Ortega a Dictator? Now She Tells Us.

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In a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the former "dictator in designer glasses" and el jefe supremo of the Sandinista party, a handful of prominent supporters of the 1979 revolution have denounced the creeping totalitarianism of Sandinismo 2.0. Twenty-nine years too late, but why pick nits?

So what's bugging Bianca Jagger, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, and Tom Hayden about the New Sandinistas? Dora María Téllez, former Minister of Health during the first Sandinista dictatorship, "Commander Two" in the 1978 seizure of Somoza's parliament, and icon of the revolution, is on hunger strike after Ortega's government banned her party, the rival Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). According to a report in The Guardian, Téllez is on hunger strike to "protest against the 'dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.'" As a longtime government minister in the first Sandinista regime, Ms. Téllez wasn't particularly concerned with the "dictatorship" in its first iteration—the repeated closing and censoring of opposition newspapers like La Prensa, jailing of "bourgeois" political opponents, etc.  But this is a political feud with some history: Téllez publicly denounced Ortega's dictatorial streak all the way back in 1992. When Ortega allied the party with those he once denounced as "counterrevolutionaries"—Contras, Catholics, and conservatives—Tellez spilt with the Sandinistas, forming the splinter group MRS.  In 1996 she grumbled that his willingness to work with former enemies "shows just how far Daniel Ortega is willing to go in order to reach power." When Ortega was accused of child molestation, she told Mother Jones reporter Marc Cooper that she "absolutely believed" his accuser.

Now Comandante Ortega-—who has annoyed many former sympathizers on the left with his opposition to abortion and his "newfound Catholicism…[which is] another factor in the dilution of Sandinismo," according to The Nation—has received a sharp rebuke from Chomsky and friends for his treatment of Téllez. From The Guardian:

The celebrities and intellectuals who backed the government in the 80s wrote an open letter in her support: "None of these demands is irrational and a government that wants popular support ought to respond to them. Political representation is a right. It is a right to protest against mechanisms that shut down this space. Dora Maria represents a broad sector of Nicaraguan society that ought to be listened to."

The letter was signed by: Chomsky, a US academic; the British novelist Rushdie; Jagger, a human rights activist and former actor; and several others, including writer Ariel Dorfman, journalists Eduardo Galeano and Mario Benedetti, and human rights campaigner Tom Hayden.

The letter, published last week just as Tellez halted her strike on medical advice, elicited no government response. The office of Rosario Murillo, Ortega's wife and spokeswoman, did not respond to calls.

Full story.

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  1. I get it. Leftists is dumb, says Moynihan.

    Naturally, there is no mention of the money and weapons the U.S. government funneled to the murderous Contras — the people Reagan called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”

    Of course, this latter support dwarfed whatever sympathies for the Sandinistas some naive left-wingers may have expressed, but for Moynihan to address it he might have to actually concede that U.S. foreign policy has frequently been immoral and that leftists are not the source of all evil in the world today.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  2. I always thought there was no political infighting in central america — I stand corrected.

    And yeah — the US supporting genocide in central america in the 80s — sorta worse than an endorsement from Chomsky — like the old Bill Hicks joke — “genocide/tax increases — tax increases/genocide — I’ll take the tax increase” somehow I think Mike would take the genocide.

  3. some naive left-wingers

    I do like the description of Chomsky as “naive.” May I assume, Charlie, that any denunciation that you make of the Contras is “balanced” by denunciation of the Sandinistas?

  4. Murderous I’ll grant, spur, but “genocide?” That’s a hard one to swallow. The Sandinistas certainly showed that they were willing to exterminate Miskito Indian villages and others who dared to oppose them. In several Central American countries, reist There’s a long list of human rights violations, disappearances, assassinations, etc. confirmed by the Sandinistas as well. Peasants Tell of Rights abuses by Sandinistas and Sandinistas Uproot Villages to Limit Support for Contras from the New York Times are but some of many pieces of evidence that show that in many areas, peasants and refugees supported the Contras and not the Sandinistas.

