Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime is an Updated Version of Somoza

HAVANA TIMES – Moises Hassan Morales is the son of a Palestinian immigrant to Nicaragua and a woman from the town of Nagarote. Born in 1942, he was the youngest of six children.

Hassan recalls himself as being rebellious from the time he was a young child. Nonetheless, he went on to study engineering at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), and in 1968 he earned a PhD in physics from North Carolina State University. He joined the fledgling FSLN in the 60s, and was responsible for building a network of subversives in Managua’s slums. As such, he was a key figure in the September 1978 insurrection and the victorious revolutionary struggle against Somoza in 1979.

Following the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty, he was a member of the National Reconstruction Government Junta, together with Daniel Ortega, Sergio Ramirez and Violeta Chamorro.

Hassan resigned from the Government Junta in 1981. He later served as Minister of Construction, Assistant Minister of the Interior, and Mayor of Managua. He split from the FSLN in 1988, and ran for president in 1990 with a small party, the Movimiento de Unidad Revolucionaria [Revolutionary Unity Movement].

Moises Hassan’s older brother was married to Rosario Murillo for three years, during the early seventies. The only child from that union died in the 1972 earthquake.

The current interview, which appeared earlier this month in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, has been adapted for English-speaking readers.

Moises Hassan was an former FSLN guerilla and then a member of the 1979 Government Junta. Photo: Oscar Navarrete / La Prensa

By Hans Lawrence Ramirez (La Prensa)

Moises Hassan is 79. Although he served on the Government Junta with Daniel Ortega following the fall of the Somoza dynasty, he now expresses fears of being jailed by Ortega, as has happened with three of his former comrades-in-arms: Dora Maria Tellez, Hugo Torres and Victor Hugo Tinoco. All three were Sandinista dissidents, and are now political prisoners.

Hassan speaks with scorn of Daniel’s brother Humberto Ortega’s recent proposal to release the new group of political prisoners via an amnesty agreement. Hassan calls the proposal “ridiculous”, because “a pardon is for those who’ve committed a crime, and they haven’t committed any crime”.  Hassan also shares his view of the power being exercised by his former sister-in-law, Rosario Murillo, currently Vice President, First Lady and chief government spokesperson. Despite speculations to the contrary, Hassan still believes her capacity to issue orders is subject to regulation by her husband.

In Hassan’s view, the way out of the political crisis must be via negotiation. He sees Daniel Ortega as someone who always seeks to cut deals when he finds himself with water up to his neck.  He also believes it’s possible that Ortega is negotiating with the Citizens for Liberty party to find a way out of the crisis that will work to his advantage.

Daniel Ortega is holding prisoner several of your former comrades-in-arms. How do you feel about this?

Imprisoning people who had a certain degree of projection in the struggle against Somoza is utterly insane. People who had a history, regardless of their later postures. Ortega should even be personally grateful [to them].

What should these people’s history of struggle against Somoza represent to the Sandinistas?

Unfortunately, if the struggle against the Somoza dynasty had brought an authentic revolution instead of becoming just a new group of people in control of power, who’ve slowly moved to reinstitute the things we struggled against, then undoubtedly people like Hugo [Torres] or Dora Maria [Tellez] would be authentic heroes and examples for many generations to follow.

Who’s worse – Ortega or Somoza?

I believe that Ortega has done worse things, but that doesn’t exonerate Somoza from blame. One of the worst things Somoza did, in addition to the corruption in his regime, was to bombard Nicaraguan cities at the end of 1978 and in 1979. That was absolutely unpardonable and [killed] a great many people.

Aside from this, though, certain things were respected, that aren’t today. I don’t recall a ferocious indoctrination of the children and teens, but from nearly the first moment of the 1979 triumph, the cult of the Sandinista Front was already being implanted. Portraits everywhere. Propaganda in the school notebooks. Now they give the children the Sandinista flags and send them out to parade in activities that Ortega organizes.

