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Nicaragua and the FSLN: Tomas Borge interviewed

Green Left Weekly, 28 September 1995

Reprinted from Barricada Internacional, slightly abridged.

TOMAS BORGE is the only surviving founder of the FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front. During the '80s, as minister of the interior, he directed the security forces which subverted the counter-revolutionaries' battle plans in the cities and developed a reputation as one of the "toughest'' National Directorate members. He was interviewed for Barricada Internacional by GUILLERMO FERNANDEZ AMPIE.

Question: July 19 marked the 16th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship and the beginning of the most profound and important revolutions in Nicaragua's history. After 16 years, what remains of this process?

It's always said that true revolutions are irreversible, but the last few years have shown that to be untrue. Perhaps we could say that after the FSLN's electoral defeat and despite the neo-liberalism that reigns worldwide, some of what the Nicaraguan revolution won for the people has survived. We could even say that the revolution's roots are still there.

However, some advances have certainly been reversed. This is clearest in everyday economic life. But people are still fighting to defend what's due to them, above all in terms of retaining any material gains they may have won.

For instance, one very important achievement is that when the state companies were privatised [by the Chamorro government], most of them passed at least partially into the workers' hands.

In terms of ideology, I would say that the values that are fundamental to revolutionary society are slowly disappearing. I think it is our duty to rescue them; they made the revolution possible, but even we as the leaders of the revolution did not manage to uphold them.

Question:What other changes have you seen?

Nicaragua was an enslaved state which was freed by the revolution, and those who don't care for this independence do all in their power to force it back into dependence. Nevertheless, Nicaragua still retains a certain level of dignity and independence. I think this is one of the revolution's achievements.

Question: Do you think that the fact that the people voted against the FSLN reflects, at least in part, the loss of these values?

The Nicaraguan people wanted peace and better living conditions, understandably. It's my impression that the war was coming to an end anyway, but the vote accelerated the peace process. It can be said that there is now peace in Nicaragua.

Question: Some people say this peace is merely technical. That is, the war is over, but the general social breakdown makes people afraid of being attacked in the cities and in the countryside.

As in other Latin American countries, crime is a serious problem. In this sense, it could be said that there is little harmony or peace in Nicaragua, but in military terms, there is unquestionably peace.

Remember that during the war this country made huge sacrifices and an enormous number of people died - mostly young people.

Question: Speaking of war, during the Repliegue [an annual re-enactment of the Sandinistas' June '79 tactical retreat from Managua to Masaya] I saw marchers writing graffiti saying something like, "If Aleman wins, it means war. FSLN.'' Don't you think this contradicts the FSLN's political line and reinforces the "warmonger'' image that its adversaries are trying to peddle?

The phrase is a synthesis, and not worthy of much explanation. But do keep in mind that [Arnoldo] Aleman has said that he will bring "justice'' to bear on anyone who has broken a law. Obviously he is referring to Sandinistas; we broke all of Somoza's laws.

If, as seems likely, he starts taking steps against anyone he thinks acquired property illegally, it could mean the beginning of anti-Sandinista persecution.

The state of law is very generalised, so a right-wing government elected in 1996 would be able to fill in its own details and put its political and administrative criteria into practice to the detriment of the revolutionary sectors. These, upon being persecuted or seeing their freedom and possessions threatened, would react is self-defence. Thus, I see Arnoldo Aleman as the quickest path to instability.

Question: But the current government has also persecuted Sandinistas, to some extent.

Actually, this government has shown a certain decency and respect toward its opponents, and toward democratic liberties in general. It hasn't assumed an insanely anti-Sandinista attitude. Its most serious offences have been corruption, inefficiency and economic selfishness.

Question: What do you think the best guarantee for stability would be?

Objectively speaking, putting aside political loyalties and party ties, the best guarantee would be the Sandinista Front. Sincerely.

We've already been in power, and we had some great successes. We also admit that we made some mistakes, we fell into error; but only those who have erred can mend their ways. It would be absurd for us to make the same mistakes again.

I think the FSLN could establish a government for everyone, eve the liberal parties. We don't have the least intention of confiscating anything from anyone, nor of establishing the draft again, nor restricting freedom of expression or individual liberties.

Question: Do you think people are aware of this?

No, I don't think so. At least not now. But I think that we could change that by transmitting a serious, honest and persistent message.

Question: People are also afraid that an FSLN victory in '96 could mean the resurgence of confrontations with the US, leading to another war.

