Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Today's Nicaragua and the US left

The US left is divided over Nicaragua.
One side feels that Ortega and the Sandinistas can do no wrong.
The other could do a better job explaining itself to the left and the public at large.   
This weekend Nicaragua will hold a farse election under repressive conditions.  The US left is well placed to either not explain the bad news well, or to tell us that the bad news is not true. 
I nearly lost my life building that revolution.  Be clear that I too wish that the bad news was not true.  But to be a revolutionary is to have a commitment to the well being of the people, and to seek out the truth, not matter how upsetting.  We have a duty to know the nuance and contradictions of any political situation in which we work.  Denial is bad psychology and worse politics. 
A few years back Ernesto Cardinal, my former culture minister, a poet, and a priest who was on Pope John Paul II’s shit list for being a member of the Sandinista government, was the star presenter at the San Francisco “Flor y Canto” poetry and music festival. 
He read some poetry and talked a bit; while doing so he said that President Daniel Ortega had become a new Somoza.  Anastasio Somoza Debayle was the dictator of Nicaragua that the Sandinistas, including Ernesto Cardinal and his brother (and fellow priest) Fernando, overthrew in 1979. 
I knew that things were bad in Nicaragua and had been so for some years, but to say “the same as Somoza” to me meant a lot, especially coming from a man I respected so deeply. 
For clarification, the Ortega-Murillo marriage are president and vice president of Nicaragua and also run the current version of the Frente Sandinista. When people refer to the Sandinista revolution, they are talking about the period from 1979 to 1990.  Some people think that the current government is a continuation of that revolution while most independent analysts think that Ortega-Murillo government is repressive and much to the right of traditional Sandinista views and ethics. 
Recently I have attended two Zoom meetings that both called themselves a left perspective on the current situation in Nicaragua. 
The first supported the current Daniel Ortega government treating it like the ongoing triumph of the revolution that I worked for in the 1980’s. It was hosted by a local Veterans for Peace group. 
ICSS 20210801 Revolutionary Nicaragua in the crosshairs of Imperialism Gerry Condon - YouTube
And the second was organized by the North American Congress on Latin America which opposes and denounces the current Daniel government.  The main takeaway from that one was to focus on getting political prisoners released.
The Nicaraguan Crisis: A Left Perspective (October 7, 2021) - YouTube
I found the second one disappointing and the first one seriously misguided. 
The disappointing one more closely reflected my own views, but I did not find that the answers that they gave would mean much in our discussions with the other part of the left represented by the Daniel supports.  The answers were too dismissive of other concerns in my view.  It felt like a good opportunity missed.
The first concern they just pushed back on, but did not really discuss, was the concern about US involvement and support for some of the opposition that has emerged in Nicaragua. 
Recently a friend sent me a pro Daniel article that got published on the Black Agenda Report website.  The Black Agenda Report is a damn good show and I doubt that they know how badly publishing this article damages their credibility. 
The article is called:
Why Defending Nicaragua is Important | Black Agenda Report by Stephen Sefton 26 Oct 2021
It starts with the line:
The U.S. effort to destabilize Nicaragua is an ongoing crime against that nation's people.
Is that really true?
American Imperialism is an ongoing reality, especially in Latin America but I do not believe that the US State Department is trying to overthrow the Danielista government.  For all the years since Daniel was elected back to the presidency, they seemed totally fine with his pro market, pro neo-liberal policies not to mention his anti-union and anti-farmer strongarm tactics.  US concern for the increasing authoritarianism and eroding democracy did not even include lip service before 2018. 
For imperialism to be inactive in a Latin American nation means a lot. The CIA does not just go away. I do not believe that they are totally dormant at any time. 
So, for the CIA to not be doing anything serious is an important event. 
The pro Daniel folk point to the grants and scholarships that some of the opposition leaders received from US based organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy.  The other side waived that aside saying that it is minimal, and it is true that it is minimal. When the speakers just brushed those scholarships off, they lost an opportunity to explain that it is NORMAL and LEGAL in international relations to offer students above-board education in hopes that it will influence the educated in their favor.  It is sleezy, but not subterfuge. 
Today’s CIA is built on a long tradition of interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations funding political groups, unions and supporting military coups, insurgencies and US invasions.
Scholarships is not what we mean by imperialist interference in other nations internal affairs.  In the past, and in other nations, we have seen and still see, such tactics as pouring cash into opposition groups, including armed forces and militias (as in Venezuela recently, and many places, including Nicaragua, historically), putting the heat on to get a congress to recall a president (Honduras and Paraguay) and supporting a takeover by the police and military as in Bolivia.  This is today’s CIA. 
I was disappointed that the speakers did not give the accusation of US intervention more credence and provide a stronger argument as to why this is not the case in today’s Nicaragua.
In the course of the conversation there was only a passing mention that the participants do not support any US government interference.  In my book that should take top bill with some clarifications.  And we should also discuss the international human rights organizations that we do support getting involved. 
Keeping the US out of Nicaragua is always important.
I also felt that the Sandinista critics were too dismissive of the social welfare aspect of the Daniel version of Sandinistas.  It kind of gave away where they fit in the social-economic pyramid. 
