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The Black Book of the Sandinistas By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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Daniel Ortega, the former leader of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Marxist regime (1979-1990), has regained power after winning his country’s presidential election last Tuesday.


Fears abound in Washington that Ortega will join the anti-U.S. bloc in Latin America being manufactured by Hugo Chavez.


Many questions remain. One of them: why was this ruthless dictator voted into office by a people who once threw him out? There are no simple answers, but a peoples’ support for their own tormentors is, obviously, no new phenomenon. Russia, for instance, is currently experiencing a resurgence of nostalgia for Joseph Stalin -- as new monuments are being erected in several Russian communities to honor the former genocidal dictator.


Aside from the economic and political frustrations facing Nicaraguans, another factor clearly played a key role in the election drama: young Nicaraguan voters had no real memory of who the Sandinistas were and what crimes they perpetrated against their own people.

A trip down memory lane is in order:

Upon capturing power in Nicaragua in July, 1979, the Sandinistas immediately Stalinized the country and aligned themselves with Castro and the Soviet Empire, making their country a base for the export of Marxist revolution throughout Central America.


Like all of its communist role models, the new regime constructed a fascistic apparatus to maintain rigid control. Following in the footsteps of Castro’s Cuba, it set up neighborhood associations as local spy networks for the government. Each neighborhood had a Comité de Defensa Sandinista (CDS - Sandinista Defense Committee) that served the same totalitarian purpose as the Cuban CDR and the Nazi regime’s block overseers --although the power of the CDS extended far beyond the Nazis’ model. [1]


In emulating Castro and their other communist heroes such as Stalin and Mao, the Sandinistas took control of everything in the country: mass organizations, the army, police, labor unions, and the media. They censored all freedom of speech, suspended the right of association and ruthlessly crushed the freedom of trade unions. Faithful to their Marxist ideology, the new tyrants seized the means of production. State controls and nationalization spread, aid to the private sector and incentives for foreign investment disappeared. To put it plainly, another 20th-century experiment with socialism annihilated a nation’s economy along with a peoples' prospects for a better life.


Thousands of Nicaraguans who attempted to protect their property -- or who simply committed the crime of owning private property -- were imprisoned, tortured, or executed by the new despots.


Unlike the previous regime of Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinistas did not leave the native populations on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in peace. In Khmer Rouge style, they inflicted a ruthless, forcible relocation of thousands of Indians from their land. Like Stalin and Mao, the new regime used state-created famine as a weapon against these "enemies of the people." [2] The Sandinista army committed myriad atrocities against the Indian population, killing and imprisoning approximately 15,000 innocent people. The Sandinista crimes included not only mass murders of innocent natives themselves, but a calculated liquidation of their entire leadership -- as the Soviets had perpetrated against the Poles in the Katyn Forest Massacre, when the Soviet secret police executed approximately 15,000 Polish officers in the spring of 1940.


The Sandinistas quickly distinguished themselves as one of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America, carrying out approximately 8,000 political executions within three years of the revolution. The number of "anti-revolutionary" Nicaraguans who disappeared while in Sandinista hands numbered in the thousands. By 1983, the number of political prisoners inside the new Marxist regime’s jails was estimated at 20,000. [3] This was the highest number of political prisoners in any nation in the hemisphere -- except, of course, in Castro’s Cuba. By 1986, a vicious and violent Sandinista “resettlement program” forced some 200,000 Nicaraguans into 145 “settlements” throughout the country. This monstrous social engineering program entailed the designation of “free-fire” zones in which Sandinista government troops shot and killed any peasant of their choosing. [4]   


The Sandinista Gulag also institutionalized torture. Political prisoners in Sandinista jails, such as Las Tejas, were consistently beaten, deprived of sleep and given electric shocks. They were routinely denied food and water and kept in dark cubicles known as chiquitas (little ones), that had a surface area of less than one square meter. These cubicles were too small to sit up in, were completely dark, and had no sanitation and almost no ventilation. Prisoners were also forced to stand for long periods without bending their arms or legs; they were locked into steel hot boxes exposed to the full force of the tropical sun; their daughters or wives were sexually assaulted in front of them; and some prisoners were mutilated and skinned alive before being executed. One sadistic Sandinista practice was known as corte de cruz; this was a drawing-and-quartering technique in which the prisoner’s limbs were severed from the body, leaving him to bleed to death. [5]


The result of all of these horrifying cruelties and barbarisms was yet another mass exodus from a country enslaved by communism with tens of thousands of Nicaraguans escaping and settling in Honduras, Costa Rica and the United States. [6]


As most Marxist regimes, the Sandinista despotism accompanied its internal repression with external aggression. With Soviet and Cuban aid, Sandinista Nicaragua became the biggest and best armed force in Central America. In attempting to export its Marxist revolution, it posed a serious threat to the U.S. and to stability and democracy in the whole region. It was in response to this threat that the Reagan administration backed rebels in Nicaragua, the “contras,” who sought to bring democracy to their homeland. The Contras were mostly peasants led primarily by former Sandinistas who felt betrayed by the totalitarian turn of the revolution.


