Ramiro Sebastián Fúnez is a Honduran communist content creator based in Los Angeles, California. Ramiro is the producer and director of Nicaragua Against Empire, a documentary series highlighting Nicaraguan resistance to Western imperialism.
In this interview Ramiro discusses his wonderful documentary film, Nicaragua Against Empire, with Aaron Kelly, a member of PCOA (The Anti-imperialist Working-Class Platform) and REDH (The Network in Defence of Humanity). Ramiro addresses the imperialist hybrid warfare and misinformation campaign waged against Nicaraguan democracy and sovereignty, the economic warfare also being inflicted by imperial powers upon Nicaragua, the history of colonialism and resistance in Nicaragua and the Americas, and the multi-faceted vibrancy of Sandinismo and its melding of indigeneity, socialism, Christianity, nationalism and internationalism, as well as the remarkable achievements of the FLSN government.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE:
WATCH RAMIRO’S DOCUMENTARY IN FULL HERE:
Nicaragua Against Empire: An Interview with Ramiro Sebastián Fúnez
AK: Ramiro, thank you so much for joining us and thanks for agreeing to chat about your really important, necessary and really beautiful and evocative film about Nicaragua and about Sandinismo there. It’s particularly prescient and particularly relevant given that there is this onslaught against Nicaragua both in terms of economic warfare but also a kind of warfare of ideas and misinformation, and an attempt to block the truth about Nicaragua coming from the Nicaraguans themselves. Could you maybe tell us a bit about why you went to Nicaragua to make the film and the kind of purposes that you had from the outset?
RSF: Definitely, thank you so much for inviting me and I wanna give a shout out to everybody who’s watching in Ireland and Scotland in the UK and everywhere else. If you’re watching this, you have good intentions or you’re somebody who supports anti-imperialism and the struggle against empire. So I applaud you for that thank you for that. I created the film in … well, first of all, I visited Nicaragua in March 2021 a few months before the election, which is taking place November 2021, and I decided to join a delegation because I thought that not enough information was put out there about Nicaragua and the Sandinista revolution.
I think a lot of times when people hear about Nicaragua and the Sandinistas, they think about the 70s and the 80s and they’ll recall the images of the women guerrilla fighters and the taking of power and the liberation of Nicaragua from the Somoza dictatorship backed by the US. And so there hasn’t really been much follow up after that. I see that after that moment there were a lot of – especially in the US and I’m sure it’s the same situation in that in Ireland and elsewhere – that you have a lot of leftists who kind of cut their teeth in Nicaragua and visited Nicaragua in the 70s and 80s and were part of the solidarity movement of that time. And once the Sandinistas won they sort of left and never came back to Nicaragua, never really focused on what’s going on and so much has happened since then since 1979, including contradictions within the Left that have manifested themselves: there are sectors of liberal academia or the trade unions who once supported Sandinismo and the Sandinista Revolution but now they parrot all the same talking points of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that Daniel Ortega is a dictator, that we need to go and overthrow this left wing government, that these opposition protests are pro-democracy opposition movements, that they are organic and they are fighting for democracy and human rights, which is complete nonsense because the same lies were said about the Contras in the 80s and yet these same people who went to Nicaragua in the 80s to expose the crimes of the Contras are now repeating the same thing about the modern day Contras.
So I felt that more content, especially more visual content, was necessary about Nicaragua because I think that within the anti-imperialist movement we hear a lot about Cuba and I have a lot of love and support for the Cuban Revolution, the same way with Venezuela as well the Bolivarian Revolution, but I think Nicaragua has unfortunately gotten less solidarity from the anti-war movement globally not just in the US or in Ireland but all over the world. And the ideas of internationalism and of revolutionary proletarian unity are still being practised in Nicaragua and I wanted to capture that in the 21st century to show what the Nicaraguan people have been able to construct despite sanctions despite imperialist regime change efforts in 2021. And so I saw the opportunity to travel, I travelled and I joined the delegation with the Sanctions Kill Coalition and The Friends of the ATC, the World Workers Association, was in Nicaragua for about 10 to 13 days, travelled all across the country from Managua the capital to Estelí, which is a rural northern remote area which is also the heart of the revolution as they call it, and also Bilwi, which is on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua the homeland of the Miskitu people which has been a primary target of the imperialists; that’s been one of the entry points for trying to win the left over into this imperial politics by weaponizing identity reductionism, by claiming that indigenous and Afro-descendent people in Nicaragua are being oppressed and that there’s a genocide going on. Well, I’ll tell you this: I went there, I’ve spoken to, I’ve interviewed people and there’s no genocide taking place, there are no human rights violations taking place.
