NicaNotes: Legendary Sandinista Leader Inaugurated as President, Defies US & Monroe Doctrine

Just after being sworn in, President Daniel Ortega with Vice President Rosario Murillo and National Assembly President Gustavo Porras. Photo by Jairo Cajina

By Dan Kovalik
(Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-released No More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using “Humanitarian” Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests. Along with Margaret Kimberley, Lucille Murphey and S. Brian Willson, Kovalik was invited to be on the stage with other dignitaries.)

Since 1987, I have been coming to Nicaragua to show solidarity for its upstart band of merry men and women known as the Sandinistas. They, of course, led the unlikely successful revolution against the US-backed dictatorship of the Somoza family – a regime installed in 1934 and supported by the US to the bitter end until finally overthrown in 1979.

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans were killed by Anastasio Somoza as he attempted to cling to power by gunning down his own people and bombing towns by air. And still the Sandinistas triumphed.

The US, which has been intervening in Nicaragua for more than a century, never accepted the Sandinista revolution and its leader. It has never abandoned the idea of the Monroe Doctrine announced in 1823 – a statement which declared the US claims sole dominion over the Western hemisphere, and, under the Roosevelt Corollary, reserves the right to intervene in any country in the Americas to maintain this domination and prevent nations from other parts of the world from asserting any influence of their own.

Ortega and the Sandinistas, who dared to overthrow a US-backed dictatorship and choose their own allies to defend their revolution – such as Cuba, USSR and other Warsaw Pact states – represent a direct threat to the Monroe Doctrine. And now Ortega, who has been in office since 2007 and was re-elected again as president in a landslide victory in November, has thrown down another gauntlet to challenge American domination – namely through his formal recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the restoration of diplomatic relations for the first time since 1990, when Ortega lost a re-election bid to Violeta Chamorro.

One of the biggest fears of the US, and one of the greatest threats to the viability of the antiquated Monroe Doctrine, is that Ortega will partner with China to build a major shipping canal which would link Nicaragua’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The US has coveted such a canal, and its own ability to control and profit from it, since the 19th century. This is because such a canal, which would be built through an enormous lake that lies between Nicaragua’s coasts, could accommodate ships larger than those which can navigate the Panama Canal – which is now becoming obsolete – and even allow for two to travel through in both directions at the same time.

Indeed, according to the US State Department itself, it was the attempt of Nicaragua’s Liberal Party President, Jose Zelaya, to partner with Japan in building such a canal which led to the first of many US Marine invasions of Nicaragua in 1911.

The US Marines, repelled by the famed guerilla leader Augusto Cesar Sandino, ultimately left Nicaragua for good only after the Somoza dictatorship was installed in 1934. It is no wonder, then, that Ortega’s recognition of China, the presence of Chinese dignitaries at his inauguration and the announcement that Nicaragua is willing to sign up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative sent a tremor throughout Washington.

I had the honor of being invited to Nicaragua to attend the inauguration in the Plaza of the Revolution where a huge banner draped on the historic church there reads, “All With Love, All For Love.” As I have observed over the years, Ortega often talks about love in his speeches and slogans. This is not something I hear from politicians in the US, a place where love and compassion are rarely on the menu for the electorate.  The slogan of the Inauguration itself was “Somos Pueblo Presidente” (“The People are The President”), and to emphasize this democratic notion, all the Nicaraguans in attendance held up their hand to take the oath of office along with Ortega.

Meanwhile, on the morning of the inauguration, both the EU and the US announced new rounds of sanctions against Nicaragua. As per usual, this was done based upon feigned concerns about democracy in the country. This ignores the fact that there was no democracy in Nicaragua until the Sandinistas overthrew the dictatorship in 1979 and then held Nicaragua’s first free and fair elections in 1984. It also ignores the fact that Ortega and the Sandinistas peacefully stepped down in 1990 after holding elections then.

Ortega had more to say about democracy at the inauguration, referring to events in Washington on January 6 last year, when hundreds of Americans stormed the US Capitol to protest what they – and millions of others – perceived as a fraudulent presidential election. He pointed out that many of these individuals have been arrested and given long sentences for what could be viewed as political actions – that is, they could be viewed as political prisoners. And yet, no country is seriously talking about sanctioning the US because of this.

Whatever one thinks of the events of January 6, it is important to note that the Nicaraguan government has been criticized, and indeed sanctioned, for prosecuting individuals who participated in and/or instigated a much more violent and deadly uprising in Nicaragua in 2018 –which was funded by the US and claimed the lives of well over 160 individuals. The differing treatment of these two situations is not lost on Nicaragua and other victims of the US’s claimed interest in defending democracy and human rights.

