Without a State, without a husband, without Somoza; Libertarian memories of the Revolution
This is the voice of a woman. An anarchist woman. A revolutionary who during the 1970s struggled to imprint an anti-authoritarian, anti-state and feminist mark on the ongoing transformation process. We will call her Isabel Gutierrez and we will say with certainty that she escaped from the Argentine military dictatorship to continue her revolutionary activity in Nicaragua. And this was no surprise. In those days, Central America was a veritable hotbed that concentrated the hopes of the world’s revolutionaries. But on arriving in the lands of Sandino, the former leader of the “army of madmen”, reality fully surpassed the hopes: she felt for the first time that she was before a true popular revolution. The powerful of the world, above all the Yankees, watched the events of Managua with concern, the local bourgeoisie escaped frightened by peasants with machetes more than fed up with hunger, while on a wall of a neighborhood of Masatepe, the people wrote verses that not even the best of poets could match: “They will die of nostalgia, but they will not return.”
You came to Nicaragua like so many other Latinos escaping from military dictatorships that at that time stalked our America. What pushed you to decide for Nicaragua?
When I was in Villa Devoto, we received newspapers in my house. We organised to summarise the news and send them with houses where they did not have newspapers. I had to summarise the “international” news; the Argentine dictatorship only allowed news from abroad, with complete censorship of what was happening inside. Nicaragua occupied the front page of the newspapers between 1977 and 1979, it was an opportunity to know in depth the process that led to the fall of Somoza by the armed and popular insurrection led by the Sandinista Front. Thus I followed events very closely and each day, the advance of the popular resistance. That was the reason I wanted to live in a revolution as soon as I got out of jail.
How did you tie yourself to the Nicaraguan revolutionary process?
All of my compañeros (except one who was disappeared) and an activist compañera had left the country between 1976 and 1977; they arrived in different European countries and before the advance of the insurrectionary process in Nicaragua, they decided to join the fight. They participated in combat actions on the Southern Front, where one of them was killed by the Somoza National Guard. With the triumph of the Sandinista Popular Revolution, in July 1979, the Sandinista Front offered them the chance to join the new police or the new army that was being formed. None of them accepted, obviously because of their anarchist militancy. I remember being told “bold one, how is an anarchist is going to be police or military? …”. They immediately settled in Costa Rica, in 1980, where they made contact with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the moment when they discovered that I had left prison (one year earlier). When we were able to make contact (five years after my arrest), they summoned me to join the revolutionary struggle in Central America. That same year I was able to meet with them and collaborate with the FMLN of El Salvador in logistics and communication tasks. A year later, I was already living in Nicaragua, where I joined the revolutionary process always working from and with popular organizations, without ever having belonged to a party structure.
Different revolutionary traditions converged in the FSLN, Liberation Theology, the socialism tied to the legendary figure of Carlos Fonseca, and the influence of the Cuban revolution, were very present. And even within the FLSN itself, different tendencies divided along “third worldist”, “proletarian” and “people’s war” lines. What opinion did you have about these currents and in which of these spaces did you place yourself ideologically?
As anarchists, we had to collaborate with the FMLN, that had four currents, and our closest relationship was with the National Resistance, RN. We had no “political” alliance, it was international solidarity for the liberation of the Salvadoran people, we never entered into a relationship based on specific affinities or trends, but by revolutionary commitment. The same in the case of the Sandinista Front; there was a working relationship with “third worldists”, based on the RN’s relationship with them and in logistics tasks; what prevailed was political confidence and previous experience.
In reality, socialist theories were the ones that prevailed the least within the FSLN, yes there was influence of Sandino’s deed, anti-imperialism, the defense of national sovereignty, the struggle for the dispossessed, but socialist theory, whichever, it was not relevant in the practice of official Sandinismo at the time.
How did you live that victory of the people and what was the climate that was lived in the streets, in the factories, in the university? Did you have the belief that in those days, a new society was being created in Nicaragua?
Obviously, the transformations occurred at an unusual speed, things were created on the fly, decisions were made based on common sense and in the pragmatism of trying to “satisfy” essential needs, after the destruction of the insurrectionary war. In each area of state management, things were improvised and mistakes were made, obviously. The energy of the people seemed infinite and the commitment to found a new Nicaragua was the daily task.
The Revolution respected the religious beliefs of the entire population, but the official church linked to the Vatican, did not tolerate revolutionary changes and allied with the Americans and counter-revolutionaries, leading to the creation of a peasant army financed by the United States, through a war of aggression that claimed thousands of lives and a new destruction of the economy and daily life. Public health and education were established free of charge and the population’s perception of their rights grew rapidly in the same way as the difficulties, the improvisation, the lack of funding and the wounds of the war of aggression. Culture was an important element strongly supported by the State and tied to broad popular participation, it sustained the “tasks” of the revolution, calling upon thousands of popular artists who encouraged people to endure rationing and deprivations derived from the nationalisation of the economy in the midst of the US blockade.
The youth – who offered their energies in the important National Literacy Campaign, which reduced illiteracy from 50% to 12% -, also offered their lives during the war of aggression, when the Patriotic Military Service was incorporated, which was in fact mandatory. The death of thousands of young people was decisive in the vote of women, who after 10 years, felt that continuing with the Sandinista government was to continue the war and the loss of life of their sons and daughters. The electoral defeat of February 1990 was announced long before, but we did not want to accept it or could not understand that the same people who had decidedly supported the struggle to bring down Somoza, were ready to say no more, in relation to the revolutionary process.
