‘The pandemic shows neoliberalism doesn’t work’: Interview with Sandinista leader on 41st anniversary of Nicaragua’s revolution


On the 41st anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, the FSLN international relations secretary and son of the founder, Carlos Fonseca Terán, says “the people of Nicaragua are successfully confronting the aggressions of imperialism.”

By Ben Norton

Se puede leer esta entrevista en español aquí

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA – July 19, 2020 was the 41st anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, a historical watershed moment in which Nicaraguans overthrew a US-backed right-wing military dictatorship and inspired a wave of progressive movements across Latin America.

Today, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN in Spanish) is Nicaragua’s democratically elected ruling party, with a majority of seats in the government.

The Grayzone spoke with Carlos Fonseca Terán, the international relations secretary for the FSLN, and the son of the founder of the Sandinista Front, Carlos Fonseca Amador, who was executed by the former military dictatorship.

Fonseca Terán discussed the legacy of the revolution, the gains made by the Sandinista government, how Nicaragua has confronted the Covid-19 pandemic, and the persistence of US meddling today.

He argues that “the pandemic is evidence that the neoliberal model is unable to confront the great problems facing humanity,” and “it is evident that only the popular and anti-hegemonic models are capable of meeting the needs and expectations of human beings.”


BEN NORTON: What is the importance of this 41st anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution? Particularly in this moment when there are many right-wing governments in Latin America, and when there are threats of authoritarianism and fascism in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil?

CARLOS FONSECA TERÁN: The Sandinista Revolution is one of the three fundamental moments in the revolutionary struggle in our continent in which social change has oriented toward transitioning from capitalism to socialism.

The first of these was the Cuban Revolution, which initiated the era of armed struggle and guerrilla movements for national liberation, to confront right-wing military dictatorships that were imposed by US imperialism.

The Sandinista Revolution, meanwhile, initiated the collapse of those military dictatorships.

And then the Bolivarian Revolution (led by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela) initiated the era in which progressive and revolutionary movements had power in the majority of governments in our continent at the same time.

The continued importance of these three revolutionary processes is the strongest factor in the revolutionary movement in Latin America and the Caribbean. And this is why US imperialism prioritizes aggression against Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in its interference and interventionist politics, which expresses itself in the blockade of Cuba, the economic aggressions against Nicaragua, and the economic war on Venezuela.

In the particular case of our socioeconomic and political model, like all of the models that are revolutionary, it has its fundamental base in popular power, exercised in the political and economic sphere.

The expression of that in politics is citizens’ power as an organized expression of popular protagonism in public affairs, the protagonism of social movements in the mechanisms for decision-making, the participation of social movement leaders in institutional spaces of the state, and the prominent presence of Sandinistas in these spaces to defend the interests of the people.

In the economic sphere, we are the country with the second-highest level of socialization of the means of production in Latin America, only exceeded by Cuba. Some 52 percent of the GDP in Nicaragua is produced by this popular sector of the economy.

There have been countless social gains made in this second phase of the revolution, in which we have picked up and resumed the huge transformations made in the first phase in the 1980s, but in new historical circumstances on both a continental and a global level.

We have a large number of social programs aimed at popular management of capital for social control of the economy, the reduction of poverty and social inequality, and the recovery of rights for the Nicaraguan people.

Among the achievements that can be mentioned are the massive distribution of property deeds, the de-privatization of health and education, the reduction of poverty from 48.3 percent to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 17.2 percent to 6.9 percent.

Going from the fourth-most unequal country in Latin America, during the neoliberal era, we have become the fourth-least unequal.

The reduction of infant mortality, from 29 of each 1,000 live births to 11.4, and of malnutrition of 5-year-old children from 21.4 percent to 11.1 percent.

The increase in health spending per capita from USD $32 to $70.

The construction of 19 hospitals, with five more in construction and nine more planned.

The reduction of illiteracy from 35 percent to 3 percent, and that had been reduced just before the (US-backed Contra) war of the 1980s from 52 percent to 12 percent.

Subsidies for public transport; 6 percent of the budget constitutionally guaranteed for public universities; increases to the minimum wage for 13 years, 10 times higher than the increases during the 16 years of neoliberalism.

Nicaragua is one of the countries with the most participation of women in public positions, which has increased from 15 percent to 64 percent, going from 90th place to the 12th-smallest gender gap in the world; with legal protection for women against gender violence with the Law 779; with gender orientation included in social programs.

