Nicaragua divided over death of revolutionary leader
Tomás Borge was the last living founder of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN).
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Several foreign countries have also paid their respects, including El Salvador, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Taiwan. But some in Nicaragua and abroad are remembering Borge for his intolerance, alleged rights abuses, and violent repression of dissidents. Online forums for Nicaragua’s daily newspapers as well as Facebook pages related to Nicaragua reveal a wide range of comments expressing anger and hatred for Borge, and frustration that he was never held accountable for his alleged crimes – including allegations of prisoner torture, an indigenous massacre, and the bombing of a 1984 press conference that killed six people, including American journalist Linda Frazier.Skip to next paragraph
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Borge denied involvement in all those cases.
Borge was a complicated man in a complicated country. He was a man with a style all his own; in later years he often dressed in strange “Dr. Evil” outfits that were so unfashionable they were cool. While his loyalty to family was expressed in love, generosity, and kindness – even adopting the son of fallen revolutionary martyr Germán Pomares to raise as his own – his loyalty to the revolution was often displayed as dogmatic intolerance, repression of the opposition, and chilling capacity for violence.
Borge was even controversial within his own party, which has become increasingly appropriated by First Lady Rosario Murillo, who at times seemed to resent Borge’s revolutionary credentials and authentic leadership claims to the party.
When the Sandinistas returned to power democratically in 2007, the first thing Daniel Ortega's administration did was ship Borge off to Peru to be Nicaragua’s Ambassador in Lima, where his wife and children were living. The move kept the outspoken Borge out the Nicaraguan media every day, allowing Murillo to consolidate her policy of government silence and role as propaganda tsar.
Though Borge denied he had problems with Murillo, he played a noticeably less visible role within the party leadership over the past six years, as Murillo’s role became omnipresent. During the 2005 Anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Borge was relegated to the second stage designated for special invitees, rather than sitting with the other party leaders on the main stage. He wasn’t present at all at the 2006 anniversary of the Revolution and made minor appearances from then on, as President Ortega and wife dominated the spotlight. And without Borge, the FSLN has the opportunity to revise history without one of the original voices to keep them in check.
For Borge, the revolution’s greatest gift to Nicaragua was hope.
“The revolution recuperated the dignity of the country and achieved some social advancement,” Borge told me once. “The revolution was a seed without which there would be no possibility to produce fruits and flowers. But the fundamental achievement of the revolution was to give birth to hope.”
– A version of this article appeared on the author’s blog, www.nicaraguadispatch.com