If so-and-so was an opposition leader, but they couldn’t get their hands on that person, I never saw Somoza go after their family, their children, their spouse and whoever else. Somoza went after whoever rose up in arms. However, there was a tiny bit more freedom to express yourself. Hence, the Ortega regime is an updated edition of Somoza, corrected and improved, with much more weaponry, much less respect for human rights and a greater degree of corruption. Somoza knew exactly who was stealing and how much they were stealing, but with these people, it’s a more open question, much more extensive and with a lot fewer restrictions.

We’re nearing the 42nd anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. Do you commemorate it?

It should be a glorious date in Nicaraguan history, full of good memories, but it’s already become a date that’s very painful for a huge number of people. There’s nothing to celebrate.

The Revolution was a fight for national dignity and the country’s future, even though some people were very angry and resentful. The population and the international community were so enthusiastic about the defeat of a bloody and corrupt dictatorship that had lorded over the country for forty-two years.

Maybe that was one of the things that perverted the minds of those in power. That whole wave of emotion and joy caused them to feel like demigods. People who maybe participated in a glorious movement suddenly found themselves surrounded with (..) complete veneration, adored by an enormous quantity of people on all levels, national and international. I think many lost their heads. That derailed what should have been a revolution for the well-being of Nicaragua, not for personal well-being.

What did you think of Humberto Ortega’s recent declarations [during a July 2nd CNN interview]?

As happened with the Somoza’s, there’s been a fight for power between the Ortega brothers. At one time [during the 90s], Daniel, with support from the Executive and the National Assembly, gave Humberto a kick in the butt [removed him from his post as Army head]. Humberto then retired, bathed in silver, and ever since has gone around trying to raise his head again.

It seems to me a little tasteless for him to be making that call for amnesty. To begin with: to the tune of what Saint are you going to grant amnesty or pardon to these people who are detained? A pardon is if they’ve committed a crime, but they haven’t committed any crime. So it seems ridiculous to me.

If they do it [grant amnesty], it’s for other reasons – to regain the good graces of the international community, maybe. But the international community isn’t going to be tricked by a call to pardon people who have no crimes to pardon. I don’t know if the international community could view this as a gesture of goodwill from Ortega. But it’s more about Humberto’s need to stick his head out and say: “Here I am, don’t forget me.” So, in the future, when comparisons are made, he comes out as the good one and the other one [Daniel] is the villain. He aspires to leave good memories, but he’s not going to erase the bad memories from a long history.

What do you think the current relationship between the two brothers is?

I believe they have lot of interests in common, and because of that, they tolerate each other. I’m sure they’re both mixed in with large business operations. But I don’t think there’s a lot of love lost between them. Their mother died in 2005, and they couldn’t even get together for the burial. And that took place around 10 years after Daniel had thrown [Humberto] out of the army.

It’s also probable that Mrs. Rosario [Murillo] has done her best to provoke friction between the two brothers. But aside from that, it’s the question of power. The fight was which of the two brothers were going to be left with power [within the FSLN].

Moises Hassan ran for the presidency in 1990, the year that Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected. Photo: Oscar Navarrete / La Prensa

What do you think of Rosario Murillo?

If you listen to her addresses, it’s incredible how she talks about a whole quantity of things, and [how she] insults people. I think the lady isn’t very well, and is suffering horribly from the possibility of losing all the advantages and privileges she’s had, and facing a trial at some point. Probably, she’s had greater influence at this stage in the game. There are speculations about Ortega’s health, which could make him more inclined to delegate a lot of functions and prerogatives to her.

We should recall that Daniel Ortega has never leaned towards being immersed in the gamut of work that goes with being president. He’s more interested in continuing as a kind of dictator – speaking before the crowds, shouting about these or those others, the capitalists, and being an agitator. That’s what moves him most, plus a little bit of international relations. But he was never interested in looking closely at the economy or the education in the country. During the 80s he left all that to Sergio Ramirez, and now he rests it on Mrs. Rosario. Even more so now, since he’s been getting old and his health is declining.

Under the Constitution, Rosario Murillo would assume power if Daniel Ortega is no longer present.

If Daniel were to pass away, it’s indisputable that Rosario would assume the reins with more ferocity. She’s now taken over the reins of the country to a great extent, but with Ortega’s permission. I believe that Ortega continues exercising power and Rosario does the things she does with a lot of self-initiative, but always with his consent. If Ortega says “no”, I’m sure she says: “I won’t do it”.

