Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Has a Strange Affinity for Strongman Daniel Ortega. He's Not the Only Democrat Who Does.

Bill de Blasio helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party's newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade.


Give The New York Times credit for publishing, over the weekend, a long investigative piece about the strange enthusiasm of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for the communist strongman Daniel Ortega, who ruled Nicaragua in the 1980s and is in power there again today.

It bears remembering, though, that the group of Democratic presidential candidates who might be described as Ortega groupies extends well beyond the self-described socialist senator from Vermont.

One of the newest additions to the Democratic presidential field is the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. The Times reported back in 2013 that during the 1980s, de Blasio "helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party's newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade."

Sanders visited Nicaragua in 1985; de Blasio went there in 1988.

The Times reported that in the late 1980s, when Ortega was in power, de Blasio "oversaw efforts to solicit and ship millions of dollars in food, clothing and supplies to Nicaragua." The Times reported in 2013 that de Blasio "to this day…speaks admiringly of the Sandinistas' campaign."

Then there's the man polls indicate is the front-runner for Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden. A former aide to George W. Bush, Peter Wehner, has written in The Wall Street Journal that "In the early 1980s, the U.S. was engaged in a debate over funding the Contras, a group of Nicaraguan freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. Mr. Biden was a leading opponent of President Ronald Reagan's efforts to fund the Contras."

The voting records bear that out. On October 3, 1984, Biden voted to prohibit the Reagan administration from spending money against Nicaragua from the intelligence budget. The amendment was rejected, 42-57. On June 6, 1985, the Senate approved an amendment offered by Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn to release $38 million in humanitarian aid to the Contra rebels fighting Ortega's Sandinistas. The amendment passed, but Biden was one of 42 Senators who opposed it. Both votes wound up on the annual scorecards of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal interest group.

Biden voted again in March 1987 for halting aid to the Contras. In 1986 Biden wanted to require the Reagan administration to negotiate with Ortega's government before sending any money to the contras.

Somewhat comically, Biden fetched up in December 2018 with a piece in Americas Quarterly headlined "The Western Hemisphere Needs U.S. Leadership." Now, Biden concedes, "Instead of respecting the will of their people, the governments of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua have confronted peaceful protesters with force, even armed vigilantes. They have limited the freedoms of expression and assembly necessary for political dialogue and arrested their political opponents."

In fairness to Biden, one can be a critic of a regime, a leader, or its polices while simultaneously thinking that it is unwise for the American government to provide financial support to a group dedicated to overthrowing that regime. Just as President Trump is hesitant to move militarily against Iran for fear of repeating the Iraq War, politicians in the 1980s were hesitant to back anticommunist forces for fear of repeating the Vietnam War.

For Democrats hoping to run against President Trump in 2020, though, the Ortega story is a complexifier. It makes it harder for Democrats to criticize Trump for cozying up to North Korea if the Democrats themselves were cozying up to Ortega. It makes it harder for Democrats to criticize Trump as an isolationist who is abandoning U.S. interests and principles overseas if the Democrats themselves wanted to cut loose the Contras and consign the people of Nicaragua to a communist authoritarian strongman.

The real resonance, though, has less to do with Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua as a foreign policy case about the merits of American intervention, and more to do with the threat of Ortega-style policies here in the United States. Reasonable people may disagree about how involved America should get in rescuing Nicaragua from socialism. What's troubling, though, is the idea that a significant wing of the Democratic party might want to emulate precisely the policies—redistribution, central planning, disrespect of property rights—that have left Nicaragua as the poorest country in Central America.

If President Trump wants to illuminate the point, he might offer the Nicaraguan strongman a visa to the United States. Let Ortega campaign alongside Sanders, de Blasio, and Biden in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Let the 2020 Democrats compete for the Bolshevik comandante's endorsement.

Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.

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  1. It makes it harder for Democrats to criticize Trump for cozying up to North Korea if the Democrats themselves were cozying up to Ortega.

    I think there’s a pretty big difference between showing a willingness to open dialog and endorsing a leader as wise and something that should be emulated here. I would say describing both those things as “cozying up to” is pretty disingenuous.

    1. Both Sides, Diane, both sides….

      1. This isn’t even counting the diefication of such “honorable people” as Oscar Rivera Lopez, Assata Shakur, Che, Mao, and other idols of the left. At leas the last 2 are already dead or they’d be on the public speaking University tour like the others.

        1. Just to be symmetrical, shall we call Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Duterte, and Putin idols of the right?

