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Another Central American Tyrant Passes from the Scene: Farewell to Tomás Borge

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.