10 de julio de 2020
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Eden Pastora: Leaders-turned-dissidents derailed Nicaraguan revolution

By Luis Felipe Palacios

Managua, Jul 18 (efe-epa).- The Nicaraguan revolution was steered off course by one-time Sandinista leaders who have become dissidents, the legendary "Commander Zero," Eden Pastora, told EFE in an interview coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the toppling of the decades-old Somoza dictatorship.

Pastora said the survival of the revolution now depends on the leadership of 73-year-old leftist President Daniel Ortega, a former rebel commander who was re-elected in late 2006 for a second stint as head of state.

A legendary former guerrilla who was known as "Comandante Cero" (Commander Zero), Pastora led a Sandinista commando unit that seized the National Palace on Aug. 22, 1978, nearly a year before the definitive defeat of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle on July 19, 1979.

That action, in which the commandos held hostage lawmakers allied with the then-dictator, lasted three days and ended with the release of dozens of political prisoners.

Q: What were the main motivating factors that led to the triumph of the Sandinista revolution 40 years ago?

A: American meddling has caused us Nicaraguans lots of problems ... the Knox Note that removed liberal revolutionary Jose Santos Zelaya from power (in 1909), three invasions of Nicaragua by the US Army, in one of which they killed Benjamin Zeledon (a national hero).

They gave the San Andres (archipelago) to Colombia, and then in the last (US) invasion (Augusto C.) Sandino, the general of free men ... defeated the US Army over seven years of guerrilla warfare.

The gringos (Americans) never forgave Sandino and left us with the National Guard, which was nothing more than an invading army with an Indian face, and left the Somozas in power for 45 years in exchange for them killing Sandino. And the gringos supported this dictatorship, the cruelest in Latin America. That really was a dictatorship.

Sandino showed us a nationalist, patriotic, revolutionary, social justice-oriented, anti-imperialist way and charted that path to freedom and democracy.

Carlos Fonseca (the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN, socialist political party) showed us the way and now Daniel Ortega is leading us along that path that Sandino charted.

Q: What events paved the way for the fall of the Somoza dictatorship?

A: I think the last straw was the killing of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro (an anti-Somoza journalist slain on Jan. 10, 1978), when the Sandinista Front, the vanguard, had set the prairie ablaze.

And the prairie was burning. That was when they killed Pedro Joaquin Chamorro. The flames were fanned and that was the fulminating spark, the detonator.

Q: Also the killing of American journalist Bill Stewart on June 20, 1979 ...

A: Ah, that was what made it an international political matter, because the United States saw that they'd killed Pedro Joaquin, that they were killing us, and the empire shrugged their shoulders. But it only took one of their citizens being killed for that to change and for the United States to remove their support. With that, neither Jimmy Carter nor anyone could defend Somoza and told him to get out.

Q: What role did the Cuban revolution and its leader Fidel Castro play in the triumph of the Sandinista revolution?

A: It wasn't that much, despite what many think ... until they saw the real possibility of victory. Then the aid (they offered) was substantial, crucial. Without that assistance, who knows if we'd have been able to overcome the dictatorship.

The Cubans were surprised when they saw that we were defeating Somoza and that our victory was a reality.

Q: What in your judgement were the main successes and failures of the Sandinista revolution during the 1979-1990 administration?

A: The three principals ("commanders") who derailed the revolution were Jaime Wheelock, in charge of agrarian reform; Henry Ruiz, responsible for (economic) planning; and Luis Carrion, head of security for the revolutionary state. Those three were the ones who got the revolution off track in the 1980s.

You have to understand that we didn't have a presidential government, but rather there was a collegial command and that Daniel wasn't the president. Who was Daniel? He was the spokesman of the revolution who made an effort to justify or defend the mistakes (of the other commanders, now dissidents).

Q: How do you explain the exodus of those who made the revolution possible?

A: We're talking about Dora Maria Tellez, Hugo Torres, Victor Hugo Tinoco and 10, 15, 20 others. So when the people condemned them and the people voted against them in 1990, they thought the FSLN would never regain power. So they left the FSLN.

Sergio Ramirez and all of them throw up their hands and say it wasn't me. Vice President Ramirez, who in practice was Daniel's No. 2.

Q: You also distanced yourself from the revolution in the 1980s, were a counter-revolutionary and came back to the FSLN when Ortega regained power in 2007.

A: I left to combat the errors of Henry Ruiz, Luis Carrion, Jaime Wheelock, of retired Gen. Hugo Torres, of programmatic commander Dora Maria Tellez ... But these (individuals), when they were in power ... squandered the most beautiful of all revolutions, and in (the) 1990 elections the people punished them.

Q: July 19 marks the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. What remains of Sandinism?

A: Everything. It's fully intact. The 42 social projects are Sandinista. Our anti-imperialism ... We're anti-imperialists. The social struggle remains. Social justice. What Sandino taught us remains, and that's why this people kept the commander (Ortega) in office when they wanted to carry out this coup.

The Front is indestructible. It's a well-organized party, with ideological foundations, with social pillars. And this 40th anniversary guarantees us the 50th anniversary, the 60th and the first centenary.

Q: What will come of the FSLN and its revolution after Daniel Ortega?

A: If by God's will Daniel Ortega were to die tomorrow, I think 10 MRSs (the dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement) would sprout up. We screw up everything here, and that's why we ask God to keep him with us. EFE-EPA

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Contenido relacionado

Keys to understanding Nicaragua's revolution 40 years on

By Luis Felipe Palacios

Managua, Jul 18 (efe-epa).- Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution, a movement that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979, marks its 40-year anniversary with one of its rebel commanders, Daniel Ortega, still at the helm.

