MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The crowd erupted in wild cheers as the caravan of cattle trucks lumbered into Managua carrying several thousand cowboys to join today’s march against a $50 billion Chinese canal that’s scheduled to break ground on Dec. 22.
The caravan from the interior of the countryside took nearly 20 hours to arrive, and was stopped eight times by police roadblocks. Drivers’ licenses were confiscated and several people were arrested. Similar police roadblocks along choke points to the north and south of the capital succeeded in preventing hundreds of other protesters from arriving in the capital.
But the cowboys from the interior of the country — those living along the canal route mapped for Chinese expropriation next month — pushed past the police blockades without a second thought. It was just the first shove in what’s gearing up to be a long fight.
“Here we are — Chontales, Nueva Guinea, Rio San Juan — giving you people from Managua a lesson in how to defend your country!” yelled one muddy-booted cowboy as he jumped down from the back of the truck.
The cowboys’ arrival breathed new energy into Nicaragua’s anti-canal movement, and lent an immediate gravitas to the march. Some of the campesinos came looking for a fight. “Where are the motorizados! Bring ‘em on!” yelled one cowboy, referring to the Sandinista motorcycle gangs that usually terrorize opposition marches.
The Sandinistas, however, ceded the streets — for the first time in many years.
With no one to fight, the marchers turned their energies to chanting and singing songs with lyrics that are unabashedly anti-Chinese, anti-Ortega and anti-Russian.
“We don’t want communism, socialism or Chinese; we don’t want to eat rat like they do!” 76-year-old protester Dagoberto Gadea shouted into a bullhorn.
“Nicaragua is for Nicaraguans, and not for the Chinese. They need to respect our rights, because the people will defend themselves with guns in hand —and that goes for any asshole who tries to establish a dictatorship here in Nicaragua,” said ex-combatant Carlos Funes. “I might be old, but I’m not stupid!”
Others directed their messages at President Daniel Ortega. “If you want peace in Nicaragua, don’t force Nicaraguans to go back to war like you did in the 1980s. Because we are not going to hand over our land,” said Pablo Ramos Duarte, of Nueva Guinea.
Others mixed anger and humor the way only Nicaraguans can.
“Chinese get out! And stick Daniel Ortega in your suitcase before you leave though the back door!” yelled songwriter Gaby Baca.