have little knowl-known as Plaza de la Revoluci ón. After his death as a martyr edge and come for the beach, mountains, and adventure. He

in 1976 and on the revolution’s victory, Fonseca’s remains

imagined that, in the future, tourism might be reoriented

were placed at this site. However, after 1990, the tomb was toward historical questions and, within the parameters of

left untended and its flame was extinguished, and two years adventure tourism, guide visitors along the routes taken by later it was blown up by a bomb. Immediately, the Sandin-the Sandinistas during the insurrection of the late 1970s.15

ista faithful rebuilt the tomb and a vigilant sympathizer set He referred often to Cuba as a model for developing tourism, up camp to protect the father of the revolution. Nonethe-expressing admiration for Cuba’s success in replacing sugar less, in 2002 I found that the two women cleaning the site

export with tourism as its leading industry and in attracting (one wearing a scarf imprinted with the U.S. flag) indicated numerous visitors to their famed beaches and other attrac-little awareness of the tomb’s history (field notes, June 19, tions. Borge felt certain that in Nicaragua, just as in Cuba, 2002).

tourism would serve to rescue the national economy. But at

One more monument, highly visible in central

present, he stressed, the Liberal party government has done Managua, is an immense bronze statue created by Franz



American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

quake and is only one of a number of locations where his

statue is on display. Sandino’s ubiquitous image still ap-

pears on walls and buildings around the country. For many

Nicaraguans and some visitors to the country, these two

anti-imperialist figures who died in the early decades of the 20th century are recognized as distinguished national symbols of pride. To a significant degree, Sandino, like Dar´ıo, has been appropriated by the cultural and political elite

and thus rendered safe for both domestic and international


On my most recent visit to Nicaragua in 2003, I was

struck by the growing and widespread appearance of the

image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, resurfacing at a time when

revolutionary icons were increasingly fashionable. I dis-

covered an FSLN gathering in Granada honoring Carlos

Fonseca, Che Guevara, and Nicaraguan–Cuban solidarity,

and found a new monument in central Managua with Che’s

famous portrait wearing a beret. His image was in less likely places as well, perhaps as a kitsch rather than revolutionary icon. A café alongside a real estate office by the central plaza in Granada, a place frequented by expatriate retirees from

the United States, had the name Café Che and the familiar

image painted on the wall; coffee mugs with the same like-

ness and logo were also for sale. The waitress informed me

that the café had actually been renamed “Nacho Mama’s,”

but the familiar logo was still in use. Necklaces and T-shirts with Che’s image were sold and worn everywhere, especially

popular among young men who were no doubt attracted to

this symbol of revolutionary masculinity.19

Nicaraguans offered several responses to the question

of why the image of Che had become so widespread. For

some, it was enough to say that as Sandinistas they em-

FIGURE 5. Postcard with photograph of General Augusto C ésar braced Che’s image, while others noted the international-Sandino (1895–1934), legendary namesake of the Sandinista Na-ism of Che’s politics. I have concluded that, at one and

tional Liberation Front. Today, his image circulates on postcards and the same time, Che represents both a safer, more remote,

T-shirts, and his silhouette stands high over Managua in Sandino Park.

and non-Nicaraguan radicalism, and in other instances a

more radical longing at a time when Sandinista party pol-

itics are viewed as either “watered down” or contaminated

Orozco to honor the “Popular Combatant,” a man of ex-

by a “pact” between the Sandinista and Liberal parties. One aggerated proportions raising a rifle in one hand and hold-young man who was wearing a Che necklace told me rather

ing a worker’s pick in the other. Often referred to familiarly vaguely, “Some say he fought in the Cuban revolution. Oth-as “Rambo,” the statue was commissioned by the Min-

ers say in Bolivia” (field notes, June 24, 2003). Another man istry of Public Construction and inaugurated in 1985 on

was more certain that both Sandino and Che were revo-

the anniversary of the revolution. There was an attempt

lutionary and anti-imperialist, but whereas Sandino repre-

to destroy the monument with sticks of dynamite in the

sented the “national,” Che was “more universal.” A street

early 1990s, but only the iron around one heel of the

vendor was eager to assure me that those who bought his

figure was damaged.17 “Rambo” continues to greet travelers

Sandino and Che T-shirts were not “communists” but only

driving into Managua from the international airport who

wished to wear the popular images. In any event, there are

may be surprised by so militant a monument in neoliberal

many Nicaraguans and tourists alike who appear to admire


both men as legendary and to sport their portraits as broad While the celebrated modernist poet Rubén Dar´ıo, who

symbols of cultural and political opposition (field notes,

was born in a small town near Le ón in 1867 and died in

June 20–30, 2003).

