Monica Baltodano was part of the Chief of Staff of the FSLN in Managua at the triumph of the revolution in 1979. This interview brings out her comparisons between those times and now.
Monica Baltodano: “The Attitude of the Army is a Disgrace”
La Prensa, June 24, 2018 by Fabián Medina
According to the Sandinista Commandante Monico Baltodano, Daniel Ortega has had to build an irregular army to repress, because he has been left without people, and faces what she calls a “civic guerilla action.”
The guerilla commander Monica Baltodano feels like she is seeing a repeat movie. 39 years ago she was in the eastern neighborhoods of a Managua in an uprising, as the Chief of Staff of the Sandinista guerilla in Managua. Likewise there were barricades in the streets to prevent the passage of the National Guard and to defend themselves from it, likewise Monimbó controled their neighborhood and resisted, and for a year they had been taking about the “IACHR report”, “dialogue” and “national strike”. Baltodano thinks that the response to Somoza has a lot of similarities to the response to Ortega, because both dictatorships have many similarities.
Nevertheless, Baltodano makes an essential distinction between one crisis and the other: Somoza faced an armed guerilla force, while Ortega is repressing a civic resistance with weapons of war. She says that Ortega has built an “irregular army” and she calls them “cowards” for the military response, one of war, in the face of a population that only is armed with “slingshots and home made mortars”. And she states that she feels ashamed of the Nicaraguan Army that has assumed a spineless attitude in the face of the outrages of this irregular army.
Where was Monica Baltodano in June 1979?
I was in the eastern neighborhoods. We had entered with the Chiefs of Staff of Managua. We found a population in revolt. With big barricades on the bridges. 110 rifles is what we had. What we experienced was the uprising of the entire population. The insurrection of 79 already had a strong organizational base, that came from 78. Yes, there was organization, but obviously the arrival of the guerillas alone did not guarantee this, and that we experienced in 77. There were attacks on bases, but the population did not rise up because there was not a high enough level of determination or awareness. We 110 entrenched guerillas did nothing, if it was not for the massive participation of the people.
How do you explain that 39 years later we are in a situation with many similarities?
In historical terms what we are experiencing is the response of the population to a dictatorship, the Ortega dictatorship, that just has been around for 11 years, since Daniel took the presidency again. This dictatorship looks a lot like the Somoza dictatorship, but if you look at the first eleven years of the Somoza dictatorship, from 1937 to 1948, this one has completely surpassed that level of criminality and repression. Which leads me to conclude that if (Ortega) would have had the open support of the Army, at this point he would have already sent tanks over the barricades, crushing the unarmed people. They would not have resisted. He would have already called out the aviation and bombed cities. In the first eleven years the Somoza dictatorship was not as brutal nor repressive as what we are experiencing today with Ortega. But, in the end, they are dictatorships. We have to be clear about the fact that after this insurrectional wave they if crush the resistance, and people are demobilized and settle in, this is going to be worse that in 1978 and 1979.
Do you believe the possibility exists that Ortega will assert his authority again?
The historical experiences of other peoples indicate that yes, the rebellion can be crushed. By fire and sword. But he is not going to recover what he had before April 18th, in the sense that things go back to normal. They are going to continue applying terror, death, jail and that is why the response of the population should be not to demobilize. For example, carry out civic guerilla actions.
What is civic guerilla actions?
The mobilizations, protests have to continue, committees have to be formed for the freedom of political prisoners. Every time they capture someone, campaigns have to be organized for the freedom of the political prisoners, because jail is what is coming. International pressure has to be continued from the human rights organizations and the presence of the international organizations. What we have seen is a true Ortega irregular army. And that deployment is also a slap in the face and a humilliation for the supposed Army of Nicaragua, that has watched how the irregular army is deployed, feigning dementia.
What is your assessment about the behavior of the Army in this crisis?