Yes, the nation is poor. Yes, Ortega-Murillo practice savage capitalism.  Yes, the government is corrupt and people are losing their labor and land rights. But no, roads, schools, sewage, drinking water and such are not nothing. 
Try living without them! That was true for much of Nicaragua only 30 years ago.
There is a reason why the unaccompanied minors turning up at the US boarder are mostly from Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  Well, two reasons.  One is that to be poor in Nicaragua is not as bad as in those three countries to their north.  The other reason, and I feel it is a big one, is that the Nicaraguan street is not under the control of the gangs.  The national police, formally called the Sandinista Police are repressive, but they are also efficient and powerful.  A Honduran does not have basic security and a Nicaraguan does, and both know it.
A pro Ortega-Murillo friend just sent me a digital election poster.  It lists 20 things that the government has done since this second Sandinista period began.  Some are debatable, most not. 
No-one on the panel mentioned any of that. They just pointed out that Nicaragua is still dirt poor and capitalist. True.  Nicaragua does not have the social network of Cuba.  But it is better than before and better than the neighbors to the north. 
Poverty and social welfare in Managua is one thing, poverty deep in the countryside is another.  Out in the rural areas many people still have reasons to support the Sandinistas, avidly. 
I was happy to see that former Comandante de la Revoluci√≥n Luis Carrion Cruz (member of the committee of 9) is still willing to speak out and has taken a good stand.  I just wish that he had done a better job of reaching the American left, as the hosts said that they set out to do.
The first Zoom meeting I saw, the pro Daniel one, was not disappointing, it was upsetting, and I feel that it was spreading the Ortega-Murillo talking points, may of which are lies and distortions.  According to this crowd:
·        The protests were all just US backed instigations. 
·        The protestors are pro-imperialist, pro-contra right wingers.
·        There is no repression Nicaragua.
·        All the arrests are justified. 
·        The Nicaraguan government is socially progressive.
·        The US hates Nicaragua because it is anti-imperialist. 
I think you get the idea.  This crowd was mockingly dismissive of anything that the Ortega-Murillo has been accused of. Their far-fetched justifications for every arrest and repressive action were akin to what we hear from the Republicans who just cover for their leaders even when they zig zag on policies. 
This presentation was also upsetting to me personally.  I have met a lot of these people and at one time they had my respect for what they did to oppose Regan era wars in Central America.  The host was a local group where we used to hold meetings in person before the pandemic. At one point they showed a video of two Americans being guests of honor at a Revolution Day event in Managua.  Both don’t speak enough Spanish to beat their way out of a wet paper bag, yet they felt that “they were there and saw it for themselves” and could lecture us on the reality of Nicaragua.  It was kind of sad and pathetic. 
A good friend of mine looked at it and said that she feels that some people are trapped in their own nostalgia. Being part of the Sandinista revolution was the high point of their lives.  
What bothers me is that some people are very active telling the US left, and anyone who will listen, that the current Ortega-Murillo is just great and once again what we are hearing in the press is all just imperialism up to its same old tricks. 
That seems to be the entire Stephen Sefton writing franchise brand. After I saw his awful article in the Black Agenda Report, I spent some time looking him up.  He has about a half dozen pro Daniel articles running in about a half dozen places in the alternative media.
I consider that mis-leadership. 
What should the left do? 
Continue to fight for the respect of nations.  We should be for noninterference into other people’s affairs ALL the time, whether we like that government or not.
We should continue to stand up for human rights ALL of the time.  There are credible, independent human rights groups and agencies.  We should take their lead, and not that of our State Department.
And we should educate our own people on imperialism as practiced by our own country, wherever that may be.  In this case, the history of interference and military intervention explain much of what hurts the people of Central America today.   
On a personal note, it is hard for me to be objective about anything in Nicaragua.  That place ate up 7 years of my life, 5 years of my employment and 3 years of military service. 
We left a lot of people dead because we were fighting to defend the revolution.  The revolution meant education, it meant development, but above all, we had a promise to the people of Nicaragua that they would never suffer the cruel repression of the dictatorship again. 
In that, I feel betrayed. 


  1. Thank you for the beautifully articulated and thoughtful summary, Don. This is just the kind of nuanced analysis I have been looking for. The question that remain is, what will the country do next? And what role can/should the international community play, other then observers, if any? Cheers, Rachel

  2. stand up for civil rights,
    everywhere, all the time

  3. Hard to believe that anybody would be divided over Nicaragua.

    1. people are divided over very much in most of our polarized world.
      In Nicaragua, there are complicated facts on the ground and a political environment at odds with itself. People in and outside of the country all have reasons to support their differing views.

  4. You wrote a really good article Don. It shows teh shades of grey and why Nicas support a Danielista gov't, and why Americans do too.
    But you also showed an alternative way of understanding the situation and a commitment to human rights.
    Well done.

  5. Hi Don. I too was disappointed by the NACLA sponsored panel, and I appreciate your analysis. Also infuriated by the Danielistas adherence to a revolutionary line that bears no resemblance to reali. Thanks for taking the time to write and publish this.

  6. when you have a moment, please repost it and the earlier blog called
    "Say it ain't so Nicaragua"