Stephen Sefton and Jorge Capelán
MRS leaders ex-sandinistas Dora Maria Tellez, Edmundo Jarquín and Hugo Torrez campaigning with corrupt right wing leader Eduardo Montealegre in 2008.Monica Baltodano was an MRS deputy during this same period.
Ever since a social democrat faction split from the FSLN in 1994, many Western progressives and radicals have persistently attacked Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). Up until 2005, some former leading FSLN figures who left the party could perhaps legitimately claim to uphold the ideals of the FSLN’s historic program. But from 2005 onwards, all the ex-Sandinistas worked together with Nicaragua’s US controlled right wing opposition, seeking to prevent the FSLN winning the election in 2006. They failed in 2006, failed again in 2011 and failed yet again in 2016.
For over five years, up until April 2018, approval levels for President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo never fell below 70%. That level of support was based on the progressive implementation of the FSLN’s historic program of national development. Back in 1969 this included, free education and health care, equality between women and men, integration of the Caribbean Coast, agrarian reform, workers’ rights, honest public administration, religious freedom, anti-imperialist foreign policy, a people’s army and police force. The program did not at the time include some aspects that today are seen as obligatory in any revolutionary platform such as the defence of the environment and gender diversity issues, which for many years now have been incorporated in the FSLN’s current political program.
This can be seen in the government’s most recent National Human Development Plan which has updated the historic FSLN program and makes nonsense of the central motif of almost all left-wing attacks on the FSLN, namely that under Daniel Ortega the FSLN in the current international context has betrayed its original revolutionary ideals. Center-right leaders of the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) constantly repeat this claim while simultaneously they and their associates have taken money hand over fist from the US and allied governments and those governments’ satellite non-profits promoting US and allied policy in the region. Inside Nicaragua, all opinion polls ever since 2011 have put levels of support for the MRS at around or under 2% nationally.
Since 2001, more radical currents of Western opinion have acknowledged this reality and have supported ex Sandinista former guerrilla heroes like Monica Baltodano and Henry Ruiz and their Movement to Rescue Sandinismo (MtRS). But since 2005, Baltodano and Ruiz too have worked intimately, both discreetly and not so discreetly, with their centre-right social democrat counterparts and Nicaragua’s extreme right wing political parties. More recently they have worked with the right wing Anti-Canal Movement. Their phony left-wing mask finally dropped in April 2018, when Ruiz and Baltodano joined the attempt to overthrow Nicaragua’s legitimately elected Sandinista government.
They collaborated with Nicaragua’s extreme right wing politicians, with the corporate business organization COSEP, with the reactionary Catholic Church hierarchy and with US government proxies like Felix Maradiaga, associated with regional organized crime. All were explicitly supported by right wing US politicians like Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as well as the US government. The seriousness of the massive crimes committed by the 2018 coup promoters against the people of Nicaragua is undeniable. The coup activists themselves recorded and posted hundreds of hours of videos on social media, making absolutely clear the reactionary, criminal character of their revolt.
Even so, many Western radicals with plausible records of revolutionary solidarity and commitment still support Ruiz and Baltodano and others, despite their irrefutable collaboration with Nicaragua’s fascist elite. A recent example of this kind of support came in a long article published by Global Research by the inveterate anti-FSLN Belgian academic Eric Toussaint and his co-writer Nathan Legrand. Their article was an updated version of a similar article published in January 2019. Apart from various errors of fact, its deep neocolonial prejudice and tendentious ignorance, the article’s initial premise is demonstrably, culpably false.
Toussaint and his co-writer Nathan Legrand state “The Nicaraguan government’s violent repression against demonstrators protesting its brutal neoliberal policies, resulting in more than 300 people being killed by regime forces since April 2018 is only one of the reasons why various leftist social movements have condemned the Nicaraguan regime led by President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo.” The social movements Toussaint and Legrand refer to are all associated either with the miniscule super-revolutionary MtRS or the tiny center right social democrat MRS co-opted since 2005 by the US and allied governments. No other left wing social movements of any national significance exist. The only reason the movements associated with the MtRS and the MRS are significant nationally is because those political movements have allied themselves with Nicaragua’s US-owned right wing elite.
