The Herald on Sunday
Many who took part in the revolution will remain heroes, not like Ortega The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) under president Daniel Ortega increasingly reveals its own autocratic colours
“I DON’T want an educated population; I want oxen.” These were the words of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, back in the day when he ruled the Central American country with a callous brutality.
This was a leader who thought nothing of diverting foreign earthquake aid to his own warehouses. He and his cadres also quite literally bled their people to death, the president and his son being both part-owners of a company that collected blood plasma from up to 1,000 of Nicaragua’s poorest people every day for sale in the United States and Europe.
The homeless, the alcoholics, the desperately poor went to sell half a litre for a few Nicaraguan cordobas in order to survive, while Somoza and his family pocketed the vast profits from the exported blood plasma.
Then, in 1979, along came the socialist party and group that overthrew Somoza in the Sandinista revolution that bore their name. Their fight from the hills and jungles which was brought into Nicaragua’s cities with the support of the civilian population was the stuff of legend and which I covered as a young journalist.
Today, however, it’s an altogether different story as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) under president Daniel Ortega increasingly reveals its own autocratic colours and many Nicaraguans turn against them. Not that Ortega is listening to their woes, on the contrary. With elections looming in November, Ortega is determined to hang onto power using whatever it takes. Last week saw his regime detain another five prominent opposition figures in a further crackdown seen as an attempt to crush any serious challenge in November’s ballot.
That many of those arrested include revered former Sandinista guerrillas who battled alongside Ortega to topple the US-backed Somoza dictatorship only adds to the irony of the president’s transition from one-time respected revolutionary to detested dictator.
“It’s crystal clear he’s clearing the field to run without any meaningful opposition,” was how Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the
America’s Division at Human Rights Watch, summed up the latest arrests.
That Ortega’s increasingly brazen clampdown is unlikely to spill over into protests as it did before is only because of widespread fear among much of the Nicaraguan population. Back in 2018, when opposition protests erupted, more than 100,000 Nicaraguans fled to neighbouring Costa Rica. Today, the number leaving in fear is again rising.
It’s all a far cry from those turbulent days back in 1979 and the years afterwards when they took to the streets in support. Today, the nearmythical status the Sandinista
revolution once held far beyond the country’s borders has been irreversibly tainted.
Like so many people back in the wake of the revolution, I, too, as a young correspondent was in awe of those remarkable men and women who ousted the hideous Somoza regime.
Rarely since have I ever been in a situation where the universal sense of solidarity and desire for justice and fairness were so profoundly felt. Many of those who took part in the revolution will remain heroes, for not all like Ortega turned on the people that brought them to power.