The New Haven/León Sister City Project is a progressive, binational, grassroots organization that fosters a partnership between the communities of Greater New Haven, Connecticut and León, Nicaragua. Our mission is to promote social justice. We work to form fair and respectful relationships between the people of our two cities. Through delegations and other exchanges, we strive to understand and celebrate our respective cultures. In León, we engage in sustainable economic, human, and community development projects. In New Haven, we educate our neighbors about Nicaragua and about local and global effects of policies of the U.S. government and international economic institutions.
The New Haven/León Sister City Project was founded in 1984, at the front end of a movement of sister-city relationships that sprung up between Nicaraguan cities and North American or European cities throughout the 1980’s.
The fundamental vision of the NH/LSCP in the 1980’s was to create healthy ties between US and Nicaraguan citizens as at a time when the government of the US was engaged in a brutal and illegal war against the government of Nicaragua and its people. Our alternative citizens’ foreign policy had the goals of raising awareness among US citizens about the effects of US-funded war on the people of Nicaragua, and supporting Nicaraguans in their vision of creating a more just society.
REVOLUTION & RESPONSE
For decades, Nicaragua had been ruled by the corrupt Somoza family dictatorship, which was essentially installed by US Marines in 1926 as they left the country after an on-again-off-again occupation that began in 1912 – the US Marine presence in Nicaragua explains the popularity of baseball in a part of the world where most folks play soccer (football).
The revolutionary government that inspired the wrath of Ronald Reagan’s administration was born of a movement of young peasants, students, professionals, and workers who joined together and finally overthrew the third successive Somoza dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debaile, in 1979. His flight from Nicaragua is known as “the flight of the last Marine.” The triumphant young revolutionaries-turned-governors were called Sandinistas, named for Agusto Sandino, who had led a nationalist rebellion against occupying US Marines decades before.
The Sandinista government prioritized education, health care, and economic opportunity for Nicaraguans. It wasn’t perfect by any standards, but the revolutionary government strove to create a living example of a society that cared for the needs of the poor majority of its citizens. The Reagan administration, threatened by the example of a Central American nation that prioritized social needs over the preferences of multinational corporations and economic structural adjustment plans dictated by Washington, responded by mining Nicaraguan ports, imposing an economic embargo, and funding and directing the covert Contra War run out of US military bases in neighboring Honduras.
The New Haven/León Sister City Project is part of a movement of thousands of US citizens who actively supported the revolutionary Sandinista government, and even more actively denounced the US government’s illegal and brutal repression of it.
In 1990 the Sandinistas were voted out of power by a war-weary Nicaraguan populace who knew that US pressure would let up if a US-friendly president were in power. Violeta Chamorro, supported and funded by the US, assumed the presidency; and soon the country’s tremendous gains in health and education were dramatically reversed. The Nicaraguan government began to implement neo-liberal economic reforms largely dictated by policy-makers in Washington.
Without a revolutionary government to support or an obvious war to denounce, many US-Nicaragua solidarity organizations struggled to redefine their missions, and quite a few disbanded. The NH/LSCP determined that its commitment was to solidarity with Nicaraguan people, and to relationship-building between US citizens and Nicaraguans, no matter who was running either government. We continued doing what we had been doing: support projects designed to educate and empower US citizens and Nicaraguans alike through their interactions with each other.
The Sandinistas were re-elected in 2006, but the impacts of their governance today are a far cry from what they were in the 1980’s. Many Nicaraguans continue to have hope in the social gains that the Sandinistas may be able to make during their governance; and many find themselves increasingly disillusioned with the party.
The NH/LSCP continues to prioritize healthy relationship between US and Nicaraguan citizens, continues to educate US citizens on the impacts of US policy in Nicaragua, and continues to support programs designed to empower poor Nicaraguans.
For more details about our current activities, see Our Work in León.
NH/LSCP's New Haven office is located 2nd floor of the First Unitarian Universalist of New Haven building at 608 Whitney Avenue where we've been for 17 years.
Our office in Leon is at: Hermanamiento New Haven;
Frente paraninfo UNAN-LEON; Leon, Nicaragua - Central America