NicaNotes: Now Is Not the Time to Abandon the Sandinistas

By Roger McKenzie

[This article was originally published in the UK publication The Morning Star.]

Returning to the UK from Nicaragua, the author asks why many progressives in the West feel qualified to denounce the Nicaraguan movement that is in a daily struggle against US imperialism.

Thousands celebrated the 44th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Managua on July 19th, waving both the blue and white Nicaraguan flag and the red and black flag of the FSLN. Photo: Jairo Cajina

During my visit to Nicaragua to help celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, trade union leader Jose Antonio Zepeda told me that “the United States doesn’t hate Nicaragua. It just has interests in our country.”

That’s so true — and I would also say that the left should have more of an interest in Nicaragua. This urgently needs to replace cold war propaganda handed down by the right-wing press.

News of my visit to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979 was met with negativity — to say the least — in some parts of the left.

Many of those now doubting or even denouncing the FSLN (more commonly known as the Sandinistas) were folks who had not hesitated to support the revolution in 1979 during a period when many of us genuinely feared for the future in the era of the seemingly endless accumulation of nuclear weapons.

All of this fear was encapsulated by the love-in between Thatcher and Reagan based around the free-market Chicago School monetarism of Milton Friedman.

The FSLN represented a moment of hope and a return to the romantic era of left-wing guerilla fighters overcoming all the odds to defeat the Yankee-backed ruling elites, in the tradition of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.

After winning an election in 1984, the FSLN continued to implement major changes to education and health. But it accepted its loss to the right wing in 1990 in a heavily US-influenced election.

Perhaps the acceptance of the result by the FSLN and their decision not to go back to armed struggle upset some people enough for them to withdraw their support.

President Daniel Ortega greets an international visitor at the July 19th gathering. Photo: Natalia Burdyńska Schuurman/AfGJ

After all, the massive transformation of the economy away from what amounted to an almost semi-feudal rural system was now lost as the right wing embarked on its own love affair with the Chicago School model of neoliberalism.

The dark days of privatisation saw jobs lost, living standards fall and trade union membership numbers sink into near oblivion. But, away from the limelight, the FSLN continued to organise.

Perhaps because much of this work was carried out away from the glare of publicity, with little being reported in the Western press, many may have felt that the FSLN had simply given up the revolutionary ghost.

When the FSLN returned to power in 2006, they decided to be more pragmatic, with part of that decision based on a desire not to poke the US bear.

Perhaps some former supporters believed that this meant the FSLN had finally sold out to capitalism.

Even when the defeat of the US-backed coup attempt in 2018 led the FSLN to readopt a more aggressively left-wing, anti-imperialist line, some still pointed to what they regarded as deficiencies in particular policy positions.

We can all be disappointed when not everything that we want to see happen comes to fruition and we wish that things moved more quickly — or when we see positions we simply don’t agree with.

We always have the right to criticise — and many on the left barely need the invitation to do that — but I also believe it is the right of people at the heart of the struggle to decide the priorities and pace of that struggle.

Anything else is arrogant, self-indulgent, condescending political colonialism.

Perhaps we should have more of an appreciation of the material circumstances facing Nicaragua and other nations, to use a now seemingly unfashionable term, Third World countries.

Nicaragua faces the constant danger of military intervention by the US.

We must always remember that this country of 6.5 million people is firmly in the crosshairs of the US, the strongest and most aggressive military force in the history of the world.

The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, speaking in Nicaragua in 2022, said: “Why in God’s name, with a country so large, with so many resources, with such military strength, why would they want to pick on a small country like Nicaragua?”

The Monroe Doctrine provides the wider strategic answer to this question.

The doctrine has been called the cornerstone of US foreign policy since being put forward by US president James Monroe in 1823. It has four basic points.

First, the US would not interfere in the internal affairs of or the wars between European powers — although clearly they do and, as the Ukraine war clearly demonstrates.

Second, the US said they recognised and would not interfere with existing colonies and dependencies in the Western hemisphere — another promise it has continually broken.

Third, the Western hemisphere was closed to future colonisation — by, in reality, anyone but them.

Finally, any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the western hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the US.

The doctrine helped to create the concept of “America’s backyard,” areas that fell within the dominance of the US, particularly Latin America and the Caribbean.

President Theodore Roosevelt added to the doctrine in 1904, saying that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the US reserved the right to intervene in that country’s internal affairs.

So what does “wrongdoing” in the eyes of the US actually mean?

The answer is seemingly anything that the US believes goes against its economic and strategic military interests, including anything that might bring a nation closer to an independent political view and does not automatically recognise US hegemonic rule over the planet.

The FSLN’s ousting of the corrupt Somoza family criminal enterprise in 1979 was a major blow to the US government and multinational corporations. The US had worked with their corporate paymasters and the Somoza gangsters to fleece the country.

When Reagan came to power in the US in 1980, his administration helped to fund the right-wing rebel militias known collectively as the Contras, in their covert, brutal and illegal war against the Sandinistas.

Even as recently as 2018, the US was deeply involved in Nicaragua, supporting the attempted coup against the FSLN government and the media propaganda blitz created to help justify it.

The challenge from the north is as constant as it is daily. It spreads to US client institutions such as the EU, G7 and the UN.

So when we have criticisms, let’s bear these deadly pressures in mind and actually listen to what people living this every day have to say — rather than simply imposing our own First World view on those in a direct struggle against US imperialism.

For those that have already made their minds up that Nicaragua is now a dictatorship under the alleged iron heel of President Daniel Ortega, I say: visit the country and see for yourselves.

If there is repression in the country, I didn’t see it as I ventured far and wide across Nicaragua.

What I saw was people working hard to build a new country despite all the pressures they are facing.

