The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal reports from Managua, Nicaragua on the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, which toppled a US-backed dictator.
Video by Ben Norton
MAX BLUMENTHAL: We’re here in Managua’s Plaza Central, where you can see behind me hundreds of thousands of people gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista Front’s victory over the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, and the victory of the Sandinista party and the elected government over a US-backed coup last year.
One year ago, a regime change attempt orchestrated by US-funded media and political groups turned parts of Nicaragua into flashpoints of conflict, as armed men at roadblocks attempted to shut the country down.
Sandinista veterans I spoke to saw the defeat of last year’s coup in the same light as previous armed struggles, going back to 1979.
Marcela Pérez Silva is the Nicaraguan ambassador to Peru, and the widow of Tomás Borge, a founder of the Sandinista front.
MARCELA PÉREZ SILVA: The significance of this celebration is 40 years of the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution. But also, it is anniversary of the re-defeat of the coup-mongers who tried to end the revolution. And they were not able to, nor will they be!
Tomás [Borge] is with us. Tomás is in this plaza, crammed full of people, in those hearts, that are ready to defend their revolution.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Carlos Fonseca, Jr. is the son of the one of the Sandinista Front’s founders. His father helped launch the armed struggle against Somoza, and was killed by the dictator’s men in 1976.
CARLOS FONSECA TERÁN: This [July 19] is the most important date in all of the history of Nicaragua, because it is the date when Nicaragua began to be free. Today we commemorate 40 years of the triumph of the revolution, which is also a historical landmark on a global level.
It was one of the three fundamental historical facts that changed the history of Latin America: first was the Cuban Revolution; 20 years after, the Sandinista Revolution; and 20 years after, [Venezuela’s] Bolivarian Revolution.
Each one of those marks an era: The Cuban Revolution kicked off the era of revolutionary armed struggle, the product of which was the Sandinista Revolution.
The Sandinista Revolution marked the era of the fall of the pro-imperialist military dictatorships in our continent, which allowed the Bolivarian Revolution to later usher in the era of the arrival of governments of various left-wing forces in Latin America, in various countries [the Pink Tide].
So we are talking about an extremely important historical event.
The story of the struggle of Sandinismo is 92 years long, since the General Sandino fought against the US troops that invaded our country, and he expelled the US troops. Later General Sandino was assassinated. And then, decades later, the Sandinista National Liberation Front [FSLN] was formed. Roughly 30 years after.
And that is when the Sandinista Front initiated the revolutionary struggle, against the dictatorship of [Anastasio] Somoza, in the year 1961. It was an 18-year guerrilla struggle, which culminated with the triumph of the revolution.
Then began the first stage of the revolution, in the ’80s,when imperialism imposed a war of aggression on us, in which we also were victorious.
But then we lost the government, because of political blackmail done by imperialism, [with the US] threatening the people with more war if the Sandinista Front won the elections.
So the neoliberal stage began, in which we defended the revolutionary principles of the front. And we undertook the popular struggle to defend the gains of the revolution.
Then we returned to government. And we are currently in the second stage of the Sandinista Revolution, under the leadership of Comandante Daniel Ortega, who is the historical relayer of Comandante Carlos Fonseca.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The Sandinista front is named for Augusto Sandino, the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader who led a guerrilla war on occupying US Marines between 1927 and 1933.
He was assassinated by Somoza’s men one year after US troops withdrew.
JULIO C. CASTILLO SANDINO: We are direct historical descendants of General Sandino. My mother is Blanca Segovia, the only daughter of General Sandino. She’s alive. She is 86-years-old.
It has always been a great pride for us to be descendants of General Sandino, and the legacy that he has left us is not just for the families, but also for all the youth and the people of Nicaragua.
And we are celebrating a victory: the 40th anniversary of the popular Sandinista Revolution.
NICARAGUAN JOURNALIST: Without any doubts, this is a historic date for the Nicaraguan people. This is the date when a dictatorship was overthrown, which for more than 45 years, kept all Nicaraguans struggling in poverty.
This is a historical date in which the revolution restored the rights of thousands and thousands of Nicaraguans that lived in extreme poverty.
Today, they have a dignified home, with free healthcare, with free education.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The 40th anniversary of the Sandinista Front was occasion to honor the historic combatants of the movement.
Among the living legends on hand was Edén Pastora, known as Comandante Cero. Cero led daring raids on Somoza’s forces during the 1970s, but flipped to the US-backed Contras during Nicaragua’s civil war.
He returned home to the Sandinista Front following President Daniel Ortega’s election in 2006.
EDÉN PASTORA: This anniversary is very important, with [the Christian religious symbolism] of 40: 40 years in the desert, Moses leading his people. 40 days, Christ in the desert.
And we have 40 years fighting against imperialism, which has always attacked us, since [US colonial leader] William Walker came, since [the US government’s colonial] nota Knox, since they killed [national hero] Benjamín Zeledón.
Since they invaded us three times, and used Somoza to kill Sandino, and carried out acts of barbarism.
We have always had to fight. So today we are celebrating the victory of the revolutionary war, and the failure of what they did, the failure of this white coup.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: After the defeat of Somoza, thousands of US citizens flocked to Nicaragua to support the Sandinista Revolution, and to oppose their government’s dirty war. Nan McCurdy was among them.
So you were one of the Americans who came here in the 1980s to show solidarity — and you’re still here.
Describe the mood in the ’80s and what brought you and so many others down here. And how is it different today?
NAN MCCURDY: Well what brought us was wanting to be part of a revolution that was changing society, eliminating poverty, giving land to people, creating justice.
