National Assembly President and Long-time FSLN Leader René Núñez Dies After Long Illness

A Guest Blog by Katherine Hoyt

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Former Nicaragua Network/AfGJ National Co-Coordinator Kathy Hoyt contributes an obituary lamenting the loss Sandinista National Assembly President and revolutionary, Rene Nuñez. The Nicaragua Network is saddened by the loss of Nuñez and sends our condolences to his family and the people of Nicaragua.

Last week’s NicaNotes guest blog on US volunteers in Nicaragua in the 80s and now, sparked a few responses. One of the most thoughtful, I thought, was from Sarah Junkin Woodard, a volunteer with Jubilee House, a grassroots development project in Managua dating back to Hurricane Mitch. Sarah is speaking for herself, but I’ve known Jubilee House since not long after they were established and we’ve visited them on several delegations over the years. I have the highest respect for their work and, as Sarah describes how they handle the education/historical part of volunteer orientation, I think they provide a model for other volunteer programs.


National Assembly President and Long-time FSLN Leader René Núñez Dies After Long illness

By Katherine Hoyt

On Saturday, Sept. 10, when I opened my e-mail, I saw the re-posting of a report from Informe Pastran by Felipe Stuart, a Canadian-Nicaraguan who has lived in Nicaragua for many years: “Fallece René Núñez Tellez (René Núñez Tellez has died)” It wasn’t unexpected but it made me very sad. René was the older of the two Núñez Tellez brothers, the one who was brutally tortured by Somoza and was not on the FSLN National Directorate during the revolutionary years like his brother Carlos but who as secretary of that body called them to order every Friday for their weekly meetings. I was particularly moved because just a few months ago, in January, I was able to take four family members on a tour of Nicaragua to mark the 50th anniversary of my first arrival in Nicaragua that included a tour of the National Assembly where I worked for 1 ½ years in 1982-3. The building was full of remembrances of Carlos Núñez, president of what was then the Council of State and who died prematurely of leukemia in 1990. And, while the Assembly was not in session, we knew that the current president was his much admired brother René. Now René was gone as well. And, as a person of 72 years of age, it seems to me that 70, René’s age, is much too young to die.

Núñez died in Costa Rica where he was being treated for the lung disease from which he had been suffering for some time. The government decreed three days of national mourning and on Monday, Sept. 12, the National Assembly held a special session dedicated to him at which his fellow deputies awarded him posthumously the Order of Jose Dolores Estrada, at the level of the Battle of San Jacinto Great Cross. President Daniel Ortega said, “Today, more than ever we have to continue to be committed to the peace for which René fought. He joined the guerrilla, but in search of peace, not of confrontation and war. On this day, René, we are not here to take our leave of you because you are (still) here with us.” Government spokesperson Rosario Murillo added that Núñez “always was a modest man, [a man] of dialogue with a great capacity for listening.” This sentiment was expressed by all who spoke of Núñez. Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo said, “Rene was characterized as a man of dialogue and frank conversation, always ready to serve his people.” Managua Archbishop Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes emphasized his good relations with politicians of different ideologies and his ability to listen to all and treat them well.

President Ortega noted that René Núñez and his brother the late Carlos Núñez (known as the father of the Nicaraguan Constitution) “both set down the constitutional bases of the country.” Carlos was president of the Council of State, the first revolutionary legislature, and presided over the writing of the 1987 constitution. Rene was elected as a National Assembly deputy in 2002 and served a term as president of that body in 2005. He was elected president of the Assembly again in 2007 and reelected every year after that. He was known for modernizing the functioning of the Assembly, including its own television channel, and for transparency in the documenting of Assembly actions. You can visit the web page of the National Assembly here: http://www.asamblea.gob.ni/ Although he was already ill, one of Núñez’ great satisfactions was to be able to preside on March 16 of this year over the commemoration in the National Assembly of the centennial of the death of poet Rubén Dario at which Darío was declared a National Hero.

Even opposition political figures praised Núñez. Former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa spoke of serving with him in the National Assembly from 2007 to 2011 and noted, “René was always respectful of all the deputies and a signature worker. Not just when the plenary was in session but during the weeks when the committees were working, he worked untiringly in spite of his health difficulties.” Aguirre added, “This simple, good man had as his goal the strengthening of this legislature that he so loved. For that I consider René a great Nicaraguan. And, for that reason, his death has left me sick at heart.”

René Núñez was born in Leon in 1946. He studied engineering at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in Leon where he was general secretary of the Revolutionary Student Front (FER) and Vice-President of the UNAN University Center. When he was in his third year he abandoned his studies to go underground with the FSLN. He was captured by the National Guard of the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1974 and in 1975 he was sentenced to eight years in prison where he was severely tortured. He was liberated in August 1978 along with Tomas Borge and some twenty others as part of the demands made by the Sandinistas in the operation that took over the National Palace.

