Visiting Estelí yourself is very worthwhile and the Stichting Stedenband Delft-Estelí (Delft-Estelí Sister City Foundation) also organizes trips to Nicaragua.
Below is a brief background sketch of Estelí, a province in the north of Nicaragua, the size of the province of Groningen, with more than 225,000 inhabitants. The capital is the eponymous city of Estelí, our sister city.
The city of Estelí has more than 125,000 inhabitants and is located on the Panamerican highway, between Managua and the border of Honduras. The city is situated at an altitude of 820 m, with a climate ideal for agriculture, especially tobacco and coffee plantations.
The name Estelí
The word is derived from the languages Matagalpan Lí and Nahuatl Eztli, which comes from the words Eztlili, eztli or blood and Li which means water: river of blood, river of red water. The name is probably because the river that flows through Estelí is sometimes reddish in color. The red color is most noticeable in the area where the river flows into the river Coco. There, the contrast between the clear water of the Coco River and the red color of the Río Estelí is greatest.
Estelí is located in Nicaragua, the largest and one of the poorest countries in Central America. It lies between the Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the country and the Pacific Ocean on the west side. The country is more than 3 times the size of the Netherlands and it has a total of about 6 million people, of which almost 2 million live in the capital Managua. Nicaragua mainly speaks Spanish, but in the east also Misquito (an Indian language) and English.
Columbus first sailed in the Caribbean Sea in 1502 along Nicaragua. It wasn’t until about 20 years later that Spaniards entered the country from the Pacific. After the original Indians were defeated by the Spaniards, Nicaragua became part of the Spanish empire in 1524. In 1821 the country became independent from Spain, but until 1838 it was still part of Mexico first, and then of the “United Provinces of Central America”. In 1838, Nicaragua became completely independent.
During the central part of the 20th century, the Somoza family determined the future of Nicaragua. In 1937, half a year after a coup, elections were held – unfairly – in which General Somoza was elected president. He would rule the country as a dictator for 20 years. After General Somoza was assassinated in 1956, his sons succeeded him and they managed to remain in power until 1979. The dictatorship was entirely aimed at enriching their own family and a few companions. Meanwhile, the differences between rich and poor grew. For the people of Nicaragua, the tipping point was when aid money for victims of the 1972 earthquake disappeared into the pockets of the Somozas. A revolution led by the Sandinists (named after a legendary rebellious general of the 1930s, Augusto C. Sandino). These Sandinists managed to put an end to the power of the Somoza family.
On July 19, 1979, victory was officially declared. Estelí suffered severely during the war of liberation. On three occasions, the insurgents had taken the city and Somoza’s army was bombing the civilian population. As the first measure, the new government nationalized the extensive land ownership of the Somoza family. Important first measures were to make primary education accessible to everyone and to reduce illiteracy. Polio and other teething problems were strongly reduced through health campaigns. However, the United States saw the successful leftist revolution in Nicaragua as a dangerous example for the rest of the region and supported the Contras (a group against the Sandinists), resulting in a very bloody civil war. Despite the election victory of the Sandinists in 1984, the United States continued to support the Contras until the ‘Iran Contra Scandal’ in 1986, when it was revealed that the United States had illegally sold weapons to Iran and used the money they earned to support counterparts in Nicaragua. In 1988, the armed struggle between the Sandinists and the Contras ended. There were many casualties in and around Estelí during this civil war.
The first democratically elected President of Nicaragua since the dictatorship was Daniel Ortega (1984-1990). The Sandinists lost the 1990 elections. Ortega was succeeded by opposition leader Violeta Chamorro (1990-1997). The country experienced some economic growth in the 1990s, but suffered a setback in late 1998 as a result of Hurricane Mitch. After Chamorro, the very corrupt liberal Alemán became president; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison but remained influential as a leader of the Liberal Party (PLC). In 2007 Ortega became president again after he made a pact with Alemán and the Roman Catholic Church. Consequences of the pact included Congress agreeing to a total ban on abortion, much to the dismay of the feminist movement of which the Sandinists were an important predecessor in the 1980s. The Sandinists’ new position of power and the pact between Alemán and Ortega further eroded Nicaragua’s independent institutions. In 2009, the Supreme Court acquitted Alemán; most observers spoke of a political decision. In 2008, the Sandinists were charged with fraud in municipal elections they won. Three controversial national elections followed again. Although the constitution explicitly forbids the re-election of the incumbent President, the Supreme Court overruled this article and Ortega was again a candidate. He managed to win the 2016 election again, although observers said there had been an unfair ballot box and extremely low turnout.
In April 2018, pent-up anger among the population erupted. The opposition organized demonstrations and roadblocks, but government-aided paramilitary groups crushed the resistance. Hundreds of deaths and many political prisoners were the result. Since then, there has been repression and very serious restrictions on free speech.
A second Panama Canal through Nicaragua?
President Daniel Ortega signed a contract in 2013 with Chinese businessman Wang Jing, which will raise the required $50 billion and gain full control over the project. In addition to the canal, there will be an international airport, two ports, a railway and a number of free trade zones. The concession is valid for fifty years. According to the government, the channel will bring great economic prosperity to Nicaragua. The opposition believes Ortega is selling Nicaraguan territory and endangering national sovereignty by putting full control of a Chinese company. Criticism is also voiced from the environmental angle. The channel will cross Lake Nicaragua. This lake, with an area of 8 times the IJsselmeer, is the most important freshwater reservoir in the region. The channel will affect biodiversity in and around the lake. After the riots of 2018, the chance that the Canal will continue is much smaller. Meanwhile, even the website of the Chinese company has been taken down.
European Sister Cities
In addition to Delft, Bielefeld (Germany), San Feliú (Spain) and Sheffield (England) have twinned ties with Estelí. We jointly support a number of projects in Estelí. Moreover, by working together it is possible to tap into sources of money from the European Union. Our office in Estelí works for all European twin cities. Click here for the joint website of European twin cities of Estelí.