Regarding the US sponsorship of violence against Nicaragua, Ortega also spent considerable time at his inauguration discussing the US-backed Contra war of the 1980s which claimed the lives of around 30,000 Nicaraguans – an astronomical number for a country with a population that didn’t even reach three million at the time.

Indeed, Ortega started his speech by detailing the suffering of a woman present at the inauguration – Brenda Rocha, the president of Nicaragua’s electoral council –– who lost her arm to the contras at the age of 15, and whose electoral council is now being sanctioned by the EU.  He emphasized that this was part and parcel of Western aggression against Nicaragua over the years, and also Venezuela and Cuba – two countries represented at the inauguration by their presidents.

He also had more to say about the US’s crocodile tears on human rights, referring to the case of S Brian Willson, who was another honored guest. Vietnam veteran turned peace activist, Willson lost his legs in 1987 after sitting down on a train track in California in an attempt to protest against and block arms shipments to the death squads of El Salvador.

S. Brian Willson and Dan Kovalik just before President Ortega’s Inauguration

Willson was run over by a train, but it turned out that it was no mere accident; the conductor was ordered not to stop for him as he normally would do for pedestrians crossing the tracks. Ortega again rightly questioned the human rights bona fides of a nation which would allow such an atrocity to happen.

In short, Ortega, and the Nicaraguan people who were there cheering him on, remain defiant against US bullying and aggression. And, with ties with China restored, they now have the help they need to effectively defend themselves. This is quite a rebuke to those American leaders who believe that the US dominion over the world is unassailable.

Republican strategist Karl Rove famously bragged about the US, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.” The upstart Ortega, however, has demonstrated through his continued victories, and through his forming of new alliances with countries like China, that times have changed; that it is now the US, with its crumbling empire, which must watch on the sidelines as countries like tiny Nicaragua chart their own futures and create their own realities.

For those of us who instinctively root for David over Goliath, this will be a treat to witness.

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Once Again Inaugurates the “People as President”
On January 10 Daniel Ortega was inaugurated as President of Nicaragua and Rosario Murillo as Vice President. The central event in the Plaza of the Revolution was accompanied by Sandinistas celebrating in almost every town with big-screen displays of the inauguration. Once he had been sworn in with the presidential sash across his chest, Ortega repeated his action from 2007, 2012 and 2017: He took off his sash and then symbolically handed it to the people: “El Pueblo Presidente – the People as President.” The crowd broke out in wild cheers. He asked tens of thousands of Sandinistas gathered in the 153 municipalities of the country to swear to fight with all their strength to overthrow hunger, poverty and backwardness.

“Let’s go forward…building peace to fight poverty, building peace so that there can be roads and highways. Building peace so that families can feel secure; their children can feel secure in their work; they can feel secure in having a dignified life. That is our commitment, dear Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, we are all in this and that is why we say the people are president,” he exclaimed with emotion.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel accompanied the inauguration to the obvious delight of the crowd who cheered when each of them arrived. There were more than three hundred journalists and solidarity activists from dozens of nations in attendance at the inauguration. “Here are delegates from many governments that have been mentioned, brothers and sisters, friendly people from countries where the European governments or the Yankee government do not send delegates…. What greater pride than to have here as representatives of the North American people, of the European peoples, citizens, dignified men and women who fight in their homelands for true dignity, for the true independence of their own countries and for a true democracy to be installed in their own countries,” said Ortega.

“What better and more worthy representative can the American people have than Brian Willson. They [the US] threw the military train at him and it was filmed, and they destroyed his legs. Where were the human rights [organizations]… and who condemned that crime, who condemned it, if it is the same Yankee government that promoted those crimes?” he asked. Brian Willson wrote about the speech: “President Ortega spoke for more than an hour about the new silk road agreements with China, the continued history of US imperialism, and the continued advances of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution. He needed no notes, no teleprompters – such a contrast with US Presidents. He spoke straight from his heart and experiences without any pauses.”

President Ortega indicated that Nicaragua and the People’s Republic of China had a historic meeting where they signed four cooperation treaties, highlighting the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt. “The Chinese Revolution and the Sandinista Revolution have the same path, the same destiny, which is to end poverty,” Ortega stressed.

