Half a century ago, a young Daniel Ortega pledged himself against dictatorship. As one of the founders of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front or FSLN) in Nicaragua, he worked for the overthrow of the regime of Anastasio Somoza. When the Sandinistas took power, Ortega bullied the country as President from 1979 to 1990.
Earlier this month, and once again as Nicaragua’s President, Ortega proved himself every bit the tyrant Somoza ever was. In advance of November elections in which Ortega is seeking a fourth term, he arrested more than a dozen prominent members of opposition parties, including four who would likely have challenged him for the presidency. “The wave of arrests,” writes Wall Street Journal reporters José de Córdoba and Ismael López on June 15, is “seen by some analysts as among the worst crackdowns against civil society in Latin America in decades.”
The only people who might be surprised at these recent developments are the brain-dead. Ortega’s entire adult life is a story of power lust—of fighting for power, abusing it when he got it, being ousted when it made him over-confident, then fighting to regain it, and now doing his best to keep it for life. With his wife as vice-president since 2016, Daniel Ortega has crafted a family kleptocracy that Somoza himself would envy. To Nicaraguans, it must seem as though this corrupt and brutal oligarch has been around forever and intends to keep it so.
Ortega is a professional thug intoxicated by power. He possesses no known skills or talents beyond those of a stupid bully. His career is soaked in the blood and tears of the oppressed he once claimed to champion, though as a Marxist-Leninist in his early days, that “man of the people” stuff was only intended for the gullible. He is precisely the sort of creep that philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote about in his 1963 book, The Ordeal of Change:
When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual–the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker–and that every device they employ aims at turning men into a manipulable animated instrument which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.
During Ortega’s first tenure as President (1979-1990), I visited Nicaragua five times and observed in person the chains that he and his Sandinista buddies were forging for the Nicaraguan people. At first, he and his comrades promised to bring pluralism, liberty and democratic values to the nation. But the mask began to fall early in Ortega’s rule. A leaked internal document of the FSLN made it clear that those promises were a “temporary expedient” designed to buy time and Western apathy while a totalitarian state allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union was put in place. The regime muzzled the press, confiscated private property, harassed the Catholic Church, and imprisoned dissenters.
I interviewed scores of citizens—in the capital of Managua and in nearby provinces and in refugee camps in neighboring Honduras. Over and over again, I heard stories of Ortega’s deceit and repression, as well as resentment for the undeserved, personal wealth he accumulated because of the power he wielded.
By the end of the 1980s, Ortega felt comfortable enough in power to stage an election. In spite of all the fraud and suppression his side deployed, he and his Sandinistas lost to Violeta Chamorro. For the next 16 years, Ortega schemed behind the scenes to regain power. In 2006, with 38 percent of the vote in an election of dubious integrity, he became President again. For the past 15 years, he has relentlessly worked to corrupt all branches of the Nicaraguan government to guarantee his continued hold on power.
After blocking both domestic and international poll watchers in 2011, Ortega “won” re-election to a second term. In 2016, he put his own wife on the ticket as vice-president, arranged to disqualify the main opposition party’s presidential candidate, and waltzed to another rigged re-election.
Now at 75, with still no productive, private-sector employment on his resume, this life-long political animal is jailing people to ensure his grip on power. He lives in luxury as he tramples on both the liberties and the livelihoods of the poor citizens of his beleaguered country.
If Nicaraguans had good reasons to oust Somoza in 1979—and in my belief, they did—then they have even more and better reasons to oust the criminal who oppresses them today.
For additional information, see:
Eric Hoffer on Power by Lawrence W. Reed
Nicaragua Spirals Deeper Into Repression by Adriana Brasileiro