[Abridged translation of an article from La Prensa of Managua, Nicaragua, for July 18, 2010. July 19 is the anniversary of the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista revolution that ousted the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza. Dora María Téllez, a medical student at the time, played an important role in the uprising. In 1978, when she was 22, she was third in command of Sandinista forces that occupied the national palace in Managua, a pivotal event in the revolution.
After government by a revolutionary junta from 1979 until 1985, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was elected president. Hampered by a war waged by counter-revolutionaries, the contras, who were supported by the Reagan administration in Washington, Ortega nevertheless managed during his first five-year term to carry out some land reform measures and wealth redistribution. Ortega lost the next presidential election, however.
He was still a powerful figure in the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, though, and ambitious. He formed practical alliances with the government of President Arnoldo Alemán of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC), an administration marked by serious corruption, which led eventually to a criminal trial and a 20-year prison sentence for Alemán, later reversed by the Supreme Court.
Ortega was elected president again in 2006. In the meantime, though, he and other FSLN leaders, tainted by association with the Alemán regime, came under serious criticism of corruption and caudillismo, undemocratic rule by strong men in powerful positions. The Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (MRS – Movement for Sandinista Renewal) was formed by dedicated Sandinistas like Téllez to restore Sandinismo to the revolutionary principles with which it was formed.]
Thirty-one years after the revolution she took part in, Dora María Téllez compares the flaws of the Ortega government with those of the dictatorship it overthrew. She denies as well that the Ortega government is leftist and even labels it a fraud. “Ortega,” she says, “poses as a defender of the poor but has been a defender of the rich.”
by Arlen Cerda
Even though Dora María Téllez kept her distance from the Frente Sandinista (FSLN) during the last electoral campaign, and still does so, and, with a 13-day hunger strike in June, 2008, was the first to protest the high cost of living, the hunger and the policies of the Daniel Ortega government, she, a former comrade in arms of the now FSLN strongman during his brief experience as a guerrillero, declares that a majority of Nicaraguans based their hopes for a better life on this, Ortega’s second term, but warns clearly that it has turned into “a fiasco.”
Téllez claims that even though Ortega portrays his government as socialist, Christian and united with the people, in reality there is little about it that is leftist or revolutionary.
She argues that the poor are as impoverished as they were before Ortega returned to power for a second term in 2007, that he has governed for the benefit of capital and for its corrupt consolidation. She compares Ortega with a circus magician and holds that he seeks only to nurture the cult of personality and to promote his own re-election, for which he has overseen the institutional collapse of the country, activity in which she sees a betrayal of the ideals and the struggles of the revolution that triumphed 31 years ago.
According to Téllez, Ortega “assimilated the somocista model of power” to the degree that the Frente Sandinista, like the Partido Nacionalista under Somoza, has been taken over by an Ortega cult and by the omnipresence of the presidential family. “The principles of the Frente Sandinista were liquidated by Daniel Ortega,” the former guerrillera says, equating the phenomenon with that of a parasite that devours its host. So Ortega has chosen to remain in isolation with his “unconditional courtiers.”
What do you believe is left of the revolution that triumphed in 1979?
You have to remember that part of the Nicaraguan insitutional model was generated by the revolution: the army, the police, the national assembly itself, the constitution. That is to say, the Nicaraguan body of principles was established by the Sandinista revolution… But I also believe that July 19 left many challenges still pending.
The defeat of the Somoza dictatorship came about becaue great problems were tormenting Nicaraguans. First, forty-some years of dictatorship, which had meant political repression, coercion, lack of freedom, lack of democracy, and, second, higher poverty rates among the people; and we should recognize that 31 years later these continue to be great challenges for the country. That is to say, we have not yet met the challenges that July 19 represents. There are still dictatorial ambitions in the country, caudillista projects, great poverty…
How do you see that those ambitions are manifested in some of the protagonists of the revolution, like Ortega?
Frankly, I think Ortega was recruited by somocismo. He assimilated the somocista power model and he puts it into practice. Like other Nicaraguan politicians, he could not disengage himself from that model of power. You see in (Arnoldo) Alemán and Daniel Ortega two typical politicians who would fit perfectly in the somocista power structure, with a similar exercise of power, buying loyalties, repression for the sake of aligning loyalties, pacts and transactions for privileges or sinecures, political patronage. That is the Somoza model of power, which is the same in Alemán and in Ortega, there is no difference there of any kind. I believe the triumph of the Nicaraguan revolution was precisely for those reasons, to defeat that power model, but this is an unsettled question.