As regards concrete facts, the figures for fatalities resulting from the Nicaraguan opposition’s failed armed coup attempt have varied from the initial government figure of around 200, to the parliamentary Truth Commission’s figure of around 270, to figures offered by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights of over 300. A detailed independent study on the strategies used to inflate the number of deaths was made by the Nicaraguan academic Enrique Hendrix. Even if one accepts the inflated IACHR figure of over 300 deaths, it is completely untrue to say they were victims of murderous government repression.
By the end of July 2018, 22 of the dead were police officers killed by armed opposition activists. Other fatalities resulted directly from armed opposition road blocks denying access to timely healthcare for patients in crisis. Apart from the police officers killed by the opposition at least another 40 dead were Sandinista supporters killed by the opposition, often with the most brutal sadism as, for example, in the notorious cases of Bismarck Martínez and Francisco Arauz Pineda. Naturally, Toussaint and Legrand ignore these facts because their kind of history excludes inconvenient facts. The claim by Toussaint and LeGrand that the government killed 300 protesters is categorically false.
They have no excuse for publishing this downright lie. Likewise, the claim that demonstrators were protesting “brutal neoliberal policies” is also a disgraceful lie, repeating systematic right-wing misrepresentation of the facts. The pretext for the initial protests was a proposed social security reform that protected workers rights, extended pensioners rights to better health care and funded those benefits overwhelmingly with higher contributions from employers. Within 48 hours, that initial phony psy-warfare pretext achieved its purpose of fooling public opinion and was quickly abandoned in favor of the real agenda, demanding the overthrow of the government.
Having set the scene with that double-barreled falsehood, Toussaint and Legrand’s article embarks on a potted history of Nicaragua since 1979, bedeviled with errors, tendentious opinion and overt neocolonial arrogance. Among the errors of fact some are trivial. some not so trivial. For example, Toussaint and Legrand refer to a video of the murder of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro. No such video exists. Toussaint and Legrand are confusing Chamorro’s 1978 murder with that of Bill Stewart, of whose murder in 1979 the notorious film footage provoked universal international outrage against the Somoza dictatorship. This is not a very serious error but should put any reader on alert to more serious factual errors.
One of these is that Toussaint and Legrand claim the Sandinista government has made no effort at more equitable tax reform. That is completely untrue. The government made a minor reform in 2010, a more thoroughgoing reform in 2012 (Law 822) which was itself modified in 2014 and in 2019 a tax reform (Law 987) seeking to defend people at grass roots from the economic damage caused by the coup attempt. One of the reasons Nicaragua’s business classes backed the failed coup attempt was precisely because they resented the government’s insistence on equitable fiscal and related measures defending the living standards of Nicaragua’s majority.
In general, Toussaint and Legrand show consistent ignorance of the composition and structure of Nicaragua’s economy, in particular the government’s promotion and defense of the family, cooperative, community and associative popular economy. Ironically, the hard facts of the country’s economy have been acknowledged by one of the ‘revolutionary’ right-wing coup promoters, ex-Sandinista Julio López Campos, Monica Baltodano’s partner, one of Toussaint’s main sources on Nicaragua. At minute 48:18 of the program Cuarto Poder of the coup promoting TV channel 100% Noticias, on June 8th 2018, Lopez said that the overwhelming majority of the economically active population lives off the informal sector and off activities such as agriculture and small scale tourinsm. López claimed “and those people are now biting the dust”. In fact, “those people” were the backbone of economic resistance to the failed coup attempt.
Closely linked to their ignorance of the structure of Nicaragua’s economy is the claim by Toussaint and Legrand that Nicaragua’s land reform in the 1980s was inadequate and has not been corrected and consolidated. In fact, the 1980s land reform was truly revolutionary in the regional context of that time. The enduring effects of that thoroughgoing land reform survived even under the post-1990 right wing governments’ counter-land reform policies deliberately denying credit and legal stability for smallholders and cooperatives so as to favour a re-concentration of property on behalf of big landowners. It provided the base for the extremely successful reactivation of Nicaragua’s economy after 2006.
