[The following post is a revision and update of a blog I wrote Oct. 26, 2017 entitled “MRS: Should They Lose the Right to Use the Name of Sandino? The MRS is a prominent part of the opposition to President Ortega’s government and a primary source of information for the international press. Due to their role in the solidarity movement of the 1980s, many solidarity activists hold mistaken ideas about the politics and credibility of today’s MRS. This blog is an effort to bring folks up-to-date about the evolution of the MRS.]
The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) was formed in May 1995, blowback from the divisive 1994 FSLN Party Congress, which I had the privilege to attend as an observer. (The highlight for me was to shake the hand of the only surviving founder of the FSLN, Tomas Borge.) But the Congress itself was very conflictive over issues of internal democracy and transparency of the party’s economic holdings. Treatment by the party leadership of what we then called the Sandinista dissidents was intense and outright homophobic. As a result, a number of high profile heroes of the Revolution and former party and government leaders split off from the FSLN and formed their own party.
Comandante Henry Ruiz (Modesto), who led much of the guerilla war against Somoza in the mountains; Monica Baltodano, the only woman to lead a guerilla column and the primary contact for sister city groups in the US and elsewhere; Dora Maria Tellez, one of the leaders of a daring action that took hostage Somoza’s legislature and Supreme Court justices and who later became Minister of Health; Sergio Ramirez, former vice president and world-renown author; Gioconda Belli, former guerilla and renowned poet; much later, in 2006, Victor Hugo Tinoco, number three in the Foreign Ministry who was well-known in the US to Nightline viewers during the 1980s and who in the late 1990s was in charge of liaising with US solidarity; and others whom I’m sure I missed, all left the party and created the MRS.
In other words, the people who international solidarity activists and western media were most familiar with, most of whom spoke English, left the FSLN to form a new political party also rooted in Sandinismo and in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship followed by the US-backed Contra War. The Nicaragua Network approached the split as we would a family fight which pained us as outsiders to watch, but in which we felt we could play no positive role in resolving. We therefore maintained neutrality between what we viewed as the two parties of Sandinismo even through the 2006 election which returned the FSLN, led by Daniel Ortega, back into power. We even thought that it might not be a bad thing to have a party challenging the FSLN from the Left.
Sergio Ramirez ran as the MRS presidential candidate in 1996 winning 1.3% of the vote and one seat in the National Assembly. The MRS has pretty much been stuck at that level of support ever since. It ran in coalition with the FSLN in national and municipal elections until 2006 when former Sandinista and Managua mayor, Herty Lewites, ran as the MRS candidate after attempting to contest for the FSLN nomination with Ortega. That is when he and Tinoco left the FSLN, quitting and being expelled simultaneously.
Our premise that the MRS was pushing the FSLN from the Left was proven false in the 2006 election. I led a delegation to investigate US interference in the election about five months before the vote. We met with representatives of all the parties, including Enrique Saenz, then president of the MRS. I asked him what the MRS was doing to politically educate voters and to build its base beyond Managua’s educated class. His response troubled me deeply. He spoke nothing about a progressive agenda or of politically educating the base about neoliberalism’s depredations against the majority poor. He espoused no party platform of poverty alleviation, education, healthcare, or reviving the rural economy. He only spoke about the MRS’ progress in building alliances with right-wing parties and US-funded non-governmental organizations, what social scientists call civil society. All of these forces are intensely anti-Sandinista and have the same neoliberal/pro-US agenda that had caused such misery since the electoral defeat of 1990.
In the 2008 municipal elections, the MRS went so far as to tell voters to vote for Liberal Party candidates and against the FSLN. To their credit, Henry Ruiz, Monica Baltodano, and some other members left the MRS at that point and formed the Sandinista Rescue Movement, which also had the acronym MRS. (The MRS-Rescate has never registered as an electoral party.) They asked people to cast null ballots in the election. The Sandinista Rescue Movement, to the extent it still exists, has firmly sided with the other MRS since the push for a violent coup began in mid-April.
