14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 April 2018 — “Where is Fidel?” Daniel Ortega shouted in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution during the official ceremony on the death of the former Cuban president at the end of 2016. That question was prophetic. Less than two years later, the Nicaraguan people have taken to the streets and the old mentor is not there to help his disciple.
The Sandinistas’ coming to power in 1979 was taken in Cuba as a sign that Latin America would travel along the path of the Revolution, social justice and left-wing governments. It was another spark in the bonfire that was going to devastate the continent and that had its origin in this Caribbean Island.
The Cuban poets sang praises to the Nicaraguan commanders and the Nueva Trova turned Urgent song for Nicaragua into an anthem. The Central American country became the realized dream of having an ally in the region that eased the diplomatic solitude in which Cuba had remained after the radicalization of the political process.
Nicaragua became a second opportunity for the Castro brothers, who not only offered their territory for the military training of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), but also offered the nascent government advice on literacy, medical care and agrarian reform.
Part of the initial Sandinista program was taken from the Marxist-Leninist system implanted in Cuba. Those guidelines, copies of a bad copy, generated an enthusiasm that faded as they clashed with the complexity of a country whose social composition is different from that of this Island.
The Sandinista Revolution was breastfed by Havana, but the “milk” came from the Soviet stepmother eager to expand her influence in the region. The followers of Sandinismo did not imagine that with their dedication and passion they were helping to build another family dynasty.
Daniel Ortega, then a young man, became a regular visitor to the circles of the Cuban elite circles and in July 1980, a year after the Sandinista Popular Revolution triumphed, he greeted Fidel Castro at the Managua airport. That close relationship lasted until the last day of the Cuban leader’s life.
However, along the way, the Sandinistas departed on several occasions from the path traced in Havana. The most costly of these deviations was in 1990 when the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) lost the elections to the National Opposition Union (UNO) and Violeta Chamorro assumed the presidency.
In 2007, after promising to respect private property and expand its relations with the international community, Ortega won 37.99% of the valid votes in the polls to reach the highest office in the country. Unlike Castro, the disciple had proven himself in an election, and could say he was an elected president.
After that victory, the ex-guerrilla found a balance that guaranteed his continuity in power: political control and a certain economic laxity. His agreements with the Nicaragua Superior Council of Private Enterprise helped spread the idea that, beyond the ideological antics of the president, he imposed in the country the pragmatism of business.
During the last 11 years, Ortega controlled the nation with a strong presence in the army and the police, substantial aid from Venezuela and personal whims that became decrees as fast as he could blink an eye. Each day he became less presentable as a leader and more like the caricature of a satrap.
During this time Havana kept a certain distance. The official media of the island stopped speaking up for Sandinismo, the poets parked their verses about the Nicaraguan revolution and the eccentricities of Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo were hardly reported, while Murillo filled the streets of the capital with immense “Trees of Life.”
This last week, several of those immense sculptures have been demolished by protesters against Ortega opposing reforms of the social security and pension system. The protests, which have claimed thirty lives, are being followed with caution by newspapers controlled by the Cuban Communist Party.
The breaking point came in the guise of that neoliberal measure that has turned out to be the last straw. In the streets there is also discontent with an executive who turns his back on the population, squanders the nation’s resources and builds houses of cards like the apparently hypothetical ocean-to-ocean canal.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet published a statement of support for its Central American ally and the Nicaraguan president has not even been able to follow in the footsteps of Nicolás Maduro and Evo Morales, the first leaders from the region to visit the new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.
The Cuban intelligentsia is also silent or looks away from the repression that the Nicaraguan government unleashes in the streets and against young people at the Polytechnic University. The bards who in the past sang to the FSLN today lack the civic courage and moral integrity to criticize it.
If the arrival of Sandinismo to power, almost four decades ago, was read as a foretaste of the red flare that would spread across the continent, its crisis significantly affects an entire ideological current in this part of the world. An Ortega cornered in the face of the popular impulse represents the resounding failure of a system.
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