Ortega, who initially headed the Junta of National Reconstruction from 1979 to 1985 and then served as the Central American nation's president from 1985 to 1990, has been entrenched in power since January 2007 in his second stint as head of state.

What remains of that movement that toppled Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, the last strongman in a dynasty that ruled Nicaragua from 1937 to 1979, is now led by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, after the main rebel leaders distanced themselves from the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party over disagreements with its vertical and authoritarian leadership style.

Below are several keys - according to leading figures in the anti-Somoza struggle who are now in opposing camps - to understanding what brought about the revolution and how it has evolved to the present day.

- Primary Objective: Overthrowing the Somoza Dictatorship

"The main motivation was to overthrow a dictatorship, a dynasty of dictators that had dominated Nicaragua since 1936 and was being passed down from fathers to sons, which for the Nicaraguan people meant great economic hardship and repression," poet and writer Gioconda Belli told EFE.

Belli was a member of the FSLN during the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s and later during the first Sandinista government in the 1980s.

According to Eden Pastora, the mythical "Comandante Cero" (Commander Zero) who is an ally of Ortega's, the main factor that triggered the revolution was the desire to put an end to the United States' "meddling" in Nicaragua.

That interference included "three invasions," the granting of sovereignty over the archipelago of San Andres to Colombia and US support for the patriarch of the Somoza dynasty after the assassination of Nicaraguan revolutionary Gen. Augusto C. Sandino (1895-1934).

- Key Moments of the Revolutionary Triumph

On Aug. 22, 1978, nearly a year before Somoza Debayle's definitive defeat on July 19, 1979, a Sandinista unit seized the National Palace and held hostage lawmakers allied with the then-dictator.

The 25 hooded Sandinista guerrillas, led by "Commander Zero," occupied the building that housed the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, an action that lasted three days and ended with the release of dozens of political prisoners.

Another final straw for Nicaragua's strongman was the Jan. 10, 1978, shooting death of anti-Somoza journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal, a killing that occurred at a time when the Sandinista rebels were battling government forces in the mountains and urban areas.

The murder of American television journalist Bill Stewart by Somoza's National Guard forces on June 20, 1979, in Managua also marked a turning point.

Then-US President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat in office from 1977 to 1981, responded to that killing by withdrawing his administration's support for Somoza, a further blow for a strongman who Pastora says "was already defeated."

- The Revolution's Sins

Nicaragua's revolutionary leaders committed the cardinal sin of putting ideology above reality with their intention of creating a socialist state ruled by a single - or at least hegemonic - party, writer and intellectual Sergio Ramirez, Nicaragua's vice president during Ortega's first tenure as head of state, said in a recent editorial.

After the revolution's triumph, cracks started to appear in the unified front of diverse political forces that had made Somoza's downfall possible, Ramirez, who has broken with Ortega, recalled.

That breakdown occurred because "the FSLN, very early on, decided that the responsibility for governing was exclusively theirs, and this was another cardinal sin," Ramirez wrote.

He noted that in strategic terms the revolution allied itself with the Soviet camp and Cuba to secure military support and basic supplies such as oil, while the US imposed a trade embargo and sought to isolate Nicaragua, part of a policy that, in the world's eyes, amounted to a David-versus-Goliath situation.

The revolution also erred, according to the writer, with its decision to put key sectors of the economy, starting with agriculture, under state control and with its failed move to impose foreign and domestic trade controls.

In addition, a civil war pitting US-backed, right wing rebels known as Contras against the Sandinista forces "came to disrupt the social transformation initiatives that were the revolution's reason for being," Ramirez said.

But according to Pastora, "the most beautiful of all revolutions, the Sandinista struggle, was thwarted from within by its dissidents; he pointed the finger at former "commanders" Henry Ruiz, Luis Carrion and Jaime Wheelock, as well as Ramirez.

- The 1990 Elections

In 1990, the Sandinistas were defeated at the ballot box by the National Opposition Union's Violeta Chamorro, a loss that caused the FSLN to split into factions.

The revolution "took the wrong path starting in 1990 with the FSLN's electoral defeat" and "now we're experiencing a situation that's totally contrary to what we wanted to achieve," Belli said, adding that the revolution has not evolved over these 40 years but instead "has regressed."

According to Ramirez, with its electoral defeat in 1990, the FSLN's "hegemonic project collapsed and the ideological conceptions rapidly grew stale."

"Perhaps the most instructive of all the cardinal sins of the revolution, viewed now as a distant phenomenon, is the conception of public power resting forever in the hands of one party, which inevitably leads to power resting in one person or one family," he said.

For "Commander Zero," however, the exodus of the revolution's senior leaders occurred after the 1990 elections because former key members-turned-dissidents believed the FSLN would never regain power.

- Venezuelan Aid

Since winning back the presidency in the November 2006 elections, Ortega has relied on aid from oil-rich Venezuela - which totals at least $4.95 billion over the past 11 years, according to official figures, and is managed outside the country's budget - to promote social projects and maintain his political clientele.

But those aid flows have dried up drastically over the past two years amid the worsening economic and political crisis in Venezuela.

- What Remains of the Revolution?

Belli says, "Nicaragua has returned to its, let's call it, circle of dictators, and we've become a dictatorship once again" with Ortega.

"It's a dictatorship that this time around was created and is maintained by people who'd been involved in the struggle against Somoza. It seems unreal that people who fought against a dictatorship would end up forming a dictatorship, and since last year we've had terrible repression: 325 people have been killed and more than 70,000 people have left the country. We're sad. This is a sad anniversary," she added.

But in Pastora's view, the revolution's survival now depends on the 73-year-old Ortega's leadership and continuance in power. EFE-EPA

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