Letter from Nicaragua, Part I

(This is the first part of a two part series on Nicaragua. To see part II, please click here.)

by Rick Rockwell*

Long ago, seemingly in another universe, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN, by its Spanish acronym) refused to use the official Nicaraguan presidential complex, saying the buildings had been contaminated by the presence of the dictators of the Somoza family. So after the revolution, the Sandinistas seized a pyramid-style international hotel and used it as their unofficial headquarters. As the story goes, Commandante Tomas Borge – the only original Sandinista – commandeered the penthouse.

Who says there are no firsts among equals in the revolution?

Back in the 1980s, journalists passing the hotel in taxis would look up at the lights burning in the penthouse and openly wonder what the Sandinistas were plotting next as they fought the CIA-sponsored Contras in the countryside.

Nowadays, the hotel is called the Crowne Plaza and journalists stay in it enjoying expensive dinners, gambling in the casino and drinking rum at the bar. The trappings of the revolutionary past are gone. But questions about what the Sandinistas are thinking remain.

After more than 15 years out of power, the Sandinistas are back running Nicaragua but these are not the same dour army-fatigue-clad guerrillas, who held sway in the 1980s, even if many of the names are the same.

Borge is not in the country, having taken a position as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru. Bayardo Arce, a force on the FSLN directorate, is the new Economics Minister and Daniel Ortega is back as president. Although she was a behind-the-scenes presence in the 1980s, Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife, is now front and center as Communications Minister. Some complain and joke in Managua that she has made the return of Daniel Ortega into a co-presidency.

If that is truly the case, Murillo is a knowledgeable political tactician because she has reconstructed the image of her husband, a failed revolutionary turned typical Latin American caudillo who sexually abused his adopted daughter (Murillo’s daughter by another marriage). In the departments of spousal forgiveness and plastic political reconstructive surgery, Murillo even surpasses Hillary Clinton.

So at Murillo’s urging, in the last election campaign, the Sandinistas swapped many of their black and red banners for a new pink marketing campaign. Pink signs from the election, and a new series touting Ortega as a champion of democracy are seemingly everywhere -- even in the tiniest village, hours up the highway from Managua on the way to the Honduran border.

Perhaps as another method of softening Ortega’s image, before the presidential campaign, the Ortegas officially exchanged Catholic marriage vows for the first time, a ceremony officiated by Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo (once an ardent Sandinista opponent but after Rome pushed him into retirement, now a supporter of the FSLN). In another bid to win over Catholics, Ortega promised to outlaw abortion and the FSLN made good on the promise practically on the eve of the elections last year.

So much for the women’s movement the FSLN spurred on in the 1980s.

And so much for a revolution led by God-less atheists.

(To continue to the second part of the series, please click here.)

*Rick Rockwell traveled extensively through Nicaragua in July and August speaking about democracy and free press issues. His lecture series was supported by the U.S. State Department. He is the co-author of Media Power in Central America.

(The photo of Communications Minister Rosario Murillo and President Daniel Ortega is by Cesar Perez and from the Nicaraguan government; the photo is in the public domain.)

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