No, in these conditions I don't think we will see a return to the scenario of the '80s. At that time, we had ties to the Soviet Union - which doesn't exist any more - and ties to Cuba, in terms of providing solidarity to armed movements. But that solidarity now consists solely of political and moral support. So the factors which led the US to wage war on us have now disappeared.

Question: But what guarantees are there that the US would respect an FSLN victory?

I think that they would respect it. They might not feel particularly sympathetic to it, but they don't have the necessary conditions to prevent a new Sandinista government from taking office - regardless of whether they would want to do so.

Question: Has this been discussed officially?

Some official declarations have been made. If [Jesse] Helms is elected president of the US, of course, there aren't any guarantees at all. But as long as there is a government with a certain degree of maturity and good sense, like Clinton's, I think that this disposition will remain intact.

Question: Now that three months have passed since the new Sandinista party [Movement for Sandinista Renewal, MRS] was created, has anyone analysed how this has affected the FSLN? How is the FSLN doing right now?

The FSLN is still the solidest and best organised party in the country. It's also the largest party, but this won't guarantee us the majority of the votes in 1996. We can count on at most 30% of the vote, which is not enough to win the elections. However, in terms of public opinion, we rank above any other party.

Question: Monica Baltodano said recently that the Sandinista Assembly had approved the FSLN's pre-electoral strategy. Can you tell us about it?

One important aspect is the question of alliances. The '80s saw the emergence of many new grassroots and social movements with FSLN links. Even before the 1990 elections, their leaders were beginning to demand more autonomy to create their own leadership styles and methods of struggle, and to fight for their own goals. This autonomy developed to such an extent that it began to encroach into the political sphere, which gave rise to certain political contradictions within the FSLN.

Today's struggle is to politically win back these social organisations, but they have become so autonomous that the best way to face the elections is by means of alliances rather than unity.

This would mean forming a coalition with these social organisations and then looking to make alliances with other as yet undetermined political forces.

Question: Including ones which aren't Sandinista.

Of course. In some parts of the country we've already started to make alliances with former members of the contra. But I was also referring to other sectors which haven't traditionally been Sandinista, such as Protestant and Catholic groups.

Question: How would you define the Sandinista movement? The MRS also calls itself Sandinista.

The Sandinista movement is rooted in Sandino's philosophy and his struggle. These roots deepened with the founding of the FSLN; it took the original Sandinista movement's political, social and economic ideas even further.

Of course, all Nicaraguans now claim Sandino as part of their heritage. Even some of those who killed him call themselves Sandinistas. Even descendants of those who publicly toasted his death with champagne call themselves Sandinistas.

But I think the true Sandinista movement lies within the FSLN. Now, people with a whole range of political ideas joined the FSLN, some linked to traditional parties and some to new tendencies such as social democracy. These are all respectable ideas, but they aren't ours.

I am pleased that the MRS calls itself Sandinista, because objectively this puts us closer together and could facilitate future agreements.

Question: Are you saying that the Sandinista movement is to the left of social democracy?

I wouldn't put it in terms of how far to the left it is. That's not the issue. The geographical location of the left or the right is becoming increasingly harder to define. Some social democrats consider themselves leftists.

What I'm referring to is two different political conceptions. Some of our ideas have some affinity with social democracy, but they form part of a different world view.

Question: What are some concrete differences between the FSLN and the MRS?

First of all, they consider themselves social democrats - very much so. This means we have different perspectives, different ways of seeing reality and of imagining the country's future. We consider ourselves friendly to social democracy and we could think of ourselves as friends of the MRS, if they accept that.

There are also differences in our international positions, in economic aspects, and in each party's social identification.

I think that another difference is the fact that we are more interested in reaching an agreement with them than they are with us.

Our party has strong support throughout the country. But despite the fact that MRS leaders are qualitatively important, the MRS cannot compete with the FSLN in terms of quantity. That's why I've said that they split from the FSLN for qualitative, not quantitative, reasons.

They haven't shown much awareness of the damage they've done to the Nicaraguan revolution by the mere fact of upping indifference and abstention among groups which they haven't taken with them, but which haven't thrown in their lot with us either.

Essentially, I would say that the MRS is a party still in the process of being formed which addresses the interests of the middle and upper middle classes, and the FSLN - though it doesn't minimise the importance of any sector - has cast its lot with the have nots.

Question: You have mentioned the possibility of an alliance with the MRS for the second round in the presidential elections.

It would be ideal to form an alliance for the first round, but if that isn't possible, maybe for the second.

[Reprinted from Barricada Internacional, slightly abridged.]

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From odin@gate.netThu Sep 28 13:11:45 1995 Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 09:50:55 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: end