Anybody would want to be part of that. And more than 100,000 US citizens came here to live for one month to years.
And we wanted to teach people in the States. So a big role was to help people from the States, get them to come down here and learn about the revolution, and learn about the US wars.
So it was to help them see that the lies from the Reagan administration were just that: lies.
And today it’s really the same thing. I mean it’s been the same thing all along. Nothing has ever really changed. I think we fool ourselves when we think, “Oh the US, they’re accepting the Sandinistas.”
And it’s never been true. They’ve wanted to get rid of them physically, not just their ideas, all along.
And the coup was a wake-up call.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: After the celebration ended, we headed out to the streets of Managua to speak to grassroots Sandinistas, and hear why they are so committed to a government that has been relentlessly demonized in Western media.
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN: As a woman, I am very grateful for the government for giving us such a leadership role. This would not have been possible without the defeat of the Somoza dictatorship.
And as a young person I am of course very grateful for all of the opportunities given to us by the government of Comandante Daniel and Comrade Rosario.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And you, do you remember 1979? Do you remember the 1980s and the dirty war?
SANDINISTA MOTHER: Yes. I was a kid during ’79. And we had a duty to support the guerrillas,here in the capital, supporting urban guerrillas.
And we lived through the bloodshed of this dictatorship, and the massacre it carried out here, in 1979. At the end, with the desperation that it had, Somoza’s presidential guard forces bombarded all of the eastern neighborhoods, where I was. I even lost an uncle there, because rockets killed him.
And there I saw a lot of people dying. I saw a lot of deaths there.
And thanks to the revolution, this was ended.
This was ended. And the last year also confirmed that there, another bloody dictatorship like that is not going to come back, like what we had for 45 years in Nicaragua. It’s not going to return.
And this, everything that we have seen today, strengthens and confirms that.
YOUNG SANDINISTA MAN 1: This government has given us young people, above all, the grace and right to education, for everyone. Also in the area of healthcare, as well as in the teaching sector.
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN 2: This new stage in the revolution has taught us that we have a leader who cares about poor people. For this today, the youth, we weren’t living in 1979, but we are living in this phase, from 1979 to the present date, where we are provided free healthcare, free education, Plan Techo [a state housing program] for every single Nicaraguan family.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And the participation of women is rising?
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN 2: Women’s participation, since 2007 [with the re-election of the FSLN] — in fact Nicaragua is one of the countries in Latin America that is on trend to, or is one of the top countries, where women’s participation has been growing well.
We see women magistrates, women diplomats, women who play political roles. We have a woman vice president who has empowered women in all spaces, in all senses.
Entrepreneurial women who are heads of their families, and they bring this creative economy, this family-orientated economy to every single home.
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN 3: Now we have free education, not only in elementary school; we have free education in high school; we have free higher education in universities. We have many benefits.
Those who don’t study in Nicaragua, because they don’t want to, because they want to follow a professional path, they have technical education programs, the National Technological school, which offers a ton of technical paths.
So we are here supporting this cause. We know that this is the only president who has cared about poor people, as my comrade said. And he has given this place to women, and above all to young people.
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN 2: We have seen that the government created a house for pregnant women; because we have the Berta Calderon Hospital, where women with cancer can be checked. We have, last week we created a solar power plant in Corn Island. So Nicaragua is progressing on the road toward prosperity.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Following the failure of the US-backed coup attempt last year, Congress passed the Nica Act, with no opposition. It was a new round of unilateral sanctions on Nicaragua’s economy that complemented the Magnitsky Act, targeting the finances of the country’s leadership.
YOUNG SANDINISTA MAN 2: This is pressure. This is pressure to force our government to make changes, to do things that are good for them.
We are talking about imperialism. We already know what it’s about; that Yankee imperialism, unfortunately, is always interfering in countries like Nicaragua, in poor countries that try to make a political change.
Nevertheless, we are independent. We are dignified. We are a country that is definitely autonomous, and we should work as Nicaraguans to make sure that these things, these laws like Magnitsky Act, like other laws, don’t affect us. Because this affects the economy.
YOUNG SANDINISTA WOMAN 2: Nicaragua is a country that is full of entrepreneurial people, of people who like to work. So the Nica Act, we Nicaraguans are not interested in it.
And the government of national reconciliation and unity has raised the stakes for entrepreneurs,for small-business owners, for the producers that sacrifice day after day to make the food that we eat.
We export beans; we export rice, to the Yankees, to the imperialists. We Nicaraguans feed them.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: In an apparent attempt to escape the crippling sanctions, the Nicaraguan government released scores of so-called “political prisoners” this June. Those released included many figures who had been directly involved in the violence during the coup.
This was just one of many concessions the Nicaraguan government made during a peace and reconciliation process it launched with a recalcitrant opposition.
How do you all feel that, during the reconciliation, the prisoners who are tranquistas, who did violent things, they were released from prison?
YOUNG SANDINISTA MAN 2: That is a way for our government to show that it wants peace, that it wants peace and reconciliation, that it does not want situations like what took place in 2018.
Nevertheless, they keep acting in this wrong way, I think. But we Sandinistas, this country, we want peace, we want reconciliation. We want what’s best for our country.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: 40 years to the day that the Sandinista Front defeated a US-backed dictatorship, President Daniel Ortega stood before hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans in the plaza behind me, and promised to fight for peace and reconciliation with an opposition that is funded by the United States, which is extremely violence, and which is still dead-set on regime change.
Because of the external pressure, this government has been forced to make massive concessions. And the question now is how much reconciliation is it willing to offer for the price of peace?