Consider this selection of headlines — there are many, many more to choose from — emanating from Nicaragua over just the past six or seven months:
"Nicaragua expels the Vatican ambassador" - The Catholic Sun
"Missionaries of Charity Expelled from Nicaragua" - Catholic News Agency
"Nicaragua Shuts Catholic Radio Stations Led by Bishop Critical of Regime" - Reuters
"Nicaragua's Ortega Government Arrests Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez" - WashPost
"Nicaragua Continues Crackdown on Independent Media" - VOA News
"Ortega Closes NGOs in Nicaragua, Cutting Off Essential Services" - Share America
"UN Rights Chief Issues Blistering Report on Nicaragua" - VOA News
After reading these headlines, and their accompanying stories, it feels like we’re in a time warp.
Seemingly, these current headlines are ripped almost verbatim from the 1980s — the first time the Marxist tyrant Ortega sought to impose his will by terrorizing the Nicaraguan people, persecuting the church, and banishing to his gulags any who dared dissent.
Except back then, it was hard to find any negative media coverage, or criticism of Ortega’s Sandinista government from western political liberals or the Catholic left.
Having ousted Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua’s authoritarian despot, Ortega was being hailed as the "democratic reformer" he styled himself.
Those who protested his subsequent oppression were the ones tagged as subversives—people like Nicaragua’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, and Pope John Paul II, who warned, during a contentious visit to the country in 1983, against "false prophets" who "present themselves in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves."
This was a familiar scene across the globe in those days: progressives, Catholic and secular, supporting revolutionary overthrow of repressive regimes, only to usher in brutal Marxist totalitarians.
But by the time that became evident in each case — Cuba, then Southeast Asia, then Central America — the left-activists had invariably moved on to supporting the next insurgency, seemingly oblivious to the horrific consequences of the previous insurrections they had cheered on.
One praiseworthy exception was Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, who did call out the subsequent repression by Marxist regimes whose ascents he had welcomed.
Unfortunately, he seemed to treat each such repression — no matter how often the pattern repeated itself — as aberrational, rather than endemic to Marxist revolution.
Democratic reform is never the intent, and was clearly not Daniel Ortega’s, then or now.
Voted out of power in 1990, when he foolishly sought to legitimize his rule by agreeing to an internationally monitored election — something Karl Marx would never have countenanced — Ortega worked to mend fences with the Nicaraguan people and the Catholic Church.
He presented himself as a reformed democratic reformer, who really meant it this time! After two more electoral defeats, he was finally returned to power, with only 38% of the vote, in 2006.
His commitment to democracy lasted only as long as it took for citizens to express disagreement — with certain Sandinista policies, perceived corruption of local elections, and overriding of constitutional limits on presidential terms so Ortega could run for re-election perpetually. Then began what has now grown into the "intense waves of repression" recently detailed by The Washington Post.
In 2018, when protests against health and pension reforms were violently suppressed by police, Church leaders spoke out, and repression of the Church resumed — or continued —at the hands of a Marxist dictator who had successfully disguised himself—twice now — as a friend of the poor, of democracy, and of the church.
As a reporter for The Long Island Catholic during those earlier years of upheaval in Central America, I frequently heard it observed that "everyone who speaks up for the poor gets labeled a Communist."
That seemed plausible; except that virtually every national revolution on behalf of "the poor" did turn out to be a Communist insurgency, however well disguised.
Marxist revolutionaries have always thrived by exploiting very real injustices, and promising better; only to actually deliver worse once in power.
And western progressives, including well-meaning but sometimes naïve Catholic activists, have always been easily duped; those, that is, who are not actually sympathetic to Marxism.
Interviewing two local religious Sisters from Long Island back in the early 1990s, about their visit to El Salvador and their support for the FMLN "reformers" there, I asked about a statement by the then-president of the Salvadoran Bishops’ Conference that the FMLN represented a Marxist philosophy.
"I refuse to see Marxism as an evil," one of the Sisters responded. "Marxism doesn’t scare me."
I suspect that the people of Nicaragua, living now for the second time under the same Marxist tyranny, would disagree.
For three decades, Rick Hinshaw has given voice to faith values in the public square, as a columnist, then editor of The Long Island Catholic; communications director for the Catholic League and the New York State Catholic Conference; co-host of "The Catholic Forum," on cable. He is now editor of his own blog, "Reading the Signs." Visit Rick’s home page at rickhinshaw.com. Read Rick Hinshaw's Reports — More Here.
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