Spanish to English

Nicaraguan Politics, an Abbreviated History

The Stench Of A Decayed Corpse

By Sergio Ramírez Mercado

[A writer and journalist, Ramírez was a prominent supporter of the Sandinista revolution; he served as vice president in the Sandinista government in 1985-1990, before breaking with the Sandinista Front in 1994].

Unauthorized Spanish to English translation by Peter Katel

In the history of Nicaragua, freely elected leaders are the exception, and caudillos who strive

for eternal power are the rule. The liberal revolution of Gen. José Santos Zelaya in 1893 gave rise to the most ambitious constitution that the country has ever seen, so much so that it was called “the freest.” But it was in effect for only one week. Zelaya ordered it suspended, because one of its clauses barred re-election. After 10 years in power, he was toppled in a revolt backed by the United States. President Porfirio Díaz [of Mexico] sent a naval corvette to take him safely to the port of Salina Cruz.

Anastasio Somoza, who granted himself the rank of general without having fought a single battle, led a coup d’état in 1936 against his own uncle, President Juan Bautista Sacasa, and fashioned his own constitution to permit him to stay in power for two decades. Then, in 1956, when he was celebrating the proclamation of his candidacy, ready for one more re-election, a poet named Rigoberto López Pérez shot him to death. Somoza’s two sons, Luis and Anastasio, succeeded him in office, but the latter was overthrown by the victorious revolution of 1979.

Like his father he was assassinated, in his case while exiled in Paraguay.

Paradoxically, the Sandinista Front, which won power won by force of arms, turned it over in 1990 to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, after she won a free election over then-president Daniel Ortega, who was running to succeed himself. But Ortega soon renounced the revolutionary leadership’s decision, which could have set country on a new course.

He went on to lose two more elections. But Ortega won once again in 2006, thanks to a pact with liberal caudillo Arnoldo Alemán, who was convicted for money laundering and corruption while in office. The pact had conveniently lowered the amount of votes needed for victory, allowing Ortega to win in the first round. And this time, he swore to not repeat the error of accepting another electoral defeat. And here we are.

I recount this history of caudillos willing to fight democracy to the death to help explain the wave of repression overtaking Nicaragua. Practically all possible candidates who might defeat Ortega, as well as prominent political leaders, journalists and businesspeople, are held in solitary confinement, and election rules are twisted into total worthlessness. Elections set for November will be nothing but a tragic farce. Any opposing candidacies will be fake, with what Nicaraguans call strawman candidates.

The dictatorial model comes out of a past which keeps repeating itself. Ortega is the caudillo who considers himself anointed, hence eternal. So he persecutes and jails opponents, even when they are his own former comrades in arms, such as Comandante Dora María Téllez, the heroine of the taking of the National Palace in 1978, and Comandante Hugo Torres, who freed Ortega from prison in a guerrilla action.

In 2018, the people – led by youth – rose up, unarmed, to demand an end to this tragic cycle.

Police loyal to Ortega, along with paramilitary forces, responded with a wave of killings. Today,
taking to the streets waving the Nicaraguan flag carries a prison sentence. During the election
campaign, people will once again march under their banners, as in any other part of the world.
A regime of terror, immobility and silence finds this intolerable.
In a normal election campaign, no news organization should be seized, or silenced, as is the
case in Nicaragua, where fifty percent of independent journalists have been forced into exile,
and others are imprisoned. The journalism carried out on social media is a journalism of the

Today, in Latin America and in Spain, a Left that went obsolete in the Cold War sees Ortega as
representing revolutionary values – those that in the past corresponded to ideals. There is no idealistic cause left in Nicaragua. Repressive laws that the State uses to persecute and imprison as traitors all opponents of Ortega’s re-election, could just as easily have been promulgated by [18th century Paraguayan dictator] Doctor Francia or by Generalissimo Franco. All that remains
of the revolution is the stench of a decayed corpse.

The choice in Nicaragua is not between left and right, but between dictatorship and democracy.
This is what the governments of the hemisphere have to understand. Democracy is not a matter of local color, but something that concerns us all.