Managua, N.C.?

Recently a homeowner requested, through his lawyer and architect, permission from the Historic District Commission to build a combination iron and chain-link fence around his large acreage, ostensibly to keep the deer out of his garden. The commissioners, familiar with the challenge of planting anything that deer would not eat, were sympathetic while trying to stay within the Historic District Guidelines that discourage hiding houses behind tall fences. Instead of the 6-foot-tall black iron fence along the front of the property and heavy metal gates across both driveways, commissioners suggested fencing in only the backyard.

That prompted the homeowner to address the commissioners directly, saying that he needed the front yard fenced and driveways gated because passersby ignored his “No Trespassing” signs and walked down his driveway to gaze at the house. He did not want to come out one day and find someone standing on his porch, he said.

As if this were Nicaragua in the 1980s.

I spent some time in Nicaragua with a friend who was covering the events unfolding in that uneasy time. Over the course of the decades-long Somoza regime — known for its political corruption, government support for corporations over citizens, and order maintained by a strong military — the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Even what I would consider suburban homes were hidden behind thick adobe walls, taller than me, because the haves lived in fear of the many, many have-nots.

After my stay in Managua, I returned to my apartment in New York that, granted, had iron bars over the windows, but still, I was very appreciative to be able to walk outside, a woman alone, something I could not do in Nicaragua.

Too many times this year some news alert about the U.S. president and Congress dismantling the laws that help us stay a civil society has made me think: This is how it begins, that life of fear that incites those afraid of losing their elevated status to take away the freedoms and quality of life of those whose work keeps the economy functioning.

The U.S. backed the Somoza dynasty because it seemed like a good idea at the time to create a regulatory environment attractive to multinational corporations. When the Sandinistas came to power around 1980 and tried to restore some economic equity and civil rights and clean up the damage done from overbuilding and corporate stripping of natural resources, the U.S., leery that the Sandinistas’ FSLN party seemed too allied with communism, backed the Contras trying to snatch power from the FSLN.

(Congress changed its mind in the mid-1980s, but President Reagan disagreed and set up a way to support the Contras illegally by using money from the sale of arms to Iran, the infamous Iran-Contra Affair.)

I have heard tales of ultra-rich Americans today building bunkers and buying land in New Zealand to escape to when society in the U.S. breaks down completely.

Iron gates to keep the curious away from the wealthy in Chapel Hill likely is not a harbinger of doom. But are those gates necessary? Why live as though they are?
— Nancy Oates

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