Valdrack Jaentschke has been an activist for social justice, an academic and a politician in Nicaragua for most of his life. He has been instrumental in much of the political, social and economic reform that has driven growth in this young democracy. In a revealing interview with Kreol Magazine, he speaks passionately about his belief in preserving and enriching the deep cultural roots of the Nicaraguan people to achieve the development and growth the Ortega administration aspires to.
Valdrack L. Jaentschke became Nicaragua’s Minister Secretary of the Presidency for the Development of the Caribbean Coast back in February 2017. He also maintained his position as Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, which he attained in 2007. In 2018, he was invited to the Inter-American Dialogue, where he spoke about some of the most poignant issues currently facing modern Nicaragua. The Ortega regime has been working tirelessly towards the goals of peace and democracy for the nation, but a number of violent protests and hard-line suppression of potential rebels has courted controversy and muddied the waters quite severely. The Dialogue always aims at giving senior officials of nations like Nicaragua a fair platform to speak, in an effort to open lines of communication in hopes of paving a peaceful path into the future. Mr Jaentschke was eloquent and statesmanlike in his approach, and delivered some key insights into the situation in Nicaragua. His politics is the promotion of unity through diversity, and he has dedicated his life to this mission.
Who is Vice-Minister Valdrack L. Jaentschke?
Valdrack L. Jaentschke was born on Corn Island on the Caribbean Coast. He was raised in the Creole culture, surrounded by Spanish-speaking nations who worshipped a Catholic God. His language is an English Creole, which he says is the true language of all who identify as Creole. He states that, the society of Nicaragua consists of between 5% and 15% Creole people. He recalls how his mother, who spent “a big portion of her life in the capital city” of Nicaragua would “resist to speak Spanish [sic]”. He describes the population in his home country as being like living in two worlds; in his own community, he existed in the Creole world, and when he left that community he entered the Spanish culture.
He recalls that Church played “a very important role” in Creole culture, particularly on Sunday when the community would eat, cook and “serve the Lord in the Creole language.” He notes that around the Caribbean region, Christians are mostly Protestant, whilst among the Spanish-speaking communities they are predominantly Catholic.
Mr Jaentschke has played a key role in the ongoing mission to promote the autonomous rights of Nicaragua’s indigenous people, along with people of African descent in the nation. He has even published works on the importance of the Caribbean in the history, culture and ongoing development of Nicaragua. It is very clear that his upbringing and cultural identity plays a huge role in his politics, and the values instilled in him by his parents still govern his principles and the words he says to this day – when he quotes his mother’s insistence on denying any Spanish culture in her home, he jokes “My mother would kill me if you put that in”.
Preserving culture and tradition whilst promoting unity
The division in Nicaragua has dominated international headlines regarding the South American nation in the eyes of the world. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission has reported a “catalogue of abuses and violations”, including 320 people killed, attacks against peaceful protesters and cases of torture, where the victims have been journalists, human rights advocates and university students. Vice-Minister Jaentschke has said that the development model in place since President Ortega came to power in 2007 has been targeted by a violent coup, which derailed the efforts of the Nicaraguan people and the government to achieve true democracy, economic growth and social harmony.
The predominant theme of Mr Jaentschke’s position is the Ortega government’s assertion that the reported protests were in fact “a coup with criminal intents”. He refers to a long history of a struggle for true independence and sovereignty that Nicaragua went through to overcome the pressure of “far right and neoliberal agenda backing forces.” In his opinion, the Sandanista effort is an attempt to unify the national agenda for development, never forgetting that democracy in Nicaragua was achieved via a revolution that aimed to eliminate foreign intervention in domestic politics.
The ambition is to forge a fundamentally strong nation-state with a basis of economic co-ordination, cooperation with international allies, and security – a factor which he consider “one of the most important elements in the Nicaragua project of stability in the region.”