The National Guard fought us who were organizations with a decision for the armed struggle. Now what you have seen is a Ortega police force and an irregular army armed by the Police, and probably the Army, acting against the completely disarmed population. There is a difference. I think what we are seeing is more brutal. And the Army supposedly has stayed in their bases. And no one believes them. Because what you are seeing is that according to the Constitution there cannot be other military forces, but there is a true (irregular) army: it has command structure, supplies, bases, means, vehicles to get around in, territorial deployment and weapons of war. It is a disgrace that the Army has maintained this posture.
How do you explain this position of the Army?
During Somoza´s time, early on, there was within the Guard soldiers and officials who rebelled. And they suffered exile, jail, and some death, like Adolfo Báez Bone. Now it is surprising how many people, about whom it is said they had a democratic calling, one of defense of sovereignty and popular calling, yet no official has emerged who has challenged Ortega after the more than 200 absolutely unacceptable crimes in the country. This talks about a degree of fealty that did not exist in the Somocista Guard. It is a disgrace. And I am embarassed because many of these companions, many of these officials, fought against the Somoza dictatorship.
But also that Army could go out and repress. And as you say, we would have seen tanks running over barricades.
Yes, let´s hope that does not happen.
And how to you explain that, that they have not been implicated in the repression like that, with uniforms and insignia?
It is obvious that in the Military Council, which is really the one that decides, there was no decision to order the troops, the forces, to go out in the streets to repress; but it is also evident that within the Army there are people who maintain communication with Ortega and who are carrying out some operations. That is why there are no possibilities of getting out of this crisis and of avoiding more bloodshed if the disarming of this Ortega irregular army is not obtained, through these international organizations. This is key: disarming this irregular army and the deployment of democratic mechanisms.
Do you think that the protest will become armed at some moment?
The people have shown an impressive civic inclination. Facing a regime with weapons is falling into the terrain of Daniel Ortega, and rather prolonging his stay, because it is going to justify his disproportionate and criminal military response. What the people want is that he leave and he leave through the civic path. Wars have left many more dead. In the war against Somoza 50,000 died, and in the other war (80s) another 50,000. Military confrontations are bloodier and will give fresh air to the permanence of Daniel Ortega in power. He has been weakened and discredited in the most clear cut way because the resistance is civic.
I am going to ask you to jump in and tell us what your prediction is about how this crisis is going to end according to your experience?
It is difficult to predict. But I can tell you that the government of Ortega has had to resort to the construction of deployment of this irregular army because he no longer has the people, he no longer can count on the mobilization of the masses. If they hold the repliegue it is going to be moving scraps of people from all over the country, but it is not going to be Managua that is going to mobilize. No matter what Ortega does, his stay is going to be subjected to civic resistance. What is that civic resistance going to look like? We are going to have to invent it. They are able to take apart the barricades at bullet point…What a cheat! Great triumph of these retired military and those who say that they want to compare their struggle with the struggle against the dictatorship. It makes me embarassed to hear some of those retired military, because they have weapons and the people have slingshots. That is no victory, nor it is any defeat for the popular movement.
What do you think of the pressure that the United States is placing on Ortega?
I have not seen full pressure. To judge by the information, the United States is betting on a soft landing. They were behind Almagro with the departure in 2021. They now see that 2021 is very long, and now they are pressuring for 2019. You have to be clear that any prolongation of the stay of Daniel Ortega here is only going to get more repression, more deaths, more prisoners and more danger that it slide into a civil confrontation or war. Now comes the intention of the regime to counterattack. If they are able to take down all the barricades, the counterattack is going to be selective captures; selective murders of the leaders. Here cameras and bodyguards are going to be worthless for the rich. That does not work in the face of an irregular army deployed with the impunity that it has. That is why the only way out should be congruent with the level of the crisis. In other words, a quick departure. That he goes. But that solution is only possible with a defeated Daniel Ortega. He is not going to leave just because they ask him. We are going to defeat him. And the defeat has to be through the civic, peaceful path.
How much time are we talking about?
I think that it has to be sooner rather than later. The pace is going to be determined by the possibilities of building a true anti-Ortega popular front, like we were able to build a front in the fight against the Somoza dictatorship. You don´t see that yet.
