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Now is not the time to abandon the Sandinistas

Returning from Nicaragua, ROGER McKENZIE asks why many progressives in the West feel qualified to denounce the Nicaraguan movement that is in a daily struggle against US imperialism

DURING my visit to Nicaragua to help celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, trade union leader Jose Antonio Zepeda told me that “the United States doesn’t hate Nicaragua. It just has interests in our country.”

That’s so true — and I would also say that the left should have more of an interest in Nicaragua. This urgently needs to replace cold war propaganda handed down by the right-wing press.

News of my visit to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979 was met with negativity — to say the least — in some parts of the left.

Many of those now doubting or even denouncing the FSLN (the party name, more commonly known as the Sandinistas) were folks who had not hesitated to support the revolution in 1979 during a period when many of us genuinely feared for the future in the era of the seemingly endless accumulation of nuclear weapons.

All of this fear was encapsulated by the love-in between Thatcher and Reagan based around the free-market Chicago School monetarism of Milton Friedman.

The FSLN represented a moment of hope and a return to the romantic era of left-wing guerilla fighters overcoming all the odds to defeat the Yankee-backed ruling elites, in the tradition of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.

After winning an election in 1984, the FSLN quickly implemented major changes to education and health. But it accepted its loss to the right wing in 1990 in a heavily US-influenced election.

Perhaps the acceptance of the result by the FSLN and their decision not to go back to armed struggle upset some people enough for them to withdraw their support.

After all, the massive transformation of the economy away from what amounted to an almost semi-feudal rural system was now lost as the right wing embarked on its own love affair with the Chicago School model of neoliberalism.

The dark days of privatisation saw jobs lost, living standards fall and trade union membership numbers sink into near oblivion. But, away from the limelight, the FSLN continued to organise.

Perhaps because much of this work was carried out away from the glare of publicity, with little being reported in the Western press, many may have felt that the FSLN had simply given up the revolutionary ghost.

When the FSLN returned to power in 2006, they decided to be more pragmatic, with part of that decision based on a desire not to poke the US bear.

Perhaps some former supporters believed that this meant the FSLN had finally sold out to capitalism.

Even when the defeat of the US-backed coup attempt in 2018 led the FSLN to readopt a more aggressively left-wing, anti-imperialist line, some still pointed to what they regarded as deficiencies in particular policy positions.

We can all be disappointed when not everything that we want to see happen comes to fruition and wish that things moved more quickly — or when we see positions we simply don’t agree with.

We always have the right to criticise — and many on the left barely need the invitation to do that — but I also believe it is the right of people at the heart of the struggle to decide the priorities and pace of that struggle.

Anything else is arrogant, self-indulgent, condescending political colonialism.

Perhaps we should have more of an appreciation of the material circumstances facing Nicaragua and other nations, to use a now seemingly unfashionable term, Third World countries.

Nicaragua faces the constant danger of military intervention by the US.

We must always remember that this country of 6.5 million people is firmly in the crosshairs of the US, the strongest and most aggressive military force in the history of the world.

Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, speaking in Nicaragua in 2022, said: “Why in God’s name, with a country so large, with so many resources, with such military strength, why would they want to pick on a small country like Nicaragua?”

The Monroe Doctrine provides the wider strategic answer to this question.

The doctrine has been called the cornerstone of US foreign policy since being put forward by US president James Monroe in 1823. It has four basic points.

First, the US would not interfere in the internal affairs of or the wars between European powers — although clearly they do and, as the Ukraine war clearly demonstrates.

Second, the US said they recognised and would not interfere with existing colonies and dependencies in the Western hemisphere — another promise it has continually broken.

Third, the Western hemisphere was closed to future colonisation — by, in reality, anyone but them.

Finally, any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the western hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the US.

The doctrine helped to create the concept of “America’s backyard,” areas that fell within the dominance of the US, particularly Latin America and the Caribbean.

President Theodore Roosevelt added to the doctrine in 1904, saying that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the US reserved the right to intervene in that country’s internal affairs.

So what does “wrongdoing” in the eyes of the US actually mean?

The answer is seemingly anything that the US believes goes against its economic and strategic military interests, including anything that might bring a nation closer to an independent political view and does not automatically recognise US hegemonic rule over the planet.

The FSLN’s ousting of the corrupt Somoza family criminal enterprise in 1979 was a major blow to the US government and multinational corporations. The US had worked with their corporate paymasters and the Somoza gangsters to fleece the country.

When Reagan came to power in the US in 1980, his administration helped to fund the right-wing rebel militias known collectively as the Contras, in their covert, brutal and illegal war against the Sandinistas.

Even as recently as 2018, the US was deeply involved in Nicaragua, supporting the attempted coup against the FSLN government and the media propaganda blitz created to help justify it.

The challenge from the north is as constant as it is daily. It spreads to US client institutions such as the EU, G7 and the UN.

So when we have criticisms, let’s bear these deadly pressures in mind and actually listen to what people living this every day have to say — rather than simply imposing our own First World view on those in a direct struggle against US imperialism.

For those that have already made their minds up that Nicaragua is now a dictatorship under the alleged iron heel of President Daniel Ortega, I say: visit the country and see for yourselves.

If there is repression in the country, I didn’t see it as I ventured far and wide across Nicaragua.

What I saw was people working hard to build a new country despite all the pressures they are facing.

It’s neither sexy nor romantic. It’s the hard graft of providing people with bread and roses — and it will take time. I think the left should have the back of the Sandinistas in their struggle. I certainly do.


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