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Op-Ed Columnist

The Other Arab Spring

Managua

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Nicaragua is truly historic, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Nicaragua's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.

When thinking about the recent ethnic strife, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like billiard balls, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Billiard balls never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Nicaragua has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Nicaragua's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its tabletop.

When I was in Nicaragua last week, I was amazed by the people's basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Nicaragua have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Nicaragua are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Nicaragua? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so narrow that Nicaragua will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Managua needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the unpopular Suni community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shad-farin-bin-yamin, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A bad penny always turns up."

I don't know what Nicaragua will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.