In the end, the contras played a vital role in helping Nicaraguans oust their oppressors. On February 25, 1990, under massive pressure, and intoxicated by their own propaganda in regards to their popularity, the Sandinistas staged an election in an attempt to prove their “democratic” stripes. But the dictators fundamentally misjudged the mindset of the Nicaraguan people, revealing a pathetic inability to gauge what the people were really feeling. As a result, the Ortega-led Sandinistas were embarrassingly ousted from power by the victory of the Coalition of Nicaraguan Opposition Parties, headed by Violeta Chamorro.


While Nicaragua obviously did not heal overnight, the Sandinistas could no longer torture their own people with the vicious power made available by a monstrous regime. They made sure, of course, to fulfill their Marxist legacy by swiftly “privatizing” the huge property holdings they had confiscated in the revolution and making themselves the sole recipients. As the Sandinistas clamoured to ensure that they remained multi-millionaires with swollen bank accounts, their reign of terror was cut short; democratization spread within the nation and the lives of Nicaraguans became freer and more prosperous.


It was no surprise, of course, that the Sandinistas served as models of veneration for the Western Left throughout their tyranny. Their despotic policies and adversarial disposition toward the U.S. won them high marks among leftists, for whom adversarial regimes are always the symbols that merit unadulterated worship and adulation. Just as previous fellow travelers had journeyed to the Soviet Union, communist China, North Vietnam and Cuba to pay homage to their totalitarian idols, leftists of all stripes flocked to Sandinista Nicaragua to pay homage to their new totalitarian deities. The Hollywood likes of Ed Asner, Michael Douglas and Susan Anspach served as the perfect examples of these new political pilgrimages. [7] 


Despite the Left’s lies about the Sandinistas and its attempt to impose historical amnesia on their crimes, their unholy alliances, and the dire threat that they posed, the historical record stands for all to see.


As the former despot now grabs power through elections that U.S. policies helped create, the ball lies in his court in terms of what kind of Nicaragua he hopes to build: the anti-American and despotic Nicaragua of the past -- or a new and improved Nicaragua that seeks to be a member of the community of free and civilized nations.


If Ortega chooses the Castroite-Chavez road, the U.S. will by necessity have to protect the liberty, security and prosperity of the region.


It is Nicaraguans themselves that lie in the balance -- for they have the biggest stake in whether there will be new dark and terrifying chapters in the black book of the Sandinistas.  



[1] Martin Kriele, NicaraguaAmerica’s Bleeding Heart (Mainz, Germany: Hase & Koehler, 1985), pp.41-42.


[2] Pascal Fontaine, “Nicaragua: The Failure of a Totalitarian Project,” in The Black Book of Communism. Crimes, Terror, Repression, (London: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 668.


[3] For a comprehensive account of the Sandinista reign of terror, see Fontaine, pp. 665-675. See also Roger Miranda and William Ratliff, "The Civil War in Nicaragua," in Paul Hollander (editor), From the Gulag to the Killing Fields. Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression in Communist States, pp.655-665.


[4] Sam Dillon, Commandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels (New York: Henry Holt, 1991), pp.159-160.


[5] Fontaine, p.672; see also J. Michael Waller, “Tropical Chekists: The Sandinista Secret Police Legacy in Nicaragua,” Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, (Summer 2004).


[6] For a powerful account about Nicarguan refugees and the reasons for their escape based on their own testimony, see "Fleeing Their Own Homeland. A Report on the Testimony of Nicaraguan Refugees," in Hollander (editor), From the Gulag to the Killing Fields, pp.666-680. 

[7] For the best work documenting the Left’s fellow traveling to Sandinista Nicaragua, see Paul Hollander, “The Pilgrimage to Nicaragua” in Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home & Abroad, 1965-1990 (New York: Oxford University Press: 1992), pp.259-306.


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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