‘People to People’ delegation coordinator Dudley reflects on 1982 Nicaragua exchange


From left, Mary Jo Dudley, Jane Mt. Pleasant, Lory Peck and Michael Cohen speak about their experience as part of the People to People delegation to Nicaragua. The event took place in Cortland, NY on February 16, 1982.



Pueblo a Pueblo, or People to People, was a 1982 trip that hoped to connect everyday Americans with everyday Nicaraguans to dispel myths about both countries, especially in response to the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.

Thirty-five people, 16 from Boston and 19 from upstate New York, joined the two-week trip.  Included were lawyers, union workers, musicians, carpenters, professors, students, a doctor, a nurse, a publisher, and others.  They stayed one week near Managua meeting with various government and organizational leaders.  The second week they spent picking cotton alongside farmworkers on state-owned agricultural cooperatives.   

Mary Jo Dudley was CUSLAR Coordinator from 1981-1987 and the Co-coordinator of the Pueblo a Pueblo project.  


Mary Jo Dudley

There were several groups in upstate New York State that were working on issues related to Nicaraguan solidarity and education about societal change in Latin America. In 1980, I was coordinating the upstate network, an organization that coordinated speaking tours and campaigns with groups in Syracuse, Rochester, Albany and other communities.

I was invited by the newly formed FSLN (Sandinista) government to represent Upstate communities at a meeting in Nicaragua — El Primer Encuentro de Solidaridad Internacional, or the First International Solidarity Summit. The newly formed International Relations Department of the FSLN brought together people from around the world who had been involved in solidarity work during the Nicaragua civil war. At that gathering, we discussed how to best educate our communities at home about the new health, literacy and education programs the Sandinista government hoped to promote.

We all made a commitment to educating our communities about what factors contributed to the civil war, the nature of the coalitions that emerged in opposition to the Somoza dictatorship, and how this new coalition (FSLN) planned to address inequities, poverty and discrimination in Nicaragua. One way to accomplish this could be by bringing together Nicaraguans from all walks of life with an equally diverse group of U.S. citizens.

We wanted to create bridges between people in the U.S. and people in Nicaragua. We hoped this “pueblo a pueblo,” or “people to people” approach would help to change stereotypes, and in particular stereotypes that were presented by the media based on strong political perspectives in opposition to the FSLN.

Fundamentally, we wanted to challenge the paradigm that presented Nicaragua and other Latin American countries as the “backyard of the U.S.” determined to follow the directives of U.S. policymakers.

We hoped that “people to people” encounters would help U.S. citizens to understand the meaning of sovereignty and provide insights on how Nicaraguans were making decisions about self governance, where resources should be directed and how young people could contribute to these broader goals through national literacy and health efforts. Individuals who had worked side by side with Nicaraguans might be better informed and enabled to challenge misinformation coming from Washington, D.C.

These trips began as an experiment for both the U.S. and Nicaraguan participants. Just as the trip provided an opportunity for us to talk with Nicaraguans about their history, was the first time the Nicaraguans we met had an opportunity to ask us questions. We met with a wide cross-section of people in Nicaragua: high-level officials in charge of promoting national efforts in the areas of health, education, agrarian reform, and human rights; students; university professors and writers; trade unionists; religious leaders; and rural Nicaraguan workers who were in the process of transitioning form landless peasants to co-owners of newly formed agricultural cooperatives. The impact of the war was evident in the physical destruction of homes and other buildings, but this exchange allowed us to learn more about the societal changes which contributed to the defeat of the Somoza dictatorship, and the resolve of our hosts in working together to build a new Nicaragua.

For example, at the time we went to Nicaragua, the government was recruiting young people to participate in the national literacy brigades. Nicaragua had a very high illiteracy level in 1979, estimated at 75 to 90 percent in rural areas and 50 percent nationwide. Nearly 60,000 young people of high school and college age and 30,000 adults were trained in literary approaches and sent to live in rural communities to teach Spanish. The second phase of the campaign included literacy instruction in Sumo, Miskito and various creole languages. We were encouraged to join them in this effort by raising funds in the U.S. to support the purchase of materials for the campaign, including the denim blue jeans that brigadistas were given.   We met with leaders of the national health brigades, who organized volunteers to clean up stagnant water sources and providing medicines to aid in eliminating malaria. We accompanied the Minister of Agriculture and volunteer harvest brigade members in harvesting crops on lands that had been abandoned or were being converted into cooperatives. We also observed the distribution of land titles to former landless peasants.

As a result of Pueblo a Pueblo in 1982, we felt we should organize people from the U.S. to volunteer with the harvest brigades. So after we came back I organized harvest brigades from here. CUSLAR played a central role in getting things organized: we started out with 30 people, 60 people, then 110 people, and then it became a huge operation that outgrew CUSLAR’s capacity to organize it.

Part of Pueblo a Pueblo’s efforts included raising money to buy the denim for the brigadistas. We held a campaign in Ithaca. We had a gigantic thermometer on The Commons where we kept track of how much money
we had raised through bake sales, contra “contras” dances, and many different activities in the community. Everybody who went on Pueblo a Pueblo made a commitment to come back and do educational presentations among their co-workers, neighbors and members of their faith organization and to help fundraise.

In terms of reflecting on the question, “How would you build that now?” a big piece of CUSLAR centers on creating community. So, how do you create community? One thing that was critical for Pueblo a Pueblo was that it wasn’t just about taking this group of people to Nicaragua and interacting with Nicaraguans. It was about sharing what we learned with others and encouraging them to get involved in any way they could. At its very core Pueblo a Pueblo emphasized a reexamination of U.S.-Latin American relations and the active participation of community members in supporting justice and respect for human rights and sovereignty in Latin America.

Interview by Hazel Guardado, junior at Cornell University studying Anthropology and International Relations.

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