A message for NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio from a victim of the Sandinista dictatorship
Bill de Blasio Should Ask Me About the Sandinistas
The New York mayoral candidate still fondly recalls a regime that I fled in terror for my life.
Shortly after Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor in September, his long-ago flirtation with radical governments in Cuba and Nicaragua flared as a campaign issue. But he is far ahead in the polls, and New Yorkers seem to have decided that the matter is not relevant to the job he is now seeking. To me and my family, though, the would-be mayor’s activism hits home. That’s because when Mr. de Blasio was visiting Nicaragua to show his support for the Sandinista government in 1988, my son and I were moving to New York, fleeing that government.
Twenty-five years is a long time, and people change. But on this subject, Mr. de Blasio has made clear that he has not.
Last month, a Cuban-American radio host asked Mr. de Blasio to explain his 1991 honeymoon to Cuba. While acknowledging that there are a “huge number of problems” with the country’s communist government, Mr. de Blasio praised Cuba’s health-care system, saying: “I also think it’s well known that there’s been some good things that happened in that government.”
He has been even more effusive about the Sandinistas, the violent revolutionaries in Nicaragua who overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979 and installed a socialist government that ruled until 1990. Mr. de Blasio told the New York Times recently that the Sandinistas showed a “youthful energy and idealism mixed with a human ability and practicality that was really inspirational.” In the same article, one unrepentant Sandinista activist complained about some Sandinista supporters who later dropped their support for the cause. “Bill wasn’t like that,” she said.
For those who became disillusioned with the Sandinistas, a turning point came when the regime showed that it was determined to wipe out peaceful opposition. I was a member of that opposition.
I was not one of the Contra rebels who attacked the regime. I lived peacefully in Managua, the capital. I also wasn’t a supporter of the Somoza family, whose long rule the Sandinistas overturned. My family had fought the Somozas for generations, and my brother was a hero in the Sandinista revolution, rising to the rank of colonel. I was working for the Sandinista cause in the late 1970s when much of my family moved to Mexico to escape the war.
After the revolution in 1979, I joined the government. I was hired to help “humanize” Nicaraguan prisons. I was enthusiastic about the work—until I found out that Sandinista-style “humanization” often involved extrajudicial executions.
I once appealed to a prison warden to allow a diabetic prisoner his dose of insulin. The warden refused, telling me: “If it was up to you, we’d let them all out!” When I wrote a note to higher-ups complaining about all this, I was told by co-workers to get out of government before I was silenced permanently.
My moment of truth came at a meeting of government workers with Interior Minister Tomas Borge several months after the revolution. Borge was a confirmed Marxist but had been discreet until that moment. “Why not say it?” Borge said to the crowd. “We are going toward socialism.” The Sandinistas had already nationalized the banks and were confiscating property and executing opponents in the streets. I was scared to see what would come next.
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