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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Death in Managua

This is roughly the 30th anniversary of my first visit to Sandinista Nicaragua, back in April-May, 1987. I wrote about that trip before (here), and described how I came then to realize that the US Democratic Party is the greatest enemy of the US. Why bring up this visit, again? For some reason, I suddenly began to remember quite vividly a putrid little incident on that visit--one I've not discussed on this blog or really anywhere else. It is kind of a pointless story; not sure there is a moral. Just a nasty vignette, I guess. One more thing: others who were there might have a different recollection, but this is mine.

Julio Cesar Green. You probably haven't heard of him; not many have; and most of those will have forgotten him by now. I am not aware that he accomplished anything great in his short time on earth: he didn't invent anything, cure any diseases, or write a famous novel, but I do remember that he was somebody's son, and that he's dead because of our visit to Managua.

I accompanied the US delegation to the 77th Conference of the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) in Managua. This group, headed by Louisiana Congresswoman Lindy Boggs, widow of Hale Boggs, and mother of journalist Cokie Roberts, had some whacky lefties as well as a neat and smart Congressman from Arizona, the late John Rhodes--you can find the delegation list (yawn!) at page 3 on the prior link. One event we attended, among many, was an afternoon/evening get-together for all the delegations at the residence of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. This large and lavish affair showed that despite the incessant Sandinista complaining about the US economic embargo, the lads had no problem laying on a major fete around the pool and on the lush grounds: lobster, shrimp, fish, meats of various kinds, liquor, wine, beer, music, dancers--the sort of stuff socialists love to "hate"when they don't have it. By the way, Managua, back then, was one of the most depressing and run-down big cities I had ever seen; it had not recovered from the big earthquake, the corruption and the vileness of the Somoza years, the war, and the corruption and the vileness of the Sandinista years.

We had had a long day of meetings, interviews, traveling, and speechifying; in addition, Congressman Rhodes and I had sneaked away from our Sandinista handlers to meet Nicaraguan human rights activists. Lots of people were tired, many of the Europeans and Asians suffering jet lag, so the bash started to break up relatively early for this sort of affair. After a couple of hours, our own sleepy delegation began climbing into the Embassy-provided vehicles to leave. I, too, felt tired, having spent most of my day translating, speech-writing, and arguing with assorted European and Latin leftists in favor of Reagan's policies. By the time I got to the car park, only one of our big white Suburbans remained, engine running, Nicaraguan driver eager to go and drop us off at the hideous airport motel. I slithered in, sharing the ride with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, a researcher from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and a USAF colonel from Puerto Rico, apparently unhappy at being stuck with us. The colonel, a neurosurgeon, incidentally, also served as delegation physician. I crawled into the cramped third row of seats, and sat next to the CRS lady. We pulled out of the compound as darkness began to drop in. As in Orwell's Animal Farm, a crowd had gathered outside the fence to watch their new pig rulers cavort with the same visitors who had cavorted with their old farmer rulers.

We slowly moved out onto the highway. People stood along the highway watching the parade of fancy cars leave the presidential estate. As in most third world countries, people, animals, shops, bicycles all abutted onto and into the road--no sidewalk, no clear demarcation between car space and human space. We had just begun to pickup speed when a horrible, sickening thump-thump sounded beneath the floor boards. The two of us sitting in the back row got thrown up against the roof of the Suburban. Somebody in the vehicle shouted, "We hit a child!" The driver froze and kept driving slowly. A couple of us began to yell for him to stop. He cried, "I will go to prison!" In Nicaragua, at least then, a traffic incident involving injuries became a criminal matter; the cops would lock up those involved while the investigation proceeded.

We finally got the driver to stop. The colonel and I spilled out of the Suburban, and ran back to a small pile of clothes in the middle of the road. He got there first, dropped to his knees, and bent over the heap. I caught up, stood next to him, and now could see small bare feet, hands, and a badly bruised, bloody, and distorted head and face among the clothes. The colonel said, "This is very bad. He's alive but he's not going to make it." Suddenly a scream tore through my head. Behind me, a small woman, the child's mother, pushed past me, and threw herself on the child yelling, "¡Julio César ! ¡Julio César!" The colonel told her in Spanish, "We're going to take him to the hospital." Looking up at me he said, "Help me with this." We carried Julio Cesar, whom I pegged at about five years of age, to the Suburban, and got him, the colonel, and the mother into the second row of seats. I squeezed back into my spot in the third row; my white guayabera now sported a large half-moon of blood. Just as we started to move, the mother shouted at a shirtless, shoeless man wearing shorts and standing outside the Suburban, "Why did you call him? Why?" He was the father; apparently he had been on the opposite side of the road from Julio Cesar, and had told him to cross just as we accelerated.