    Both sides committed atrocities. Genocide, though?

  5. I don’t get the title of this post. Was Ortega a dictator in the 80’s? He won the office in free and fair elections in 1984 and then peacefully left office in 1990 when he was defeated in free and fair elections.

    He certainly was at least partly responsible for the Sandinistas’ atrocities (which at least weren’t funded by U.S. taxpayers, unlike the atrocities committed by the Contras) and I think it would be fine if he was in prison for them, but did he really ever count as a “dictator” (before now, I mean)?

  6. Upon further research, I guess Ortega was a dictator of sorts from ’79 until ’84, when elections were held.

  7. Ollie’s getting his plane revved up.

  8. but for Moynihan to address it he might have to actually concede that U.S. foreign policy has frequently been immoral and that leftists are not the source of all evil in the world today.

    Why? What do the two have to do with eachother? that’s like everytime someone in the Taliban beheads someone, I have to do an inventory of U.S. foreign policy failures, in a bullet-pointed Power Point before I can condemn any act of a foreign power?

    And I know this meme has been going ad-nauseum for a long time, but since when did the fact that a leader won a “free and fair” election not get to be criticized when he shutters newspapers, stifles opposition, etc?

    We would never let our own leaders get away with it, no matter how freely and “fairly” they were elected. Why then with the Central American variety?

  9. Investigations into atrocities committed during the civil wars in El Salvador, Hondorus, and Guatemala have shown that 90% of them were committed by the right-wing government, rather than the left-wing rebels.

    I wonder whether, or how much, those numbers would change in the case of Nicaragua, where the sides were reversed?

  10. Frankly, joe, my level of trust for any ‘wing’ in a volatile, Central American country is very limited.

    It may come off as trite, but until the countries can shed the systems and rules that breed dictatorships (yes, even the ‘democratic’ ones), it seems to me that it’s the political equivalent of a bunch of men in a burlap sack trading hats for a living.

  11. Whatever his responsibility for other atrocities, he was apparently a child molester as well.

    In 1998, at the age of thirty, Zoilam?rica Narvaez publicly revealed her story of sustained sexual molestation, abuse and rape by her stepfather, which began when she was only eleven. “Veteran Sandinistas [?] said they knew about Ortega’s abuse of her all along,” reported the New York Times (August 23, 1998), while Alejandro Bendana, Ortega’s former envoy to the UN who married Narvaez in 1990, publicly confessed his shame in failing to confront the continued abuse by his boss. Time Magazine (March 23, 1998) reported that “[t]hroughout much of the 1980s, many loyalists of the Marxist-oriented Sandinista Party suspected that Daniel Ortega Saavedra, their dour leader and the country’s President from 1979 to 1990, was sexually molesting his adolescent stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez Murillo.

    Efforts to prosecute the case were first blocked by Ortega’s immunity as a member of Nicaragua’s congress. According to an article in the Harvard Review of Latin America (Revista, Summer 2006), “Ortega refused to deal with the issue, shielding himself with his immunity from prosecution.” Finally in 2001 Ortega renounced his immunity-but only after calculating that the statue of limitations for the sexual abuse and rape charges had finally passed.

  12. Paul,

    until the countries can shed the systems and rules that breed dictatorships We certainly are fortunate as Americans that the system of oligarchies and plantations on which most Central American countries were founded was not the sole, or even primary, foundation for our own.

    Breeding grounds for dictators. Children raised, literally, to be dictators.

  13. Noam Chomsky: Self-identified “anarchist” who actively supports authoritarian socialists. I guess he’s one of those “anarchists” who thinks the state will whither away if only the right people were in charge.

  14. I am sympathetic to Ms. Tellez. I too support censorship to silence my oppenents. Except when censorship is used to silence me, then censorship is a travesty.

  15. Eh. How many “anarcho-capitalists” shill for Pinochet?

    A lot of political radicals are just angry people dreaming of getting those bad, oppressive people. It’s really more about personality that ideology.