After the Sandinista victory of July 19, 1979, Núñez served as secretary of the National Directorate of the FSLN from 1979 until 1990 and as Minister of the Presidency from 1985 to 1990. He was able to resume his university studies in 1991 and received his degree as a civil engineer in 1995. He was a member of the FSLN National Directorate from 1991 to 2002 and at the time of his death was a member of the Sandinista National Council.

Núñez lay in state at the National University in Leon, and after a funeral mass at the Leon Cathedral, he was buried in the San Felipe cemetery. President Ortega and others gathered afterward at the home of Núñez’ 97 year old mother, Matilde Tellez. Núñez is also survived by his wife Leona Vivas, children and grandchildren.


Comment on Last Week’s NicaNotes:

You invited comments to your September 8th Nicanotes, so I thought I’d write.

I am part of a small intentional faith-based Community. Most of us came to Nicaragua in the 1980’s, as individual volunteers with short-term Witness for Peace delegations.  We moved to Nicaragua in 1994 and have been here ever since, so those of us who came originally are part of your age generation in terms of how we view volunteerism/solidarity work in Nicaragua. (www.jhc-cdca.org)  Our goal is to work with communities, with the poor.

Since 1994, we have hosted hundreds of volunteers.  Our groups began with friends and their connections, who already knew about Nicaragua and U.S. foreign policy over the centuries, and who already knew us and were familiar with our work with the poor, as the Jubilee House Community while in North Carolina.  After Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua in the fall of 1998, our volunteer short-term groups suddenly increased rapidly… one-to-two week delegations who spent their days digging temporary shelter post-holes and latrines and grey water catch systems for resettled flood victims.  While the crisis assistance nature of our groups then gradually shifted over time into long-term support, our focus also shifted from desperate emergency aid back into making sure that all volunteers became aware of Nicaragua’s history and U.S. responsibility over past centuries, with a goal towards taking a new world vision back to their home countries (mostly to the U.S.).  Even while in crisis mode, it was important for our volunteers to understand that their/our work was in response to needs expressed by local community leadership, not from individuals, or our own volunteers’ preconceptions of what was needed.

What we’ve found is that the quality of leadership in these groups is vitally important.  Most of our groups return to volunteer either annually or every couple of years.  Their leadership encourages pre-trip meetings for education and fundraising for work projects.  Those coming to work with us who arrive here unaware, hopefully leave with at least the rudiments of understanding.  Those who come prepared, ask more perceptive questions and enlarge their understanding.  And if the leadership treats the trip only as a tourist adventure, the group tends to learn only minimally. Of course, individual responses within any of those groups varies widely.

I think your comparison / contrast is well noted.  We have met strictly evangelical groups leaving Nicaragua at the end of a week (overlapping in the check-in line at the airport) to find that their individual members had no idea where they had been, what the people there did for a living, how climate change was impacting their wells and crops, etc… only that they had built a church somewhere on the planet and were thrilled that they had been able to evangelize.  We have also heard from university-age volunteers who have come with groups such as ours, who have reported that their lives were changed… that they went from a surgeon-making-money major to a public-health major… that they went from aiming for a high powered lawyer career to that of a public defender.

I also think that the motive and attitude of our volunteers has a pendulum swing to it.  As young people become more frustrated, outwardly aware, dissatisfied, politically active, environmentally conscious, and electorally marginalized in the U.S., they seem to be more ready to understand Nicaraguan reality, without wasting so much time peeling off their layers of misdirection and lies that have come from their previous sources of “information”.  And with more open sources of information available to young adults with the internet, their acknowledgement that perhaps we’d all better do something to help is increasing. So we are finding, in general, that current volunteers are more ready to embrace at least the ideas of solidarity.

Let’s hope that trend of understanding continues.

Sarah Junkin Woodard, Nicaragua


Briefs 

  • M & R polling released the results of its fifth election poll, the first since a portion of the opposition called for a boycott of the election. 73.9% said the boycott call had “no importance” to them while the remainder said it was important. M & R projects that 75.4% of eligible voters will vote. Of those likely to vote, 65.7% say they will vote for President Daniel Ortega. Undecided is next while the other candidates combined poll at 8.8% support. 63.8% said they are not worried about the electoral process. (El Nuevo Diario, Sept. 12)
  • Remittances from Nicaraguans working abroad represent 9% of the Gross National Product and are a pillar of the Nicaraguan economy. According to the Nicaraguan Central Bank 53.8% originate in the United States and 21.8% in Costa Rica. (El Nuevo Diario, Sept. 12) 
  • A World Bank/World Economic Forum report ranked Nicaragua as the hemisphere’s second safest country behind Canada for investments. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 8)