If memory serves, the MRS won five seats in the National Assembly in 2006. At any rate, over time, three of their delegates left the MRS and joined the FSLN’s caucus. A caucus requires a minimum of five members and means receiving a budget from the legislature for staff, office space, and other perks. When the MRS fell below the minimum number of delegates, some of the right-wing caucuses, including the Nicaragua Resistance party of former Contras, contributed members so that the MRS continued to qualify for funding even though actual MRS delegates were now a minority in their own caucus!
In 2013, during a joint delegation with SOA Watch, we met with the MRS executive leadership. Besides making us pay for the room, they subjected us to a slick PowerPoint presentation purporting to prove that the Ortega government hadn’t spent anything on reducing poverty or resurrecting the peasant agriculture sector. About midway through the presentation I realized that they were making the claim based on leaving out all the Venezuela oil aid and the non-dollar cooperative trade among the ALBA countries, the very sources of funding for the amazing progress the Ortega government has made to recuperate the social and economic rights of the poor. I was deeply offended by their contempt for us and for the truth.
Since 2006, the MRS has continued its drift to the Right, deepening its alliances with the Right-wing parties and anti-Sandinista civil society groups while taking no action to build a grassroots base or to take any actions or positions that could be defined as challenging the FSLN from the Left.
In September 2017, the MRS publically violated the first of several now irreversible standards of legitimacy. MRS President Ana Margarita Vijil took active part in a delegation of Nicaraguan right-wing political leaders to meet with one of the most anti-Sandinista members of Congress, Iliana Ros-Lehtinen. The reason for the meeting? To call on the US Congress to pass the NICA Act, which, if it were to also pass the Senate and be signed by the president, would require the US to vote against loans to Nicaragua in the World Bank, IMF, and other international financial institutions (IFIs). While the US does not have veto power, I believe it is safe to say that the IFIs have never approved a loan opposed by the US.
Actually, support for the NICA Act was not the MRS’s first trip beyond the Pale. Following Daniele Ortega’s 2006 election physical and electronic graffiti began to appear saying, “Rigoberto viene…” (Rigoberto comes…”). This evokes the memory of Rigoberto Lopez Perez who assassinated the first in the Somoza dictatorship, Anastasio Somoza Garcia. This was concurrent with the MRS campaign “Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa.” (Ortega and Somoza are the same thing.) The MRS explicitly refused our demand, and the demand of others to publicly denounce the “Rigoberto viene” campaign.
And then in 2009 the MRS officially supported a campaign led by their now political partner, US-favorite and failed 2006 presidential candidate banker Eduardo Montealegre, to convince the US and the EU to cut development aid to Nicaragua. The US cut US$60 million and the EU cut around US$45 million. Fortunately, Venezuelan oil aid more than made up the losses so the Sandinista government’s poverty reduction programs continued to be fully funded. It is so sad that those who in their youth had fought for the rights of the poor against a real dictatorship today sabotage efforts to raise people out of poverty.
And now, during the on-going violent coup attempt since April, the MRS fully backs the violent forces and is among the faction that demands that President Ortega and Vice-President Murillo must step down before the roadblocks are removed and a dialogue can take place. There are credible reports of MRS leaders distributing money to opposition leaders. These are charges that must be investigated by credible independent investigators.
In my opinion, the transformation of the MRS and its leadership has been so profound as to qualify as treasonous. Certainly no party using the name Sandino can legitimately use that name when it has publicly called on the United States to intervene in Nicaragua’s sovereign affairs and openly calls for the overthrow of the democratically and legitimately elected government. US and international solidarity activists should understand that they are being lied to and manipulated by people who long ago gave up any claim to our solidarity.