The petrified driver barely would go 25 mph no matter how much we yelled for him to move faster. He stopped at every light and street corner, carefully signaling every move as if he were a sixteen-year-old taking his driving exam. No amount of urging and coaxing could get him to change his "work-to-rule" driving. The mother kept sobbing, quietly calling the boy's name, praying to the Virgin Mary, and patting his tangled mat of bloody hair. The colonel looked back at me, slowly shook his head, and said in English, "There's no saving him--not even if this had happened in the parking lot of Mass General."

Our seemingly endless drive through the dark suburbs of Managua finally ended at a small hospital. The colonel and I took the boy, and, with the mother holding his hand, carried him into the "emergency room." It was a dim, dirty little hovel, lit by a weak light bulb hanging from a cord. Patients sat in rickety chairs against the walls and on the floor, waiting their turns. I walked past the receptionist, who tried to hand me a number, and grabbed the first doctor I could find. I explained we were foreign diplomats, had been involved in a serious car accident, and needed somebody immediately to look at a badly hurt Nicaraguan child. A young doctor came with me, briefly examined Julio Cesar on the floor, and said, "We can't do anything for him here. You have to take him to a bigger hospital." He gave us the name of the place, and sent two orderlies to put Julio Cesar back into the Suburban. The doctor shook his head when I asked if he had an ambulance to take the boy, "No. He'll be better with you."

Another lengthy slow drive through the sticky and gloomy Managua night awaited us. Realizing that we had not reported the incident to the Embassy, and that nobody knew where we were, I took to the radio, gave a summary of what had happened, and where we were headed. The Embassy sent an officer to meet us at the new hospital. Some time during that drive, cradled by his mother and a USAF colonel, Julio Cesar died.

It stinks to be poor in a poor country run by gangsters.

At the "big" hospital, a very nice Nicaraguan doctor, who had studied in the US, came to our vehicle, looked at the boy, and pronounced Julio Cesar Green, age nine not five, dead on arrival. He told us, "You should go away before the police and the Sandinista political people show up. Leave the boy and the mother with us." He escorted the sobbing mother away, and, again, urged us to leave quickly. "You can take care of the formalities tomorrow," he said. A couple of men came and took the dead child into the building.

After providing a report to the Embassy, I eventually got back to my freezing motel room--the Sandinistas apparently had decided that air conditioning impressed foreigners. I threw away my blood-stained shirt and pants, and took a shower. Despite the very late hour, I called the Diplowife in New York, insisted on talking to my sleepy kids, and then lay in bed shivering and smoking a Joya de Nicaragua, watching the smoke slowly rise to where it encountered the icy jet stream from the a/c unit and then got whipped across the room. Again, all I could think was that it stinks to be poor in a poor country run by gangsters.

Tomorrow came. We accompanied the driver with an Embassy lawyer to the police station. I have to hand it to the Communists: they know how to put together police forces. The cops proved very professional; they formally held over the driver for investigation, and then asked us for voluntary statements. One cop seemed well versed in the Vienna Convention, and told us that, of course, as diplomats we did not have to declare. We all did, anyhow, in the hope that we would help the driver's case. The police were very respectful towards us. Judging from their nervous chit-chat, they fully expected Reagan to send in the Marines at any time; one quietly acknowledged that the US-backed contras were giving the Sandinistas a helluva time--he also asked if I had ever seen a B-52.

The driver was released after a few days in lock-up, where he had passed the time as a cook for prisoners and guards. The Embassy offered Julio Cesar's unemployed father a job as a gardener.

The rest of us flew home on a big USAF VIP plane.


  1. These are the stories that keep me coming here. Yes, it is grim but it it the truth.

  2. I have missed these stories, even if there isn't a moral.

    Blue Tile Spook
    Reader 13

  3. *also missed


  4. What a horrible little story. Running over kid is my most gut wrenching nightmare; that or forgetting and leaving a baby in the car when i was on daycare drop off duty. Who can account for what scares us the most? I am a little surprised that the crowd didn't grief you when you exited the car.

