[Marxism] Another Look at Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Struggle

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Sun May 8 07:43:50 MDT 2005

Autumn of the Revolutionary
Another Look at Daneil Ortega and the Sandinista Struggle

"This movement is national and anti-imperialist. We fly the flag of
freedom for Nicaragua and for all Latin America. And on the social
level it's a people's movement, we stand for the advancement of social

Augusto C. Sandino 

In 1911, Nicaragua was occupied by a force of United States Marines
that invaded to protect United States interests. This was just the
next of a series of US "interventions" and invasions of Nicaragua. The
marines remained till 1925, then returned again in 1926, to quell a
rebellion organized by a Nicaraguan, Augusto C. Sandino, who grew up
under this US occupation. His guerrilla forces were never defeated,
despite the deployment of 12,000 troops and the use of aerial
bombardment. The Marines left Nicaragua in 1933, after the US had
trained a Nicaraguan security force, The National Guard. In 1934,
Sandino was assassinated by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a United
States-trained officer who was the head of the National Guard, in a
treacherous act of betrayal after a negotiated disarmament of
Sandino's forces. Hundreds of disarmed Sandinista fighters were
slaughtered at this time by the forces of Somoza. This massacre
ushered in the brutal 45-year reign of the Somoza dictatorship.
Anastasio ruled till 1956, when poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez ended his
life with four bullets delivered as the ruler was drinking the night
away at a party. His elder son, Luis Somoza Debayle ruled till 1967,
when his heart gave out - his brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle took
the reins. When he was forced from power in 1979, he owned one fifth
of the farmland of Nicaragua, two meat packing plants licensed for
export, three of the six sugar mills, 168 factories comprising one
quarter of the national output of the nation, the national airlines, a
radio and television station, and the Mercedes Benz dealership. He
financed his enterprises with his own banks and the national treasury.
He had bankrupted a nation for his personal benefit. During the rule
of the Somozas, the National Guard quelled dissent with assassination,
torture and imprisonment. The United States took the position that
this family dictatorship was acceptable because the Somozas were
ever-staunch defenders of US interests. "He's a son of a bitch, but
he's our son-of-a-bitch", as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
described Anastasio, the father of the dynasty. The Nicaraguan people
paid with their lives.

In 1961, Carlos Fonseca founded the Frente Sandinista de Liberación
Nacional (FSLN) to resist and overthrow the rule of Somoza in the
spirit of Sandino. Carlos died in a battle against Somoza's army near
Matagalpa in 1976. The FSLN went on to lead a broad uprising against
the Somoza government which was successful in 1979. The new government
of Nicaragua was a "Sandinista" government. The initial ruling junta
was a broad-based group of the resistance to Somoza that included
Daniel Ortega, Tomas Borge, Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, Moises Hassan,
Violeta Chamorro, and businessman Alfonso Robelo.

Violeta was of the aristocracy of Nicaragua, the wife of newspaper
publisher Pedro Chamorro. Pedro was a long-time political opponent of
Somoza who was assassinated in 1978, presumably by Somoza, and whose
murder consolidated the support of even the middle and rich classes of
Nicaragua against the mad despot, in support of the revolution. She
and Alfonso Robelo could not accept the political program of the
Sandinistas and both left the ruling junta in 1980. As Tomás Borge, a
Sandinista from the early years, stated with regard to Alfonso, "it
must be very difficult for a man worth $21,000,000 to be part of a

Between 1979 and 1984, Nicaraguans organized to create a new society.
By 1983, a literacy campaign had dropped illiteracy rates from over
50% to 13%, 184,000 small farmers were given land, and vaccination
campaigns and new health clinics had dropped infant mortality and
raised life expectancy, leading the World Health Organization to call
Nicaragua a "Model Nation in Health Attention". Hope was in the air.

War was in the air, also. Reagan unleashed the CIA to generate a war
against this nascent government of the people in the form of a
"contra" army formed out of the remnants of Somoza's National Guard.
They attacked civilian targets throughout Nicaragua beginning in 1981,
killing tens of thousands, and causing billions of dollars in economic
damage. In 1984, Nicaragua held elections recognized as valid by the
international community, but discounted by the United States. Daniel
Ortega, a member of the Directorate of the Sandinista Party won the
elections with 67% of the vote. He was an eloquent and often fiery
speaker against the intervention of the United States.

