Further Complicating the Narrative on Nicaragua


Alejandro Bendaña, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

28 Nov 2018 – As a Nicaraguan living in Nicaragua and longtime associate of TRANSCEND, I welcome its coverage of Nicaragua including James Phillips’ recent opinion piece, “Complicating the narrative on Nicaragua,” where he develops a critique of media reporting on Nicaragua.

Phillips is of course correct to point out that news coverage tends to simplify a complex reality. That perhaps is in the nature of news coverage itself often devoid of deeper context and history. Certainly no one should go to bat for every one of the newspaper reports written from Nicaragua.

But Mr. Phillips could also be taken to task on the same grounds. For example, he observes that Ortega, like Cuba and Venezuela, represents a symbolic challenge to Washington. And so the Trump administration reminds us all the time.  But facts get in the way of facile comparisons: unlike Cuba and Venezuela, Nicaragua over the last decade of Ortega rule has featured neoliberal economic policies, US military and police collaboration, as well as repressive understandings with the DEA and US immigration against migrants third country nationals traveling south-north toward the US border. From 2007 to April 2018, Ortega delivered “stability” that guaranteed essential US and local capitalist tycoons, all in return for a green light of authoritarian governing style and tolerance for leftist rhetorical outbursts that brought Venezuelan funding. Walk right, talk left.

The author’s narrative would have also benefited by explaining the complexity in Ortega’s historical evolution over the last four decades. Because to draw a single straight line between the 1979 revolution to today’s internationally and United Nations documented massacres is simplistic and misleading. As José Saramago once put it, Ortega became unworthy of his own past. The story of how “Sandinismo” was distorted and transformed into “Orteguismo” is the subject of a longer debate, but the evolution is painfully obvious for any witness to the scene, particularly feminists and those of us who witness the abandonment of historical ideals. It would not be the first revolution betrayed in global history.

The fact that one or another sector of today’s broad opposition to Ortega received USA funding should come as no surprise given the way Washington has always hedged its bets in one country or another. But to extrapolate from there that the protesters, opposition leaders–and many of us participants on the left who continue to regard ourselves as Sandinistas–are all tainted is unfair, condescending and inaccurate. We have lost neither our minds nor our principles.

An understanding of the Nicaraguan insurrection will not be aided by featuring conspiratorial actors such as Salvadoran criminal gangs, drug cartels, the National Endowment for Democracy, and Marco Rubio. Nicaraguans, particularly those of my generation, are certainly not naive enough to believe that the US is not pursuing its own interests. Our quarrel is with Ortega’s undeniably murderous regime and not with the current state of chessboard geopolitics. At the end of the day, one question stands out: in the light of those crimes documented by serious journalists and particularly by qualified national and international human rights organizations, how can any ethically minded person demand less than the resignation of the culprit in chief?

From a left perspective, one worries of how—this is not the case for Mr. Phillips—a principled opposition to imperialism turns into a mindless opposition to democratic revolutions and in the process sabotage the struggles against neoliberalism.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  As Rohini Helsman says,

“It is legitimate to question the motives of Western governments or their double standards when they support human rights and democracy in certain instances and not in others; but what justification is there for opposing regimes that have been looting, torturing, raping and killing their own citizens?”  [i]


[i] Rohini Helsman, Indefensible Democracy, Counterrevolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism, Haymarket 2018.


Alejandro Bendaña Is a Nicaraguan historian living in Nicaragua and a member of the TRANSCEND Network.  He was a senior official of the Sandinista government in the 1980s and has a PhD in History from Harvard University. Bendaña is a specialist in peacebuilding and author of a biography of Augusto C. Sandino, the guerilla leader who resisted US military occupation between 1927 and 1933.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Dec 2018.

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