    1. No, the crowd was very passive. Not at all like in the MidEast or South Asia.

    2. Or Africa.

      One of our close colleagues was a passenger in a bus accident just a few miles from where we lived. He fortunately escaped unharmed other than to his composure. A few others, mostly those who tried to jump out the window when the bus started losing control, did not survive.

      The driver jumped out, ran into town as fast as he could, and literally begged and pleaded for the police to put him in jail (where he would be safe from grieving family members.)

    3. This was in (then) Southern Sudan.

  5. So was the kid's father just a dumbass, or was he trying to create an incident?

  6. What a sad story. There isn't anything as cold and desolate of the spirit as the world of the Left.
    James the Lesser

  7. I don't want to say that you are wasting your time with this blog, Mr. Amselem, because you are not, but you have a talent for narrative that is much larger than this blog can accommodate. You should be thinking about the book, or at least the collection of essays.

    1. you beat me to it...was just thinking the same thing!!!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Gee, I thought Fleabag Castro would've sent a few Cuban physicians able to raise the dead a few minutes after his brother revolutionaries the Sandinistas had declared victory.

    Sarcasm aside, I still feel bad for the dead kid's parents; and also I feel bad for the driver.

  10. Your Managua story jogged some recollections loose from my salt corroded memory banks Dip... all the way back to the days of my first meeting with Anastasio, his henchman, hirlings, and his MaMeNic(pipe)Line of wealth via his ships: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras etal...

    I first met the dictator in an elevator in Manhattan, I was on my way up to Mamenic's NY Port Captain's office as was Senor Somoza... He was accompanied by his lawyer, a chilling short thick-set former South African goldmine operator, he had dead eyes that could look in two different directions at once, he also packed a .45 in a shoulder holster-- quite an ominous character, he smelled bad too!

    The dictator, by comparison, was quite pleasant and he initiated a brief conversation with me in English--while his toady gave me the twice-over. . . one of my jobs was to get the necessary signitures on invoices for completed voyage repairs. Later, one of the corporate officers would deliver cash insentives, for fast track payment of the bill over a long lunch at the PUB, Fiddlers Green, or some other Battery watering hole of the Port Captain's choosing. . .

    Over the years I received many invitations to visit Nicaragua as guest of el Presidente and a free round-trip passenger berth aboard one of his ships, I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm to go there after hearing many Europeon officers describe the hell-hole!

    Although I did enjoy the hospitaliy of the Mamenic Line ships Salons and Officers, I even brought my wife and newborn child aboard to celebrate at the Captains table, but beyond U.S. ports I had no desire to sail under the Mamenic House Flag. On Watch~~~
    "Let's Roll"

  11. That's the worst experience you have shared with your faithful since you told us about the time you shot some guy out the window of your car. Boy, I live a sad, uneventful life.

    1. syd, thank you for expressing my opinion!

      - reader #1482

    2. No such thing as a sad and uneventful life.

  12. You forgot the part about where you went back to your hotel and contacted your lawyer via your personal email server... not because you were trying to hide anything, but because you didn't want anybody to know about it..
    Oh wait... that was Hillary! My bad!

  13. About 15 years ago I was taking a bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep and had a similar occurrence. As we came upon a Cambodian girl riding her bike, she began to drift into our path. Rather than brake, the bus driver tried to move around her but she continued to ride into the middle of the road, oblivious to the bus coming up behind her. Sure enough the inevitable happened and there was a sickening thud. I was seated on the passenger side of the bus and this girl just cartwheeled through the air past my window. There were a couple other foreigners on the bus with me and they began pleading with the driver to stop but he acted like he hadn't seen a thing. An English-speaking Cambodian woman said that he wouldn't stop the bus for fear that the girl's family or other locals would exact revenge. For the next several hours I kept a sharp lookout behind us, wondering if a pack of vengeance-minded Cambodians wouldn't chase us down on their motor bikes.

  14. A tragic story. What I think of as Third World tragic -- which is not to say it is less tragic than a similar story would be in the US or other First World countries, only that we are sheltered from them here.

    Like the story KGB (!) tells about his Cambodian bus ride, or the 8 year old girl who drowned in the Mekong off my front steps in my first FS assignment, we don't have emergency personnel shielding us from what really goes on around us when we're in Nicaragua or Cambodia or Laos.

    I had the young girl put in the back seat of my car and my friend drove us to the hospital while I gave artificial respiration to the body. Boy Scout training said "don't stop!" and I didn't. A young French doctor came out to the car when we arrived at the hospital, looked at the girl and said to me "you can stop. She's dead." The French can sneer even in the face of death.