NicaNotes: Historic Solidarity between Nicaragua and Palestine

By Coleen Littlejohn

[This article is based on the presentation by Coleen Littlejohn as part of the Nicaragua Solidarity Coalition webinar entitled “Nicaragua’s Historic and Ongoing Solidarity with Palestine” on May 19, 2024.]

(Coleen Littlejohn is a retired development economist who first came to Nicaragua in early 1980 and has lived there for most of the last 44 years.  She has worked for different development organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children Canada and the World Bank, both in Nicaragua and in West Africa.)

I first want to thank the organizers of this webinar for inviting me to talk about Nicaragua’s historic solidarity with Palestine because it has been, for me, a chance to learn more about the historical and ongoing solidarity between the two peoples and their countries.

The FSLN first made contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1966. Later Patricio Argüello and other comrades received military training in Palestinian camps in Jordan. There, in 1970, Argüello participated in the planning of an internationalist revolutionary mission to win the freedom of Palestinian prisoners. Patricio died in that mission.

I must confess that I knew very little about the history and situation of Palestine before last October.  I think this has been pretty typical for the majority of those born and formally educated in the US where the norm is to learn historical myths not real history – but now fortunately, as in the late 60’s, many students in the US and overseas have opened their eyes to reality thanks to easier access to alternative news sources.

I was fortunate because, many years ago when I was studying at the College of Europe in Belgium, a fellow student took me to see a documentary on the Sept 11th coup in Chile a few months after it happened and my eyes were opened. After graduate school, I spent two years working in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship and then have had the privilege of living and working in Nicaragua for most of the last 45 years, witnessing the direct effects of US imperialism, especially during the 80s and now with ongoing economic warfare.

One of my sources for this presentation was an article in Al Jazeera dated March 5 of this year.   The article begins by explaining the importance of Nicaragua’s case against Germany but then talks about the origins of solidarity between the two peoples, starting with the time of Sandino and a man named Ghadeer Abu Sneineh. Abu Sneineh was a Palestinian, born in Colombia, who joined Sandino’s army to fight against the presence of the US Marines. He believed that colonial powers such as the US and Great Britain were causing suffering throughout the world, including in Palestine.

After Sandino was betrayed and murdered by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the first Somoza, Ghadeer escaped to Honduras and continued to support revolutionary movements by training cadres. He finally went to Palestine in 1936 where he participated in a major uprising.  According to the article, he told his story in an interview he gave in Cuba in 1959.

Another article I read stated that the FSLN and the PLO began to establish a relationship in 1966 during the first Conference of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, known as the Tricontinental, which was held in Havana, Cuba.  The article stated that the relationship was strengthened in 1969 when one of the leaders of the FSLN, Jose Benito Escobar, met in Mexico with three representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had been created in 1964. The PLO offered training in Lebanon and elsewhere to FSLN cadres who were in Europe at that time.

One of those cadres was Patricio Arguello Ryan, who was born in March,1943, in San Francisco.  His father was a Nicaraguan and his mother from California. When he was three years old, he moved to Nicaragua to his father’s hometown of Momotombo, near La Paz Centro. But, in 1956, when the first Somoza dictator was killed by Rigoberto Lopez Perez, the massive repression that followed forced his family to move back to the States. I first heard Patricio’s name from the late Dr. Paul Oquist, who was Patricio’s lifelong closest friend.  Dr. Oquist told me about the time that Patricio brought him to Nicaragua for the first time when he was 17 – in 1961, the year that the FSLN was founded to continue the struggle of Sandino.

Both Patricio and Paul were activists organizing protest rallies in Los Angeles attended by Nicaraguans in exile. Both later left the US to study abroad. After receiving his BA in Latin American Political Science, Patricio was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and went to study in Chile, where a revolutionary movement was also emerging with Salvador Allende.

That same year, 1967, one of Patricio’s best friends in Nicaragua was killed at the battle of Pancasan during the FSLN guerrilla campaign and later, in October, Ernest Che Guevara was assassinated in Bolivia. So, Patricio decided to join the political struggle in Nicaragua. He returned in June of 1968 and worked with members of the FSLN.  In August of 1969 the Somoza regime deported him to California but soon he went to Switzerland to join a number of FSLN members who were doing solidarity work in Europe.

In January, 1970, the FSLN made contact with Palestinian resistance organizations and later Patricio and comrades received military training in the Palestinian camps in Jordan.

There, Patricio, together with a young Palestinian woman named Leila Khaled, participated in the planning of an internationalist revolutionary mission – the hijacking of a scheduled Israeli flight from Amsterdam to NYC to draw attention to the cause of Palestine liberation and to demand the freedom of Palestinian prisoners. A first attempt was cancelled but another date was chosen, Sept 6, 1970. On that flight, Israeli security on the plane, seeing Patricio trying to force open the door to the pilot, advised the pilot to nose dive. Patricio fell and was shot several times and left to bleed to death when the plane landed.  Leila was arrested but later freed in October in a prisoner exchange with the PLO.

