On December 21, 1983, exactly forty years ago, my feet touched Nicaraguan soil for the first time. A spontaneous encounter would turn into an intimate connection that, over four decades, has experienced the most unexpected ups and downs. The Sandinista Revolution (1979-1990) was an attempt to combine social justice with political freedom and to reconcile Marxism with Christianity.
For those of us who visited Nicaragua during that time, it was almost impossible not to be infected by the enthusiasm of the humble people who sought to contribute to shaping this project with all their imagination and energy, even willing to make great sacrifices. Far beyond Nicaragua, the “Sandinista model” fueled hope for a new society beyond imperial capitalism and petrified socialism.
I have devoted a significant part of my political energy and life to this country and its people. After forty years, all that remains of this relationship and the ideals associated with it is a pile of rubble. A pair of dictators —Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo— have established an oppressive regime for which there are no truly adequate adjectives.
Almost all critical voices in Nicaragua have either been exiled or imprisoned; many have been stripped of their citizenship, their properties confiscated, their pensions canceled, their entries in the civil registry erased. As legal entities, they have been eliminated. Basic human rights and political rights have been abolished. The victims of this repression have no way to communicate freely, either within the country or internationally. What remains of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is a mafia-like family dynasty.
Forty years ago, I traveled to Nicaragua as part of a work brigade to support the development of a free society. At that time, the US government under President Ronald Reagan launched a massive intervention war against Nicaragua to militarily destroy this construction of a new society.
In October 1983, US airborne troops invaded and occupied the small Caribbean island of Grenada.This aggression was internationally understood as a threat to also invade Nicaragua and overthrow the Sandinista government. As a consequence, work brigades were organized worldwide in just two months to express —on a peaceful mission— solidarity with Nicaragua. We harvested coffee, built houses and health centers, planted potatoes, and worked on education and health. Deeply impressed by our experiences there, we returned to our countries and built an international solidarity movement like never before seen.
The US war against Nicaragua was an integral part of the massive increase in NATO armaments with medium-range nuclear missiles directed against the Soviet Union. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the eastern military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, disintegrated, NATO did not seize this opportunity to enter into a disarmament spiral. Much was spoken of a “peace dividend,” but in its actions, NATO continued, after a certain pause, its armament policy. It wanted to expand its international supremacy—especially against Russia—at all costs. The German peace movement opposed this course of war, calling for unilateral disarmament, the dissolution of NATO, and cooperation with Russia to establish a stable international peace order. However, the hawks in Washington and Brussels prevailed.
The solidarity movement with Nicaragua declared itself part of the peace movement because disarmament and international cooperation are the only ways to help the right to self-determination of the peoples in economically disadvantaged regions of the world make headway.
Currently, however, violent and military scenarios have overwhelmingly taken over. The war in Ukraine is the expression of the total failure of Western military policy. NATO is arming itself as never before. Economic sanctions are plunging the world economy into a crisis and poor countries into even greater poverty. Russian megalomania knows no moral limits when it comes to sending tens of thousands of innocent soldiers to senseless deaths. Israeli occupation policy in Palestine is ruthless. The Palestinian response is the murder and massacre of civilians. Israel, in turn, responds with genocide. Governments of “Western values” support this with words and deeds. Human rights and international humanitarian law are trampled by all sides. And in Nicaragua, one of the most brutal dictatorships in Latin America rules.
The civil war in Nicaragua did not end through the force of arms in 1990 but through negotiations. The international solidarity movement with Nicaragua did not demand more and more weapons at that time, even though Nicaragua was a victim of US aggression and had every right to defend itself. We went there with the peaceful mission of —through a global political campaign— to persuade the US to end its war against Nicaragua.
We were not pacifists. We believed that the armed defense of the Sandinista revolution was justified. But we decided —in the midst of war— for political and peaceful activity because it seemed to us, in that situation, the most sensible and appropriate way to work for peace. Eight —probably more— European internationalists paid with their lives for this civic action. Among them: Pierre Grosjean (France), Ambrosio Mogorrón (Spain), Albert Pflaum (Germany), Maurice Demierre (Switzerland), Paul Dessers (Belgium), Joel Fieux (France), Berndt Koberstein (Germany), and Ivan Claude Leyvraz (Switzerland).
It is time for reason and the will for peace to once again prevail in international politics. If this is not achieved, the consequences will be disastrous.
*Lisbon, December 21, 2023.