  16. While we can argue day and night about the 80s — I personally consider that Ortega was a dictator then just as he is now– I think this article does a pretty horrible job in examining why members of the MRS such as Tellez (or Jarquin, or any of the other MRS party leaders) are becoming increasingly irate with Ortega. Yes, I imagine that they are unhappy with Ortega’s anti-abortion stance, but he has held that stance since his inauguration in Jan 2007. His alleged newfound Catholicism has to do with attempting to regain ground with the largest religious group in the country; it was previously lost by the FSLN’s courting of evangelicals. Why is there no mention of Ortega’s antagonistic relationship with Managua’s mayor Nicho Marenco, who is also a member of the FSLN? Or the massive inflation that his completely ridiculous economic policies have caused? Or the food shortages of staples, such as beans? Or the daily power outages based on an insufficient grid system? Or the Sandinistas making the MRS and the PC illegal, therefore ineligible to run in the November municipal elections?

    I could continue on, but I think what I’ve already mentioned more than demonstrates the superficiality of this article…

  17. So what’s bugging Bianca Jagger, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, and Tom Hayden about the New Sandinistas?

    Ah, they are no longer Leftist Commusnist Murdering Thuggish enough for that crowd.

  18. Naturally, there is no mention of the money and weapons the U.S. government funneled to the murderous Contras — the people Reagan called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”

    Yea, ‘Charlie’, we should have sent flowers and chocolate to counter the murdering thugs that we were fighting.

    You are not against war, you are just on the other side.

  19. Hey, come on, how many contras were tarring and feathering Tories or buying slaves?

    Pikers. They just wish they were hardcore like us.

  20. I’m not that familiar with this issue. I’ll have to ask the guys from Rage Against The Machine what they think.

  21. Eh. How many “anarcho-capitalists” shill for Pinochet?

    I wonder if joe could actually cite one supposed shill rather than just ask vague rhetorical questions.

    But I’ll go ahead and say that Pinochet’s death toll of 3,000 makes him a piker by South American standards (e.g. Brazil), to say nothing of when compared to left-wingers in Asia and Africa. When I get worked up about mass murderers, the general is way down my list.

  22. Charlie has a good point; we should refuse to buy into the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” idea. The Central America cluster provides more evidence to support the idea of non-intervention. But here’s a safe prediction: The next awkward skeleton in the closet for the Western Left will be Hugo Chavez. The marathon speeches, the kissing up to Castro, the military cronies occupying more and more government posts, the sloganeering (“Socialism or Death!”), the constant need for an imperialist enemy (us)… I could go on. When will my former “comrades” learn. Ask a hardcore leftist why so few in the United States buy into their message and they will no doubt blame false consciousness. I’m sure it couldn’t have anything to do with their propensity for climbing into bed with any authoritarian that speaks in Marxist cliches.

  23. Eh. How many “anarcho-capitalists” shill for Pinochet?

    I am aware of exactly zero anarcho-capitalists who have shilled for Pinochet. Murray Rothbard: no. David Friedman: no. Walter Block: no. Maybe you meant agorists instead? But no, I am not aware of any agorists shilling for Pinochet either.

    Please stop reading Naomi Klein. She will rot your brain.

  24. Those who live on the outside of Nicaragua have always gotten it wrong. Left and Right are meaningless in current Nicaraguan politics. El Pacto, the pact, signed by Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Aleman (the right-wing ex-president) is a power-sharing contract that has disenfranchised the Nicaraguan people and has handed all the levers of power to those two individuals. Ortega has only worked to consolidate his power since taking office and he has Alemans complete support (Ortega in power means freedom for Aleman, who was convicted of corruption charges and would be sitting in a jail cell if any honest leader were in charge). These two strong men have complete control over the two parties in power and the two parties barely resemble a leftist nor rightist agenda. They are both serving the self-interests of those two men and that is all.