What do you think is going to happen with Sandinism after this crisis?
So far Orteguism is able to take the Sandinista Front with it. The Sandinism of Carlos Fonseca is present in all these struggles. It is in Monimbó, in Masaya, in Estelí, in Matagalpa, it is in all those places where that Sandinism is strong. Many deaths with Sandinista histories, Sandinista parents, and we are going to be there, reclaiming that one thing is Sandinism and another thing is Ortega.
But in the popular imagination Sandinism has been left damaged by this latest version that was known in Ortega.
Obviously. And it can be still further damaged.
A lot of people think that Daniel Ortega is a product that has been formed since the struggle against Somoza. That the origins of this Daniel Ortega are in his incubation in the Sandinista Front.
I have more nuances about that. If you look, Orteguism was not dominant in society until he made a pact with Arnold Alemán. And there were bankers, there, the gringos… Because they used to say that bipartisanism provided stability. The Daniel Ortega of before the pact is not the same Daniel Ortega after the pact. Orteguism is not just a product of Sandinism, but a product of the political culture of liberals, conservatives…
But it is not that there was a spontaneous metamorphosis, but that Daniel Ortega of today has been building for some time. My question is more personal: What amount of responsibility does a commandante like Monica Baltodano assume in the construction of this Orteguism that we have now?
Yes, we take on quotas of responsibility. What I do want to say is that it is not as some say that it is only Sandinism, but it is that revolution that incubates this type of leadership and this type of caudillo. If Somoza had never existed, Emiliano Chamorro had not existed. That it be understood that the Ortegas like the Somozas, like the Adolfo Díaz are the result of historical cultural processes, a political culture, that by the way is not exclusive to Nicaragua, and that to vaccinate the country in the future against the re-edition of this type of matters a profound review of everything needs to be done, including obviously Sandinism.
Are you Sandinista?
I am Sandinista. Of Sandino and Carlos Fonseca. From those ideas. From the need to build an autonomous country that is not subjected to foreign interests. From the need to build more democratic, egalitarian societies, with more social justice. Daniel Ortega is not Sandinista because he was the principal promoter of ceding over the natural resources of our country. The most despicable thing is the canal concession. That canal concession was worse than the Chamorro-Bryan Treaty, which Sandino, Carlos Fonseca and everyone who called themselves revolutionaries rejected.
Do you feel now that you are watching a repeat movie: arrival of th IACHR, barricades, Monimbó, national strike, dialogue…
Yes, and not only that. Somoza would hold elections and they were fraudulent, Ortega too; supposedly there was a separation of powers, but it was false, Ortega did that as well. Big business backed Somoza and Ortega as well; university autonomy was achieved during the Somoza dictatorship and the Ortega regime completely crushed it. The page that Daniel Ortega has written is worse than Somoza´s. Then you had the Army, that now is the Police. The Guard is the Police. The Army is in a spineless position, because it has allowed the humilliation and slap in the face of an irregular army that goes over it and some say is cheered on by them.
Monica Baltodano Marcenario was born in León, is 63 years old, has four children and four grandchildren. “I am lucky that all my children are aware of what is happening and part of them are actively participating,” she says. She has a Licentiate in Social Sciences and a Masters in Municipal Law from the University of Barcelona, Spain.
She was elected as a member of the National Directorate of the FSLN in 1994. In 1997 she was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy of the Sandinista Front, even though from her position she rejected the pact between Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán. She left the party.
She likes to read, eat pasta and salads. “I do not like meat much, but I love pork. Pork ribs…” she says.
Her favorite phrase is from Rosa Luxemburg: “Freedom is only freedom for those who think differently.” I do not think like I did in the 80s or the 90s. And I think that one should be in ongoing evolution, change,” she reveals.
 Metal tube into which gunpowder is inserted and lit, before now most famously used since 1990s by the student movement defending university funding as mandated by the constitution.
 Strategic retreat from the eastern neighborhood of Managua to liberated zone of Masaya June 1979 that is re-enacted every year in late June.