Hence, if Ortega were to die, she’d lose all restrictions. It would remain to be seen how the rest of the Ortega gang would react. They’d also be jockeying for power amongst themselves. There are people who have good vibes with the Lady, but there are people who don’t harbor good feelings towards Rosario. There’d probably be a lot of conflicts and contradictions there. Who knows how those would be resolved, if [Ortega’s death] should occur while he still wields absolute power, as he has been doing.

Do you see any way out of the political crisis?

I’ve always known Ortega as a man who looks for ways out and deals to cut. He’s always been that way, and his history shows how he always looks to cut a deal. Those he made in Esquipulas, the deals with Cardinal Obando, with (Arnoldo) Aleman.

Ortega looks for pacts at the moment the situation is extremely complicated. He comes to an arrangement that benefits him, and later sees how he can recover ground.  I think that if he continues doing what he’s always done, he’ll be looking to go into the elections, but he probably isn’t determined to win the presidency. He’ll look for an alternative to reach accords for sharing power, and escape the sanctions that could come. I see him seeking that.

Of course, he’s seeking to stay in power. But if he can’t, he’s going to look for an arrangement: ‘You take the presidency, and I keep the Army, the Police and the National Assembly. That’s how we’ll divide it up.’ That’s what he’s analyzing.

If he could hang onto absolute power, of course he would. But if he can’t, and it turns out to be more convenient to make a deal and put in someone else from the opposition, well, that’s what he’ll do. If I were in his head, I’d think: “[If someone else becomes president], they repeal the sanctions. If I remain president, the sanctions might get worse instead. But if I install so-and-so, the sanctions begin to be lifted, and also people’s anger, which is aimed at me, is reduced.”

What political sector could this be?

The CxL [Citizens for Liberty Party] has said they’ll go into the elections under any conditions (…) and they continue insisting that they’ll go with whatever candidate they can. So, it’s not too outrageous to think that there are negotiations and arrangements going on with sectors linked to the CxL. They’re probably not exclusive, and he [Ortega] could be looking for other alternatives as well, to see who gives up most. I wouldn’t discount negotiations with the CxL, nor would I discount the possibility they’re going on with other sectors tied to the Civic Alliance.

Are you in exile now?

I’m not in exile. [I’m out of the country] and I plan to return when I’m done with the things I have pending here.

Are you afraid of being thrown in jail when you return?

That’s a possibility I can’t ignore. We’re experiencing a situation where the laws don’t count. If someone has a whim, they can invent anything that comes to mind, and put you in prison. So, I can’t discount it.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

2 thoughts on “Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime is an Updated Version of Somoza

  • I am from Sweden. I was in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The revolution was a lie – it became worse than the dictatorship it deposed. When I arrived the children carried the chairs to sit at school – they are still doing that. Now there is more poverty and filth – the hygiene and health in Nicaragua is kaput, Ortega is to blame for that.

  • Hassan’s description of the Somoza regime is pretty much what I heard during my stay in Nicaragua from November 1979 to January 1982. My comments could be fairly judged as hearsay, since I never lived under the Somaza regime, but I heard them enough from those who had opposed Somoza that I came to believe them.) The regime was authoritarian, but generally tolerate of peaceful opposition. The press and radio operated freely and arrests and police brutality were not common in the cities, although the situation in the countryside seemed less clear. Once there was an open revolt the regime became much more brutal, but so then was the opposition. Coruption was common, but as Hassan suggests it was also controlled. One businessman told me that there was a 10 percent charge for any new construction, but after that he was left alone. Somoza exempted his own businesses from many taxes but let others compete against them. Another businessman told me how his father had outsmarted Somoza in a businss dealing. Somoza fumed, he said, but paid up. A popular radio commentator told me that he could criticize government ministers and policies b,ut had to be careful with Somoza. There were financial fines if he went too far, so his station, Radio Corporation, budgeted for the fines and decided what they could afford. None of this should be considered as praise for Somoza, but only as a comparison to what came next under the Sandinistas, who were just as brutal and seemly much more corrupt from day one.

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