    Alemans PLC party and Ortegas FSLN party use rhetoric, but make no mistake, they are uninterested in pushing forward any plans that would either open up Nicaragua to foreign investment (a typical right wing solution) nor investing in social programs (a left wing policy). The majority of Nicaraguans favor the two dissenting parties that were just eliminated because most Nicaraguans see corruption in government as the number one issue that plagues their country. However, as things now stand they have very little power to change that. Evidence of this can be seen in the protests and marches this past month as well as during the elections were rightwing and leftwing activist took to the streets in solidarity against the two powerful parties.

    It is a mistake to blame socialism just as it is a mistake to blame U.S. intervention. Doing so only illustrates a widely shared ignorance of the true state of affairs in what is otherwise a wonderful country with a terrible government.

  25. Yea, ‘Charlie’, we should have sent flowers and chocolate to counter the murdering thugs that we were fighting.

    So, Guy, you think that the appropriate response to the Sandinistas was to fund, arm, and train terrorists to kill the civilians who supported them?

    Certainly there must be some middle ground between flowers and terrorists?

  26. LOL, the only dictator I know of is Dictator G “Dubya” Bush!

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  27. “So, Guy, you think that the appropriate response to the Sandinistas was to fund, arm, and train terrorists to kill the civilians who supported them?”

    What is that cliche about “one man’s terrorist”? The Soviets funded leftist thugs who subverted the governments and set up murderous dictatorships. The US funding thugs who fought back by fighting the dictatorships and eventually set up their own. Neither side was particularly nice, but if they had been nice they would have ended up with bullets in their heads. The issue is under which side did things turn out better in the long run. Yeah, the US thugs were well thugs, but their countries turned into Chile and Argentina in the best case and El Salvador and Hondurous in the worst case. The leftists thugs turned their countries into Cuba. I will take Chile over Cuba any day. And it is not just South America. Who wound up better off in the end, South Africans or Zimbabwians? (What are the peopl eof Zimbabwe called anyway?)

  28. So, Guy, you think that the appropriate response to the Sandinistas was to fund, arm, and train terrorists to kill the civilians who supported them?

    I’m not Guy, but the proper response is to not use tax money in foreign countries.

  29. Certainly there must be some middle ground between flowers and terrorists?

    The terrorists were the middle ground between flowers and a totalitarian mass murdering Soviet-backed Communist state. Most on the right just wanted to defend their property rights.

    Helping those that sometimes employed ruthless and immoral tactics might have soiled our lily-white consciences, but cleaner hands often mean dirtier consequences.

  30. I wonder if joe could actually cite one supposed shill rather than just ask vague rhetorical questions.

    You know, I think I probably could. Oh, look…

    But I’ll go ahead and say that Pinochet’s death toll of 3,000 blah blah shill shill blah blah.

  31. I love it – the Nation is unconcerned with jailing opponents, closing newspapers, etc., but opposition to abortion is going too far. To the barricades, comrades!

  32. Nigel,

    I completely agree.

  33. TallDave,

    So, just to be clear, you support the use of terrorism (intentional violence against civilian populations) to overthrow democratically elected governments?

    Really?

  34. John,

    You’re basically saying that you’d rather have Ted Bundy’s reputation over John Wayne Gacy’s.

    Once you employ terrorism, it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, you’ve become a bad guy.

  35. Les,

    Obviously not. The contras won the election.

  36. Once you employ terrorism, it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, you’ve become a bad guy.

    We didn’t employ terrorism. We supported a group that sometimes did, as the lesser of two evils. And it was the right thing to do.

    Remember, the Sandinistas were setting off bombs at voting areas. The “right-wing death squads” were at least ostensibly only targeting their enemies, though that probably wasn’t always true.

  37. TallDave,

    In 1984, the Sandinistas held elections that were considered by scores of international observers as fair. Only the U.S. and U.S. sponsored groups in Nicaragua disagreed.

    We didn’t employ terrorism. We supported a group that sometimes did, as the lesser of two evils.