A background as an academic and an activist
For more than fifteen years, Valdrack L. Jaentschke has worked tirelessly on issues of management, human development, strategic planning, decision-making and negotiation in public policy for Nicaragua. He has also served in academia, with an academic background that galvanises the authority he has earned on certain issues through his experience as a public figure and politician. He graduated with a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, USA in 1995. He also achieved a BA in Sociology at the Universidad Centroamericana, UCA in 1991. Before all of that, he studied Civil Engineering at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, UNAN in 1976
With his cultural background, Mr Jaentschke has been appointed with roles as a non-resident Ambassador to a number of Nicaragua’s surrounding nations. His particular areas of interest have led to him being primarily linked with diplomatic relations with Caribbean nations, including Haiti, Saint Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago. He also represents the Republic of Nicaragua for the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Seeking to root out division in a culturally diverse society
The Vice-Minister has spoken vociferously in defence of the actions that have led to allegations of violence and brutality against the government. He offers some insight into the right-wing forces that have “instilled a mechanism of terror” that centres around three things:
The promotion of a homogenous anti-government opinion which is given additional momentum by the media.
Social manipulation led by domestic extremists and foreign actors.
Fear-mongering amongst the populace, aiming to create a spectacle for the eyes of the international community.
Whether you agree with this point of view or not, there is no questioning the commitment of Valdrack Jaentschke to the promotion of diversity to achieve tolerance and unity within a deeply divided society. The name Valdrack Ludwing Jaentschke Whitaker speaks of the colonial history of the Caribbean nations, with both German and Moravian in the mix of his family’s background. He speaks English Creole, Spanish and some of the Amerindian language Miskito, a culture he describes as “a very strong and cultural influx into our making”.
Creole culture comes from the Afro-descendent side of Nicaragua’s “Caribbean Coast”. Up until the Sandanista Revolution of 1979, which the young Valdrack Jaentschke was heavily involved in, Nicaragua was almost exclusively Hispanic Mestizo, made up of Mexican descendants, Aztecs and the colonial Spanish. Add in the various European heritages that make up the nations of the Caribbean Coast, and you can see how, in Mr Jaentschke’s own words, “diversity of culture was sort of historically moved along two different tracks on one same plane”. The revolution of 1979 formed the basis of the connection between these two tracks of cultural development, and it was then that the recognition of diversity made its way into the country’s politics. “Nicaragua is multicultural, multi-ethnic and diverse”, and Mr Jaentschke has played a profound role in helping gain recognition of this fact.
Bringing the cultures together
The objective of the politics that Valdrack Jaentschke represents is not to dilute the existing cultures into a single, homogenised society. He says “I’m not talking integration; those are words we run away from. We’re talking inclusion and recognition”. After the Constitution began recognising autonomous, the nation was redefined as two autonomy regions: Northern and Southern. In the North, the culture is “more Amerindian, more Miskito and Mayangna. And in the South, much more leaning on the Creole side”. The ongoing process is one of connecting everyone under one banner, which is what led to the Constitutional reform in 2015 whereby “Nicaragua…recognised itself as Caribbean”. This has been the basis of Mr Jaentschke’s diplomatic work with Nicaragua’s Caribbean neighbours to foster a spirit of cooperation.
Accomplishments as an individual and as a generation
When asked what he believes his greatest accomplishments have been in his political career to date, Mr Jaentschke struggles to single out specific achievements. This is because his work has been a consistent, ongoing commitment to promoting Creole culture and advocating the recognition of cultural diversity in all aspect of political dialogue and decision-making in Nicaragua. He defines his own fundamental role in politics as this: “Here I am. I exist, and you need to recognise me.” And although he never sought conflict in his commitment to this position, “If conflict needed to be put on the table, I would be very quickly putting it on the table”.
In his own words, Vice-Minister Valdrack Jaentschke’s proudest achievement is “the recognition of the Caribbean Coast, and the recognition that in my country development will move forward strongly, as the Caribbean will participate in the economy and the development.” He cites this not as a personal achievement, but as a generational one.