Throughout the 1980's the war and economic embargo of the US
continued, sucking the energy out of Nicaraguan society. In the
mid-1980's one could feel the pressures of the war taking their toll
on the spirit of the people. I participated in the work brigades of
these times. In 1983 and 1985, I cut coffee with other internationals
and Nicaraguan "volunteers" from the cities, in the hills of the
Segovias and in El Crucero near Managua. I felt the difference between
these two trips in the enthusiasm of the people for the struggle, and
came to the conclusion that the real battle for Nicaragua would occur
in the United States, where the fate of the contra war would be
decided. The horror of the continued support of the US government for
the war against Nicaragua led a group of us to the halls of Congress
where we were arrested in 1986 for protesting the appropriation of
$100 million to the contras in the face of a World Court judgment
declaring this to be an illegal war. A judgment of $17 billion dollars
was levied by the Court against the US, and ignored by the US.

The United States did not let up the pressure, and prior to the
elections of 1990 increased the military and economic war, and at the
same time promised the Nicaraguan people an end to their troubles if
they would support the US candidate for President of Nicaragua,
Violeta Chamorro, formerly of the revolutionary junta. The US poured
millions into the Nicaraguan presidential campaign of 1990. Chamorro
won, the FSLN lost power and Daniel left the Presidency.

It was a difficult time for all those who had been fighting for social
and economic justice in Nicaragua. The first act of Chamorro was to
absolve the United States of any payment to Nicaragua of the World
Court judgment. She then proceeded to borrow money to pay debt, and
Nicaragua entered the neoliberal global economy. Since then,
corruption has governed Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas have been part
of it. As they left power, many simply absconded with government
assets, taking what they could while they could in desperation or
plain greed. The Chamorro government dismantled the social programs of
the Sandinistas, indigenous rights were neglected and the historic
project of the Sandinistas to consolidate the Autonomous Regions of
the East Coast languished. Under Violeta, Nicaragua became a "heavily
indebted poor country" and the gains of the early 80's were replaced
with poverty, maquilas and debt.

There was hope in 1990 that the FSLN would be able to maintain itself
as a true opposition party, would be able to rule from below as a
Party of the people. These hopes were dashed by the greed and power
trips that splintered the party. The maquila system in the free trade
zones was put in place, the market was penetrated by cheap goods from
the US, and small farmers were put out of business and forced to leave
their land. During the 1990's, Nicaragua's land, resources and people
were for sale and many of the leaders of the FSLN took their piece of
the action.

In 1996, the plunder accelerated with the election of Arnoldo Aleman,
who won the Presidency over the FSLN candidate, once again Daniel
Ortega. By this time, there was severe disillusion in Nicaragua about
the leadership of Ortega. In 1998, Daniel was accused of having
committed years of sexual abuse and harassment by his step-daughter,
Zoilamerica Narvaez. He denied the allegations, and did not allow a
full hearing or investigation of the charges. The FSLN became divided
over those who supported (believed) Zoilamerica and those who
supported Daniel at any cost. Ortega stood firm, stonewalled, and
turned to Aleman for support. They fashioned a "pact" which provided
both Aleman and Daniel with constitutional immunity against any
criminal charges, and allowed the Aleman project of corruption to
continue. After Aleman left office in 2001, his immunity from
prosecution was stripped from him, and he was tried and convicted on
multiple charges of corrupt practises. It was revealed that he stole
over a $100 million while in office. He is currently under house
arrest while his political party, the PLC, mounts constant legislative
efforts to have him amnestied. Daniel continues to be a member of the
National Assembly and has never faced prosecution for the very
credible charges of Zoilamerica.

The corruption of the Chamorro and Aleman years took a severe toll on
the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. This fascinating and distinct region
is rich in gold, timber, fish, lobsters, land. It is the home of the
largest remaining rainforest north of the Amazon, which is being
plundered as you read. The native Rama, Sumu, Garifuna, and Miskito
peoples are being forced off their land by a combination of land theft
from the west and theft of their islands, land and fishing rights on
the Caribbean coast. The selling of the Pearl Cays over the internet
by Peter Tsokos and the attempts (which include the assassination of
her husband Francisco Garcia) to prevent Attorney Maria Luisa Acosta
from defending the indigenous rights of the people here is a largely
unnoticed story which needs to be heard and addressed by the
international community. Maria was successful in gaining some justice
for the Sumu people, who were remunerated by the government after the
Interamerican Court of Human Rights found that Chamorro had illegally
sold their timber. This was a groundbreaking case, which resulted in
the attempts to intimidate her.