          Or shall we apply a bit of reasoned nuance and admit that not all of the left or the right are extremists celebrating violent authoritarians?

          1. Which government official on the right has expressed admiration of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Duterte, or Putin. (Even allowing for Putin, an actual Communist, to be labeled “on the right”)

    2. “I would say describing both those things as “cozying up to” is pretty disingenuous.”

      I’d say the phrase “flat-out lying” applies here.

  2. There is nothing strange about Sanders and De Blasio’s support for Ortega. It is who they are and what they actually believe in. The only thing inconsistent is perhaps th he rhetoric they use about democracy when speaking in front of people who are not true believing useful idiots.

    1. Exactly the power they wish to have they can’t criticize.

  3. Bernie is an ignoramus and always has been. It’s truly amazing that he has been elected to anything more than class president at some no name lefty college when he clearly pines for Soviet era Stalinism as an ideal. Why people can’t see it is baffling and a bit worrying. Fortunately these types tend to be incompetent boobs like their crush.


      43% of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for the country
      51% believe socialism would be a bad thing for the country
      Americans split on viewing economy as free market or government controlled

      I suspect many of them fall among Romney’s “47%” and just want someone else to take care of them, minus the dictatorial aspects that often accompanies socialism

      1. But how many of the 43% think Sweden is socialism?

        1. This is the big problem with surveying that question.

          Most people dont know that Socialism is the government owning and controlling the means of production.

          Regulation is NOT Socialism and the definition of Socialism does not specify how many state owned businesses make a state Socialist. Means of production are industries, like healthcare, vehicle manufacturing, internet companies….

          1. I take it to mean the “capital heights.” But whether to know what it means or not, the dumbfuks will still vote for it.

  4. Ahh yes- yet Trump is cozy with NK like you said along with Duterte and a bevy of dictators.

    I fail to see the point you’re making really, if any other than illustrating that Democratics, for all their faults, actually have to question their leader at times while the Republicans are fine with any swinging d that strolls in, even if he grabs the pussy and mingles with dictators.

    1. You’re a silly bitch, saying ridiculous shit like that. Not like you progs elect serial rapists and then do everything you can to cover for them. Among so many other hideous things.

      But yeah, that’s totally like overlooking some off color language from someone not aware they’re on a hot mic.

    2. Democratics, for all their faults, actually have to question their leader at times

      Former President ‘Pen-and-Phone’ could not be reached for comment.

    3. wearingit
      May.20.2019 at 4:42 pm
      “I fail to see the point you’re making really,…”

      Whether this is willful ignorance or just native stupidity is not important.

    4. The way Mr. Trump pressed and haggled the NK government, I’d never call that being “cozy”. Just because he was not afraid, yes, even bold enough, to sit down and TALK to the man (as no OTHER President had…..) Not only that, Mr. Trump did speak softly (though firmly) and USE a pretty big stick, messing with his nuke and missile toys, and refusing to let himself (on our behalf) to be intimidated by the short guy in charge of NK. Again, a LONG way from any form of being “cozy” I’ve ever heard of.

      I think Trump Could do well by trying to get some face to face with that dirtbal Ortega. And if you don’t think that’s what he is, you have NOT read his history and past. I’ve studied his actions and words since the time that bigger nastier dirtball Somoza was removed from his cozy Presidential Palace after having assassinated Pedro Chamorro, one o Nicaragua’s true nationial heroes. for the simple habit of publishing the TRUTH in his newspaper, despite having been arrested, and held on house arrest, multiple times. Somoza was embarrassed and angered by that truth. I’ve also BEEN in Nicaragua, both during Ortega’s reign and that of his successor, Doña Violeta Chamorro, the Widow of murdered Pedro. It was SHE who kept the newspaper alive and continuing to print the truth, despite HERSELF being arrested, threatened, etc, by Daniel Ortega during his reigh as “president” dictator. His corrupt and destructive rule from 1980 until he was unseated in a “certain to go his way” election in 1989, having seriously rigged the election in several ways. Sort of like the Clinton She Unit was recently badly beaten in SPITE of all the corruption. And Daniel Ortega has not changed in the slightest since those earlier days.

  5. It’s so weird how Trump is ‘cozy’ with NK when, not two years ago they were screeching that he was going to start WW3–but we DID get to watch as the went apoplectic over Trump getting concessions that no Democrat has even attempted(preferring instead to enable Kim’s nuclear program) upon which Trump went from war causing madman to dictator-crony.

