Comrade Borge Departs

Recalling an anti-Semitic anti-Indigenous regime.

Tomas Borge, who passed away at 81 last month, was the last living founder of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), a communist revolutionary movement allied with the USSR and Cuba. Borge was a key player in the regime’s repressions, and that calls for a look back.

The FSLN also sided with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) but this was not just a foreign policy question. The comandantes did not look kindly on Nicaragua’s small Jewish community, whose synagogue was firebombed during a religious service in 1978. The following year the FSLN toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza and took power.

FSLN “divine mobs” chanted anti-Semitic slogans outside the synagogue, which the FSLN confiscated along with the property of Jewish families. The regime arrested Abraham Gorn a leader of the Jewish community. As minister of the interior, Tomas Borge was in charge of the regular and secret police, so he surely ordered those repressions. Abraham Gorn was able to escape and flee the country. The rest of Nicaragua’s Jews fled into exile.

The FSLN regime also had a problem with indigenous people. The comandantes waged a Stalin-style relocation campaign against the Miskito Indians of the Atlantic coast, many of whom were Protestant Christians. FSLN forces bombed villages and burned churches, killing those trapped inside. Filmmaker Werner Herzog made a documentary on the conflict, “Ballad of the Little Soldier,” and denounced the FSLN’s “concentration camps.” Russell Means of the American Indian Movement (AIM) talked of organizing an international brigade of warriors to defend Nicaragua’s native peoples.

Organizations such as Amnesty International called attention to FSLN repressions but the American left looked the other way, particularly the religious left. National Council of Churches boss Arie Brouwer conceded only “mistakes” by the government, the left’s default position when confronted by undeniable evidence of Sandinista atrocities. The NCC funded the Evangelical Committee for Aid to Development (CEPAD), a pro-FSLN front group that justified attacks on the Miskitos as “a plan to guarantee their rights.”

Sojourners magazine referred to “serious errors of judgment,” and allowed that the FSLN had “at times been insensitive to racism and injustice.” Asked if the campaign against the Miskitos was a violation of human rights, Maryknoll missionary Pat Hynds said that “militarily it was a move that had to be made.”

Statements of that kind flow from “liberation theology,” Marxism-Leninism tarted up with religious vocabulary. This theology, popular in the early 1980s, saw the FSLN comandantes as the second coming of biblical prophets, ushering in a reign of peace and social justice. The FSLN national anthem referred to the “Yankee enemy of mankind,” but the left was also against the United States and its allies, so the relationship worked well.

The FSLN supported the USSR, proclaiming three days of national mourning when Konstantin Chernenko died in 1985. Fidel Castro was a key ally. At home the FSLN shut down the free press, jailed dissenters, tortured prisoners, and oppressed churches that were less than worshipful of the FSLN. The American left denied or defended it all, and that did not endear such “sandalistas” to the Nicaraguan people.

In the free elections of 1990 they booted out the FSLN, which proceeded to loot the country in the infamous piñata campaign. Tomas Borge took part in that too, but the campaign did not prompt the American left to review its support for the FSLN.

Any repressive regime can still count on that support, as long as they oppose the United States and its allies. Witness the relative silence on Iran’s human rights violations, and opposition to efforts to keep a militant theocracy from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Ecuador, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador praised Borge as a revolutionary hero. He should be remembered as a persecutor of indigenous people, a torturer, criminal and anti-Semite. Borge may be gone but a former FSLN comandante Daniel Ortega still rules the roost. That may explain why the nation remains troubled and why so few Jews, perhaps 60, have returned to Nicaragua.

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