[Marxism] At work in Nicaragua

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 31 19:46:25 MDT 2008

(This comment from Charlie Rosenberg just showed up on my blog.)

I was one of a group of 15 or so Tecnica volunteers that arrived in 
Managua in early May of 1987.  I recall meeting a fellow (who I am 
still in touch with here in Boston) at the Ministry of 
Health  (MINSA) Apparatus Repair Shop where it had been arranged that 
I would work.  He was working on an EKG machine or something of the 
sort and I was supposed to be teaching folks how to run lathes and 
milling machines in the machine shop.  As it turned out, they had a 
pretty skilled group of folks there and there didn't seem to be 
anything for me to do.  Before I left I recall one small victory that 
I engineered. A young fellow had been trying to reproduce a high tech 
machined part that had been produced on some type of computer 
numerically control machine and it just wasn't going to be duplicated 
in this shop. He had been working on it for three weeks and it kept 
breaking as he tried to mill the thin slots in the piece. I asked 
what the part was used for and nobody knew (I wondered if we could 
make the design less complex).

So I wandered over to a different part of the compound and spoke to 
the people who had requested the part. They explained it was a 
coupling that was attached to a small motor on a machine used to mix 
dental fillings.  I sketched a simplified version of the part and 
went back to the shop where the same young fellow reproduced the 
coupling from my sketch in about 30 minutes. I was hoping they needed 
some more of these couplings but as it turned out, I was a one trick 
pony and that was my only victory at the repair shops. After that I 
hooked up with a Dutch mechanical engineer and a Guatemalan contract 
machine repairer who were traveling to some outlying towns to survey 
the needs of various institutions, mostly hospitals but we also went 
to some government owned factories including one that made tanks to 
store fresh water.  I wrote up specifications for some of the 
hydraulics components and other mechanical spare parts that were 
needed and also ended up doing some computer training as I recall.  I 
remember talking to a Soviet engineer who had been drafted (it seems) 
to work at the repair shop.

I say that because he didn't seem like he was really digging being 
there.  He had no love for the all the U.S.-made equipment in the 
factory and said something to the effect of  "It's American. You are 
American.  I don't know anything about it. You fix it." In a way I 
could relate to his remark as I had been trained in using inches in 
machine shops back in the U.S. and the machine tools were all made 
outside the U.S. and used metric measurement. I was a bit lost at 
first and was constantly using my calculator to convert metric 
measurements into inches. After a day or two I got the hang of it but 
I must have looked pretty funny with that calculator in my hand all the time.

I don't remember what kind of work all the other volunteers in our 
group were doing but I know one fellow was teaching broadcasting at 
the Sandinista radio station and someone else was doing machine 
repair at the Barricada newspaper printing plant. We had a civil 
engineer in our group and also an urban planner.  Thank you for 
putting the film up for everyone to see and thank you for giving me 
the opportunity to work in Nicaragua.

The staff that was there at the time was wonderful and I always 
wondered where they ended up.  I can be reached at charlie [at] tecnet.org.

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