Patricio’s family eventually were able to bring his remains home where he is buried in Monotombo and is considered a hero of international solidarity and an example of what revolutionary internationalism means. The government built a new school in his hometown and it is named after him.

Paul Oquist continued to fight for Nicaragua and returned in 1979 and became one of the chief advisors to Sandinista governments until his death from Covid three years ago.  Over the years, Leila, a legendary guerrilla, has come to Nicaragua several times on official visits.

The PLO continued to support the FSLN during the decade of the 70s in its struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle.  Many Nicaraguans of Palestinian heritage also joined the FSLN – people with last names such as Hassan, Halum, Abdallah, Frech and Shible.

When I first came to Nicaragua, I noticed that there were many people whose ancestors came from Arab countries, but now I realize that most were from Palestine descent, including one friend whose grandfather had been mayor of Bethlehem. I do also recall learning that Israel was a major supporter of the Somoza dictatorship, financing and sending weapons the National Guard.

On July 22nd, 1980, Nicaragua established official diplomatic relations with the Palestinians, the first country in Central America to do so. Days before, at the First Anniversary of the Revolution, the major leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, was one of the special guests who were present, in addition to Fidel Castro, Maurice Bishop of Granada, Thomas Sankara of Upper Volta (later Burkina Faso).

In 1988, Nicaragua was one of the first countries to officially recognize Palestine as an independent state. Over the past years, there have been different exchanges of ambassadors between the two countries, and Nicaragua has shown her support to Palestine in several international forums.

In 2017, Nicaragua sent a note to the Secretary General of SICA (the Secretariat for the Systems of Central America Integration), proposing that Palestine be incorporated as an outside-the-region observer member. In that same year, Nicaragua was host of the IV Congress of the Palestinian Community in Latin America (COPLAC) and Nicaragua’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denis Moncada, said that his country would “continue to support Palestine as an independent State with full rights” stating that, “We reaffirm our fraternal support and solidarity to the people and government of Palestine.” In August of 2019, Nicaragua opened its embassy in Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian state, 15 kilometers from Jerusalem.

In May of 2020, Nicaragua supported the candidacy of Palestine to be a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and a few months later, supported the candidacy of Palestine to be a member of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture. In July of 2019, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the UN participated in the UN Committee for the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people.  Earlier that year, Nicaragua was reelected to the Vice Presidency of that Committee.

Palestine also has shown her solidarity with Nicaragua in the form of technical missions and technical assistance in several social and economic sectors, including agriculture and health.

In February of 2019, a memorandum of understanding was signed by both countries to develop cooperation in the health sector for three years to support Nicaragua’s efforts in heart, vascular and orthopedic surgery. One example of cooperation was the solidarity collaboration and advisory role of a Palestinian surgeon, Dr Alaa Azmi Ahmad, in the training of Nicaraguan medical trauma specialists. He came every three months for three years and as of three years ago, Nicaragua is now performing certain specialized spinal surgeries, the only country in Central America which offers these surgeries free of charge.

Ramzi Rabah, member of the PLO Executive Committee visited Nicaragua last October and summed up their relation with Nicaragua with the following statement: “The Palestinian people have always had a special appreciation for the Sandinista Popular Revolution, the Sandinista Party and Comandante Daniel Ortega, for all the solidarity and support for the Palestinian people and their just cause. Nicaragua was the first to recognize the right of existence of the Palestinian people. Especially important in these days, when the Palestinian people suffer the attacks of Israel, the massacres in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That will not stop the struggle and resistance, because people are destined to exercise their right to freedom and victory.”

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By Nan McCurdy

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Life Expectancy of Nicaraguans Increases by 10 years
Life expectancy in Nicaragua increased from 65 years in the case of women to 75 years, and in the case of men, from 60 years to 70 years. Dr. Óscar Vásquez, National Director of Health Services of MINSA, reported that, if we compare the statistics from ten years ago, “we have increased life expectancy with the promotion of healthy lifestyles. We are constantly evaluating how health indicators are doing.” Dr. Vásquez said that before 2006 life expectancy was 60 years for men, but today it is 70, and for women it went from 65 to 75 years. He said that this is due to the policies of the Sandinista Government including aspects of public health, the investments and improvements in medical capacity, and the increased training of health personnel. Dr. Vásquez reiterated that one major advance is the strengthening of the entire hospital infrastructure. “Another important element is the incorporation of new state of the art technologies, and the development of human talent. We have been training in new procedures, including maternal health,” he said. (La Primerisima, 13 June 2024)