    Look, let’s be adults. If I pay a man to do a job and, in the process, he murders some people, and I pay him again for other jobs in which he murders other people, I’m employing a murderer. And if you “sometimes” commit acts of terrorism, you’re a terrorist. Simple as that. The Contras were terrorists, just like the folks in Hezbollah and Hamas and Al Quaeda.

    But let’s say that the 1984 elections weren’t fair. Terrorism was “the lesser of two evils?” Kidnapping and torturing and raping and murdering civilians is a “lesser of two evils?” Can’t it be “just as evil?” Or does the philosophy of the terrorist determine the moral character of his atrocity?

    I honestly don’t understand this position. Do you think that the Sandinistas wouldn’t have been voted out of power if we hadn’t supported terrorists? Is that the only way we could have defeated communism in Nicaragua? With terrorism?

    Do you support using terrorism against the civilians who support, say, the governments of Cuba or Zimbabwe or Syria or Iran? If not, why was it okay for the Contras to use terrorism to fight the the Sandinistas?

    Finally, since you say that kidnapping and torturing and murdering civilians in Nicaragua was “the right thing to do,” are there any violent acts off limits to anti-communists?

  38. All of TallDave’s foreign policy arguments come down to, and founder on, the same fallacy:

    It will be different for us, because we’re the Good Guys.

  39. Let her starve to death. The left in the West has facilitated the rise of totalitarianism since the 1960s, she helped the FSLN gain power in 1980. Who cares what happens to her? The real victims have been the Conservative Party of Nicaragua, a part that has existed since the 1821 and resisted Somoza much longer than the Sandinistas. All those Leftists who now ‘denounce’ Ortega are just as guilty as her.

  40. It was, in fact, the Contras setting off bombs at polling places, and blaming it on the Sandinistas. Recently-released documents confirm that the CIA knew this, at the same time Reagan was blaming our allies’ bombings on their enemies.

  41. Les,

    Sure, they won in 1984 and then they proceeded to extinguish basic freedoms.

    Under the new “Law for the Maintenance of Order and Public Security” the “Tribunales Populares Anti-Somozistas” allowed for the indefinite holding of suspected counter-revolutionaries without trial. The State of Emergency, however, most notably affected rights and guarantees contained in the “Statute on Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguans. [2] Many civil liberties were curtailed or canceled such as the freedom to organize demonstrations, the inviolability of the home, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and, the freedom to strike.[3] All independent news program broadcasts were suspended.

    The contras then won the 1990 elections.

    Look, let’s be adults. If I pay a man to do a job and, in the process, he murders some people, and I pay him again for other jobs in which he murders other people, I’m employing a murderer.

    We supported the Soviets in WW II too, but I don’t hear a lot of crying about it now.

  42. Finally, since you say that kidnapping and torturing and murdering civilians in Nicaragua was “the right thing to do,”

    No, I said supporting the contras was the right thing to do; obviously those acts were wrong.

    Do you think that the Sandinistas wouldn’t have been voted out of power if we hadn’t supported terrorists?

    Correct. Like other Soviet clients (Cuba, North Korea) once resistance had been crushed it’s likely they never would have held elections again.

  43. Let her starve to death. The left in the West has facilitated the rise of totalitarianism since the 1960s… All those Leftists who now ‘denounce’ Ortega are just as guilty as her.

    Oh, I don’t know. Even if they were wrong before, it seems unduly harsh to say they’re irreovcably lost.

    If Noam Chomsky or others have seen the light, I say better late than never.

  44. We supported the Soviets in WW II too, but I don’t hear a lot of crying about it now.

    Besides the fact that Germany, unlike Nicaragua, invaded several countries and declared war on us, making your analogy fairly weak, did we train the Soviets in torture and ship them weapons we knew they’d use to murder civilians in order to defeat the Germans?

    No, I said supporting the contras was the right thing to do; obviously those acts were wrong.