    1. Funny how that works. If Trump tries to improve relations with an adversary, he is “cozy” and according to people like Stoll, it is definitive evidence that Trump is an authoritarian. If Trump doesn’t try to improve relations and confronts an adversary, he is a dangerous war monger.

      Do people like Stoll think everyone is this stupid or do they have their heads shoved so far up the collective Beltway ass they don’t realize who stupid they sound?

      1. It would require some nuanced analysis instead of panicked rhetoric. It does not mean thinking that what Trump does is going to work, but approaching the subject with some kind of dispassion.

        1. Reason has spent the entire 21st Century bemoaning intervention and wars. Agree or disagree, they have been until Trump pretty consistent and principled. For them to now criticize Trump for trying to make peace with our adversaries, especially after they supported Obama’s horrible Iran deal, is a new low even for Reason.

        2. It would require some nuanced analysis instead of panicked rhetoric.

          The average journalist is not capable or is unwilling to provide this.

      2. I don’t get the sense that Ira necessarily thinks Trump is “cozying up”, he’s just relaying that Democrats may be (and have) accused him of such. My comment above was more taking Democrats to task, not Ira.

    2. Whatever Trump is doing is wrong. When he threatens Kim with the big stick, he is a warmonger who will kill us all, when he is enticing Kim with a carrot, he is selling us out.

      It is Trump’s negotiating style, which is not from your standard diplomatic playbook, and may be of questionable effectiveness, but the hysterics over what technique he uses is funny, if it does not piss you off.

      1. the hysterics over what technique he uses is funny

        Especially since he’s been going at it for over two years now. TDS makes you deaf and blind, I guess.

      2. “Whatever Trump is doing is wrong”
        Too true.
        I suspect that if he resurrected Mother Theresa and gave her a billion dollar budget to assist the homeless, the democrat press would scream he was violating the separation of church and state.

  6. I was and am vehemently opposed to Daniel Ortega. What he’s doing in office now is about as bad as should have been expected. Can’t say enough bad things about him.

    Within the context of the Cold War, I supported legally sending aid to the Contras with congressional approval–despite all the evil things the Contras were doing–because within the context of the Cold War, Russia having more allies in the western hemisphere was a security risk for the U.S., and if the Contras were willing to fight our enemies for us, maybe we’d never need to get involved directly.

    All that having been said, comparing opposition to the Contras to support for Daniel Ortega is WAY OFF BASE. The Contras did some terrible shit, and although I disagreed with those who didn’t want to fund them, I respected their opinion. It was entirely possible to BOTH oppose U.S. aid to the Contras AND oppose Daniel Ortega.

    P.S. If Ira Stoll opposes invading Venezuela, does that mean he supports Maduro?

    P.P.S. Are there any intellectually honest libertarians still in the building? Hello?

    1. Ken if there was any Democrat in the 1980s whose opposition to the Contras was opposition to them and not because they supported the Sandanistas, I would like to hear who it was. The Democrats loved the Sandinestas.

      1. During the Reagan administration, people used to complain that there were more differences between the opposing wings within each party than there were differences between Democrats and Republicans. Conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats seemed to have more in common with each other than conservative Democrats had with liberal Democrats.

        Off the top of my head, without even bothering to look it up, Sam Nunn didn’t win four terms between 1972 and 1997 as a Democrat Senator from Georgia by supporting communist groups like the Sandinistas.

        Al Gore was the Moral Majority’s man in the Democratic Party–hence Tipper Gore and the PMRC. William Bennett was a conservative Democrat, and I’m using the word “conservative” in the cultural sense of the word.

        Jeane Kirkpatrick was the very articulation of the Reagan adminstration’s worldwide struggle against communism, and she was a Democrat the day she joined the Reagan cabinet.

        If Stoll wants to go after Biden for being a Sandinista supporter, he better come up with something better than that Biden was a Democrat and opposed giving taxpayer money to the Contras. That’s embarrassingly unpersuasive. If Biden made some statements that were supportive of the Sandinistas, Stoll should go ahead and quote them. Otherwise, that stool doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

        There are zillion honest reasons to go after Biden.

        Why doesn’t Stoll pick one of those?

        1. Sam Nun supported the Contras. Beyond that, you can give me a few one offs that are memorable because they were the exception. That pretty much proves my point. Ortega is who the Demcorats are and have been for a long time.

          1. Here’s one vote tally from the House”

            “In a significant victory for President Reagan, the House refused Wednesday to extend a ban on military aid to the rebels trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, then approved $27 million in humanitarian aid for them.

