Nicaraguan revolutionary Tomás Borge Martínez died in a Managua military hospital on April 30 at age 81 from pneumonia and other health problems. He was the last surviving member of the small group, including Carlos Fonseca Amador, that founded the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1961. At the time of his death he was serving as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru.
Born to a poor family in Matagalpa, Borge left university studies in the 1950s to fight against the Somoza family dictatorship. He was imprisoned in the 1970s but was freed as a result of the FSLN’s dramatic seizure of the National Palace in August 1978. After the triumph of the revolution in 1979, Borge served as interior minister, controlling various police agencies and the prison system. During those years he was accused of numerous human rights violations. Indigenous Miskitos charged that he engineered a policy of displacement and murders against rebels on the Atlantic Coast; others accused him of ordering the killing of 37 imprisoned opponents in Granada, a charge which Borge always denied. He was also accused of enriching himself from government funds after the FSLN was voted out of office in 1990.
“They only remember the errors we committed, like establishing press censorship, which at this point I think was an error,” he said in an interview that he gave many years later to the conservative daily La Prensa, which the FSLN government closed down temporarily in the 1980s. Nobody remembered the improvements he made in prison conditions, Borge said, adding that the policies he implemented as interior minister were collectively decided on by the FSLN’s nine-member National Directorate.
When the FSLN began to split in the 1990s, Borge sided with the faction headed by current Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega Saavedra, while many of his friends joined opposition factions and eventually left the party. Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli, who quit the FSLN, is widely quoted as saying that Borge “ended up as a tragicomic figure” during this period. But after his death Belli wrote: “What remains of Tomás for me is affection… I am sure that Tomás loved the idea of the Revolution as much as any of us who lived to make it and to see it triumph. Who of us who lived in that time can say that we managed to live and be the ideal person that we dreamed of?” (AP, May 1, via La Prensa, Nicaragua; El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua, May 1; Nuevo Diario, May 3)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 6.
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