Tension in the Basilica in Diriamba:
Informa Pastran reports: A Catholic Church mission headed by Managua Archbishop Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and Papal Nuncio Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw went to Diriamba and Jinotepe on July 9, a day after the National Police removed a number of roadblocks with a lamentable number of people wounded and killed. In Diriamba, they were met by a group of citizens who protested because the clergymen had not come to their aid when they were being held hostage in the city and subject to all types of outrages by those who maintained the roadblocks. (Informe Pastran, July 9)
Diriamba Families Indignant about Priest’s Complicity with Terrorists
Multiple videos that circulate on social networks show the Diriamba population angry at the terrorists, kidnappers and torturers who held the town hostage for over a month. The citizens surrounded the San Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba demanding the priests leave and for the church to be turned over to the population. People became even angrier when the Cardinal and other priests traveled to Diriamba together with opposition members including Sebastian Chamorro, Sandra Ramos and others, when during over a month that the town was held hostage, they never came to check on people or show their concern. People saw that the Cardinal, priests and opposition leaders came to protect the terrorists who had taken refuge in the church. There has been a pattern of Catholic priests around the country offering their churches as a base for the terrorists with many cases now of people being held and tortured in churches with participation by the priests. The terrorists hid weapons in the church that they used for their criminal activities. In one of the videos below a crying woman tells of being virtually kidnapped and not able to get her medicines.
https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:78876-indignacion-de-las-familias-ante-complicidad-de-obispos-con-los-que-promueven-el-terrorismo- (19 Digital, July 10)
Additional Videos from Diriamba:
Diriamba citizens go into the church and find firearms.
You can hear the level of anger and they call the priests “assassins” and call for them to get out of the church, also because they gave refuge to the terrorists.
Women Describe the Horrors they lived – Nicaragua
Health supplies found that were stolen from health center
Citizens denounce Bishop Silvio Baez for Hitting a Girl
Diriamba Population Greets Police with Shouts of Joy
Families, especially women, went to the streets with applause when the police began to arrive to work on reestablishing security and peace. After over a month of their town being besieged by armed terrorists financed by the right. The relief and happiness of the population was enormous. Finally, they can begin to take on their daily routines with security and calm. (Channel 6, July 9)
Young Man Tortured In Diriamba Basilica for Three days
The population of Diriamba went in the church today. Someone took a video and another interviewed a young man who described how he was kept and tortured there for three days because he is a Sandinista. He said the priest beat him frequently. He said they kept every kind of firearms in the church and snipers would shoot at Sandinistas from the church tower. Here’s a photo of some of the arms found in the church. https://twitter.com/Canal2Nicaragua/status/1016442015284973568/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Eem (Channel 2, July 9)
Population of Diriamba Denounces Church Complicity with Terrorists.
Many members of the population of Diriamba denounce the complicity of Catholic Church priests with the terrorists who held the town hostage for 34 days, including international truck drivers. Hundreds of family members congregated Monday in the central park in front of the Basilica of San Sebastian. They demanded that Father Cesar Castillo turn over the church to the population because he has used it to help the vandals. They also demanded he turn over all the weapons that are in the church, used by the vandals (especially at and around the roadblocks). The people chanted “Take out the weapons, the Father must leave, we want the church”. On Sunday free circulation was reestablished; the roadblocks were taken down by the police and the population See also stories from 7/8/18. (Voz de Sandino, July 9)
More Diriamba Videos:
ANDPH Activist surreptitiously hands money to Catholic Priest
Citizens Reject Priests as Coup-Mongers
Government Committed to Peace and Security
According to a government declaration, the State has the responsibility to guarantee peace, security, the right to life and the exercise of fundamental rights of all Nicaraguans, including the right to free circulation for all (this is referring to the illegal roadblocks where opposition-funded delinquents terrorized the population with kidnapping, torture, extortion and assassination. On July 8, the police and local population took down the roadblocks in Diriamba and Jinotepe that had held hostage more than 400 international truck drivers for between 32 and 34 days. [In this department 11 police officers have been murdered including two last Sunday. NM]. The Declaration continued: With the daily suffering imposed on families since April 18, 2018, from the violence of terrorists who have murdered, tortured and kidnapped hundreds of citizens and also burned, destroyed and ransacked family homes, public buildings, small and medium-scale businesses, it corresponds to the state to act according to the law and guarantee the right of citizens to live in peace with security and respect for human rights as established by the constitution… (Channel 8 and others, July 9)
Police Break up Various Criminal Gangs in Managua over the Last Week.