The president demanded the end of the US blockade and sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela: “And if there is any respect for democracy when the immense majority of the peoples of the world are saying that the blockades should cease, then the Yankee government should comply if it has a shred of respect for international law and cease the blockade against Cuba, and cease the blockade against the sister Republic of Venezuela. A criminal blockade where they persecute them, prosecute them, invent crimes against them, simply because they seek to guarantee food for Venezuelan families.” (Nan McCurdy covered the inauguration for AFGJ – NicaNotes)

National Assembly Deputies Sworn In
The new officers of the National Assembly were elected on Jan. 9; Dr. Gustavo Porras was reelected president; Arling Patricia Alonso was elected first vice-president while Gladys Báez was elected second vice-president. Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) Deputy María Haydé Osuna was elected as third vice president. Loria Raquel Dixon, FSLN Deputy, who represents the Caribbean Coast, was elected first secretary.  Wilfredo Navarro Moreira was elected as second secretary and Alejandro Mejía Ferreti as third secretary. The election of the four woman, three man Board was presided over by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) magistrates, who swore in the 91 elected deputies and their respective alternates. CSE President Brenda Rocha stated, “The people of Nicaragua elected José Daniel Ortega Saavedra as President and Rosario Murillo Zambrana as Vice President, 91 deputies (46 women and 45 men) to the National Assembly and 20 to the Central American Parliament. Today, January 9, we ratify the leadership of the people in a country firm in its ideals of freedom, independence, sovereignty and self-determination.” (Radio La Primerisima, 9 Jan. 2022)

Vice-President Murillo Offers Condolences for Chuck Kaufman
Vice-President Rosario Murillo, in her daily radio address of Dec. 29, expressed her sympathy on the death of Chuck Kaufman who passed away the previous day. She said that he “had dedicated his whole life to the fight for the sovereignty of the peoples of the world, a ‘good gringo’ as President Hugo Chavez would have said.” She went on to say, “Our recognition, affection, and respect go to his family, friends, and colleagues in the Alliance for Global Peace [Justice] some of whom will be with us in a few days for the inauguration of the new period of the People as President. Chuck will be with us in spirit and with his comrades in struggle who will be here accompanying us on that brilliant day.” (Informe Pastran, 29 Dec. 2021)

Economy Grew by 9% in 2021
In 2021 the economy closed with extraordinary results, a GDP increase of over 9%, rebounding from the economic damage of the 2018 political uprising and the global pandemic. The Minister of Finance and Public Credit, Iván Acosta, told Informe Pastrán that “Exports closed near US$6.6 billion [including free trade zone exports] – that is a record, and 21% greater than in 2020. There was a record of gross income in December of more than US$2 billion, 22% more than in 2020. This is what we can collect from the declarations made by the private sector.” In 2021 there was greater public investment with the execution of 95% of all projects effectively and efficiently. The monetary sector closed the year with more than US$4 billion in international reserves and a great recovery of deposits in the banking system. “From the loss of more than 30% of bank deposits [in 2018] almost 24% has been recovered.” Acosta added that employment has also grown: there are now 130,000 jobs in the free trade zones and more will be created this year. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 Jan. 2022)

New Record in Exports for 2021
The executive director of the Export Processing Center (CETREX), Xiomara Mena confirmed that “Exports grew by 21.7% overall, and we passed US$3,594 billion. The main product that contributed to this growth was gold. The other product is meat which grew 13.6% in volume, 34% in value, and in price 17.6%. Gold coffee, or green coffee, had a slight volume growth of 3.4%, in value 17.6% and in price 14%.” These figures do not include the data from free trade zones. It is expected that that sector will contribute around US$3 billion. (Informe Pastran, 4 Jan. 2022)

Covid Vaccination Reaches 78% of the People
Seventy-eight percent of Nicaraguans over two years of age have received at least one dose of the vaccine against Covid-19, that means almost five million people protected against the virus, said Vice President Rosario Murillo. “Protecting ourselves every day, applying the measures we know, taking care of ourselves, it is not only the vaccine, we see the so-called ‘developed’ countries where they have applied three, four rounds of vaccines and the contagions multiply,” she stated. (Radio La Primerisima, 5 Jan. 2022)

3,000 Low Income Homes for Managua
The Managua Mayor’s Office plans to build 3,000 houses in the Bismarck Martínez Program this year, said Fidel Moreno, Secretary General of that institution. In 2021, 2,400 houses were built. Moreno said that “El Pueblo Presidente” [The People as President] is not a slogan, but the daily work that is carried out in the neighborhoods and communities throughout the country, making the people the protagonist of these benefits. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 Jan. 2022)