When the Babbitts abandoned Arizona to pursue the White House, they bequeathed Evan Mecham and Rose Mofford to those of us left behind. Not content with this questionable legacy, the Babbitts have once again taken to the road, most recently to midwive the birth of democracy in the unlikely precincts of Nicaragua.
Part of a growing international body of individuals who seek to guarantee free elections in the world's troubled geographies--not including Chicago, Illinois, or Duval County, Texas--the Babbitts were two of several Arizonans who witnessed the stunning rejection of Marxist revolutionary Daniel Ortega at the Nicaraguan polls.
Lately the press has taken to referring to the breathtaking upheavals in the Communist world as the "winds of change." More to the point, Reaganauts have begun claiming that their policies, as opposed to say Jesse Jackson's, generated those gusts of freedom. In Arizona, this sort of hubris has led to gubernatorial candidate Fred Koory seeking and securing the endorsement of Colonel Oliver North. A rational person has got to wonder, "Jesus, you mean Dutch Reagan wasn't asleep for eight years?"
So I asked Hattie Babbitt, Maricopa County supervisor Ed Pastor, and Tucson journalist Jacqueline Sharkey what they saw in Managua and what they thought it meant.
Hattie Babbitt is not one of those Anglo church ladies of Central America deeply disappointed in the toppling of the charismatic Ortega.
Referring to Ortega's decade of control, Babbitt said, "Most people in power do not get better after ten years, those in absolute power . . . "
As the wife of the lanky presidential candidate who spent ten years presiding over the Grand Canyon State, she did not need to complete the thought.
Although she had backpacked extensively throughout Latin America, Hattie was nonetheless moved by the poverty in Nicaragua.
"With the millions that have poured MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.07 I9.10 into Nicaragua, no one [spent] so much as $10 for a sewer system. In Leon, just a few blocks from the sixteenth-century cathedral, there is raw sewage in the streets," said Babbitt.
Hattie was not impressed by the leader who replaced the degenerate larceny of the Somoza family with the financial dogma of Marxism.
"Their [the Sandinistas] original economic advisers were Bulgarians," marveled Babbitt.
University of Arizona journalism professor Jacqueline Sharkey was also struck by the poverty. She recalled last week an Ortega billboard that inadvertently focused the people's anger.
"It showed a little girl gazing over a glass of milk and Ortega was pictured in the background. The words were `A glass of milk. Another success of the revolution that benefits our children.'
"The people in the poor neighborhoods were furious about this because they couldn't afford milk for their kids."
Between the economic despair and the bloodshed, Ortega had little chance.
"`I'm tired of seeing young men go to war in the mountains,' is what one waitress who was going to vote for Violeta Chamorro told me," said Ed Pastor.
Sharkey, who provided some of the most compelling coverage coming out of Nicaragua in, of all places, Maine's Bangor Daily News, a publishing serendipity resulting from her friendship with that paper's editor, also cited the effect of the war on Ortega's candidacy.
She noted that with a population of 3.75 million people, Nicaragua's 30,000 casualties would have been the equivalent mortality rate of two million Americans in Vietnam.
"People told me, `I know of the role of the United States and I don't care. My son is living in Miami because of the draft,'" said Sharkey. "What I kept hearing from people was that if Violeta won, the war would stop and the United States would pour money into Nicaragua."
In Managua where one U.S. dollar fetched roughly 58,000 cordobas, Babbitt said the inflation was so bad that the government couldn't print money fast enough to keep up with the demand, so new, higher denominations were simply stamped onto old money.
The Arizonans agree that the Nicaraguans who survived the economic deprivations of Bulgarian Col 3, Depth P54.02 I9.03 These members of the leftist press vented their bile when a nine-year-old girl from Santa Barbara rose to ask Carter a question.
According to Sharkey, the child had accompanied her father, a photographer, to Nicaragua. Caitrin McKiernan was making a video for her classmates back in California when she asked Carter the very first question of the press conference, "Now that Mrs. Chamorro has won, will the United States be nice to Nicaragua?"
As Carter attempted a gentle answer, passionate correspondents screamed "Bullshit" and pounded tables to drown him out. He left shortly thereafter.
The irony of Carter taking the fall for his successor's policies begs the question of how much credit Ronald Reagan deserves.
Hattie Babbitt said there are some leaps of faith she cannot make. She cannot credit the architects of the Iran-contra affair with a victory of democracy in Nicaragua.
Ed Pastor felt that even if Reagan were successful in Nicaragua, "Contra armies and economic boycotts are not a good way to export democracy."
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Sharkey, who is in Washington, D.C., said the nation's capital is buzzing with the idea that Reagan was right after all. But she wonders if the starvation of children and the slaughter of tens of thousands in Nicaragua are worthy instruments of American foreign policy.
It is a good question to ask. Here is another.
Today, like every Wednesday, the Valley Religious Task Force, will conduct its silent prayer vigil in front of the Federal building at First Avenue and Van Buren in downtown Phoenix. They will leaflet passersby and urge they contact Senator Dennis DeConcini regarding cuts to the half-billion dollars our government sends yearly to El Salvador.
Friday is the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero by the Salvadoran right-wing death squads.
Do people still believe the moral example of the clerics and their followers can bring the FMLN guerrillas and government of El Salvador to a negotiating table?