            The vote for refusing to extend the ban, which expires Oct. 1, was 232-196, with 58 Democrats joining Republicans on the side of the contra rebels.”

            —-Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1985


            I’ll look for voting records from the Senate. How much you wanna bet Robert Byrd from West Virginia was more or less pro-Contra and anti-communism?

          2. Here’s a vote where the Senate approved $100 million in aid to the Contras in 1986:


            Eleven Democrats voted in favor.

            Lloyd Bentsen, Texas
            David Boren, Oklahoma
            Both Senators from Louisiana voted for it.
            One Senator from Mississippi.
            One from Alabama
            Sam Nunn from Georgia
            One from Florida
            One from South Carolina
            One from New Jersey
            One from Illinois

            Just for the record, 11 (eleven) Republican senators voted against this aid package to the Contras. They were from the Pacific Northwest, Minnesota, North Dakota, various states in the Northeast.

            This is in the middle of the transition of the South from Democrat to Republican. It just wasn’t cut and dry by party back then.

            1. Robert Byrd voted against it, so you should have bet me.

              Still, I wouldn’t interpret Byrd’s no vote as support for communism.

              1. I would interpret Senator Byrd’s no vote as a vote to stop giving money to non-Americans, a Democrat strategy. Byrd was fine with spending money as long as it bought votes via pork ear marks.
                House OKs $720 Million in Aid to Nicaragua, Panama : Congress: Senate Democrats are threatening to delay some funds. Bush wants action by Thursday.

                1. I find it surprising that they didn’t change the name of West Virginia to Robert C. Byrd.

    2. “In fairness to Biden, one can be a critic of a regime, a leader, or its polices while simultaneously thinking that it is unwise for the American government to provide financial support to a group dedicated to overthrowing that regime.”

      Ira answered your P.S. question in the article.

      1. Kinda guts the whole piece, though, doesn’t it?

        Just for the record, here’s a piece from yesteryear from back when Reason gave fair consideration to both sides of the Contra funding debate.

        —-Robert Poole (Founder of the Reason Foundation), April 1987

        And, believe me, if it’s possible to honestly believe that funding the Contras–despite the evils they perpetrated–is a good thing to do because totalitarian communism in the western hemisphere is a legitimate threat to American security, it’s also possible to honestly believe that funding a group like the Contras–that perpetrate atrocities in the name of fighting communism–is counterproductive from an American security standpoint and that the benefits don’t justify the “costs”.

        1. I agree with you and yeah when I got too that part I thought it was a stretch to see not given money to someone means supporting someone else.

          I don’t think it undercuts the entire article, I think all our political leaders should be held to their votes and advocacy of issues. Biden should make clear his position then and now if it has changed. Too many just skate by the issues of the past with a hand wave. This is just one of many issues a long time Senator should answer for to the voters. I think it is an easy one for him compared to Sanders and De’Belsio but since Socialism has made it back into our politics it is a fair point to ask him about and make clear his stance.

          Thanks for the deep cut. I look forward to reading it tonight.

        2. Thanks Ken. Look at how Reason presents both the Lefty side (Liberals) and the Conservative side in the same article. Different era for reason magazine. When even Reason saw the real threat of Socialism (USSR).

          Are the conservatives who raise these points simply Cold War extremists, or are these realistic threats? The liberals are certainly right that Nicaragua today is no military threat to the United States, but how imminent must a threat be to justify preemptive action?

          These are the kinds of questions that ought to be under intense discussion today.[….]

          1. “What it does is to give us a standard for judging when some form of intervention is justified, namely when there is a clear threat to the survival of the United States as a free society. And it is on this issue that the debate over Nicaragua ought to be focused.

            Many liberals tell us that tiny Nicaragua can’t possibly pose a threat to the mighty United States. Sure, they have put in a repressive system, but that’s the Nicaraguans’ own affair. Stop harassing the Sandinistas, they say, and they will calm down, lift censorship, and not be so dependent on Cuban/Soviet aid.

            Naive nonsense, reply many conservatives. The Sandinistas are, after all, communists, and once they’ve secured a foothold in Nicaragua, they will proceed to subvert their neighbors, threatening Panama (and the canal) and eventually Mexico, right on our doorstep. Then, too, the Sandinistas might grant the Soviets military basing rights in exchange for their help, as Cuba and Vietnam have done. That would pose a significant military threat to this country. Thus, say conservatives, it would be better to overthrow the Sandinistas now, while they’re weak . . .

