World in View: Ortega attacks Nicaraguan human rights

March 21, 2023

From the March-April 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

Part of the massive protests in Nicaragua in 2018.

Whatever compelled President Daniel Ortega to ship 222 political prisoners out of Nicaragua, stripping them of citizenship from their own country (!), it certainly was no humanitarian gesture. Ortega after all, had imprisoned them for the “crime” of speaking out against his dictatorial regime, or possibly running against him and his vice-president/wife, Rosario Murillo, in the 2021 Presidential election, or peacefully protesting against his increasingly oppressive police-state rule. Among those banished were former Sandinista militants who had broken with his betrayal of the revolution’s goals.


Ortega’s misrule has a long history, but a crucial turning point was the widespread spontaneous revolt against him and Murillo in the spring of 2018. Sparked by an attempt to change the social security system, the protests quickly grew, involving students, peasants and other sectors throughout the country. While shaking Ortega’s rule, the revolt was violently suppressed, with over 300 killed by the government and its supporters and over 500 jailed. It was now obvious that the majority had had enough of Ortega and Murillo.

Fearing defeat in the 2021 Presidential elections, Ortega’s solution was to jail every possible presidential candidate, along with dozens of others opposing his rule, including many ex-Sandinista fighters from the 1970s and early 1980s, many of whom had organized an authentic Sandinista opposition organization. Among them was the well-known Sandinista Comandante Dora María Téllez. With no significant opposition, Ortega won his fourth consecutive election since 2007, though there was a sizeable boycott of the election. Those imprisoned before the election are the ones expelled from the country this January, but not before enduring months of inhumane prison conditions, including solitary confinement, in darkness, unable to even write.

Shocking as it may seem, there are segments of the international Left that continue to support the Ortega regime in the name of “anti-imperialism.” Fortunately, they are fewer than before. We need to continue to oppose U.S. intervention in Latin America, including in Nicaragua, where the U.S. has a long history of military intervention from opposing Augusto Sandino’s 1927-34 rebellion through Ronald Reagan’s Contra wars in the 1980s. The Anastasio Somoza dictatorship that followed Sandino’s assassination and was overthrown in the 1979 Sandinista revolution was most assuredly made in the U.S.

But the authentic challenge and task for today lies not alone in opposing capitalism, including its imperialist tentacles, but in probing how to prevent transformation into opposite of revolutionary movements, and how to begin anew when faced with soured revolutionary moments. Nicaragua could be an important living laboratory for this.

Certainly, there will new moments of opposition to Ortega and Murillo. But will it be enough? Don’t we need to think not alone about opposition or permanent revolt, but about permanent revolution, not as an abstraction, but as a concrete possibility in which it is both a practice in life, and in thought? This was Marx’s view in his writings and in his lifelong activity.

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