1916, is not always mentioned in the same breath as the

revolutionary hero Sandino, there are increasingly frequent WHAT REMAINS: TOURISM AND RECYCLED

references to the two together as heroic and revolutionary


icons—both cultural and political. Managua’s prestigious

Originally, I had planned to study tourism and revo-

National Theatre named after Dar´ıo withstood the earth-

lution, which seemed to me to name the two poles of

Babb • Recycled Sandalistas


modern consciousness—a willingness to accept, even

of the traditional Atlantic-coast palo de mayo dance, pack-venerate, things as they are on the one hand, a desire to

ages of Casa del Café coffee beans, and Flor de Ca˜

na rum,

transform things on the other.

as “typical” gifts to show off to friends back home. Now

—Dean MacCannell, 1976

that Nicaragua is viewed as a stable democratic nation to

which tourists may safely travel, images of the revolution

MacCannell went on to produce a remarkable work that

are no longer so threatening or undesirable and may even

would chart the course for tourism studies, although he

be a selling point for savvy travel agents.

did not pursue his early objective of examining tourism

Who knows, but perhaps Managua’s Museum of the

and revolution. There remains a need to consider the ways

Revolution, which has long been closed, may reopen its

that tourism and revolution intersect, particularly at a time doors and persuade more visitors to spend time in the cap-when postsocialism is heralded and globalized capitalism

ital before heading for the beaches and colonial towns?

reigns. Some writers have recently discussed the desires of And who knows what recycled notions of the revolution

tourists to discover what is new, unusual, and sometimes

may become part of the memories travelers take home? As

dangerous or disastrous (Rojek 1997), but little attention has Nicaragua is remade as a neoliberal nation, these memories

been devoted to the ways that revolutionary or postrevolu-

may serve to evoke nostalgia for the brief time when ideal-

tionary societies have sought to strengthen economic de-

ism reigned but had to give way to the logic of the unfettered velopment and national identity through the promotion of

free market and the downsized state. Across the political

tourism. This article has undertaken such a project by exam-spectrum, Nicaraguans and foreign visitors alike may come

ining the case of a society that has only recently made the to embrace Sandino, like Dar´ıo, as national hero, appropri-transition from revolutionary to neoliberal-oriented gov-

ating his image and memory as safe for public consumption

ernment and that has begun to contend with the prac-

and a draw for international dollars—conveniently enhanc-

tical and political aspects of refashioning the country for ing the twin projects of nationalism and tourism in the new tourism.


A recent Nicaraguan-made video documentary entitled

Recent histories of violence, danger, war, and revolu-

Algo queda (Something Remains, 2001) suggests that some tion may all serve to draw tourism once the dust begins

important gains of the revolution remain in the country.

to settle in a region. At a time when jaded tourists are be-A contrast to the videos mentioned earlier that excise the

coming less fearful of the threat of terrorism and are seek-revolution from nostalgic historical accounts, this one is

ing “a new thrill,” they may venture to new destinations.

nonetheless nostalgic in its somewhat idealized representa-

The New York Times describes a tourism “boom” in Vietnam tion of a revolutionary past that brought about progressive following the September 11 attacks, citing travelers’ views change in the interest of all. Over a decade ago, photojour-that “the country’s controlled Communist society [is] reas-

nalist Susan Meiselas brilliantly captured a “war of images”

suring at a time of travel warnings and attacks elsewhere”

in her video documentary on memories of the insurrection,

(Bradsher 2003:8). Another article in the New York Times Pictures from a Revolution (Meiselas et al. 1992). Here, I have (Noel 2004:10) comments that South Africa is attracting

pointed to the contested images of postrevolutionary so-

record numbers of tourists, who may safely visit the prison ciety as the nation prepares for the much-heralded arrival

cell that held Nelson Mandela for 27 years and other sites as-of tourism on its shores and in its cities. How Nicaraguans sociated with the brutal period of apartheid. Even Iraq, long view themselves and construct themselves both frames and

before the end of conflict in that nation, has captured the is framed by outsiders’ perceptions of them as a people and interest of tour operators and organizations that are poised as a nation. Whatever economic, political, and cultural ad-to set up business as soon as the time is right (Worth 2003:2).