In Managua, police have returned to patrolling the streets. Of the arrests made this week, 40 were for armed robbery, 10 for violent robbery, 4 for homicide, 1 for murder, 8 for supplying/selling drugs, 1 for rape, and 28 for illegal firearms. They broke up three gangs that robbed vehicles and trafficked in arms. Among the stolen vehicles were 33 motorcycles, 10 cars, and 3 trucks. Police also seized 46 firearms, 22 home-made guns, 64 knives, many cell phones, and money. In District 1 they broke up a gang known for violent robbery. In District 3 a gang was arrested with a stolen taxi and a truck and many firearms including an AK47. Another gang was also arrested. (10 Digital, July 9)
Two Police Killed in the Department of Carazo
Two of the police involved in reestablishing order on July 8 in the municipalities of Jinotepe and Diriamba were killed about 6:00 am. The police were freeing citizens and international truck drivers who had been held for 36 to 38 days by armed terrorists operating the roadblocks where much violence had taken place for more than a month. Those shot by the terrorists at the roadblocks were Sub-official Hilario de Jesus Ortiz Zavala and Policeman Faber Antonio Lopez Vivas. Senior Commissioner Cesar Cuadra stated that in these municipalities the terrorists committed crimes such as murder, torture, assault, kidnapping, arson of homes and institutions, extortion and more, causing terror and chaos in the population. (Radiolaprimerisima.com, July 8)
Kidnapped Truck Drivers in the Department of Carazo Begin to Go Home.
Salvadoran truck driver José Flores was effectively kidnapped along with many others for 36 to 38 days in the municipality of Jinotepe. [On July 3, it was reported that over 200 long haul trucks from various parts of Central America were held up at roadblocks in Nicaragua.] Flores thanked the police profusely for freeing him so he can return to El Salvador and continue to work in peace. We are returning to our families and we hope that blood stops being spilled here. I don’t understand why those guarding the roadblocks have forced us to stay here. Speaking to the police Flores said, “God bless you and we thank you for supporting us”. He said the government did a great job freeing them from the vandals that had them and their vehicles practically kidnapped. (Radiolaprimerisima.com, July 8; Informe Pastran, July 3)
Circulation Reestablished between Jinotepe and Diriamba.
This Sunday the police in coordination with the populations of Jinotepe and Diriamba reestablished free mobility in these two municipalities. Families in the Carazo department can now move around without fear and travel to other cities. For more than a month armed hooded men at roadblocks kept much of the population hostage. The delinquents took the cities by force leaving the fearful population hostage in their own homes. During the time that the cities were under the intimidation of dangerous criminals, public and private properties were burned, destroyed and ransacked. The criminals besieged the streets with guns, mortars and bombs. (Radiolaprimerisima.com, Channel 8, July 8)
Background: Buildings ruined in Diriamba: Burned and ransacked.
In April, hooded armed men connected to the roadblocks burned and ransacked the police station. Since then the roof, ceiling, doors, and iron bars from the cells and the windows have been stolen. The police vehicles and motorcycles were also stolen. (After the first burning of the Police Station videos show a priest and others stealing what was left inside). The Town Hall and the office of the Prosecutor were ruined. The house of the Sandinista Youth was burned. In Jinotepe hooded armed men destroyed and ransacked a number of buildings including SILAIS (government health office), MTI (Ministry of Transportation), Farem-Carazo (a regional university), UNEN (the University student’s building), ENACAL (the Nicaraguan Water Company), the Court, and others. http://www.qhubo.com.ni/que-pasa/41723-ciudades-semidestruidas/ (La Prensa, June 24)
Last Goodbye to Historic Combatant killed by Delinquents.
Just a week earlier Roberto Castillo lost his son Ferson Castillo who was shot by hooded snipers on motorcycles. On July 6, Roberto himself was killed by hooded delinquents in Jinotepe. His body was found in the Jinotepe trash dump near a roadblock. Soon after his son Ferson was murdered, he had made a video that circulated widely on Facebook. In the video he indicated that the culprits were those at the roadblocks and he begged for all the killing to stop. The Castillo-Rosales family is devastated by the loss of Roberto and Ferson. (Channel 8, July 6)
Multitudes Walk for Peace and Security
http://canal4.com.ni/index.php/discursos/42032-presidente-comandante-daniel-en-caminata-por-la-seguridad-y-la-paz-7-de-julio-del-2018/ (19 Digital, Channel 4, July 7)