No Country for Old Communists
“There is not a more repulsive spectacle than on old man who will not forsake the world, which has already forsaken him.”
It’s nearly impossible to discuss the political history of the Western Hemisphere over the last fifty years, let alone United States history, without deep reflection on Nicaragua’s importance in the region. The second poorest country in the West has been at the center of nearly every political conversation about geopolitics and regime change in the United States’ backyard. From the Somoza dictatorial dynasty to Iran-Contra and the Reagan Administration, the land of lakes and volcanoes has commanded global attention because of its radical politics and refusal to bow to American hegemony. But, recently Nicaragua has become a shell of what it once was, as it is no longer the revolutionary stronghold for Marxist ideology and revolutionary success on the Latin American mainland. Instead, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has overstayed its welcome and has even turned its guns on its own people. Nicaragua’s revolutionaries of the glorious Sandinista days of the 70s and 80s have become morally bereft bureaucrats that are no better than the dictators they once ousted.
American influence in Nicaragua stretches all the way back to the 1920s when corporate interests such as United Fruit looked to invest in the country by buying up land. However, a bold revolutionary named Augusto César Sandino (yep, the Sandinistas were named after him) decided to combat this American subversion by leading a rag tag army of socially conscious Nicaraguans in strategic military operations on government forces and American Marines stationed in the country. After Sandino’s assassination at the hands of Anastasio Somoza García’s henchmen, Nicaragua entered a nearly fifty year period of Somoza dictatorial control. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once stated “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” FDR’s American blessing lent ethos and legitimacy to the Somoza government and allowed Nicaragua’s dictator to maintain a stranglehold on the country.
In 1979, the FSLN mounted their revolutionary coup against Anastasio Somoza Debayle’s administration, backed by common Nicaraguan folk and idealistic students that were fed up with the dictatorship. The young idealists, led by Daniel Ortega, had finally ousted the Somoza regime and were prepared to begin governing their country. However, during the Cold War, Russian meddling in the Western Hemisphere had already caused one crisis in Cuba and President Ronald Reagan was not about to allow another Latin American nation to turn red on his watch. Subsequently, this snowballed into one of the most renowned scandals in American history, the Iran-Contra affair. Reagan and his subordinates decided to finance a proxy war in Nicaragua by selling arms to the Iranian government in exchange for cash that was used to finance the Counterrevolutionaries, or Contras. These American backed forces were assembled, trained, and dispatched from neighboring Honduras to take down the FSLN government by any means necessary. The proxy war ended as an abject failure for the United States as top military officials, including General Oliver North, were indicted for lying to the American people about the arms sales. There were no winners in this war as thousands of civilians and soldiers were kidnapped, tortured, and killed, countless women were raped and several towns were decimated by Contra forces.
The ensuing years proved to be the beginning of a seemingly promising new direction for a country that had stuck to its guns and ideology. The FSLN was able to produce free and fair elections, a peaceful transition of power, and the country even elected a woman, Violeta Chamorro, as president. So, when did Nicaragua go off course as it had just begun its ascent? In 2016, Daniel Ortega was elected to his third term by garnering over 70% of the vote as his government prohibited election watchdogs to monitor the proceedings, activity that many see as election rigging. The victory has assured that Ortega will maintain presidential power until at least 2021. Surprisingly, Ortega’s victory has led to the ascent of Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo as the de facto leader of the nation as President Ortega has inexplicably taken a back seat to his wife’s rule. The vice president is enigmatic as she saunters onstage wearing colorful outfits, bangles, and flashy jewelry, and her resemblance to the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West is hard to deny.
The power couple now finds themselves in the middle of a national crisis as political dissidents, journalists, and artists, are being targeted by police. After recent political protests, created by the government’s payroll and pension increases on workers and retirees, the populace has become infuriated. The anger, primarily fueled by young student activists, led to violence erupting on the streets of Managua, Esteli, Leon, and Granada, some of the largest cities in the country. The social unrest didn’t stop there, as the iconic metallic “Árboles de la Vida” were toppled over by protesters in the capital city and clashes between students and police became deadly. As of this writing 322 people have been killed during these clashes.
Ortega’s stale FSLN government doesn’t possess the integrity it once did as our globalized world no longer cares for the party’s idealism or revolutionary inclinations. And, Ortega’s alignment with President Donald Trump in their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a treaty designed to combat climate change on a global scale, have backfired as the United States has issued sanctions on the government for undermining democracy. As Clinton fatigue plagued the United States in 2016, Ortega fatigue is presently destroying Nicaragua. It’s time for the old communist to go.