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Daniel Ortega: Breaking Bad in Managua

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I’ve done a good bit of reading and secondary source research on the Sandinista Revolution over the years. One thing that stands out is that even among the scholars, Daniel Ortega is a complete irrelevancy. Yes, he led the Sandinistas. But he was so uninteresting, so uninspired, and so not very bright that they just don’t write about him. It’s really quite fascinating, especially given the long cult of revolutionary leadership within socialism. The thing was though is that unlike Castro or Ho or Lenin or so many others, Carlos Fonseca was killed before the revolution succeeded, but then the revolution still did succeed. So the natural, charismatic leader was already gone. The Sandinistas were largely split between different factions after this, but Ortega controlled the military and so became president. The legacy of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was mixed in the 1980s. But a) they were unquestionably better than the Somozas and b) they never really got a chance to operate because of the illegal U.S. funded Contra terrorism that dominated the nation. What Ortega unquestionably deserved credit for was not only holding a free and fair election in 1990, but then stepping down when Violeta Chamorro won it.

In 2006, Ortega and the FSLN won back power. Since then, Ortega has been in it for himself, using the old revolutionary rhetoric to enrich his family and make sure he never loses again. This has included becoming a hard-right misogynist on gender issues, particularly abortion. One thing about the early FSLN was that they were, especially for Latin America, rather freeing on gender. But not anymore. He dealt with the bishops that he would support their repressive gender norms and they wouldn’t raise hell against him. That he probably was molesting his stepdaughter through the 80s did not exactly suggest this was going to be a problem for him, though this story has never exactly been confirmed and it’s always possible it was American propaganda. One can never tell given the history of American intervention in Central America.

Either way, the longer Ortega stays in office, the worse he’s gotten. And he has gotten very bad. He’s not engaged in full-scale repression of political opponents, throwing people in prison, forcing others into exile, and all the other tricks of the Somoza regime.

The stream of high-profile opposition leaders, journalists and members of civil society fleeing Nicaragua has surged, as the regime of President Daniel Ortega wages the most alarming political crackdown in the country’s recent history ahead of a November election.

In the last week, several of the most influential critics of the Ortega regime sneaked out of the country — convinced they would be detained if they remained. Journalists for mainstream publications were stripped of their passports, but decided to leave anyway. Even some of Ortega’s former top Sandinista comrades are seeking refuge abroad. The consequences for remaining in the countrycould be dire: Over the past several months, at least 16 opposition figures have been jailed.

“They are imposing a state of fear in the country to immobilize the whole country and eliminate political competition for the coming election,” said Carlos Chamorro, the publisher of the prominent digital newspaper Confidencial, who fled the country this month.

Chamorro left after police raided his house and after his sister — a presidential candidate — was arrested. Confidencial’s offices had previously been raided by police.

Journalists have also come under threat in recent weeks. Veteran journalist Miguel Mendoza was detained on June 21, when police broke into his home. The day before that, police arrested Miguel Mora, the former director of 100% Noticias. Mora had stepped down from his role at the outlet to run for president.

Julio López, another prominent journalist, was stripped of his passport last week. He decided at that point to seek refuge in Costa Rica.

“Exile was the last alternative to preserve my life and freedom. That moment has come,” he wrote in a blog post after crossing the border. “Making this decision has been distressing; I have done it for the tranquility of my family, although I know that sadness overwhelms them.”

While we should never trust American journalism about leftist Latin American regimes or anything that comes out of the mouths of a Latin American right that still wishes it was 1954 and the CIA would engender coups that threaten their wealth and power, there’s little reason to doubt that Ortega has broke very, very, very bad. It’s a real disappointment and it’s very bad for the people of Nicaragua, a poor country whose people have fought against huge odds for so long against their oppression. The corruption of the FSLN is depressing beyond words.

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