-- Nicaragua --
February 1983. Managua.

Found on:

Stealing Fire (1984)

Bruce Cockburn Live (1990) & (2002) [live album]

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 3 (2014) [compilation album]

Breakfast woodsmoke on the breeze --
On the cliff the U.S. Embassy
Frowns out over Managua like Dracula's tower.
The kid who guards Fonseca's tomb
Cradles a beat-up submachine gun --
At age fifteen he's a veteran of four years of war
Proud to pay his dues
He knows who turns the screws
Baby face and old man's eyes

Blue lagoon and flowering trees --
Bullet-packed masaya streets
Full of the ghosts of the heroes of Monimbo
Women of the town laundry
Work and gossip and laugh at me --
They don't believe I'll ever send them the pictures I took.
For every scar on a wall
There's a hole in someone's heart
Where a loved one's memory lives

In the flash of this moment
You're the best of what we are --
Don't let them stop you now

Sandino in his tom mix hat
Gazes from billboards and coins
"Sandino vive en la lucha por la paz"
Sandino of the shining dream
Who stood up to the U.S. marines --
Now Washington panics at U2 shots of "Cuban-style" latrines
They peek from planes, eavesdrop from ships
Voyeurs licking moistened lips, ‘cause...

In the flash of this moment
You're the best of what we are --
Don't let them stop you now

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • circa 2017 - TheBestOfWhatWeAre Documentary - Bruce is featured starting at 4minutes in.

  • May 1984

    "The day we go up to the Honduran border is the day they commemorate Sandino's death. Racing through Managua streets in Sandino Day dawn. Fireworks at 5 a.m. Hope and hard work. Reconstruction. New houses mushroon slowly out of blasted ground. Fonseca's tomb is guarded by a kid in sneakers with a Cheka machine-gun. Fields of fresh rice. Girl driving donkey cart. Small boy on horseback driving a cow across the highway. Siren river, onion fields, tobacco coops. Flowering leafless fruit tress. We're following the army to the Honduran border. Crowded ancient buses. A car with Salvadoran plates. Tobacco fields are raided, therfore constantly guarded.
    Ironically, Nicaragua reminds me of Israel in a certain sense - being surrounded by enemies. Everything is militarized and everyone is aware of the need for self defense. We pass an army barracks that looks like a farm. A shot down Somoza aircraft is planted on a hilltop flying the FSLN banner on its tail. Banner in a rural village says, 'as Nicaragua has children who love her she will always be free.' Women carry firewood on shoulders up the hill. Palms and pines on denuded hills. Battered buses with fantastic paint jobs, jammed with people. People cling to the roof racks, hang from the doors and the windows hoping they won't have to get off and push.
    Hot roads, diesel clouds - the whole third world perfumed with diesel. A fat man sleeps in the back of a pick-up, feet dangling over the bumper. Rugged budhy hills full of the smell of coffee. Occaisional pause for the crossing of beautiful milky white half-Brahma cattle. Around the bend and there it is - a chain across the road, a custom house and a garrison of half a dozen militia. Thirty metres away a few Hondurans watch with suspicion and strut around like John Wayne. Their look outs hiding on the hill top watch us through field glasses while I watch them with mine.
    The main spokesman for the Nicaraguan garrison at the border is a short plump pleasant guy with a bad leg. I ask him, 'what happens when you have to fight?' For he walked with a severe limp and had trouble getting around. He says, 'Sandinistas don't run anyway.'
    Warm night blanket floats down. Dim silhouette of trees in friendly dark. Headlights pick smashed sack of corn strewn over asphalt. A single tarantula stands guard. Rodrigo, the driver, keeps chickens, so we jump out and spend ten minutes filling the trunk with dusty kernels.
    Later we have car trouble - limp into military truck depot. Barbed wire gates glint in the moonlight. A hundred tired soldiers stretched out on the grass. Tired from a month on the cotton fields. We sing. They sing. Men and women, all young. Guitars and guns. Ballistic music blows open every heart. Passion bursts like rockets. Cotton bales bursting at the seams. Dignity and poems bursting out of parched poverty trance - broken forever.
    Brilliant green birds over the lava hole. Volcanoes stand around like the gods of old, pumping incense of the earth into the tropical sky. Down on the beach, horses canter through the surf as warm as bath water. Emerald birds against flaming hills.
    Dry thunder and hot sky. Dust hangs in the air behing the feet of a passer by. Scent of lilac in the dense night. Laughter from a passing jeep. I lean back against the cool wall. Too much heat. This northern body can't sleep. Returning to Toronto from Nicaragua is like coming from colour to black and white."