Nicaragua Preparing for Heavy Rains
Nicaragua’s Civil Defense Department warned citizens on June 19 to prepare for heavy rains which, because the ground is already saturated, could cause downed trees, overflowing rivers and possible landslides, principally in the departments of Leon and Chinandega. Officials said that the country is being affected by a low-pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico that is predicted to turn into a tropical storm and affect all of Central America. “Because of this, we are maintaining vigilance and monitoring the levels of our principal rivers and other situations that could cause damage to the population,” the Department said. (La Primerisima, 19 June 2024)

First China-Nicaragua Commercial Maritime Route Is Ready
On June 13, the launching ceremony of the vessel Sunny Fortune, which is sailing from the port of Tianjin to Corinto, marked the beginning of the first commercial maritime route between China and Nicaragua. Wei Bo, President of the Tianjin Multimodal Transportation Chamber of Commerce, said that the new route will be operated by three vessels and will consist of a monthly voyage between both countries. The vessel Sunny Fortune is carrying equipment and machinery to be used in the construction of Nicaragua’s new “Punta Huete” International Airport, a key project within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which will significantly increase Nicaragua’s air connectivity, allowing direct flights from Asia, Oceania, Europe and Africa. Nicaragua’s Ambassador to China, Michael Campbell, who was present at the ceremony, stressed that the new direct maritime route between the Tianjin-Corinto ports represents a milestone in the development of trade relations between China and Nicaragua and will become a pillar for the full exploitation of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. Campbell conveyed to all present and especially to the crew of the Sunny Fortune, the fraternal greetings and best wishes of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, noting that the ship and its important cargo will arrive in Nicaragua in mid-July, just in time to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Sandinista People’s Revolution. (La Primerisima, 13 July 2024)

Two Hundred Thousand Girls Immunized Against HPV
On June 14 the Ministry of Health reported that as of June 13 it has applied 204,063 doses of vaccines against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to minors between 10 and 14 years of age. According to the latest report, this represents an advance to 79 percent of the goal of the campaign for the application of the second dose, which runs from May 5 to July 15. See photos: (La Primerisima, June 14, 2024)

Thousands Celebrate the Lives of Heroes of the Managua Insurrection
In commemoration of the heroes and heroines who, 45 years ago this month, offered their lives for the liberation of Nicaragua, thousands of Managua Sandinistas walked on Sunday from El Ceibo de San Judas to Hacienda Miraflores, in the district of El Acopio, municipality of El Crucero. In this way, the Sandinistas commemorated the lives of the heroes and heroines of the Hill 110 action, which occurred on June 13, 1979; of the Batahola Massacre, which occurred on June 14, 1979; of the massacre of Kilometer 8 Carretera Sur (Kilocho), which occurred on June 15, 1979; and of the Repliegue Al Vapor, which occurred on June 16, 1979. See photos: (La Primerisima, 16 June 2024)

Gynecological Health Day Benefits 3,000 Women in Madriz
On June 15, the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity held a Mega Gynecological and Maternal-Fetal Health Fair in Madriz. More than 3,000 women from the nine municipalities of the department benefited from this event, receiving various specialized medical care procedures provided by the Ministry of Health. (TN8TV, 16 June 2024)

Government Food Packages Arrive in Southern Caribbean
The Naval Force and the Solidarity Promoters of the Sandinista Youth have begun unloading food packages sent by the government destined to mothers of heroes and martyrs of the Revolution, as well as to cases of critical social emergency in the region. The distribution operation, carried out in coordination between various government and community entities, is part of the solidarity initiatives that the government of President Daniel Ortega promotes to support the most vulnerable sectors of the country. The food packages contain basic products necessary for daily subsistence, such as rice, beans, sugar and oil, among others. During the unloading and distribution day, the Naval Force provided the necessary logistics for the transportation and delivery of the packages in areas of difficult access in the Southern Caribbean. Likewise, members of the Sandinista Youth Solidarity Promoters actively participated in the organization and delivery of the food, ensuring that the packages reach the hands of those who need them most. (La Primerisima, 18 June 2024)

How Nicaragua Fought against the Extermination of Cultures
“The British established here a system of superior culture and inferior culture where white was good, and black and Indigenous were bad,” said Johnny Hodgson, presidential delegate to Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast, referring to the period of British colonization in the region. But, he said, thanks to the Sandinista Popular Revolution and the subsequent Law of Autonomy of the Caribbean Coast, the Indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples were able to preserve and defend their roots. Silvana Jarquin of RT interviewed Hodgson and talked with him about the past and the future of the region. Watch the interview here: (La Primerisima, 18 June 2024)