November 16, 2000

Sandinista Revolutionary, Author Speaks

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As part of his latest book tour, former Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez spoke yesterday at McGraw Hall. His address, “Adios Muchachos: The Sandinista Revolution Revisited,” delivered a mix of polemics and personal reflections on the revolution’s complicated legacy.

Mary Jo Dudley, associate director of the Latin American Studies Program introduced the speaker — a journalist, novelist and author of more than 25 books — as someone whose literary and political achievements are equally influential. Ramirez noted that after serving as the leader of the Sandinista opposition in Nicaragua’s National Assembly, the recent return to his original literary craft has given him “a more clear and serene vision” of his nation’s turbulent history.

Ramirez provided an overview of the Sandanista revolution of 1979 that swept him and his allies into power. “The revolution was carried out by very young people; most guerilla leaders were under 30 and many of the combatants were teenagers.” Ramirez said.

Commenting on Nicaragua’s dropping voter participation, Ramirez said that many young people have given up and shown political indifference towards the widespread government corruption.

After discussing Nicaragua’s role as a cipher for U.S .- Soviet conflict during the cold war, Ramirez emphasized that “U.S. involvement in this was not improvised, it was meditated and approved … Never before had the U.S. invested so much money and strategy in overthrowing a country so small.”

The former vice president spoke at length about the U.S. Contras war and the problems it posed for democracy-building.

“Democracy does not work when a country is in a state of war … Debate is not possible when political leaders are isolated from the people because of military needs for secrecy,” said Ramirez.

Addressing the electoral defeat of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) by Nicaragua’s war-weary populace, Ramirez said, “our speech became more authoritarian and radical as the war progressed, but by no means did our ideological attachment deny its populist roots.”

After the FSLN’s eventual willingness to “settle in the political game,” Ramirez said that it became easy to forget that the revolution was waged by and for the poor, the abandoned and the forgotten. Despite the turn toward a more authoritarian regime, the revolution’s lasting achievement has been “to return dignity to the poor.”

Ramirez spoke of his hope for restoring “honesty as a revolutionary value” among politicians, but added that sometimes even hope and “a messianic conception of history” were not enough for a country plagued by poverty and economic instability.

“We cannot make claims to economic sovereignty,” said Ramirez. “That is in the hands of the IMF and the World Bank, who make the rules that dictate our economic path.”

Criticizing the market policies of current President Arnoldo Aleman, Ramirez also spoke positively of the president’s alliance with the FSLN, calling it “a pact that will close the gates of authoritarianism”

Nohemy Solorzano grad called Ramirez’s address “an important beginning for dialogue between older people who were directly involved in the revolution — and younger Nicaraguan Americans who grew up with the hope of the revolution and saw it fail.”

Joe Grengs grad said Ramirez represented for him “a spirit for change that is missing from the world of neoliberal globalization.”

“There is a great deal of genuine interest in alternatives for national reconstruction among this audience,” Dudley said. “It is important to move beyond rhetoric when talking about war — especially a war financially supported by the U.S. Mr. Ramirez’s literature allows us to personalize war, and prevent wars that are unjust.”

Ramirez’s visit was sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program and the Society for the Humanities.

Archived article by Sana Krasikov