    - from "The Mark of the Beast: A Notebook on Central America" by Bruce Cockburn, Gaumut Six, May 1984. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 19 October 1984

    "We've got to have hope," he says. "Otherwise you really won't survive very well, though each of us has to find our own thing to hope in. I hope in God, and as a result of being in Nicaragua, there's hope, or at least there's the possibility, that people can accomplish something-not anything perfect, but workable. For the first time in that country, I witnessed virtually a whole nation of people working together to better their situation, willing]y and in a spirit of commitment, a positive spirit."

    - from "The Long March of Bruce Cockburn: From Folkie to Rocker, Singing About Injustice" by Richard Harrington, Washington Post, 19 October 1984. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • January/February 1985

    "In Toronto, I've made a deliberate effort to immerse myself in human society, a society I've never really felt a part of. And I've found a lot of good stuff. Part of that whole process has involved becoming more concerned about what is happening to the people around me. The trip to Nicaragua really clinched that. In Nicaragua I witnessed a whole nation of people working together to better their situation. In contrast, the Guatemalan refugees are the terrible but obvious outcome of a society where people don't have a voice. Seeing this made me realize why we had politics at all -- and why this is really worth working at."

    - from "Singing in a Dangerous Time" by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, January/February 1985. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 1990

    'Tibetan Side of Town' was the product of notes written while I [visited] Kathmandu on a couple of different occasions. It wasn't exactly as it's stated in the song where all those things were noticed on one trip through town. But, um, but I was taking notes as I went, and those notes produced that song. The same is true of the song Nicaragua, for that matter.

    - from "Interview and Segments" a CD released in 1990 by True North/Epic. Anonymous submission.

  • 3 April 1992

    "... the songs from Nicaragua were written after the fact, but with notes; they were almost complete in the notebook in Nicaragua. 'Dust and Diesel' is one of those, so is the song 'Nicaragua', although it's got a bit more editorial content. 'Dust and Diesel' is straight reportage, really. All I did was make a list of things that happened and put it to music."

    - from "Bruce Cockburn - A Burning Light and All the Rest" by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine magazine, 3 April 1992. Submitted by M. Goddard.

  • September 1994

    "To me, politics is an external expression of something that people carry round in their hearts. The songs I wrote in the Eighties touched on issues because they had touched me personally, not because I had an axe to grind or an ideology. The songs in support of the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people, for example, were written because I was there and the situation touched me emotionally in a very personal way. There's no great difference between the mechanics for songs like that and for love songs."

    - from "Faith in Practice: Holding on to the Mystery of Love" by Bruce Cockburn (as told to Cole Morton), Third Way, September 1994. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • November 1997

    Bob Duran: You traveled to Nicaragua with organization called Oxfam. What is it?

    BC: Oxfam is an international aid agency. It started in England and there is a Canadian arm of it that sent me down to Central America to bear witness to the goings on and to be able to try to get attention to the work they were doing and the need for that work. That trip was the beginning of a template for something that's happened many times since and has been rewarding in every case, to me at least, hopefully sometimes to their people too.

    Bob Duran: How did it influence your work?

    BC: It was my first encounter with the real Third World other than as a tourist. It had a profound effect on the direction of my life generally and consequently on the music, at least on the lyrics. The experiences on the trip (which also included) the south of Mexico, Chiapas, and the refugee .camps, produced "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" and that alone changed the course of things for me because it got on the radio...

    Bob Duran: and MTV...

    BC: ...a most unlikely thing, even MTV. Its the only thing of mine that theyve ever shown that I can think of. I guess they hadnt yet figured what videos were, so we snuck in. The song got exposed and that changed my history. More important was getting that glimpse and beginning to understand what people have to live with in the world.

    - from "A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn", by Bob Duran, North Coast Journal, November 1997. Submitted by Bobbi Wisby.

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    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.