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Voyages of los Testigos - Part 13, Page 1

Dolar Diplomacy

Reenergized by rice, beans and beer, the travelers left their Nicaraguan roadside breakfast nook to wait for the next bus to León. Inexplicably, the bus that arrived wasn't overcrowded, allowing them to stretch out a little.


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The BigGuy, having taken care of his basic needsa bus and a toilet seat decided it was time to expand his mind as well as torso. Something had been bothering him since they'd crossed the border into Nicaragua. The revolutionary government, it seemed, had taken a wrong turn somewhere, resulting in a country that was not in the best interests of its people. Yet this was allegedly a government created for its people.

Before leaving upstate New York, the BigGuy had acquired his MBA, and the new information gained allowed him to understand and explain Nicaragua's economic situation from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman. It wasn't instant enlightenment, instead resembled the process a campesina undertook in creating fresh tortillas. It was a matter of massaging the dough then slapping it between two palms, turning it clockwise and flattening the ball of maize while pushing the edges outward to forming a flat, perfect circle, something recognizable. The BigMBA had never actually made a tortilla, but while perched on the outer edge of his bus seat, he worked over his politico-economic postulations in the same fashion. "Imagine," he began, "you're a Nicaraguan businessman, a manufacturer of...say...furniture. Like that guy." He pointed to a roadside furniture stand as the bus trundled down the two lane highway. "You're selling four, five hundred pieces of..."

"...Mimbre," said Nuco.

"What?"

"Mimbre, that's Spanish for wicker, mimbre."

"Right," said the BigGuy. "You're a mimbre maker, and you sell four, five hundred pieces of it to Pier One Imports in the US."

"Right," Medio said encouragingly, watching the tortilla form before his very eyes.

"Suddenly your new government comes to you and says, 'Sorry, our major trading partner refuses to buy any more of your mimbre,'" the BigMBA elaborated, slap, slap slapping the idea into shape.

"The gringos refuse to buy your mimbre," Nuco clarified, trying to throw water into the dough.

"The gringos refuse to buy the mimbre," the BigMBA conceded. "The same gringos that up until now have been the largest consumer of Nicaragua's main exportscoffee, cotton and beefare no longer willing to buy the chairs."

"Not good for the mimbre maker," said Capn.

"Think about the lives of the mimbre salesmen back home!" added Medio. "They'll be decorating their homes in the stuff."

"The salesmen will do okay," said the BigMBA. "They'll get their mimbre from somewhere else."

"But not Nicaraguan mimbre," said Medio.

"Precisely," agreed the BigMBA, his idea flattening into an exact circle. "The government agent tells the mimbre maker, 'Sorry about that. No mimbre for the US market. But!...we have another client who wants to buy your mimbre. Our new friends in the Soviet Union will buy ten of your chairs.' His tortilla, nearly complete, was tossed onto the comal. "Now I ask you: if you're a mimbre maker is this good news?"

"Uhhmmm...no!" said Medio, admiring the skill with which the BigMBA had brought the reality of Nicaragua's situation to a practical level.

"Or say you're a construction company," the BigMBA continued, picking up another ball of maize. "A government agent comes to you and says, 'By the way, that large office complex you're building for us? Well, the IMF and the World Bank have denied the loans. We don't have any money to pay you."

"They said something about the gringos refusing to allow money to be loaned to a socialist country," Nuco added. "They prefer dictatorships when it comes to loans."

The BigMBA waited, undeterred from making his point. "What I'm saying is that the new government's politics has resulted in a great deal of dolares no longer being available."

"How about tourism dolares?" Medio asked.

"Dolares could flow into the country from tourism, except only lunatics like us are willing to travel here," said the BigMBA.

"Or the tourists buy the dolares at the border," Capn added, looking at Nuco's pockets, which bulged with the huge wads of black market Cordobas they had purchased at the border.

"Still got the Cordobas," Nuco said, proudly patting the bulges.

"Good," said Medio, always one to appreciate a good deal.

"We may get to spend them on something," said the BigMBA, throwing a little cold water onto a bargain that had turned sour because there was nothing to spend the money on.

Having shaped the problem in such an illuminating fashion, the BigMBA, who had already proclaimed himself the most politically conservative of the group, decided to foist another hypothetical tortilla on the group. "The only thing keeping the dismal state of the economy here from collapsing is the Soviet Union," he proclaimed. "Essentially, the Soviets are subsidizing this revolution by supplying petroleum at no cost, like they do with Cuba."

An East German military transport passed the bus going in the opposite direction, as if to confirm his hypothesis.

While no admirer of right wing dictatorships, the BigMBA's real fear was any link to the Communist Eastern Bloc. On a past European voyage he had nearly been arrested and thrown in jail for taking a photograph of the Berlin Wall, and that experience, combined with his capitalist world view, made him highly critical of socialism. At a pro Sandinista meeting the group had attended before leaving the US, the BigMBA had challenged a woman who was waxing eloquent on the merits of socialism. "If it's such a great system," he had asked, "why did they build a wall?" The woman had responded by suggesting that the Nicaraguans build a wall, too, to keep the Contras out. "You don't understand," the BigMBA had countered, "The Berlin Wall is meant to keep people in the country." Despite this metaphorical massaging of the Central American situation, the BigMBA was about to do something that would take the group entirely by surprise.

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