Up Front: Tales from Two Lands


T'his month's cover story, "A Yanqui in Managua" (page 23), records the impressions and observations of author Davis Keeler during a three-week visit to the Nicaraguan capital this past summer. Keeler, who through the '70s directed the Law and Liberty Project at the Institute for Humane Studies, says that he's "been on vacation" for the last four or five years, during which time he's been able to travel quite a bit. Last spring his peregrinations took him to Chixulub Puerto, a small town on the Yucatan coast of Mexico, where he stayed for a month. The experience, he says, rekindled in him a childhood fascination with Latin America.

His fascination has grown into a sort of intellectual quest for a way of understanding that puzzling region of the world. "Why is Latin America in such a mess today?" Keeler wonders. "It wasn't always this way." But the study and explanation of Latin America's current problems has been largely abandoned to leftish intellectuals, Keeler thinks, a situation that troubles him. It was in part to find his own answers about some of Latin America's problems that Keeler decided to go to Nicaragua. "It looked fairly easy to go down there," he recalls. "I called the Nicaraguan embassy in Washington and found no problem, so I got a ticket and went."

Keeler arrived in Managua with a deliberately restricted agenda. "I wasn't interested in the contras, I wasn't interested in US foreign policy, I wasn't interested in agrarian reform," he explains. "I just wanted to talk to ordinary people"—anybody at all who would talk to him about life in the People's Republic.

"If you read all the media as a whole," Keeler says, "the coverage of Nicaragua is not terribly inaccurate, but it loses a lot of detail—especially regarding the attitudes of the people." As he notes in the article, for example, there's a much greater division among Nicaraguans in their opinion of the Sandinistas—about half in favor, half against—than is typically depicted by reports in the mainstream media.

Keeler's interest in Latin America extends beyond Nicaragua. A project that he now has in mind is to go to Cuba "to see how that country looks after 25 years of socialism, to see what Castro's done with the place," and to make a similar inspection of the situation in Venezuela. Both countries, he notes, had revolutions at about the same time (Venezuela in 1958 and Cuba in '59), but they followed distinctly separate paths: Cuba, under Castro, took the socialist route, while Venezuela pursued a more liberal, democratic path. He suspects that a comparison of the two nations might be an enlightening exercise.

Another focal point of world attention is covered in this issue. Editor and Publisher Bob Poole's exclusive interview with Zulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi provides an insider's understanding and assessment of the crisis in South Africa.

"When you see Buthelezi," Poole observes, "there is no question that he is some sort of head of state—he's always accompanied by an entourage, and in person he comes across as certainly expecting to some day be the head of an actual state. I was impressed by his sophistication—his knowledge of American affairs and figures, his understanding of how the media in this country work."

Poole interviewed Buthelezi at last fall's annual meeting of the National Committee for Monetary Reform, where the Zulu chief spoke before a crowd of some 3,500 listeners. Attendants at the NCMR conference are primarily conservative and affluent Americans. That Buthelezi was invited to speak to this group, Poole notes, is of considerable significance. The event introduced to a group of influential citizens an important South African black leader—a strong opponent of both apartheid and communism—who believes in the possibility of a nonviolent end to white-supremacist rule in his troubled nation. Buthelezi's account of black sentiment in South Africa—that it is by no means uniformly in favor of violent overthrow or communism—was no doubt a revelation to many of those in attendance at the NCMR gathering. Describing the audience's reaction to Buthelezi's speech, one observer commented, "They were impressed. It was as if they were hit by a strong dose of reality."

We think you'll find the interview, which begins on page 34, equally revelatory.