            Are the conservatives who raise these points simply Cold War extremists, or are these realistic threats? The liberals are certainly right that Nicaragua today is no military threat to the United States, but how imminent must a threat be to justify preemptive action?

            These are the kinds of questions that ought to be under intense discussion today.

            —-Robert Poole, Ibidem

            Yeah, that’s an honest assessment of the real arguments. That’s why people came to Reason.

    3. I’d distinguish between someone who voted against aid to the Contras because OMG Ronnie Ray-Guns aggressive foreign policy versus someone who voted against Contra aid because they thought the commies were cool (or weren’t like earlier commies but were really agrarian reformers or whatever).

  7. What does Stoll find stange about this? If anything it would be strange if Democrats didn’t have an affinity to Ortega. Democrats are authoritarian or in some cases totalitarian socialists. Ortega and Chavez and Castro is who they are.

  8. maybe take the Costanza angle on T

    think to yourself “would this normally get me worked up?” and if so don’t get worked up.

    1. George Costanza? I’m having trouble remembering this aspect of his philosophy.

      1. entire episode he chose the opposite of what he would have

        1. Ahhh, yes. The opposite.

  9. Bernie Sanders has never been my first choice for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Since he’s a straight white cis-male, he’s pretty boring demographically when you consider all the more diverse options like Harris and Warren. And I don’t think I’ll ever totally forgive his idiotic comment about how “open borders is a Koch Brothers proposal to depress wages.”

    However, I’ll gladly vote for someone who admires authoritarian strongmen in order to defeat Drumpf, who literally is an authoritarian strongman.

    1. Well maybe some news will come out showing he likes to fuck young guys or something. That would be a plus for you.

    2. OBL: “Drumpf, who literally is an authoritarian strongman.”

      You mean because he’s run roughshod over the courts and shut down the opposition? Oh. He hasn’t? Well, maybe he’s just not a very effective one.

  10. Bernie Sanders, Socialist before Socialism was cool. The same Bernie Sanders who actually honeymooned in the USSR – yeah, I’m totally SHOCKED

    1. Hes a weird fucker.

  11. I’m surprised to see Daniel Ortega billed as a “strongman.” I remember seeing him on TV back in the 80s, during the arms for the Contras scandal under Reagan. Ortega looked like a skinny little pencil-neck. I doubt he even used to lift.

    That said, Bernie is an idiot for associating with someone like that. Doesn’t realize that the public doesn’t like it when would-be or actual presidents admire foreign leaders with very questionable reputations?

    1. “I’m surprised to see Daniel Ortega billed as a “strongman.””

      I don’t think they meant it in the way that he seems like a macho leadership. In fact, I think a lot of people see his wife as the true power in Nicaragua.

      I think what they mean is that . . .

      Where Chavez nationalized industry with the intent of redistributing wealth, the Ortegas “nationalize” industry–by which they mean that the government now owns the asset, but the government is personally owned by the Ortegas. In other words, when the Ortegas “nationalize” something, it becomes the private property of the Ortegas. They don’t really nationalize industries so much as they appropriate them.

      In some ways, this is better in that you don’t necessarily have as many economic problems from the stealing of industry when the industry remains in what might as well be private hands. If crony capitalism leaves markets in place, then that’s better for the economy than true socialism. You still have the profit motive, etc.

      Meanwhile, the Ortegas have launched direct assaults on civil society by using the police to murder peaceful protestors, etc. There’s no way to get rid of them anymore–not through civil society.

      That’s a “strong man”.

  12. It was one of those bad guys vs bad guys wars. Best to stay out of it and deal with whoever won.
    I guess I was rootin’ for the Miskito Indians if I had to choose.

  13. Here’s John Kerry and Tom Harkin paying proper homage to Ortega:

  14. It should come as no surprise that Comrade Bernie has a lip-lock on Little Danny Ortega’s anus.
    After all, Comrade Bernie spent his honeymoon in Moscow during the Cold War.
    I’m genuinely surprised he hasn’t swapped spit with Maduro yet.

  15. The Contra “freedom fighters” were also right-wing thugs and terrorists trying to bring back a regime every bit as bad as Ortega eventually became. Is Ira such an old crank that he still thinks we could justify any suppression of dissident political movements in the name cold war knee-jerk anti-communism?

    Great – then instead of going after Bernie and De Blasio for something 30 years old, how about going after the Donald for his current support for violent strongmen in Russia, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines?

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