For Irish Republicans our struggle is about national independence, ending exploitation, and building equality. To us, it is a dream yet to be realized, however, in some countries it has become a reality. Most of us are aware of the achievements of the Cuban revolution and what national liberation truly looks like for that country. Many of us are also aware of the achievements made by the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. Another nation that has seen a successful revolutionary project is that of Nicaragua yet it often goes under the radar. Nicaragua has become targeted by a disinformation campaign and regime change efforts led by Washington. It is important for us as republican activists
to not be misled by the disinformation we hear. The western narrative has been that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has shifted to the right and became a “dictatorship”. This could not be any further from the truth, so in this article, we will look at the achievements of the Sandinista Revolution but also the efforts of the pro-US far right to stop democracy.
The Sandinistas first came to power in 1979 after a guerrilla war led against the Somoza regime and US imperial interests. The FSLN adopted their name from Augusto Sandino, a nationalist revolutionary who fought the US regime and then the first Somoza regime in the 1920s/1930s. Sandino developed a radical nationalism based on the liberation of the peasants. Danial Ortega became president of the country with other revolutionaries becoming ministers. The country saw free
education, healthcare and other social programs being delivered. Land reform towards cooperative models and nationalization of important sectors would finally see the wealth restored to the people of the nation. However, in 1990 the FSLN was voted out after a brutal counter-revolutionary war. From 1990 to 2007 public services were privatized and harsh austerity was implemented. These
policies of the new neoliberal regime left the people of Nicaragua with nothing but poverty and misery. In his video documentary, Max Blumenthal talks about when he visited during the Neoliberal period and spoke about how water would be only running two hours a day, privatized electricity ran for only six hours and how there was a lack of services for the people.
Max further states in his video when he revisited in 2018 he saw 24hr electricity, paved roads and cancer treatment wards in the rural countryside. General poverty from 2007-2019 had dropped from 48.3% to 24.9%. Extreme poverty has fallen from 17.2% to 6.9%. This drop-in poverty is a result of investment in public services, infrastructure and the development of the “popular economy”.
After renationalizing healthcare over 23 new modern hospitals have been built, over 20,000 classrooms have been built, free school meals are provided for pupils and electricity has been increased to cover 97.16% as opposed to 55% before the Sandinistas came to power. Water services are continuing to improve and the country has some of the best roads in Central America. 80% of electricity and energy comes from renewable sources with the hope of further increasing this. Public housing programs continue to provide affordable living for the people. Parks, play parks, and urban squares have been all developed to provide social spaces. During the neoliberal period, train services were stopped and dilapidated busses were the only form of transport. The Sandinista administration ensured modern trains and buses were in place.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Nicaragua is the “popular economy”. Augusto Sandino envisaged a nation where the people held economic power via cooperatives and small producers. This leftist economic theory was put into practice during the 1980s until the Sandinistas were voted out. Since 2007 the model has been promoted again with the mass of people becoming owners of the wealth they create. Worker cooperatives, sole traders, family businesses, small producers, and small farmers are the basis of the socialist model. Over 59.3% of gross income comes from this popular economy with over 70% of the population participating in the sector. In terms of agriculture, Nicaragua’s model of cooperatives and small farming practices has led to the reduction of food poverty, created employment opportunities and has seen sustainable farming. 90% of Nicaragua’s food is produced in the country by the Campesinos who are part of the Rural Workers Association (ATC). The food is cheap, locally sourced and is not processed with dangerous chemicals. The fact small producers are behind the farming sees small herds of cattle, it sees traditional methods of using the land and other environmentally sustainable practices. This method of farming has become known as food sovereignty and is being followed by other progressive governments in the region.
In terms of gender equality, Nicaragua has made some inspiring achievements. In many places of Nicaragua, they are all women cooperatives, one such example is the Gloria Quintanilla cooperative. Women are seen as equal owners/workers to men in other cooperatives meaning they have no pay gap, it also means they are no bosses dominating the work lives of women. This gives women economic independence and control of their own financial stability. 47% of the seats in the Nicaraguan parliament is held by women. Women also hold equal positions in the trade unions, ATC, FSLN, other social movements and public sector jobs. Maternal mortality has been reduced by 59%, the health ministry has prioritized cancer check-ups and screenings to look after women’s health. Femicide in Nicaragua was the lowest in Central America, however, it still, unfortunately, faces quite a bit. To overcome this through the establishment of all-women police stations has been used to combat domestic and sexual abuse. Despite the achievements, they are still a long way to go in some areas for example abortion is illegal. This has been due to the strong religious ethos held by Nicaraguans, however, it is a struggle that women in Nicaragua can win by continuing on the path they are taking.
The government of the FSLN has invested heavily in public infrastructure for indigenous peoples on the Caribbean coast. For many years the neoliberal governments had completely abandoned these native peoples due to racist attitudes, which is a legacy of a colonial mindset. As the Sandinistas are a national liberation movement they are undoing all the legacies of colonialism including ending the oppression of the indigenous people of Nicaragua. Schools, hospitals, renewable energy, water supplies and other public projects are being continuously expanded to empower those who once were at the bottom of the system. Traditionally styled housing has also been built in order to keep alive their cultural traditions. Loans have been given to develop the “popular economy” incorporating traditional organizing methods. Those of African descent have also benefited from these policies. Showing that the FSLN is truly committed to ending one of colonialism’s worst symptoms which is racism.
