Chris Tyrrell worked as a volunteer co-ordinator for the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) in Honduras and Nicaragua from 1975-1977. Here are some of the political posters he picked up along the way.
Click the images to enlarge.
From 1975 – 1977 I was the volunteer co-ordinator for the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) in Honduras and Nicaragua. This was a time when the Sandinistas were building their support in Nicaragua against the Somoza regime and Honduras had just been through the short-lived ‘football war’ with El Salvador.
CIIR was one of the four UK agencies funded by the Overseas Development Administration/Ministry to run the overseas volunteer programme, and concentrated on Latin America. Many of the volunteers were placed as agronomists, nurses and radio-technicians in rural projects that had funding support from the more progressive UK charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Cafod. This meant, particularly in Nicaragua, that these could be in politically sensitive areas. After I left, in 1978 when the Sandinista revolution gathered momentum, two agronomists had to be withdrawn from a coffee project, whereupon their local counterparts expropriated the aid funds and joined the Sandinistas. The UK charity concerned reputedly thought this was an appropriate use of their aid!
As co-ordinator, I had a Land Rover and the freedom to travel throughout the two countries, both supporting existing volunteer projects and seeking out new ones. This meant I came into contact with a variety of non-government agencies, sometimes facilitated by Catholic missionaries – it was the time of the ‘Theology of Liberation’ and the Maryknoll order in particular were supporting peasant-based organizations – indeed several missionaries were murdered in that period.
The European Christian-Democrat movement had links particularly with Honduran development agencies and the trade-union movement – indeed the new Minister of Natural Resources was formerly the head of one of those agencies. He was in tears on the morning I first met him, because the news had just broken that the President had accepted a bribe of $2.5m from the US banana companies to reduce the export tax – Honduras was the original ‘banana republic’. The President was ousted in another coup 10 days later.
CIIR itself was an ‘open church’ body – I was an atheistic young communist working for a Catholic agency whose ‘desk officer’ in London was an Ulster Protestant. CIIR subsequently changed its approach, partly in response to reduced ODA funding, but primarily to reduce the ‘first world charity’ impression of its work, by recruiting local volunteer co-ordinators, and then changing its name to ‘Progressio’. It ceased operating a few years ago.
I later returned to Honduras in early 1981 as part of an ODA development study team for the Mosquitia region, and made a short visit to Nicaragua where the Sandinistas had recently taken power. Several of my earlier contacts now had prominent positions in the revolutionary government and I witnessed the intensity of work that these responsibilities involved. It was unfortunate that their policy towards the native Miskito people assumed (as Che had in Bolivia) that they would instantly recognise the necessity and advantages of the revolution.
So, during these years that I was privileged to travel in Central America, I accumulated these posters, although I have difficulty in remembering the exact provenance of each one.