- Driving the City: Contesting Neoliberal Space in Managua, Salsa City
The novel Managua, Salsa City (¡Devórame otra vez!) (2000), by Guatemalan/ Nicaraguan author Franz Galich, has often been discussed as an example of a new type of late 20th-century Central American literature. Written in the aftermath of the Central American revolutionary wars, the novel became an archetype of sorts, used to discuss the disillusionment with leftist political struggles, and the transition to a more pessimistic neoliberal socioeconomic order, where rampant individualism, crime, violence, and poverty seemed to reign.
In the novel, the ex-Sandinista turned security guard, Pancho Rana, meets La Guajira, an ex-prostitute and leader of a band of thieves, in a Managua dance club. The entire novel takes place during a single night, and the plot quickly evolves into a complex web of lies and deceit, where characters manipulate each other in search of their own personal gain. Rana, for example, has stolen his boss’s car while they are on a trip to Miami, hoping to seduce La Guajira by making her think he is a wealthy man. In turn, La Guajira tries to seduce and rob Rana, aided in this quest by her band, which follows the couple while they roam the city’s nightclubs and run-down motels. After a night of heavy drinking, drugs and sex, the plot eventually culminates in a shootout of Hollywoodesque proportions at Rana’s boss’s quinta, where Rana faces off against La Guajira’s gang (all ex-Contras). At the end, only La Guajira and another minor character survive. The day dawns, and both are left facing the crude reality of a fatalistic and uncertain future.
The novel, therefore, can easily be discussed in relation to what Beatriz Cortéz describes as the “aesthetics of cynicism” (n.p.), a product of the profound disenchantment with the utopian projects of the guerilla wars, which instead of bringing a new, more egalitarian social order, result in a “mundo [End Page 9] de violencia y caos.” Several other critics, for example, have discussed the novel in this light, alternately describing it as a representation of a “violencia sin rumbo y sin propósito” (Mackenbach); an “historia de decadencia humana en la lucha por la supervivencia diaria” (Browitt); a representation of “la Managua de la violencia y el desamparo” (Barrientos Tecún); a novel that reveals “una Managua alejada de las utopías revolucionarias, en extremo pobre y violenta” (Ortiz Wallner). This same violence, although seemingly nihilistic and devoid of any ideological bearings, is still important within the context of neoliberal socio-economic reforms undergone by Nicaragua during the 1990s.1 Misha Kokotovic, for example, has discussed the novel as part of a larger group of Central American literary works, which “do not articulate an alternative to the neoliberal present . . . [but] constitute a forceful critique of it” (24).
In this article, I would like to continue with this line of inquiry and investigate the possibilities the novel offers for neoliberal critique. Specifically, I would like to pay attention to an under-examined, yet often mentioned, aspect of the novel: the representation of the physical space of Managua. As mentioned by Kokotovic, late 20th century Central American Literature is for the most part “an urban literature” (23), and according to Werner Mackenbach, two of the most important characters in Managua, Salsa City are clearly its language and the city itself. This importance in part derives from the above-mentioned realist depiction of a harsh, violent, crime-driven social space, related from the onset to some idea of “hell on Earth.” This association is established from the very first line of the novel, when an omniscient narrator tells us that: “A las seis en punto de la tarde, Dios le quita el fuego a Managua y le deja mano libre al Diablo” (2). A few lines later, this same voice assures us that: “aquí en el infierno, digo Managua, todo sigue igual” (2). The novel’s pessimistic perspective, therefore, is tied to those “shut out of what few benefits the end of the war brought” (Kokotovic 25): a group made up of criminals, con-artists...