MANAGUA – Congressman Standford Cash doesn’t have the pretentious air about him that is typical of many National Assembly members.
When other lawmakers address the assembly, Cash listens to them politely, while many of his colleagues talk on their cell phones, congregate in small groups to tell jokes, and otherwise act like high school students during break.
And when work is over, and most honorable members of the National Assembly climb into their chuffer-driven sport utility vehicles to race off to their large gated homes overlooking Managua, Cash quietly flags down a taxi on the corner and takes it across town to the humble backpacker hostel that has become his new home during the workweek.
On Fridays, Cash, 72, looks forward to getting on the afternoon flight to Bluefields, where his wife and family wait for him on the other side of the country.
Cash, the only black member of the 91-seat National Assembly, is a bit of an accidental congressman. Called out of retirement last year by the Conservative Party, he agreed to run as a supplemental lawmaker in the elections, never thinking that his number would someday get called.
But when the Supreme Electoral Council ruled in August that Conservative Party congressman Alejandro Bolaños could no longer hold his seat because he is a U.S. citizen, Cash was pushed out of his retirement in Bluefields and back into the national political scene in Managua.
“I didn’t think that it would happen; it didn’t cross my mind,” Cash told The Nica Times during an interview this week in his adoptive weekday home, the Sabor Costeño Hostel. “But Bolaños had his problem and I had to drop in.”
Cash, who is now one month into his term as congressman, also served a term in office three decades ago. His first term was from 1972-1979, during which time he was taken hostage Aug. 22, 1978 when a daring Sandinista rebel leader named Edén “Comandante Cero” Pastora led a small commando unit that took over the National Palace.When the Sandinistas finally came to power in 1979, Cash left the country to go live in New York with his older sister, and later entered the seminary to become ordained as an Episcopal priest.
He returned to his hometown of Bluefields in 1994, and served for the next decade as the priest at Saint Mark’s Church.
Now that he’s back in politics, Cash notes that the National Assembly of today is more organized than it was in the 1970s, but says that lawmakers are generally a lot less serious than their erstwhile counterparts.
On the subject of his minority status, Cash says he doesn’t feel anyone is racist towards him and insists, “I am very proud to be the only black.”
But Cash says he has a hard time understanding why so many of his colleagues act as if becoming a National Assembly member is the be-all and end-all.
“I tell them that being a lawmaker is not the most important; to me soul salvation is more important,” Cash said. “I tell them everything is transitory, nothing lasts forever.
And they tell me, you are talking like a priest. I say, I’m not talking like a priest, I am a priest!”
Though Cash is a member of the recently beleaguered Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) legislative bloc, he insists that he, unlike most assembly members, thinks and votes independently, and has no party boss.
“That is one thing that is killing this country; people in politics listen to their leader, but that doesn’t work for me,” Cash said.
Cash says there is talk within the Conservative Party of breaking with the ALN and forming their own legislative bloc of five seats – a defection that could seriously hamper the future of the upstart Liberal party.
But, Cash says, he doesn’t see the point of striking out on their own.
What Cash says he is most focused on is using his legislative seat to fight for the rights of the Caribbean coast and push for reforms to the Law of Autonomy, to make it more relevant.
Now that he’s going to be working in Managua for the next four-plus years, Cash says he’ll probably have to get a car.
“I can’t get a big beautiful car like those guys, but I can get one that takes me around,” Cash said.
But in terms of his living quarters, the congressman says he’ll be staying comfortably put in his small rented room at the Sabor Costeño Hostel.
“I like it here,” he says. “I’m not leaving.”