It’s neither sexy nor romantic. It’s the hard work of providing people with bread and roses — and it will take time. I think the left should have the back of the Sandinistas in their struggle. I certainly do.

By Nan McCurdy

Ten Women Take on Leadership Positions in National Police
In recognition of their leadership capabilities, the National Police made new appointments of 10 women who will assume top positions in national offices and departmental delegations. According to an official press release, this is in accordance with the provisions of the law concerning the organization of the National Police.” (Radio La Primerisima, 27 July 2023)

High-Tech Laboratory to Better Attend to Tuberculosis and HIV
On July 18 the expanded Regional Epidemiological Laboratory for Managua was inaugurated. It will handle the tuberculosis and HIV areas with high technology equipment. The expansion consists of two areas for tuberculosis with molecular biology equipment that will allow timely diagnosis, cultures and investigations, as well as the HIV area for confirmation tests, CD4, virology studies and other studies. Dr. Domingo Castro Olayo, director of the Laboratory, said that this expansion is important to be able to make timely diagnoses of the diseases in order to treat and provide efficient management to patients. This laboratory has a trained team of clinical laboratory technicians and will serve all the municipalities of the Department of Managua. (Radio La Primerisima, 28 July 2023)

Public Defender’s Office Helps Win Child Support for 5,478 Minors
The Public Defender’s Office provided 31,272 services in the first semester of 2023 which represents 47% of the goal stipulated for this year (66,178). A breakdown of the cases handled by this judicial department shows that 15,289 cases were handled in the criminal area, 9,512 in family matters, 6,236 in civil matters and 235 in labor matters. In family matters, the institution obtained court rulings ordering the payment of more than US$2.6 million in child support benefits to 5,478 minors. In labor matters, the institution obtained decisions ordering the payment of nearly US$50,000 in labor benefits to 32 workers who went to the public defender’s office seeking legal representation to file their labor claims. (Radio La Primerisima, 28 July 2023)

Fewer Nicaraguans Live in Poor Housing Conditions
The national population and housing pre-census carried out in May and June of this year by the National Institute of Development Information (INIDE) reveals that the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty housing has been reduced. The director of INIDE, Irene Alvarez, explained that the national pre-census found that 6.4% of the population live in extreme poverty dwellings, down from 6.9% in 2016. At the national level there are 4.3 people per dwelling. INIDE also estimates that there are 1.6 million dwellings in the country, which indicates a greater number of homes compared to the last census conducted in 2005. In relation to property tenure, the pre-census indicates that 88% of the houses are owned by the residents. Central Bank President Ovidio Reyes said that the full census will be carried out in April of next year. (Radio La Primerisima, 31 July 2023)

Advances of the National Forestry Campaign
The National Forestry Institute (INAFOR) presented a report on advances of the 2023 National Forestry Campaign implemented throughout the country. Between January and July this year, 1,398,909 trees were planted. The report also noted that 2,610 community nurseries and 338 municipal nurseries were established, producing 3,953,685 plants. (Nicaragua News, 28 July 2023)

Zero Usury Provides Financing to Indigenous Entrepreneurs in Bluefields
The Zero Usury Program gave 26 women from the communities of La Aurora and Kukra Rivers nearly US$14,000 to invest in their small businesses. They all promised to meet their quotas so that other women can benefit from the funds they pay back. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 2 August 2023)

Wheelchair Basketball Tournament
A wheelchair basketball tournament was held at the Luis Alfonso Velásquez Flores Sports Complex in the capital in which 45 athletes participated,. The competition was held in the three vs three modality. With this tournament the Mayor’s Office of Managua continues its promotion of access to sports, guaranteeing the restoration of rights to people with disabilities. The municipality has organized eight teams and every Saturday they meet to compete or practice. Two basketball tournaments are held during the year for athletes with motor disabilities. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 July 2023)

New Sanitation System in San Juan del Sur
The Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company inaugurated a project to improve and expand the sanitation system in San Juan del Sur, Rivas Department, benefitting 18,000 people. The US$2.5 million project was financed by the General Budget with support from the Inter-American Development Bank. (Nicaragua News, 31 July 2023)

Remittances Total US$2.2 Billion in First Semester of 2023
The Central Bank reported on July 31 that remittances were US$2.2 billion in the first semester of 2023, a growth of 56.5%. The main countries of origin of remittances were the United States with 83.2% of the total, followed by Costa Rica with 6.6% and Spain with 5.6%; they accounted for 95.4% of the total received. (Radio La Primerisima, 31 July 2023)

Excerpts from President’s Address at Air Force’s 44th Anniversary on July 31
… Here, either we all stay coexisting on earth, on this planet, or no one on this planet will be left alive. And the message that we send to the peoples of the world is that there is no other way in this case except to defend peace, and to stop once and for all this war that the imperialists of the earth have been escalating and so in that way humanity will have the opportunity to continue developing in a new world.

Because look, we are in a moment where the conditions have opened up for the world to become a world of democratic, respectful relations between nations, between regions, where nations like the People’s Republic of China have made their way developing their own project, their own nation, their own people. They have also shaken hands with those nations, those developing peoples, who have been abandoned by the capitalists, by the imperialists of the earth, reaching out to help in all fields, to Africa, to Latin America, to the different regions of the world.

That sets the compass of what the behavior and attitudes of great powers should be. If the United States, if the Europeans, if the imperialists of the earth changed their policy of invading countries all over the world, and followed in the footsteps of the People’s Republic of China, then we would have a world in which all the powers would meet, and in which differences, confrontations, and imperialist spirit would disappear.… And those conditions have been created, and it’s as if with this NATO offensive they are trying to slow down progress towards a world with just, democratic relations, respectful of the rights of peoples, and therefore of the human rights of nations.