Friday, June 03, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #6: Interview with Daniel Ortega

Last year, the attendees to the UN Committee of 24 Regional Seminar in Nicaragua got to meet the President of the country, Daniel Ortega. It was a surprise visit, and most of use weren't prepared as we had just spent the day driving around during tourist activities and weren't dressed for an official state visit. Several of the country representatives lamented their attire and that they couldn't officially share their photographs as their dress violated their official protocol. All in all, our meeting with Ortega lasted for more than two hours. With him speaking at length about his experiences with the United States, the United Nations, Leftist movements in Latin America, and also decolonization in Africa. I meant to write a post about that conversation, but never got the chance to. I'm hoping to do so this year, especially if we are fortunate enough to meet with him again.

Several country reps and representatives from Non-Self-Governing Territories refused to take pictures with Ortega or do more than simply shake hands with him. They belonged to countries who are allied with the United States, who has had a very violent and inexcusable history with the country. Daniel Ortega was and is, considered to be a diplomatic enemy of the United States, because of his role in the Sandanista revolution in the past (which the US opposed), but also his participation in the Leftist political shift in Latin American more recently. One rep from a country that is allied with the United States, was excited to meet Daniel Ortega as she is politically more liberal and progressive internationally, but was certain it wouldn't be appropriate for her to take a picture/selfie with him, as she looked at the long line that had formed. I joked with her, go ahead and take the picture, but just don't smile. In fact look real stern in your photo, bring your best disapproving diplomatic face. She ended up following my advice, but took two, one smiling and one stern, to cover her bases.

I'm trying to write up my overall thoughts on that meeting and Daniel Ortega as a figure in general, but in the meantime, here is the translation of an  interview that was conducted with him in 1990, following his party's electoral defeat at the hands of interestingly enough, a politician named Violeta Chamorro.


After the elections, the fate of the revolution
Translation by D.C. LaWare
September 1990; pages 9, 18; Volume 2, No. 1

The following interview with ex-president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, was published in the Costa Rican journal Seminario Universidad on July 22. Ortega spoke with the editorial staff of Universidad in San José, Costa Rica where he went to attend the funeral of José Figueres, the leader of Costa Rica's civil war of 1948, who once called the Sandinistas his "grandchildren."

In the interview Ortega analyses the results of Nicaragua's February election in which the Sandinistas lost to UNO, the United Nicaraguan Opposition, led by Violeta Chamorro; he also discusses the role the Sandinistas hope to play as an opposition party. The interview is especially helpful in understanding the confrontation between the Sandinista affiliated unions, which were on strike for nearly a month this summer, and the Chamorro government, a conflict which paralyzed the country and resulted in numerous deaths and injuries.

Q: Do you regret having held elections in Nicaragua?

A: Not once did I regret this, because this is a part of the democratic process in which the country lives. Nicaragua has never had democracy; it has only come to realize it with the triumph of the revolution, and part of this process must be seen as the electoral aspect. This entails that the people have a right to elect, and we must respect this right, which is manifested in each electoral contest. In Nicaragua we had another election in 1984 - the first democratic one in our history - and now we have had a second election, in which the Frente Sandinista lost, but the democratic process came out stronger.

Q: Do you feel comfortable with the role of opposition?

A: We will make a constructive opposition in which we will support all those actions which would lead to the broadening of democracy in Nicaragua in the economic, social and political fields. We will combat all those actions which deny the revolutionary conquests.

Q: Is the government of Violeta Chamarro strong enough to put its program into effect?

A: We hope that this government will respect the popular will; those who voted for the Frente Sandinista, as well as those who voted for UNO, do not wish from this government measures which would sacrifice it, but rather which would improve the standard of living of the population in the economic and social fields. We do not hope for measures which would tend to negate political rights, or rights of organization recently received in other areas. In other words, we will try to follow a policy a constructive opposition, in whic the goal of the Frente, the goal of the unions, the goal of the labor force, of the citizens, is essentially to ensure that the government does good thing which benefit the people.

Q: Is the electoral defeat of the Sandinista a result of the economic policies applied by the Frente Sandinista?

A: The defeat is a reflection of the confrontation between the aggressive policies of the United States and the government of the Frente Sandinista, subjected to a very strong pressure all these years in which the people have suffered the rigors of Northamerican aggression. The obligatory military service played a very important role in influencing the vote in favor of whatever option promised to suspend the military service.

Q: Therefore the plan of economic transformation applied by your government did not have a bearing on the Sandinista defeat?

A: I would say instead that the electorate found itself in a contradiction. On the one hand it was convinced that the economic and social program of the Frente was favorable for large sectors of the population, but on the other hand it found itself with the dilemma that it could not resist the military service. Between the service - which put in danger the lives of the youth who went into the military service - and the socio-economic conquests, a very important number of voters decided to vote in favor of the elimination of the service, although of at a cost of putting at risk the social and economic conquests. But those voters are also convinced that Nicaragua has a political space - conquered by the revolution - in which to conduct the battles which may be necessary to defend those conquests.

Q: Does the revolution continue? In what perspective can it continue in the present condition of the country?

A: The aims of the revolution continue as long as the revolutionary project of a mixed economy, plural democracy and non-alignment are reaffirmed. The great challenge which the revolution has in Nicaragua is to give continuity to the project, with a recuperation of popular adhesion to the Frente Sandinista, which, when all is considered, is the political force which guarantees the continuity of the revolutionary conquests.

Q: Won't the six years of UNO government signify an end to the transformations which are the basis of the Sandinista project?

A: Extremist sectors, the Yankees above all, will try to put an end to the transformations wrought by the Sandinistas; but, on the other side, are the popular sector, the Frente and the unions. They can modify some aspects, but they cannot produce profound changes, because this would immediately generate an instability in the country which would not be suitable to anybody.

Q: What lessons has the Frente Sandinista learned from the transformations which have occurred in Eastern Europe?

A: That revolutionary parties must design fresher policies; that they cannot remain complacent because decay can occur in the interior of the party. It is necessary to submit to forces of the party to a constant revision to see if there exists communication, if democracy exists, in regards to decision making. All these are elements which must be taken into account in this battle, in the political and ideological struggle, but this was not taken into account by the parties (of Eastern Europe) in the methods and programs. They split off into a position which I would call "fundamentalist" which came to deny the dialectic of the process of analysis and discussion of the revolutionary forces, which must be creative, constructive and realist.

Q: Are you satisfied with the process of disarming the Contras in Nicaragua? And what about the proposed reduction of the army presented by General Humberto Ortega?

A: The proposal for reducing the size of the army is substantial. The Contra, which were defeated strategically, have now passed into a process of disarmament, in other words a second phase where some forces will always remain in a belligerent position, but now it will not be an army organized by the United States, which would threaten our stability.

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