Gorbachev and the lessons that Daniel Ortega did not learn

* by Arturo McFields, journalist and former Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS.

Last Tuesday, August 30, the world remembered the greatness of Mikhail Gorbachev and his fight for freedom and democracy, after he died at the age of 91.

The chancelleries of Latin America, like many other world leaders, lamented his departure. However, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was cautious and took nearly three days to offer a few words to his former Cold War ally.

On November 4, 1984, Ortega became president of Nicaragua with almost 67% of the vote. Five months later, on March 11, 1985, in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev triumphed as the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In April of that same year, Gorbachev received Ortega and a high-level delegation in Moscow, showing great interest in what was happening in Nicaragua.

From then on, the political survival of the followers of his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, would be totally tied to the fate of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The red giant became the main political, commercial and military ally of revolutionary Nicaragua. In March 1987, Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s special envoy and later president of Russia, visited Managua to give Ortega some bad news: the war checkbook from the Soviet Union had run out and the recommendation was to find a way to take seriously the peace talks in Central America, which Ortega saw only as a delaying tactic to gain time. Left alone and with an increasingly strong Nicaraguan resistance, Ortega was forced to hold elections in February 1990, losing power to the landslide victory of Violeta Chamorro.

While Gorbachev opted for social change and promoted a strategy called Glasnost to promote transparency and political and religious freedoms, in Nicaragua Ortega seemed to remain frozen in time and without learning anything from the resounding fall of the USSR. During the last 15 years, the Central American dictator promoted secrecy as a state policy, religious persecution as a method to silence Catholic pulpits, censorship as a communication strategy, and exile and prison as mechanisms to silence journalists and opponents. In all these repressive strategies, Ortega has failed. Journalism has searched for new alternatives to work from exile, from clandestine and social networks, and they have helped to communicate what the government tries to hide.

Gorbachev promoted Perestroika, a proposal for the restructuring and redistribution of power, changing the rigid political and economic concepts of the USSR. Ortega, for his part, restructured power by concentrating it in his family and in a small group of useful collaborators, thus laying the foundations for the first dynasty of the 21st century in Latin America.

During his tenure, Gorbachev fostered cordial relations with the international community and won the respect and admiration of former adversaries such as Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in England. Ortega, by contrast, became one of the most unpopular leftist leaders in Latin America. The heads of state of Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia have not made a single state visit to Nicaragua, while the European Union, the United States, Canada and 25 other countries declared the November 2021 presidential elections illegitimate.

Gorbachev was a party man, but he recognized the serious political errors of the USSR, as well as the urgent need to review and correct the inefficient and unfair model of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Although Gorby (Gorbachev’s affectionate nickname) was never a prophet in his own land, the international community awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize for his extraordinary commitment to democracy and human rights.

For his part, Ortega has been singled out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International for serious human rights violations, which could be considered crimes against humanity. While Gorbachev promoted the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, Ortega, in the last 15 years, has built ideological walls that divide Nicaraguans, costing the lives of more than 350 people, and has built torture centers such as the new Chipote, which houses more than 190 political prisoners.

For the Nicaraguan dictator, democratic change seems to mean betrayal and respect for human rights a symbol of weakness. On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR. In Nicaragua, on the other hand, the dictator Ortega is languishing clinging to power with no intention of correcting his mistakes and regardless of the fact that in order to remain in power forever the last vestiges of Nicaraguan democracy have to die with him.

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Gorbachev and the lessons that Daniel Ortega did not learn