    But, again, if you pay a person to simply assault someone (maybe even someone who deserved it), and they end up torturing and killing them and their family, but you pay them again and again with the same results over and over, then doesn’t it follow that it’s wrong to keep paying this person, knowing that he’s using your money and resources to torture and kill innocent people? Will the judge go easy on you if you say, “But I wasn’t doing the actual killing, your honor.”

    Like other Soviet clients (Cuba, North Korea) once resistance had been crushed it’s likely they never would have held elections again.

    You are equating terrorism with resistance. You are saying that the terrorists were the only group of people in Nicaragua who were capable of resisting the Sandinistas. This represents not just a failure of imagination and ingenuity, but of morality as well.

  45. And I’ll just add that people who defend the Contras because they were fighting a totalitarian regime almost always excuse the totalitarian regimes that we supported who were fighting communist dissidents.

    In other words, if a communist regime won’t hold elections and imprisons, tortures, and murders dissidents, that’s a horrible thing which requires the assistance of terrorists to stop.

    And if an anti-communist regime won’t hold elections and imprisons, tortures, and murders dissidents, that’s a hard truth of the real world and we must defend that regime’s right to commit those atrocities in the name of anti-communism.

    It’s the worst kind of ideological loyalism.

  46. Besides the fact that Germany, unlike Nicaragua, invaded several countries

    Right, because Communism was a one-country affair entirely confined to Nicaragua.

    ship them weapons we knew they’d use to murder civilians in order to defeat the Germans?

    Yes, of course we did.

    You are equating terrorism with resistance.

    And you’re equating a murderous totalitarian Soviet-backed Communist regime with a liberal democratic government that did not violently oppress its people and thus merit violent resistance.

    You are saying that the terrorists were the only group of people in Nicaragua who were capable of resisting the Sandinistas. This represents not just a failure of imagination and ingenuity, but of morality as well.

    There were no others. This represents a failure of common sense.

    And I’ll just add that people who defend the Contras because they were fighting a totalitarian regime almost always excuse the totalitarian regimes that we supported who were fighting communist dissidents.

    You kill 100 million people, and suddenly everyone’s against you, even when your enemies are jerks. Funny how that works.

    I can only say “lesser of two evils” so many ways. Either you accept it or you don’t. If you want to live in a world where we never supported anyone who didn’t meet your standards of morality, you should learn German or Russian.

  47. Right, because Communism was a one-country affair entirely confined to Nicaragua.

    So, you’re arguing for preemptive terrorism, then?

    And you’re equating a murderous totalitarian Soviet-backed Communist regime with a liberal democratic government that did not violently oppress its people and thus merit violent resistance.

    Actually, it was a democratic government that violently oppressed its people. Just like ours.

    There were no others. This represents a failure of common sense.

    So, in a democratically elected totalitarian regime, the ONLY people willing and ready to resist the state were terrorists. And it’s only these terrorists who managed to make the Sandinistas mandate elections in their constitution. What was that about common sense?

    You kill 100 million people, and suddenly everyone’s against you, even when your enemies are jerks. Funny how that works.

    Again, this is moral nonsense. You condemn the mass-murderers who are getting support from the Soviets and you excuse the mass-murderers who are against the Soviets.

    I can only say “lesser of two evils” so many ways.

    Once you’re a mass-murdering terrorist, there is no “lesser of two evils.” There is simply evil. Your philosophy is what allows this evil to thrive under the right political conditions.

    If you want to live in a world where we never supported anyone who didn’t meet your standards of morality, you should learn German or Russian.

    If you think the United States couldn’t have continued to exist without supporting mass-murdering terrorists, it seems to me you don’t have a very high opinion of the United States. Personally, I think we’re capable of much better than that.

  48. The contras didn’t win the 1990 elections (they didn’t participate since they refused to dissarm) That election was won by the democratic opposition (yes, they exited) led by Violeta Chamorro (publisher of the independent daily La prensa) Afterwards she negotiated the disarming of the contras in exchange of money and lands (some of then returned to banditry later)

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