Since 2007, President Ortega’s government has explicitly prioritized land security, as well as technical and material assistance and training and marketing support both for smallholders and cooperatives and also for the collectives of Nicaragua’s various indigenous peoples. The problem in recent years has been not so much lack of access to land as encouraging its productive, sustainable use and the successful marketing of its production so as to stem rural migration, in particular the lack of interest in farm work among young people. In this, as in practically all Toussaint’s and Legrand’s writing about Nicaragua, the ignorance and arrogance of their neocolonial prejudice is all too apparent. They think they know best, regardless of Nicaraguans’ experience to the contrary.
On the issue of abortion, for example, they write, “In 2006, the Sandinista parliamentary group voted hand in hand with right-wing deputies in favor of a law totally prohibiting abortion. There are no exceptions whatsoever, including cases of danger to the health or life of the pregnant woman or pregnancy resulting from rape.” In fact, the FSLN lifted party discipline for that vote and left their block of 35 deputies to vote according to their personal beliefs, over 20 FSLN deputies, by no means all, voted for the law. In a context in which the Catholic Church mobilized more than one anti-abortion demonstration with over 300,000 people, popular pressure in favor of the measure was, and remains, overwhelming. Furthermore, the abortion law bill was sent to the legislature just weeks before the crucial 2006 elections as a right wing ploy hoping to alienate the FSLN from many of its fervently religious grass roots voters. Of course Toussaint and Legrand omit this, if they ever knew it, because inconvenient facts have no place in their version of Nicaraguan history.
Similarly, Toussaint and Legrand are entirely ignorant of the norms applied by the Ministry of Health to protect the lives of women with high risk pregnancies which has enabled Nicaragua to practically halve the level of maternal mortality from around well over 90 per 100,000 births in 2007 to well under 50 in 2018. But that fact and the fact that over 90% of Nicaraguans are either evangelical protestants or Catholics, with strong opinions in relation to the abortion issue, are of no interest to Toussaint and Legrand. They think Nicaragua should have a more liberal abortion law. What the majority of people in Nicaragua think is irrelevant to them. They apply this neocolonial arrogance to just about everything they write about with regard to Nicaragua, be it the history of the last forty years or the immediate past of last year’s failed coup attempt. On that failed coup attempt, the facts are clear.
Since January 2007, the US and its allies have consistently attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government for its socialist policies and its defence of Cuba and Venezuela. Part of that continuing attack was last year’s failed coup attempt in which hundreds of Sandinistas, and non-Sandinistas too, were abused, tortured and murdered with extreme sadism as part of a campaign largely organized by ex-Sandinista leaders in support of Nicaragua’s right wing elite. With negligible popular support inside Nicaragua, those ex-Sandinistas decided to collaborate actively with the country’s US controlled right wing elites in a murderous assault on Sandinismo and on Nicaragua’s people in general. Far from its failure being the result of tyrannical repression, the right wing coup attempt was defeated based on mass popular support for Nicaragua’s legitimate government.
On Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the choice is clear, either one acts in solidarity with political processes under attack from US imperialism or not. Toussaint and Legrand’s recent articles on Nicaragua have displayed their neocolonial arrogance, their downright ignorance of Nicaraguan history, politics and society and too their misplaced loyalty to their Nicaraguan associates. While the revolutionary governments of Cuba and Venezuela and continental expressions of revolutionary movements in Latin America like the Foro Sao Paulo explicitly acknowledge the unquestionable achievements of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, Eric Toussaint and Nathan Legrand attack it. Despite the imperative of continental unity against US and allied imperialism, Toussaint and Legrand promote crude sectarian division. In doing so, despite their disavowals, like their ex-Sandinista Nicaraguan associates who promoted last year’s coup attempt, Toussaint and Legrand effectively serve the interests of US and allied imperialism.