- by Valentin Cartillier
- The Guardian
- Issue #1969
Jubilant Sandinista ride a small tank in the main square of Managua as junta arrives July 20, 1979 to take control of the government.
The Nicaraguan government has expressed concerns over foreign interference in its upcoming 7th November general election to determine the next President, the National Assembly and members of the Central American Parliament. The current president, Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), more commonly known as the Sandinistas, came back into power in the 2006 election.
Foreign interference in the region is nothing new, Nicaragua’s long history easily attests to this. From being colonised by the Spanish in the 16th century to the direct military occupation by the United States from 1903-1933, not to mention the notorious brutality of the US-funded “Contras” who fought against the Sandinistas, Nicaraguans are quite right to regard any foreign activity in the region with great suspicion.
And they’ve never been afraid to fight for their autonomy. The Sandinistas were named after the great revolutionary Augusto C Sandino, who led the rebellion against the US occupation. The US had been using its military to support, among other things, the corporate ambitions of the United Fruit Company (UFC). It is still in operation under the name Chiquita Brands International, and still using paramilitary groups as part of its operations (Colombia being a recent example) across Central America, the Caribbean and, Latin America. These military interventions, carried out across Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, became known as the Banana Wars.
Sandino launched a sustained guerrilla campaign against the occupying forces and the puppet government. His main demands were the resignation of then-President Adolfo Díaz, withdrawal of US troops, new elections to be supervised by Latin American countries, and the tearing up of the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty (which gave the US the exclusive right to build a canal across Nicaragua). Sandino would eventually emerge victorious, and the US withdrew in 1933, turning him into a hero of anti-imperialist struggle across the region. However, always the sore losers, the US set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), which was organised and designed to maintain US interests in the region. It worked both as a military and police force, trained and equipped by the US.
The first democratically elected President of the newly “liberated” Nicaragua, Juan Bautista Sacasa, negotiated with Sandino so that the latter would stop his guerrilla activities. In exchange, Sandino would be granted amnesty, land for an agricultural colony, and retention of an armed band of 100 men for defence. Despite agreeing to the terms, Sandino continued calling for the disbanding of the National Guard. However, National Guard director Anastasio Somoza García was openly hostile to Sandino, fearing that there would be further armed opposition. So he ordered Sandino’s assassination. Under the pretext of meeting for a dinner to sign a peace treaty at the President’s House, Sandino was kidnapped by National Guard soldiers and executed in 1934, barely a year after having liberated his country. This execution was accompanied by the execution of hundreds of men, women, and children from Sandino’s agricultural colony not long after Sandino’s death. He was named a national hero in 2010 by the Nicaraguan congress.
In 1961 FSLN was founded by Carlos Fonseca and two other people. The party adopted the political ideology and name of their national hero, calling themselves “Sandinista.” Their three main principles are guerra popular prolongada (prolonged popular war) which was mostly rural based, thus engaging with the country’s peasant population, and reminiscent of Cuba’s revolutionary tactics; tendencia proletaria (proletarian tendency), an expression of their Marxist revolutionary approach and mode of organising amongst the urban workers; and finally, tercerista/insurreccionista (third way/insurrectionist) which is based around adopting rapid strategic alliances with other parts of the population like students, the middle class, churches, and unemployed youth.
Thus, the Sandinistas continued the struggle against the American backed Nicaraguan government and the National Guard. They would eventually seize power by force in 1979, win the 1984 election, and be re-elected again in 2006 and have been re-elected until this day. Their period of revolutionary struggle was marked by the notorious counter-revolutionary conflict with the Contras, from 1979 until the early 1990s. The Contras (short for “la contrarrevolución” – “the counterrevolution” surprise, surprise) were various groups funded and equipped by the US. This funding was initially totally legal until US Congress banned it. Thereafter, the Reagan administration continued to fund them covertly.
Under the guidance of the CIA, Contras would target civilians, commit numerous human rights abuses, attack schools and hospitals. According to Edgar Chamorro, former Contra leader, the CIA-gifted hunting knives were particularly prized possessions as one of their favourite methods of killing their targets was slitting their throats. These targets were most commonly civilians, Sandinista officials, cooperative leaders, nurses, doctors, and judges. Torture, kidnapping, burning of houses/villages, and routine executions (including children) were all regular parts of the campaign to sow terror throughout the population, all under the directive of the CIA. According to former Contra Edgar Chamorro in his affidavit and testimony in the World Court:
“The CIA did not discourage such tactics. To the contrary, the Agency severely criticised me when I admitted to the press that the FDN [a prominent Contra group] had regularly kidnapped and executed agrarian reform workers and civilians. We were told that the only way to defeat the Sandinistas was to…kill, kidnap, rob and torture […].”
The Sandinistas were eventually able to overcome the Contras after the US withdrew its military aid in the late ’80s amid growing international outrage as the scandal became more widely known.
So this leads us to the present day. The international propaganda machine has begun grinding its gears to attack the integrity of the upcoming election. The primary assertion is that, in June 2021, the government arrested five opposition candidates for President: Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, Arturo Cruz Jr. Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, and Miguel Mora. At a first glance this does seem to raise concerns over the integrity of the election. However, a closer look shows a very different picture. All of these people were arrested for breaking Nicaraguan law.
For example, one of the opposition candidates, Chamorro, a not-for-profit executive, has been charged for allegedly receiving millions of dollars from US organisations and laundering it through one of her foundations. One of those US organisations she allegedly received the money from was the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), formed in 1983. The US has a long history of using NGOs to destabilise the region by funding right-wing parties through them; NGOS like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and NED. Maradiaga and Aguerri have both allegedly received money from these NGOs for personal gain. The other candidates were also arrested for allegedly receiving funding for similar reason. In reality, there are nineteen candidates registered to run in the upcoming elections, either individually or in a joint party. There is no shortage of opposition.
Nicaragua`s Foreign Affairs Minister, Denis Moncada, stated:
“Nicaragua is an independent State but the United States and European powers continually sought to maintain imperialist and colonial domination over our country. We deserve respect and peace.”
The Sandinistas have demanded an end to all illegal and coercive measures to compromise the upcoming election and an end to the sanctions on Nicaragua. The sanctions have been devastating particularly given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Sandinistas released a statement stating, “Nicaragua is committed to the celebration of free, fair, and transparent general elections this November 7.”
Nicaragua has called for international solidarity against US imperialism, and we shall answer that call and stand with them. The international working class must fight against imperialism in all its forms – this day and forever.