Saturday, December 4, 2021

Nicaragua: Former revolutionary Daniel Ortega now resembles the dictator he helped overthrow

Nicaraguans go to the polls on Sunday 7 November with former revolutionary leader, Daniel Ortega, hoping to win a fourth consecutive term in office. However, he is not leaving much chance. Prominent opposition figures (including presidential candidates) and critics have been imprisoned or forced into exile and newspaper offices have been raided.

It seems likely that his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) will get a significant share of the popular vote and Ortega – along with his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo – will continue to rule Nicaragua for the foreseeable future.

Ortega has come a long way from the young left-wing revolutionary in the 1970s who fought in guerrilla warfare against the anti-communist dictatorship of the US-backed Anastasio Somoza, whose family had been in power in Nicaragua for more than four decades. On 19 July 1979, after the Sandinistas led a popular revolution to topple the Somoza dictatorship, Ortega became a member of the Revolutionary Junta. It initiated a revolutionary program of social change, including land reforms and a successful literacy campaign.

In 1984, Ortega won the first presidential election after the revolution with a landslide, along with vice-presidential candidate Sergio Ramírez. The 1980s were a period of economic hardship and counterinsurgency at the hands of Contra rebels. There was also international pressure, mainly from the United States, which mined Nicaragua’s ports in 1984 and provided financial assistance to Contras during the 1980s.

To the surprise of international observers, but largely the result of a decade of hardship and turmoil, Ortega lost the presidency in 1990 as the people of Nicaragua voted for an opposition coalition led by Violet Chamorro.

international acclaim

If their popularity at home is often questioned, young and optimistic Sandinistas were extremely popular in Europe and America in the 1980s. Left activists organized solidarity campaigns, fundraisers and protests to support health reform, educational programs and agricultural projects in Nicaragua. European social democrats, including former German Chancellor Willy Brandt and Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González, also started a committee to protect the revolution from “external violations and influences”.

Sandinista! A young Ortega in 1981, two years after the FSLN overthrew the oppressive Somoza regime.
Keystone Press/Alamy Stock Photo

In Britain, Ortega and Sandinista were the darlings of the cultural scene. Leading rock group The Clash released a triple album called Sandinista! In 1980 and 1989, when Ortega made an official visit to the UK, playwright Harold Pinter threw Ortega at his London home, where Nicaraguan leaders met a man of art identity.

Acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie, who witnessed the revolution unfolding during a visit to Nicaragua in 1987, shared his rose-colored view of the Sandinists in a non-fiction book called The Jaguar Smile:

Father Miguel, Sergio Ramirez, Daniel Ortega: Were they becoming dictators? I answered myself: no. Loud, no. They struck me as people of integrity and great pragmatism, with a surprising lack of bitterness toward their opponents, past or present.

ruthless in power

Rushdie on Daniel Ortega couldn’t be more wrong. Since returning to power in 2007, the Sandinista leader has slowly and ruthlessly consolidated his power over the FSLN and the state of Nicaragua. To avoid a repetition of past mistakes, Ortega formed alliances with former enemies including the Catholic Church (proclaiming himself a Christian and banning abortion) and business organizations such as COSEP (Superior Council for Private Enterprise), a strong rival. Was. of the FSLN in the 1980s.

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Combining social policies with a neoliberal economic model, which received praise from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Ortega regime kept the country stable and a better standard of living. Even the US, despite occasional bursts over the state of Nicaraguan democracy, did not exert much pressure on the FSLN leader. Eventually, the Sandinista government took a strong stance against narcotics and implemented violent but effective policies to deter migrants and refugees from traveling to the US. All this happened at the cost of transparency and democracy did not matter as much in Nicaragua.

But in April 2018, these ties with the church and the business sector broke down in the wake of a popular protest, which was then violently crushed by groups of police and Sandinista paramilitary forces, killing more than 300 young people. From that moment it became impossible to deny that Ortega began to look more and more like the dictator he had overthrown.

popular support

But Ortega and Murillo managed to remain in power. There are several reasons for their political existence, including the fragmentation of the opposition, an oppressive state apparatus, and a lack of international pressure. However, what is often overlooked is that for many Nicaraguans, the FSLN is the only political party that represents the interests of the poor.

Nicaragua's ruling couple Rosario Murillo (L) and Daniel Ortega.
Double act: Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, at a rally in 2018.

Freedom of expression and free media are important elements of a functioning democracy, but they matter less to a voter who is concerned about food, clean water, a stable home and health care. Even though the social programs of the Sandinistas are embedded in a neoliberal economic model, they have transformed the daily lives of many Nicaraguans.

If the opposition is serious about challenging the Ortega-Murillo regime, the answer probably lies in building a broad coalition that includes all sectors of society, especially the marginalized. This, at least, was what the Sandinista revolutionaries needed to finally end decades of Somosist rule in 1979.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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