You were in León when the revolution triumphed. What did you feel at that moment? And what do you feel now?
It was difficult. I had mixed emotions: happiness, surprise… sadness, because there were also many friends, brothers, comrades, killed in their youth. The cost of the revolution was very high. But it was a crucial moment of hope for the Nicaraguan people. Thirty-one years later I sense a people with little hope, and that is sad. The ideal would be for the people to have hope, even though we have difficulties, but we should have great hope.
Many people feel hopeless now, people of whatever political stripe, right, independent, center, left, they have little hope. This government, which had begun with a bond of good will on the part of a large majority of the people, turned out to be a fiasco. It is that way in economic matters — it has done nothing of substance to reduce poverty, it has done nothing substantial to create jobs and, besides, it has profoundly damaged democracy and Nicaragaun principles.
How does the overall scenario look to you?
Today all the institutions have collapsed because President Ortega wants to be re-elected perpetually. His ambition for eternal power has brought about the collapse of judicial power, which has collapsed not only institutionally but ethically as well. None of the magistrates who are there is credible as a judge, because they are all political arms of Ortega or Alemán. Who could believe a judge who endorses a caudillo’s positions? This supreme court has collapsed institutionally and ethically. The comptroller as well. The human rights prosecutor also. With his lust for re-election, Ortega has forced the principles of the country into an abyss and now he is doing everything possible to buy votes so he can have a majority for changing the constitution for the purpose of permitting him to stay in power…
About your years as a guerrillera. Many who spent most of the years of struggle in exile, then put on olive green clothes once the revolution had won. They dresssed like guerrilleros without being guerrilleros. What did you feel when that happened?
It is understandable that in times like those dressing like a guerrillero became fashionable. You still see some kids who dress in olive green shirts, military caps…
Daniel was in the Frente Norte Carlos Fonseca for a few months, for the October, 1977, offensive, and later he was outside the country, mostly in Costa Rica. But, well, he was one of the leaders of the Frente Sandinista, he was committed to the revolutionary struggle. So in his capacity as such he could wear a uniform. I didn’t see it as fashion for him. I could see it as fashion in other people who were not committed to the revolutionary struggle but adopted it that way…
Despite Ortega’s brief participation as a guerrillero, today you see murals the government has put up and the president appears at practically all the battle fronts and the struggles of the insurrection…
It’s just that this is not a leftist government. It is a rightist populist government. Their prinicpal ally is large-scale capital. Their policies have favored Nicaraguan capital, the concentation of capital in a few hands, the creation of a cloak of corruption in the country. This is a rightist government. The poor are still poor, as in the Nicaragua of 2006.
When did the Frente Sandinista begin this cult of Ortega?
That was in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s. More specifically, I’d say it began openly in 1994. From then on it became ever stronger, until it became a cult and orteguismo. That is, an apparatus that liquidated the Frente Sandinista. The Frente Sandinista no longer exists. It did exist…
And considering all this, where does the Frente Sandinista stand? Does it have a future as a party?
I believe that if the Frente Sandinista wants to develop as a party it has to distance itself from Orteguismo. Just like the PLC with Alemán.
And do you think that can happen?
Yes. Early. It can’t happen later.
And is there a possibilty of reconciliation between you and the FSLN?
Yes, yes. We aspire to the unity of sandinismo. Of sandinismo, not of orteguismo. We have been building a sandinista unity from within MRS that is open, that has nothing to do with orteguismo.
Will that unity occur under the banner of the FSLN?
That is a difficult hypothesis to construct, because the first question is, will the Frente Sandinista survive orteguismo? I don’t think so. They are destoying it. It is possible there will be some sandinistas left who can reconstruct the FSLN without Ortega, but it gets harder all the time. What party could survive if the leaders coming to the fore are all decapitated? None.
[Singer and songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy, like his brother Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, was prominent in the New Song movement in Nicaragua during the early days of Sandinismo. Later, in 2006, he was vice presidential candidate for the Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista. His son, Camilo Mejía, is a veteran of the US military, a conscientious objector and a prominent anti-war activist, active in Iraq Veterans against the War. Carlos Mejía wrote what is probably the best loved song of the Sandinista revolution, “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,” which can be downloaded in MP3 format by clicking on the title below.]