The Isle of Ometepe: from Somoza to Ortega

Ometepe’s message to the Ortega dictatorship.

Por Onofre Guevara Lopez  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – It’s possible that the title has attracted your attention and caused you some surprise. But, as you’ll see, from the viewpoint of history the span of 73 years between one repression – under the first Somoza – to the current repression of the Ortega regime is just a brief sigh.  In addition, both have occurred in the same place: The Island of Ometepe in the Lake of Nicaragua.

That’s how it is. One dictator is the same as the other in their repressive and criminal nature, whatever their party origin. The personal coincidences can’t surprise us either, because all dictatorships are part of the same historical process of struggle between freedom and oppression.

What happened in 1947 in Ometepe under the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the founder of the Somoza dynasty? What were the political circumstances that year? They were similar to those of today: a people doing what was just to free themselves, and a dictatorship repressing this.

As in any historical process of struggle, personal issues were also involved. For example: in 1947, the first Somoza was 51, the second Somoza was 25 and the third and last Somoza was 21. Daniel Ortega was just a year old, since he was born in 1946. All four breathed the same air and were warmed by the same “Nicaraguan sun of burning gold.”

Are we discovering something? Those 73 years are sighs in history, and in that lapse a series of doings and occurrences were produced in a chain effect, that I’ll now examine:

The first day of May 1947, the first Somoza placed the presidential band across the chest of Dr. Leonardo Arguello. This band had not been won in a fair election between him and Dr. Enoc Aguado, but via a tremendous electoral fraud ordered by his godfather, the dictator.

That fraud was so obvious that Dr. Arguello himself was ashamed.  He tried to remedy that mockery of the people almost immediately, dictating measures against Somoza Garcia’s corruption: ordering the return of what had been stolen in those days from the National Railroad company and demanding the resignation of the head of the National Guard.

Shortly after his inauguration, Dr. Arguello attempted to put in practice a new democratic style of governing, a style that was unfamiliar and intolerable to Somoza. As it happened, in the days previous to his inauguration, the national guard had repressed a strike in the El Jabali mine, a United States company for a change. The labor leader Carlos Perez Bermudez, who was advising the strikers, had been imprisoned. Dr. Arguello agreed to an interview with a socialist worker’s commission, and at their request ordered the release of Perez Bermudez.

This was motive enough to generate an angry reaction from the dictator, and 27 days after having received across his chest the presidential banner, there was a coup d’etat against Dr. Arguello. That brief period had damaging consequences for Nicaraguans, consequences that several generations would come to know and suffer up until 1979.

On June 10, 1947, fourteen days after the coup, Somoza ordered the destruction of the Morazan Printshop, where a socialist weekly was printed. Later, he jailed a number of opposition figures, among them poet Manolo Cuadra and socialists Jose Francisco Pinel, Manuel Perez Estrada, Edmundo Leets and Augusto Lorio.

Ometepe appeared in that history: Somoza’s opponents were sentenced to several months of confinement on the Island. Today, that would be a tourist’s dream of a punishment, but not back then. The inhabitants of Ometepe, a beautiful spot close to Rivas and Granada, were far removed from the “progress” under Somoza. It wasn’t easy to visit the island, since there were few means of aquatic transport and these were controlled by the dictatorship.

We don’t know whether those confined there suffered any physical repression. Most of all, the dictatorship’s punishment was to isolate them from their families and from political activity. So, these are the coincidences between the two authoritarian regimes, and now let’s look at the differences.

Some of the differences immediately jump out: the current regime is more repressive and cruel, since during the repression of Sunday, April 19, 2020 and the days that followed, women and men on the island of Ometepe were brutally beaten, causing broken bones that required hospitalization, teeth knocked out with violent blows and bullets fired at two youth.

Those women and men are natives of the community of Esquipulas on the island. During the Somoza repression of 1947, there were no women confined, and Ometepe was only the place of sanction for male opposition leaders from Managua.

The repression in the community of Esquipulas on the Island of Ometepe includes a witch-hunt for women whose sons are political prisoners and who fled into the brush with their other children to protect themselves.

To any outside observer, what’s happening on the island could truly seem unbelievable; although there’s political repression all over, human rights aren’t usually so brutally violated for exercising the right to demonstrate publicly and make political demands of your government.

No repression is justified, but the Ortega guard’s motives for behaving so ferociously with women from the community of Esquipulas are the same motives which have caused the current regime to repress with blood and firepower over the past two years, since April 19, 2018: launching blue and white balloons in the air and unfurling the national flag, remembering those who were killed, and calling for the release of the political prisoners.

The gruesome lies of the Ortega guard’s official version aren’t missing either. They present themselves before the regime’s judges as victims of the population, and their victims are processed in the courts for supposed crimes committed against their own tormentors:

Serious wounds, obstructing public functions, attempted homicide, kidnapping for ransom, damages, and aggravated theft!

The only ones armed are the regime’s guard, and they’re the only ones who run rampant and shoot for something that doesn’t constitute a crime, such as putting up resistance to their gratuitous aggressors.

How, except out of perversity, can you believe that it constitutes a crime for citizens who are attacked for no right or reason to defend themselves with stones from the aggression and death threats?

Are the stones more lethal than the rifles? Do the police who use their arms against people who have committed no crime have any civil and moral authority?

Isn’t it this same Ortega police that for thirteen years have been committing similar crimes against the unarmed population in blind obedience to orders from the rulers that violate human and constitutional rights?

The events give the reply. The only thing left is to point out the ruse of the repressor who accuses the repressed, a ruse common to the Somoza and Ortega dictatorships. In Managua, in the seventies, on the street called El Triunfo, across from the site of Somoza’s Liberal Party: a member of the National Guard slammed the butt of his Garand rifle against a woman’s head. The next day, a government media outlet published the military’s version:

“The woman had the bad luck of sticking her head under the rifle in the moments of her struggle with the authority.”

Ortega judge Abelardo Alvir Ramos (whose aunt is the president of the Supreme Court) has there a model for his sentencing, if he too wishes to do justice for the police by condemning their terrible aggressors in Esquipulas, Ometepe, Rivas department of Nicaragua in Central America, 2020.

One thought on “The Isle of Ometepe: from Somoza to Ortega

  • Although there are those who endeavor to deny it and make excuses for the Castros as dictators, Onofre Guevara Lopez correctly writes:

    “One dictator is the same as the other in their repressive and criminal nature, whatever their party origin.”

    That divide between the totalitarian dictators and multi-party democracy is the clearest demarcation in the political world. Anyone who beliefs in freedom of individual thought and action, in liberty, in freedom of expression and human rights, has to despise dictatorship whether it be by Franco, Stalin, Pinochet, Mao, Hitler, Fidel Castro or the current incumbent in Cuba, Raul Castro.

    Those of us who live in the multi-party democracies, must treasure doing so or fall victim to dictatorship, for one never has to look very far to find those whom lust for total power and control. We cannot afford to just accept our societies and assume that they are assured permanence.

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