vantages or disadvantages tourism may bring in its wake,

Thus, it is not surprising that Nicaragua is beginning to see it is also responding to and remaking Nicaraguan national

a new generation of visitors who wish to follow in the “foot-identity.

steps of Sandino.” Along with other revolutionary icons like So what are tourists to make of these remaining sym-Che, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh, Sandino may very well find

bols of that radically different time—especially as they are new life as both historical figure and cultural commodity in so often poorly informed about the Sandinista revolution

the modern, global marketplace of tourism.

of just over a decade ago? Most who stay for more than

a day or two in the country venture into local markets

or hotel gift shops where they find—in addition to other

FLORENCE E. BABB Departments of Anthropology and

items targeted to them as consumers—a variety of T-shirts

Women’s Studies, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242

and postcards with the familiar image of Sandino, now 70

years after his death. Long-reproduced photographs of tri-

umphant Sandinistas from the 1970s—frequently includ-


ing the iconic portrait mentioned earlier of a smiling young Acknowledgments. Earlier versions of this work were presented in woman with rifle slung over her shoulder and nursing inthe panel “Beyond Binaries: Globalizing Objects, Identities and Aes-thetics” at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological fant in her arms—are sold alongside ceramic bowls from

Association in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2002; at the Bellagio the artisan community of San Juan de Oriente, paintings

Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy, in 2003; and in a 554

American Anthropologist • Vol. 106, No. 3 • September 2004

colloquium of the Latin American Studies Program at the Univer-14. I refer here to Global Exchange in San Francisco and the Wissity of Iowa in 2004. I wish to thank Victoria Rovine, Aynn Setright, consin Coordinating Committee on Nicaragua.

Daniel Balderston, Consuelo Mora Benard, David A. D´ıaz, Reynaldo 15. There is one such reenactment that takes place every year on Thomas D´ıaz-Stubbs, T. M. Scruggs, Erika Moreno, Grant Gallup, June 28, the date when in 1979 the Sandinistas made a tactical Fran Mascia-Lees, and reviewers for the American Anthropologist for retreat from Managua to Masaya before their triumphant return their generous assistance in the research and writing of this article.

when they took power. Old and young Sandinistas make the long I am indebted to the Latin American Studies Program, the Arts and walk and are joined by internationalists in solidarity with them.

Humanities Initiative, and International Programs at the University This is a show of political strength and a commemoration, how-of Iowa for support to return to Nicaragua in 2000, 2002, and 2003, ever, and no tour has been designed to follow the course of the and most of all to the Nicaraguans who cooperated in this research.


My writing was completed during a residency in the beautiful sur-roundings of the Bellagio Center in Italy, thanks to the Rockefeller 16. In the prologue to Sheesley’s (1991) work on representations Foundation and to the resident scholars who generously offered of Sandino in Nicaraguan public culture, artist and poet Ernesto suggestions on my project.

Cardenal comments that the national hero may be unique in being recognized by his silhouette alone. Indeed, just the sketch of his 1. All translations from the Spanish are my own. In Spanish, Borge hat, a sort of sideways figure-8 for the brim and a triangular line for said “¿Y por qué hay que estimular el turismo en este pa´ıs desgra-the top, is instantly familiar to any Nicaraguan and to many others ciado? Porque es la tabla de salvaci ón de la econom´ıa nacional”

who have spent time in the country.

(personal interview, June 30, 2003).

17. I am grateful to Aynn Setright for details about these mon-2. I carried out research in Nicaragua in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, uments. Managua’s mayor had another “worker’s” monument

1993, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2003. Funding was provided by erected across the street from the “Rambo” statue, depicting a man the Fulbright Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the with a jackhammer and a woman picking through metal scraps.

University of Iowa.

Both are hunched over and appear downtrodden—in contrast to 3. I discuss the work of these writers and others who made the the Sandinista virile worker/combatant. See Craven 1989 for de-pilgrimage to revolutionary Nicaragua in Babb 2001a.

tailed discussion of art and popular culture during the revolution-4. See

ary period.

5. See Leichty 1996 for discussion of the making of Khatmandu, 18. The Sandinista Party became “safer” with the new-age re-Nepal, as a tourist destination, and the influence of a Lonely Planet fashioning of Daniel Ortega for the 2001 elections; in the post–

guidebook in the process.