This only shows some of the social achievements earned in this second phase of the revolution.

BEN NORTON: There is a lot of criticism of Nicaragua in the media, especially on the subject of the coronavirus. President Daniel Ortega talked in his speech, on the anniversary of the revolution on July 19, about the importance of the country’s socialized health system. What do you have to say in response to criticism of the government’s Covid-19 policy?

CARLOS FONSECA TERÁN: Our model of confronting the pandemic is suited to our reality and the specific characteristics of our revolutionary model. Our model could be described as one of a balancing point and active confrontation of the pandemic.

In our country, due to the particularities of our customs of socialization of property and economic democratization of the society, there is not the same division between the economy and life.

The guiding principle of our model of confronting the pandemic is combining the best possible level of social distancing with the best possible functioning of the economy for life.

As for the active confrontation of the pandemic, that consists of the permanent mobilization of the organized community to give guidance, identifying possible cases of Covid-19, campaigns of vaccination to prevent the collapse of the hospital system, and raising immunity levels to have the smallest possible impact of Covid-19, create a health map for effective epidemiological monitoring, and other objectives.

All of this is within the framework of maintaining the social programs, economic activity, and infrastructure projects.

This method of confronting the pandemic is possible because of the high levels of popular organization and the revolutionary consciousness of our people, thanks to the revolution, as well as the characteristics of our socioeconomic and political model, among them a prevention-oriented, community-based healthcare system that serves the people.

The result is a mortality rate of 1.56 for every 100,000 people.

The right-wing has dedicated itself to boycotting the great efforts of our people and government under the leadership of Commander Daniel Ortega and the political leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the confrontation of the pandemic.

The response of the right-wing has been a combination of calls for paralyzing the country and celebrating the (US) economic aggressions against Nicaragua, spreading fake news about a supposed medical collapse to discourage people from going to the hospitals, and creating an environment of fear to impede our actions against the pandemic.

The coup-mongering right went so far as the predict in April that by May there would be 23,000 deaths because of the pandemic, and according to its fraudulent calculations, by July 15 there would be as many deaths by suspected cases of Covid-19 and by pneumonia of other causes that, even if it were true, would put us far below many European countries and the United States — which is their model to follow, with all of its demagogy and incoherencies out in the open.

By the way, on this topic, it is important to think about, on a global level, as a revolutionary movement, a strategy of popular political struggle, pointing to the pandemic as evidence that the neoliberal model is unable to confront the great problems facing humanity, and in view of the crisis that the pandemic has caused in the economic and social spheres, that we should make it manifest in the political sphere in favor of the struggle of the popular movement.

For their part, the popular and anti-hegemonic models seem stronger, despite the attempts to the contrary by reactionary forces and imperialism, since it is easy to see the contrast in the mortality rates in the countries with neoliberal models and the countries with alternative and anti-hegemonic models.

It is evident that only the popular and anti-hegemonic models are capable of meeting the needs and expectations of human beings.

It is evident that the imperialist politics that opposes human rights with continued blockades, aggression, and other interventionist actions in the middle of a pandemic, along with the worsening of the repression of the sectors that are protesting against racism inside the United States.

Apparently the pandemic froze the popular struggle, but what it is doing is creating even better conditions for this to continue until the popular classes can take power, if they are able to articulate their struggle in the right way.

BEN NORTON: What is the role of the US government in Nicaragua, and what are the effects of the sanctions and other forms of US interference in the internal affairs of the country?

CARLOS FONSECA TERÁN: The interventionism of US imperialism in our country through its history has as its principal expression five armed interventions, three of which were direct, four of which our people have defeated. Today, that interventionism continues and consists of economic and political aggressions.

Among the economic aggressions is the NICA Act, passed by the US Congress, which prevents our country from getting loans from international financial institutions.

There is also the Magnitsky Act, which blocks financial activity by (state) firms such as ALBANISA, ALBALINISA, PETRONIC, which were created to finance social programs that benefit the Nicaraguan people, as well as the normal activity of institutions like the National Police of Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, the political aggressions are expressed in the intention by the OAS (Organization of American States) to use its Inter-American Democratic Charter against Nicaragua, as a way to legitimize greater levels of interference and aggression against our national sovereignty.

But once again, the people of Nicaragua are successfully confronting the aggressions of imperialism, and will continue moving forward in this revolutionary process, advancing from victory to victory.