Magazine article New Internationalist

Daniel Ortega

Magazine article New Internationalist

Daniel Ortega

Article excerpt

Taking aim at the rich and powerful

Job: President of Nicaragua.

Reputation: A founder of the Sandinista Movement; political survivor; revolutionary hero turned Caudillo (boss-type politician).

It's an old story, too many times told. The classic versions were those of Napoleon Bonaparte and Joseph Stalin: revolutionary ideals shattered on the shoals of personal aggrandizement and paranoia; too close a tie between the fortunes of a particular leader and the fate of a revolutionary project. With Napoleon and Stalin it was the stuff of Shakespearean grand tragedy and resulted in the death of millions of victims. Thankfully, it's a not a cast-iron law of history (as many on the cynical Right would have it): otherwise we wouldn't have the Gandhis, Mandelas and Nyereres of the world. But It still goes on. Today It is a sadder, smaller, and entirely sillier set of mini-tragedies which are repeating themselves from Asmara to Harare.

Take Nicaragua's re-elected (2006) revolutionary hero Daniel Ortega. You remember the brave and handsome young Sandinista leader from the early 1980s who stood up to Ronald Reagan and his lavishly funded Contras? Some 30,000 Nlcaraguans gave their lives to defend an experiment In equitable development that had replaced the decrepit old Somoza dictatorship so favoured by US Cold Warriors.

Ortega, to his credit, sought election and endorsement by the Nicaraguan people, winning once (1985) and then losing (1990) and stepping down. Good time to leave the historical stage and let the Sandinista legacy and movement find its own trajectory, one might think. But power and privilege are addictive. First there was what Nicaraguans referto as the Piñata, during which, In the last days of Sandinista power, a number of large estates seized by the Government were suddenly transformed into the private property of Sandinista officials, including Ortega. Out of power, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was gradually drained of its democratic character, with all structures of consultation and accountability eliminated.

According to former Sandinista guerrilla leader and Regional Affairs Minister Monica Baltodano, 'the National Directorate, the Sandinista Assemblies, congresses, consultative spaces... all this has disappeared and given way to a personal and matrimonial power structure and party organization'. Waves of dissatisfaction hit the Party as Ortega, his wife Rosarlo Muritlo and their inner circle turned the FSLN Into a vehicle of personal ambition. In 1996, recognized Sandinistas, including former Vice-President and FSLN parliamentary leader Sergio Ramírez, guerrilla commander and FSLN legislator Dora María Téllez, and renowned poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal, quit or were purged, forming a new political party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement.

Another mass defection occurred nine years later when Ortega expelled Managua mayor Herte Lewltes for daring to challenge him as the FSLN's Presidential candidate. Nor have the old comrades been left In peace. After criticizing Ortega while a guest at the inauguration of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Cardenal became the target of the President's ire. The former Sandinista Minister of Culture, now 83 years old, found a dubious libel case against him dredged up three years after it had been dismissed for lack of substance. …

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