Western media is trying to manufacture consent for regime change by using disinformation against the popular government of Nicaragua. The narrative in many places has been that President Daniel Ortega and the FSLN have shifted to the right, with all power belonging to Ortega and elites. There has been a narrative of a clampdown on “pro-democracy” opposition, they is even a narrative of a clampdown on women and indigenous peoples. This is all falsified news in order to isolate Nicaragua from international solidarity. So what is the reality? The reality is Danial Ortega and the FSLN enjoy between 50%-70% in every opinion poll released over the last number of months. Opposition parties make up about 10%-15% in opinion polls with the rest going to independents. It is clear the popular leftist policies of the FSLN have improved the people’s lives and they want to see that continue. People saw the corruption and forced poverty of the right-wing opposition for 17 years when they were in government. The people of Nicaragua do not want the days of forced subjection back.
However, democracy is more than just elected representatives making decisions on behalf of the people. True democracy is about people having power and ruling themselves. Does this happen in Nicaragua? Yes, it does, the “popular economy” where most Nicaraguans work is based on the principles of economic democracy. The grassroots and social movements work hand in hand with the FSLN ensuring people on the ground are part of the process. These include the Rural Workers Association (ATC), National Workers Front (FNT), the Sandinistas Workers Centre amongst many more. Nicaragua has implemented the idea of Citizen Power Councils which is a community assembly that gives local people power over the affairs of their neighborhoods, villages and other districts. They promote the rights of citizens, help develop solutions to issues in localities and implement community programs. It is essentially a form of decentralized participatory democracy. The North and South Caribbean coast which is predominantly made up of the indigenous and those of African descent have their own devolved regional parliaments allowing a certain type of self-autonomy. This is to ensure their rights and culture is somewhat protected. Around 2.1 million Nicaraguans out of a population of 6.6 million are card-carrying FSLN members.
What about the arrests and suspension of opposition figures? Without context, this would sound like someone consolidating power for themselves. But when people like Felix Maradiaga, José Adan Aguerri, Violetta Granera, and Arturo Cruz are openly supporting a Coup it paints a much different picture. Accepting money from CIA regime change organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy or USAID is clearly endorsing an illegal and undemocratic coup. In most western countries it is illegal to take donations from other outside Foreign sources in order to stop interference in democracy. Why should Nicaragua not implement the same anti-meddling laws? Arturo Cruz received money in order to promote inhumane US sanctions against Nicaragua, this could only be viewed as sedition and would not be tolerated in any other country. One only has to look at the fascist coups in Brazil and Bolivia to see why Nicaragua is trying to protect its self-determination from US imperial intervention. It is not a case of the FSLN clamping down on democracy, but protecting democracy from those who want to establish a right-wing fascist regime by undemocratic means.
The US has a history of Interference in Nicaragua, from the invasions of the early 20th century to its puppet Somoza regimes. The US had backed right-wing death squads in the 1980s known as the Contras, they led a brutal campaign of bombing civilian busses, burning schools, hospitals and cooperative farms. They murdered men, women, and children in the most grotesque ways imaginable. Nicaragua like Cuba and Venezuela is faced with unjust and inhumane sanctions by the USA. In 2018 the USAID and NED funded street protests after social reforms were planned. The street protesters consisted of middle-class students, right-wing groups, gangs, and those who unfortunately fell for media disinformation. The far-right gangs kidnapped many Sandinistas and local police, torturing them, murdering many of them and disappearing others. One Sandinista named Bismark Martínez was taken from his home stripped naked, tortured on camera and then killed. A police officer was taken to an opposition-built barricade and burned alive on camera. Community radio stations, homes of Sandinistas and other buildings were burned.
Redfish’s documentary called the New Battle for Nicaragua and Dan Kovalik’s Nicaragua: the April Crisis and Beyond exposes the brutality and media disinformation around the 2018 crisis. What happened in 2018 was a violent coup attempt, similar to what Bolivia experienced in 2019. With only one difference it failed in Nicaragua. With the elections coming up in November and US funds flowing into the opposition it is clear a repeat of the 2018 coup is intended in order to open the way for a pro-market, pro-US and far-right regime. Further sanctions are also being prepped in Washington to impose on Nicaragua. Despite these efforts by the US, the CIA and their puppets the people of Nicaragua are willing to defend their nation and their revolution from those greedy hands.
In the next coming months, the US will intensify both sanctions and regime change efforts in Nicaragua but we here in Ireland have a duty to stand in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. As an Irish Republican, there is a duty to stand with national liberation movements and social movements the world over who dream of freedom. Nicaragua has given the world a glimpse of what true national freedom could look like, it has shown us social justice and people empowerment. We must continue that unbreakable bond of solidarity between our two peoples and nations. Nicaragua is targeted because it maintains sovereignty by using its wealth and resources to benefit the people, the US, and the west want that wealth for themselves. They also want to destroy an alternative model to neoliberalism. The Sandinistas have maintained democracy, sovereignty, and equality, we must stand with anyone who implements those principles. The popular left-leaning national liberation governments in Latin America are all under threat from US intervention and as anti-imperialists, we must stand with them. We have seen the regime change playbook played out in Cuba in July, it’s now geared for Nicaragua. Those who believe in national independence must stand with the leftist governments of Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and now Peru who are undoing the colonial legacies of exploitation. Brazil, Chile, and Colombia may also see a left turn within the coming years. It is clear Latin America as a whole is tired of Washington’s domination and wants freedom. Washington may try to stop that tide of national liberation, but it will be unstoppable.
By Aidrean Ó Gallchobhair, CSFI activist.