I cannot let this day pass without noting the death of one of Central America’s greatest tyrants, Tomás Borge. The obituary notice in today’s New York Times hardly lets readers know the kind of moral monster that Borge was. Perhaps the mourning by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro is enough to let people understand how vile he was.
Borge was one of the original group of Sandinista rebels who had been imprisoned by the authoritarian ruler of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza. He had been in prison for one year when in 1978 a raid by Sandinista troops (disguised in Nicaraguan army uniforms) seized the National Palace and held the leaders of Somoza’s regime hostage. The government gave into the raiders’ demands, released fifty of those they had incarcerated, paid the FSLN (the initials of the Sandinista National Liberation Front) a half million dollars in ransom money, and provided a plane to fly them out of the country to safety.
In 1979, Somoza fled and the Sandinistas took power, at first hiding their true intent and putting into office a coalition junta composed of non-Sandinista opponents of the old regime but in which their movement had a majority. The coalition collapsed, and the government was then run by the so–called commandantes of the revolution, who formed a new government intent on imposing a communist regime according to the classic Marxism-Leninism in which they believed.
The moderate junta the Sandinistas first put in place was meant as a fig leaf to give them time to build the kind of regime they preferred. The pressure from the new Reagan administration forced them, Borge said, “independently from our will, to develop political pluralism and a mixed economy.” That, he noted, was but a tactic, which had “made much more difficult the role of the revolutionary leadership within the masses. Political pluralism, mixed economy and the more general traits of the revolution,” he said, “tend to confuse the masses.” Hence Borge said it would have been better from the start to pursue “an ideological project which is as clearly defined as the one that existed in Cuba.”
It would take a few years, but the “ideological project” of a communist regime became one that the FSLN would implement before they were voted out of office in 1989, in an election they assumed they would win but which they were unable to avoid because of growing international pressure.
Borge had been from the start, even in the period of pretend moderation, the regime’s enforcer. He was made minister of the Interior. He named the building which housed state security — something that Orwell might have dreamed up in his novel 1984 — the “Sentinel of the People’s Happiness,” which was proclaimed in a loud banner over the building’s front.
In his post, Borge contracted with the East German government to send a team of Stasi — that country’s hated secret police — to come to Nicaragua to train his own ministry’s agents in the type of techniques they used to control the populace. From East Germany and other Communist regimes in Eastern Europe he obtained advisors, communications equipment, uniforms, and other supplies. But what interested him most was concrete advice on how to use his spies to help concentrate power and give the FSLN complete control of the country. East Germany’s Stasi chief sent him a specially selected group of agents who, he promised Borge, would give them the ability and know-how to crush potential civilian opposition to the Sandinista regime.
He also liked to show the press how adept he was at fooling gullible Western fellow-travelers. Borge met them — as he did me at one time in the 1980s — in his would-be office, behind which was a display of Christian crucifixes and a Bible sitting at his desk. Many would remark when they wrote about him how the hated security chief was really a believing Catholic and a religious individual. When they left, Borge would retreat to his actual office, which is the site at which he worked and which had no visible religious symbols of any kind. Of course, Borge used his ministry to regularly attack the Church, to deport opposition priests, and to give his support to an officially sponsored liberation church whose clerics backed the FSLN.
Daniel Ortega, now president of Nicaragua and still the leader of the FSLN, proclaimed a three day period of mourning. Those who benefit from the regime’s largesse will undoubtedly hold memorials, while others will go about their daily life, hoping to get by and undoubtedly happy that this once strong henchman is no longer alive to give them trouble.
Most obituaries end with R.I.P. Not this one. I trust the good Lord will know him for what he was, and that his pretense of being a good Catholic will not enable him to enter the pearly gates, but that other place where he will finally get to consort with his beloved late comrades, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.