What do you value most about this process and what is its greatest legacy for our peoples?
Almost 40 years after my first experiences, I value the irruption of citizen into the political life of the country. The people of Nicaragua are highly politicized, and are able to comment on all issues based on their understanding, it is not indifferent to what happens inside or outside the country. The Revolution gave a voice to citizens and especially women, who played a leading role from before the insurrection to beyond the revolution itself. Women left the house to break into politics, be it in communities, state institutions, organisations and social movements, never to return to the traditional role. Sandinista women, with a long revolutionary trajectory, are now decidedly opposed to all of the abuses of the Sandinista Front, including because the latter voted to establish an absolute prohibition of abortion, a major cause of death of women, due to the complications of clandestine abortion. Because we fight against all violence and sexual violence, tolerated and protected within the Front.
40 years after the Revolution, it is necessary to make a critical balance of the revolutionary process in Nicaragua, its light and dark, and the authoritarian transformation of the FSLN, or especially the political space around the figure of Daniel Ortega. News of the persecutions of the people and the operations of para-state groups, financed by the State to persecute and repress any manifestation of rebellion or rejection of the regime, arrive in Buenos Aires daily. Without forgetting the comrades who are political prisoners and the young people killed in the streets, how is it that those who embraced a new type of transformation, today express the worst authoritarian values, values they used to fight?
Forty years were necessary to finish waking up in the nightmare we live in today. During the revolution we knew situations that we disapproved of, but we were not aware of the damage they would eventually cause by not correcting them in time. The “defence” of the Revolution, the early and fierce attack of the US, the economic and military blockade, the formation of the counterrevolution, the emotional commitment and the personal and collective cost that was necessary to pay to achieve Somoza’s departure, as well as many other factors, affected the lack of criticism or its limits of those who had already committed abuses since the beginning of the Revolution.
The gradual centralization of all decisions, the use of state assets for the benefit of individuals or groups, the repression of internal dissent, the closure of opposition media, the persecution of leaders who – having supported the fall of Somoza – , did not agree with the policies of the Revolution were also important elements that at that time were always justified by the “defense” of the Revolution.
The lack of democratic practices within the Sandinista Front quickly resulted in censorship of criticism or proposals that were not approved by the leadership, and went to the extreme of considering as a dissident or what is more serious, as a “traitor”, those who insistently defended the Revolution from more leftist positions. It should also be remembered that leftist groups were repressed even with jail and that lesbians and homosexuals were separated from the armed forces with dishonorable discharges or expelled from state institutions and the Front itself.
In 1990, when the electoral defeat of the Front takes place, which marks the end of the Revolution, and they have to hand over power to Violeta Chamorro, one of the most relevant episodes of public corruption of that time occurs: between February and April In 1990, countless assets of the state and of individuals – which had been confiscated at the beginning of the Revolution -, passed into the hands of public officials, leaders and militants of the Sandinista party, among which can be counted: lots, factories, companies, lands, stock, cash, fields, vehicles, trucks, luxury homes, buildings and even islets in Lake Cocibolca. Corruption settled permanently in the high spheres of Sandinismo.
The abandonment of any revolutionary mysticism, of ethics in the use of public goods, the rape of Zoilamérica – the daughter of Daniel Ortega, adopted at the age of 10 -, the repression of the indigenous and peasants, neoliberal economic policies justified with a populist and anti-imperialist discourse, the widespread corruption of officials and officials of the Sandinista party, the delivery of national sovereignty to a Chinese businessman to build an inter-oceanic canal, whose deadline expired just less than a month ago, the expropriation or purchase under threat of practically all media of both the state and individuals, the closure of opposition media, the political persecution of social leaders, the trials and repression against feminist leaders, the peasant leadership, the disappearance of unions to be replaced by white unions related to the governing party, with pro-employer bureaucracies holding power for forty years, the alliance with Cardinal Obando, once the leader of the counter Revolution, who blessed a decade ago the ecclesiastical marriage of Ortega and the current vice president, the concession of companies and positions in the state to their daughters, sons and relatives, who manage important resources of the public treasury, the alliance with large capital and business in the “consensus model” that has allowed the exploitation of the working class, which has the lowest wages in Latin America, the transfer of land from the old agrarian reform into the hands of public officials and party militants, the granting of important resources of the economy to the armed forces, transforming the former guerrillas into businessmen and environmental predators, controlling open pit mining, the indifference to the death of workers intoxicated by Nemagón or the more than five thousand deaths due to chronic renal failure in the west of the country, the persecution of groups of rebel peasants who are killed and perish in “fighting” where there is not one person left injured , the repression of students and the elderly, as well as the looting of Social Security funds, or the use of the former Sandinista Police, which has become the executive arm of the fiercest repression in the country’s history, the creation of groups of armed supporters in view of the entire nation, who can kidnap, detain in clandestine prisons, rape, torture and even mark with their acronym FSLN their prisoners: all of this is the result of all the previous abuses, as demonstrated by the exercise of power of the former party that drove a popular revolution and that became a repressive arm that has left more than 500 people dead – mostly young people – who, in April 2018, to participate in a civic and peaceful insurrection, with a flag or a mortar as their only “weapon”, tried to carry out “a coup d’etat”, according to the incredible official version of events, which then transformed young people, defenseless men and women, into dangerous “terrorists”, which the Sandinista front ordered to be pursued, arrested, tortured, raped and held kidnapped for more than a year.
In light of the current situation, everything that happened during the revolutionary process and later, was a chronicle of this announced death, suffered by the Sandinista Popular Revolution.