Much to the dismay of expatriates in South Florida, Daniel Ortega made a political comeback and was re-elected as Nicaragua’s president in 2006. One of my best friends was especially affected by the new term of Ortega in his native Nicaragua. He knew that this will be a life-changing presidency for him the same way it was for his parents in the 1980’s when they had to leave the country to come to the United States.
My friend introduced me to the intricate story of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution and its effects on his life. Moreover, he introduced me to one of my favorite Latin American writers, Gioconda Belli.
“The Country Under my Skin” is Belli’s own account of the Sandinista Revolution. What really makes me wonder about this book is how much things have changed in Latin American politics over the past 20 years. The left, which at the time was somehow glorified, is now deemed in a different light with unpopular rulers like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales claiming it. At the time, the left was less stigmatized with the presence of military regimes oppressing people and creating a tight elite, like the one of Anastasio Somoza before the Sandinistas took over power in the 1980’s.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece on Ortega’s involved in a great scandal over the prosecution of the 83-year-old poet Ernesto Cardenal, who was once his minister of culture and is now being judged by a Sandinista judge.
The sin for which he is now being punished is that during a visit to Paraguay last month, he had the temerity to call Ortega a “thief” who runs “a monarchy made up of a few families in alliance with the old Somoza interests.”
The author of the opinion piece, Stephen Kinzer, draws a parallel between Cardenal’s case and that of Heberto Padilla, who was under house arrest in Cuba after Fidel Castro punished him for his writings. At the time, figures like Jean-Paul Sartre, who had previously expressed admiration for Castro, signed a protest petition against Castro and his derailment from the true leftist thinking.
Similarly, other thinkers are drawing a clear distinction between them and Ortega. Among them is Belli, who cut off her links to the unpopular president after having helped his revolution 20 years ago.
Jose Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner, is now among the more than 60 Latin American writers and figures protesting against the judge’s move against Cardenal. He said:
if Ortega does not reverse last week’s court ruling, “we will know that his human and political merits have fallen to zero,” and added: “Once more a revolution has been betrayed from within.”
I agree with Saramago and Belli. People can’t be silenced for what they think. If Cardenal wanted to give such a controversial statement, he is free to do so. Maybe, when the Sandinista Revolution had plans for greater good, its leaders were not as corrupted as they may be now. But that is a whole other story. I think that somehow that leftist regimes have proved to be ineffective in Latin America.