Asked about these achievements, Valdrack Jaentschke continues “first and foremost the objective is to get my country recognised as part of that Caribbean civilisation and that we share the challenges, we share the difficulties”. He says he wishes for “more culture and educational exchange”. He believes that the most powerful foundation for economic, political and social development is culture and identity. Nothing unites people more than culture and the arts, and if these could be enriched and encouraged throughout the nation, then Nicaragua would gain a stronger and more defined identity on the international stage. This is something that is essential for recognition and the establishment of prosperous relationships with foreign allies, and Jaentschke aims to achieve it through culture.
His is a passion that was ignited by a strong sense of his own identity. From an young age, Valdrack Jaentschke recognised that he is “equal but also particularly different”, and this instilled in him an energy to “fight and struggle for social inclusion, for equality”.
A record of gradual progress and overcoming adversity
The Sandanista movement, of which Valdrack Jaentschke had been a part, was voted out of power in 1990, after having control via the revolution of 1979. This is something he points to as an indication of the ongoing democratic movement in Nicaragua, as the Sandanista movement would become the first that “came to power through an armed revolution and turned over power after losing an election”. Democracy is an ongoing process, and the Nicaraguan democracy is still relatively young.
It took 16 years for that movement to return to power in 2007, during which time Mr Jaentschke believes the nation fell victim to “an economic liberal agenda to dismantle the state” which led to the nation being “plunged deeper into poverty”. As one of the poorest nations of the Western hemisphere at the time, the strategy of the Ortega administration has been to bring parity between workers, the private sector and the government. Rapid growth would follow, thanks to “a very interesting, effective economic strategy” which “slashed poverty by two thirds… in ten years”.
Clearly, in spite of the controversy that recent violent protests have brought about, something that the Ortega administration is doing is working. And Vice-Minister Valdrack Jaentschke continues to play his part by inspiring people to take pride in their cultural identity. When asked how he defines Creole culture, he says “Afro, Amerindian or Indigenous English speaking, mostly Protestant.” He speaks of the enormous challenges he faces to preserve this culture as the nation’s infrastructure, democracy and economy continue to advance.
There is an ongoing debate within the Caribbean Region country about issues like “Are we going to study in English because that is what puts us at a comparative advantage?” or “Are we going to study in Creole, which will strengthen our identity?” For the Vice-Minister, this is a discussion that must remain at the forefront of the regions nation’s policies. All that makes Nicaragua the remarkable, beautiful place it is, with all its rich heritage and diversity, comes from the array of cultures that exist amongst the population. Though the present government strives to recognise the rights of all the cultures that exist within its society, Mr Jaentschke still declares “I think we are not doing enough.” His passion for the issue is a palpable presence whenever he speaks about it, and there is no doubt that he will continue his good work to preserve cultures whilst promoting social development and harmony in Nicaragua.
Inspiration from cultural icons of the Caribbean islands
The sources of influence and inspiration for the passion of Valdrack Jaentschke are quite evident in his comments. Asked about his favourite musicians, he names Bob Marley and Lord Laro, “the Calypsonian, and I love the social-political aspect”. His musical tastes refer to strong cultural figures of his youth, whose commitment to their own cultural identities will have been instrumental in the young Valdrack Jaentschke’s development of a passion for heritage and culture. Similarly, when asked about a favourite author, he instantly answers Derek Walcott, who he describes as the “epitome” of the mixture of cultures that exists in the Caribbean.
He ends with a rather poignant quote from a friend of his, who says “A bird cannot fly on one wing”. In relation to his own country, Mr Jaentschke feels that this means Nicaragua can’t fly only on the Pacific-side wing – “it needs the Caribbean side”. His life has been devoted to furthering his nation’s recognition of the contribution of cultures from the ’Caribbean’ East Coast, and though his work (alongside other visionary figures) Nicaragua has managed to grow as an economy and a sovereign nation, establishing a rich cultural identity whilst nurturing a true democracy that will empower the nation’s rise into the future.