The Corner

When Ann Arbor Comes Calling

In yesterday’s Impromptus, I discussed my dear old lefty hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. (as I’m wont to do). One of Ann Arbor’s sister cities is Juigalpa, Nicaragua. Ann Arbor formed this relationship in 1986. Why? Because the Sandinista dictatorship was in power, and the Reagan administration was doing all it could to undermine it. And it was important for Ann Arbor to express solidarity with the dictatorship, and solidarity against the Reagan administration. If Nicaragua had been democratic in 1986 (as it became in 1990), there’s no way Juigalpa would be an Ann Arbor sister city today.

Well, I heard from a U.S. diplomat who had to deal with an Ann Arbor “peace” delegation (and the goal of such “peace” delegations was always that a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship be left unmolested to do as it wanted). I thought you’d be interested in the diplomat’s letter.

Jay,

Your story of the Ann Arbor-Juigalpa sister-city relationship reminded me of my encounter with a “peace” delegation from Ann Arbor while I was working at the embassy in Managua. We junior officers would take turns giving briefings about the Reagan administration’s policy in Central America to visiting American delegations who made the embassy the one stop on their tours where they would not hear the Sandinista party line. Many of these groups would also join the Thursday-morning demonstrations that greeted us as we went to work — we used to refer to the demonstrators as “sandalistas”; they of course would call us much worse.

Anyway, I got this Ann Arbor group with plenty of prominent citizens and before the briefing gave them the standard request that this be a background briefing, not for attribution. The briefing went well, followed by an exchange in which each side said that the other needed to open its eyes to the reality of Nicaragua and what the people really thought. I encouraged them to get out and talk to real people (not just their Sandinista minders), and they said something similar to me.

By the way, some of these briefings got pretty heated. I had a Cuban-American colleague who was pulled off doing them because he could not restrain himself from pointing out to his fellow citizens their brainwashed behavior.

Subsequently, I did go to Juigalpa to do man-on-the-street interviews and found that there, as in the rest of the country, the people did not like their Communist overlords. But the Ann Arborites never got to see what I saw, going as they did from sites of alleged contra atrocities to coffee collectives and back to Managua to meet a comandante or two.

A couple of months later, a fellow officer’s wife, who was from Ann Arbor, showed me a clipping about my briefing from the Ann Arbor daily, where they quoted me by name, deliberately violating the terms of our briefing. Evidently there was a reporter in the group who taped the whole thing.

I wonder what the next Ann Arbor sister city will be. Some hamlet in Waziristan?

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