The writer of this reflection on the implications today of the 41st anniversary of the revolution is known as one of the few Comandantes of the Revolution, and the author of a 4 volumes of interviews of those who fought against Somoza. Her history gives special relevance to her reflections.
The 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the fall of the Ortega regime
By Monica Baltodano in Confidencial, July 19, 2020
Thousands of Nicaraguans gave their lives in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship throughout the forty years of its duration. The biggest quotas of sacrifice were paid in the final phase, when the population, particularly the youth, got massively involved in the insurrections that culminated with the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, on July 19, 1979. It was a long and painful journey, that we will never forget.
During those decades of Somocism, thousands of peasants were disappeared; dozens of union leaders jailed time and time again; and hundreds of women fighters raped in the Somoza dungeons. The civilian population was massacred by bombs and rockets launched by Somoza aviation in the insurrections of 1978 and 1979.
What objectives moved the fighters from the liberal or conservative ideologies who suffered jailing, exile and death in different stages of the anti-Somoza struggle? What ideals prompted the youth to get involved in the Sandinista armed struggle at the risk of losing their lives? What united an entire people so that, coming from different ideologies, social strata or religious adherence, they would decide to contribute, from different forms of struggle, to the national torrent that put an end to the despotic regime that subjugated us?
In the end we were able to build a consensus, an essential front to the brutal escalation of the repression and the crimes against the population; one of the most abhorrent was the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in January of 1978. The people thought, if they killed Pedro Joaquín, who could be saved? So, the national cry was unified: Enough already!
For the construction of the post-Somoza Nicaragua, most of us were committed to our own model, derived from our reality, with its limits and opportunities. From a Nicaraguan reading of Marxism emerged then, the proposal for a mixed economy, the co-existence of a social, cooperative and State economy, with private property and markets. Most of us did not like the single party, we were committed to political pluralism, and we were not interested in aligning ourselves with any of the superpowers. We aspired to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy.
Even though Somoza called us “communists”, most of the militants fought to build a society where democratic voting prevailed, where people could organize to defend their rights and no one was persecuted for their political ideas nor for their religious beliefs. And many of us dreamed, above all, of ending the poverty that afflicted more than 60% of Nicaraguans. In the new Nicaragua there would be progress, education, health care and work for all. This country aspiration explains the involvement in the struggle of thousands of Christian youth and priests, from their convictions in the “God of the poor, human and simple God”, as the Peasant Mass goes.
What I want to emphasize is that the end of the dictatorship and the new national project came to be a banner under which the great majority of the Nicaraguan people got involved, and that on arriving at July 19, 1979 only the central nucleus of Somocism, a clear minority, was with the tyrant. July 19th was then the victory of an unquestionable social majority and a beautiful national celebration.
Unfortunately, our dreams were not able to be realized. This is not the place here to refer in detail to this, but we cannot avoid the fact that the decision of Ronald Reagan to fight the Sandinista Revolution, financing and arming the contra in a war, called a “low intensity war”, explains in part the unique course of the revolution. In that civil war, like in all conflagrations, there were thousands of deaths, human rights violations, cruelty, grief and suffering of families to be regretted, all of that from one side and the other. So it is that the revolutionary government ended up restricting liberties, confiscating its opponents, installing unpopular obligatory military service and, in order to survive, ended up depending on the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union.
It ended up surprising, nevertheless, that in 1990 and in the worst scenario possible, with the economy completely destroyed, nearly inexistent social services, all the warehouses empty, all the attrition imposed by the war, and a precarious military situation, the revolution maintained 40.8% of support expressed by the votes.
During the decade of 1990 Sandinism was fractured. In this way the MRS emerged in 1995. Later on, in 1999, hundreds of us left, denouncing the neoliberal, authoritarian drift and the culture of power sharing in the top leadership of the FSLN, when Ortega made a pact with Arnoldo Alemán to distribute between themselves, and undermine, the institutions of the State. On coming to power in 2007 Ortega did it with new allies: liberals, conservatives, contras, part of the Catholic hierarchy and big capital.
The authoritarian regime of Ortega and Murillo not only did away with the already fragile democratic institutions of Nicaragua, but also put an end to the last accomplishments of the revolution. An organized people who learned to defend their rights moved to nourishing completely submissive organizations whose only currency is the defense of Ortega; critical and autonomous universities, ended up in the absolute control of the department chairs to impose the story of the government; citizen participation was replaced by vertical Orteguista control. The National Police, recognized as professional and apolitical for decades, became a guard of the dictator, highly repressive; and an Army that evolved favorably in the 90s under a patriotic and non-bellicose manner, became a strategic element for keeping Ortega in power. There are no vestiges left for political archaeology of the popular and progressive essence of the revolution.
All the authoritarian and corrupt policies, as well as the crimes committed, have been carried out in the name of Sandinism, the left and a project that Ortega and his followers cynically call “the second stage of the revolution.” Ortega in this way pretends to take over the history of the just anti-Somocista struggle. And at least for now he is achieving it. On the one hand, one sector of the combatants of that feat have been turned into paramilitaries responsible for repression against the citizenry. On the other hand, there are those who, for selfish interests, persist in assimilating the brutal Ortega dictatorship with the 1979 revolution; and the crimes against humanity committed in 2018, they incorrectly assimilate with the casualties of the civil war of the 80s.
In addition, while Ortega shows more and more his reactionary disposition, people from the Trump administration insist on calling him a communist. On the other hand, sectors from the international left take the empty discourse of Ortega as true, instead of examining his policies and actions, thus supporting a conservative, corrupt and criminal dictator.
But history, which puts the facts, motivations and true heroes and heroines in their place, will know how to differentiate between the men and women who gave their lives for freedom throughout the four decades (between the 50s and 80s), from the criminals who, manipulating the symbols and discourse of that time, do just the opposite to the ideals that moved thousands of youth to fight. This the Sandinistas submissive to the regime know well, whose consciences challenge them every day.
The Nicaraguan patriots who got involved in the anti-dictatorial struggle prior to July 19th did so with the best of intentions, like – it has to be said – most of those who fought in the civil war of the 80s, on one side and the other. The examples of the heroes of those campaigns inspired thousands of participants in the uprising of April to rise up against this new dictatorship. Those murdered of 2018 are today the icons of the new generations of fighters and will be fused in history with those of past feats.
A present challenge is learning from our history without subordinating it to prejudices and self- serving ideological stories. And on this anniversary of the revolution, it is important to realize that today, like yesterday, the struggle of the people of Nicaragua continues to be achieving liberty, democracy, justice for the victims, and social justice for all. The relaunching of a true transformative and inclusive project, that would unite the vital forces of Nicaraguans, is needed for that purpose. The new generations and their emerging leaders are committed to this challenge.