[Marxism] Daniel Ortega faces challenge for FSLN party leadership in Nicaragua

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun May 8 09:06:46 MDT 2005

This is a report on an opposition to Daniel Ortega's leadership of the
FSLN.  Despite the FSLN gains in local elections, there is substantial
reason to believe that he could be defeated again in upcoming
presidential elections. I have no way of judging the charges by his
daughter one way or another, and so they don't form part of my judgment
as they do with this critic and others.  But I know that he was
complicit in permitting the the circus of corruption that characterized
Nicaragua since Nicaragua, and that his involvement in privilege-seeking
and property-grabbing predates the post-Sandinista period.

At best he would represent a narrowly bourgeois-nationalist alternative
in Nicaragua, and how badly that can turn out in today's imperialist
conjuncture is indicated by the treachery and downfall of Lucio
Gutierrez in Nicaragua.  So I lean toward his opponents on the "could be
better, hard to be much worse" principle.

There are signs that Nicaragua may be beginning to recover from the
late-Sandinista and post-Sandinista discouragement and demoralization,
and beginning to join the continental wave of unrest.

(Back when I was in the US Socialist Workers Party, signs of corruption
among Ortega and others were noted by journalists Jose Perez, Michael
Baumann, and Jane Harris -- and all got into trouble, among other
things, for failing to homogenize with the prevailing optimism, despite
their differing views on what all this meant. Later, Cindy Jaquith, one
of their successors, got into trouble for reports on the Atlantic Coast
situation that failed to sufficiently reflect the prevailing pessimism
(and anti-nationalism.  In between, Larry Seigle took the assignment,
and quit the party very shortly after his reports to the 1990
conventions on the subject. And so it went. Political homogeneity is a
heavy cross to bear.)
Fred Feldman

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

"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 revolution". 

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 struggle." 

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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