September 11 climate, however, the United States again helped turn the tide toward the Liberal party candidate.

6. See Gould 1998 for discussion of Nicaraguan indigenous peoples and the myth of mestizaje. Field 1999 examines the foundational 19. See Mallon 2003 for a discussion of the popularity of Che in narrative of Güegüense in relation to artisans and national iden-Allende’s Chile, and his image of revolutionary masculinity. Che’s tity in contemporary Nicaragua. T. M. Scruggs (conversation with image now appears around the globe as a kitsch symbol of cultural author, February 12, 2004) notes that, in the town of Masaya and opposition; nonetheless, in Nicaraguan political culture there is a the community of Monimb ó, indigenous identity and artisanship deeper connection between Che and ideas of revolution.

draw tourists.

7. On November 4, 2001, a French biker broke the world record REFERENCES CITED

for mountain biking by flying down the volcanic slopes of Cerro Agos´ın, Marjorie, and Julie H. Levison, eds.

Negro at over 130 kilometers per hour. Tour operator Pierre Gédéon 1999 Magical Sites: Women Travelers in 19th Century Latin

of Nicaragua Adventures promoted the event in Europe and invited America. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press.

a French film crew.

Algo Queda (Something Remains)

8. Nicaraguan males are often the providers of services to female 2001 Luciano Capelli and Andrea Ruggeri, dirs. 51 min. Rio

travelers, but the gendered politics generally have a different and Nevado Productions.

less sexual character, as noted in a recent travel article in the New Appadurai, Arjun, ed.

York Times (Klein 2003:15). However, my observations in Cuba 2001 Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

and those of others elsewhere (Phillips 1999) suggest that women Babb, Florence E.

tourists, too, may seek sexual liaisons with “locals” when traveling.

1999 “Managua Is Nicaragua”: The Making of a Neoliberal City.

See also Bolles 1997 on women and tourism in Jamaica, and Rojek City and Society 1–2:27–48.

and Urry 1997:16–18 on gendered differences in the “tourist gaze.”

2001a After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. Austin: University of Texas Press.

9. I discuss popular accounts of Nicaragua in the 1980s in Babb 2001b Nicaraguan Narratives of Development, Nationhood,

2001a. Celebrated authors of memoirs of visits to Nicaragua include and the Body. Journal of Latin American Anthropology

Ferlinghetti (1984) and Rushdie (1987).


10. Although the telephone book currently lists some forty tourist Berman, Josh, and Randy Wood

agencies in the country, a number of them are devoted to foreign 2002 Moon Handbooks: Nicaragua. Emeryville, CA: Avalon

travel rather than to Nicaraguan tourism.

Travel Publishing.

11. Visitors to Munditur’s website are informed quite candidly, Bolles, Lynn

“Our goal through these past few years has been to eradicate 1997 Women as a Category of Analysis in Scholarship on

any negative perception the rest of the world has of Nicaragua”

Tourism: Jamaican Women and Tourism Employment. In


Tourism and Culture: An Applied Perspective. Erve Chambers, ed. Pp. 77–92. Albany: State University of New York Press.

12. The photograph, taken by Orlando Valenzuela, became a defin-Bradsher, Keith

ing image of the Sandinista period, inspiring artist Chico Emery to 2003 Vietnam, Poor but Orderly, Is Now Tourists’ Safe Haven.

paint a mural entitled “Sandinista Woman and Child” on a wall in New York Times, January 5: 8.

central Managua in 1985. The mass women’s organization AMN-

Craven, David

LAE used the image in a poster and it is now found on postcards in 1989 The New Concept of Art and Popular Culture in Nicaragua hotel gift shops and markets. Kunzle (1995) notes that this photo-since the Revolution in 1979. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen

graph has been copied in images as far away as Belfast, Ireland.


13. Erika Moreno (personal communication, February 4, 2004) has Eviatar, Daphne

suggested that the safe reappearance of images and narratives of 2003 Bored with Sand and Sun? Try One of the Grow-revolution might also be possible because of the decline of the rev-ing Number of Hands-On Tours to the World’s Trouble

olutionary left in Latin America. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista Party Spots. Newsweek International, May 26. Electronic document, remains a significant political force but is no longer perceived as a, accessed April 4, threat to national security—thus its past may be romanticized.