The tragedy of this situation has occurred in the vacuum of conscience
that existed in Managua during the 1990's and continues till today.
The FSLN under the leadership of Daniel was complicit in this plunder.
In February of 2000, I participated in a work brigade in Matagalpa to
construct houses for people who were rendered homeless by Hurricane
Mitch. The project was administered by two Nicaraguan NGO's, Grupo
Venancia and ADIC (Associacion para el Desarollo Integral
Communitario, Association for Integral Community Development). Many
disaffected Sandinistas continue their work in projects like this,
outside the party in civil society. This small project of 44 houses
was more houses than were reconstructed in the region by the
government. Aleman's corruption was a source of many bitter jokes.
In the January-February 2000 issue of the Nicaragua Monitor, the
newsletter of the Nicaragua Network, the following open letter
appeared on the front page, which sums up the attitude of the US
solidarity community toward the FSLN at this time:

"Dear member committees from the Nicaragua Network: 

The Nicaragua Network remains in solidarity with the most democratic
sectors of the Sandinista movement that are working to improve the
lives of Nicaragua's poor and oppressed. We recognize that these
Sandinistas can be found within the Sandinista party structures and
outside them and even (in a few cases) within the party leadership. We
have been inspired recently by the courageous stand of many
Sandinistas within the FSLN who have openly stood up for what they
believe to be the essential principles of their revolutionary
movement. We are inspired by and continue to support the work of
Sandinistas of all stripes in areas such as human rights, labor
organizing, training of cooperative members, etc.

We condemn corruption and dishonesty within the Party as well as
toleration by the FSLN of corruption and dishonesty in the present
government. We bemoan the lack of consultation with Nicaragua's
citizens on the measures included in the FSLN/PLC pact and on the
resulting amendments to the constitution, which have been rushed
through the National Assembly. We contrast this with our memories of
the countrywide town meetings held when the constitution was being
written in 1986.

We encourage our committees to continue to work in support of all of
the efforts of the Nicaraguan people for a better life. We look
forward to the day when the entire leadership and grassroots base of
the FSLN again provide strong, idealistic leadership for that

In 2001, despite challenges within the FSLN, Daniel again was the
candidate for President, and this time he lost to Aleman's
Vice-President, Enrique Bolaños. Daniel lost despite an overwhelming
victory by the FSLN in the municipal elections of 2000. The level of
disillusion in the party was increasing. A majority of Nicaraguans
considered themselves Sandinistas, but wanted nothing to do with the
FSLN. Apathy and cynism spread among many who had devoted their lives
to the struggle, first against Somoza, then against the contras, and
amidst the war a battle for a better society. Now, they were left with
nothing, were bitter, and were looking to reconstruct their own lives
in an impoverished nation.

In March of this year, the Sandinistas again won the municipal
elections in overwhelming fashion. And Daniel, again, is not allowing
dissent within the FSLN, and not permitting a primary which could pick
a different candidate to represent the Sandinistas of Nicaragua in the
Presidential election in 2006. A former mayor of Managua, Herty
Lewites, is mounting an opposition campaign, but has been denied a
primary vote by the party apparatus controlled by Ortega supporters.
Recently, Ortega has actually engineered the removal of Lewites and
such Lewites-supporters as victor Hugo Tinoco from the party. Daniel
is acting like a political boss, pure and simple. In March, there was
a violent confrontation between Ortega and Lewites supporters in
Managua, an unprecedented development within the FSLN and an
indication that the party is unravelling under the leadership of
Ortega. Lewites leads in the polls by a 59% - 31% margin (CID Gallup
poll, March 15).

Meanwhile, the charges and counter-charges are flying, as Lewites
points out that Tomás Borge is negotiating land deals which will net
him close to $4 million, and that Rosario Murillo, the wife of Daniel,
is buying Mercedes-Benz cars at will. Ortega has labelled Lewites a
"Judas" and stated that he will "end up hanged by his own shame."

The current struggle within the FSLN is more than a struggle between
Herty Lewites and Daniel Ortega. It is about a party re-establishing
its ability to be the party of the poor majority, the people most
affected by the brutality of the neo-liberal economic system. Lewites
has become a threat to Ortega not because he has the support of the
US, but because the bases of the FSLN and the majority of people of
Nicaragua want change, and Ortega does not offer it. If Lewites has
the support of the United States Ambassador as Tony Solo states in his
recent Counterpunch article, "Nicaragua on a Dollar a Day, Forever", I
believe it is only because the Ambassador knows this will hurt Lewites
in the eyes of Nicaraguans. As an FSLN candidate who will carry
through with a Sandinista program, it would be a different story, I
believe. We don't yet know what program Herty Lewites would propose
for Nicaragua, for example, whether he would support or oppose the
neo-liberal policies that have been ruinous for Nicaragua's poor. But
he deserves a chance to present his program to the people in the type
of party primary that the Danielistas have now cancelled.

The challenge for the FSLN is to connect once more to the Sandinistas
of Nicaragua who continue the struggle to fulfill the social
aspirations of the majority of Nicaraguans.

For those interested in keeping track of ongoing events in Nicaragua,
see the Nicaragua Network website, www.nicanet.org

Joe DeRaymond can be reached at: jderaymond at enter.net

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