In recent weeks, Nicaragua has descended into violence and chaos. Driving that collapse has been the long-held Marxist, dictatorial instincts and brutal tactics of its president, Daniel Ortega.
He has a long record, and he was also leader of Nicaragua in the 1980s, famous for his Soviet-backed revolution, his opposition to the United States and his ability to get leading political and religious voices on the left to take up his cause — even in the United States.
Vice President Mike Pence and the State Department have recently denounced Ortega’s tactics, but the American and religious left has been largely silent. Interesting, since Ortega is a monster they helped create.
Throughout the 1980s, support of Nicaragua’s Soviet-aligned Sandinista regime was the darling of leftist Americans, left-wing American politicians and those around the world who sought to harmonize Christianity and Marxism through liberation theology.
Despite the Sandinista’s overt Soviet, Cuban and East German ties, despite the fact that it imprisoned 10 times more political prisoners than the regime it overthrew, despite its destructive fiscal policies that shattered his country’s economy, Ortega’s regime received sympathy and support from many in the United States, including Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Democrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' MORE (I-Vt.), New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE.
Even Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sought out a prominent Sandinista priest in Nicaragua. The priest was later killed while invading Honduras as part of a Sandinista invasion force led by a protégé of Che Guevara.
John Kerry flew to Nicaragua with Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE and returned touting a peace plan with the Sandinistas that undermined President Reagan’s foreign policy.
Bernie Sanders toured Nicaragua in the 1980s, offering his support to the revolution, and sought to bring that revolution home, stating, “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America.”
Even after the Sandinistas were voted out, Bill De Blasio kept the flame alive. According to the New York Times:
“In the cramped Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, where he volunteered, Mr. de Blasio learned to cause a stir. He and a ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists attempted to bring attention to a Central American cause that, after the Sandinistas lost power in a 1990 election, was fading from public view. ‘The Nicaraguan struggle is our struggle,’ said a poster designed by the group.”
It wasn’t just Americans who fell for the Sandinista’s Siren song.
Cambridge’s Cold War historian Christopher Andrew wrote about the leftist love affair with Nicaragua: “the Sandinistas had inspired ‘a renewal of the belief in the possibility of a revolution.'"
Leftist religious leaders flocked to Nicaragua, too. Latin American journalist Alejandro Bermudez wrote that the Sandinista Revolution “also represented the dream of liberation theologians, for it was their opportunity to put their theology into action. These theologians really were in control.”
Today, we forget liberation theology’s Soviet connections and Marxism’s dismal economic and human rights track record in Nicaragua and elsewhere.
Politicians who shilled for the Sandinistas in the 1980s should have condemned their human rights violations then, and certainly should do so now. Having manned the ramparts with the Sandinistas in the 1980s, Bill De Blasio, Bernie Sanders, John Kerry and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE cannot maintain silence on this matter and moral credibility too.
Religious figures — especially those who supported Ortega in the 80’s – should also speak out against his clear violations of human rights.
But the opposition to this Marxist-Christian hybrid has faded from memory to such an extent that many at the Vatican today support Marxist governments, even while denouncing America’s free-market economy. Some in today’s Vatican are also seeking to revive liberation theology, which Ortega has long espoused.
The pope has condemned the campaign of violence, but despite a bishop being wounded and attacks on churches, including one where the Vatican’s nuncio was present, the Vatican declined to file a diplomatic protest.
The killing of protesters, the burning alive of a family inside their home and his dictatorial clinging to power have deep roots in the repressive regime he created with the cover of the Soviet-supported merger of Marxism and Christianity.
Neither the political nor the religious left can be credible if they refuse to denounce Ortega now.
It’s time for them — and all of us — to learn that Marxist governments generally do produce one equality of outcome: They violate everyone’s human rights, no matter how much they dress themselves up in faux theology.
Ken Blackwell is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He has served on the Board of the International Republican Institute and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.