Sure, there are still contradictions that are still being worked out and that is part of the process, of the dialectical process of any revolutionary movement, where the rights of LGBTQ people of oppressed nationalities of women, those communities are still working within the revolution to to build more gains and to have more of a role within the government and that’s definitely happening. But these claims by western media – if you type in Miskitu people, if you type in Caribbean coast, every article that comes up, it’s Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch all these NGOs, that are invested in trying to recolonise the nation. They are claiming that there is this indigenous genocide going on. And so what we see is now that there are no longer attacking Nicaragua from the Right, they are no longer trying to put in someone like a Somoza, they’re not trying to be openly right-wing and an install a free market neoliberal government openly; they are trying to do the same thing but from a left perspective, they’re trying to use the aesthetics of the left. SOS Nicaragua, we saw same thing with Cuba as well as, SOS Cuba, they are trying to weaponize contradictions among oppressed nationalities to oppose the Sandinistas, even though more than half of Nicaragua is autonomous regions designated specifically for indigenous and Afro-descendant people and nowhere else in the world can you see something like that: imagine if in the United States, which is predominantly stolen land, indigenous Afro-descendant land, imagine if those areas were given back to those people and you have to get special permission to even enter those areas!
So, there’s so much to learn in Nicaragua. I went there in March, I recorded this documentary Nicaragua Against Empire, I interviewed many people and travelled across the country to get a sense of what life is really like and how the Sandinista revolution is continuing, it’s not gone, it’s not something from the 70s or the 80s, they are still building the revolution in collaboration with other nations around the world, with China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and I felt it was important to do so to pass the torch to create a new generation of youth who will travel to Nicaragua. I’m proud to say that since I’ve released that film in May the 15th 2021 earlier this year, I’ve already helped recruit several youth from the United States to go to Nicaragua, who have gone there and Nicaraguans themselves, even Nicaraguan Americans who have been disconnected from their own country who have gone back and have been like, ‘wow it’s amazing being here, I didn’t really know this was going on’. That was really my goal: to create a new generation, just like how in the 70s and the 80s all of these youths were packing their bags going to Nicaragua and being in the front lines of the struggle against imperialism, that’s still happening today, we still need solidarity and that was sort of the goal of the film.
AK: I think you captured that really beautifully. Coz I think that’s one of the problems with places like North America or Europe, there’s a kind of metropolitan provincialism, if you like, that there’s this need to hand out lessons, you know, if only these people were a bit more like us then, you know, things would be better, a bit more progressive. All of which is based on a kind of abstract version of liberal democracy that doesn’t even exist in Europe or North America, let alone anywhere else, and one of the things that your film captures really well is that there is a very different version of democracy already at work in Nicaragua, from which people in Europe or North America and their highly alienated societies might actually learn something and from they might actually receive some lessons, just in terms of a different version of democracy that is actually based on the demos, on the people, their participation and so on, and I guess one of the things about the Sandinistas, despite people losing focus and/or returning with sort of imperialist eyes and looking at Nicaragua through all these smokescreens and all these fabrications, is that Nicaragua and the Sandinistas are really advancing quite markedly, and remarkably for a really impoverished country under any circumstances but particularly under circumstances of being under economic attack.
And, if anything, despite what the empire says, you know, that we are we’re punishing Nicaragua as part of this ‘troika of tyranny’ as John Bolton called Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, which tends to couch things in terms of the good guys are punishing the bad guys because of their failures, their failures to adhere to certain rules and norms about democracy and so on; if anything, the exact opposite is true: that Nicaragua is being punished for its successes. It is precisely because it has pursued an alternative model to the sort of neoliberal imperialist model of what constitutes a society and a democracy etc. If anything this campaign against the Sandinistas is really an attempt to short-circuit all of those gains, all of that progress that that is being made, and there are certainly very genuine people who do want to do what’s best, who have had their heads turned by various NGOs or various newspapers or media reports and so on, and your film does a great job of showing precisely what is at stake here. And what’s at stake here is the Nicaraguan people’s right to determine their own future and to do so in ways which are of benefit to them. And one thing that’s really clear in the film is that the vast majority of Nicaraguans are supportive of their government, and indeed are participating in the collective, informal economy that they have, are beneficiaries of all those developments in health and education and road building and all sorts of things. Is that something you found, that there’s a there’s a big sort of disconnect between the people who actually live in Nicaragua and what they feel and experience as opposed to the kind of noise and the clutter that you get elsewhere in the world?
RSF: Totally. There’s a complete disconnect because if you Google – it was interesting because when I was in Nicaragua, I was there twice actually this year, I was there in March of 2021 for the delegation and I returned in July for the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution – and in July when I was there I Googled Nicaragua just see what comes up, and all the news was like, you know, terror on the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, crackdowns, ‘Sandinista paramilitaries’ is a term that they used to describe the people coming out in defence of their president or the government. They say paramilitaries are out terrorising people, violence all those things, and it was so peaceful, it was very celebratory. Everyone was just partying, having a good time, celebrating their revolution. And I suggest everyone check out, aside from the two hour documentary, I’ve continued it as a an ongoing series. I have more video content from that. And one of those pieces of content is a video called Sandinistas Speak: Nicaraguans Defend Their Revolution, where I interview people directly on the street on the anniversary of the revolution and people are out having a good time celebrating. And it’s interesting because in Nicaragua – I’ve travelled to a lot of Latin American countries, I used to live in Ecuador, I’ve been to several countries and what’s interesting is that in Nicaragua you don’t see as much anti-government graffiti or propaganda as you see in other countries, like even when I was living in Ecuador and I was living there when president of Rafael Correa was there, a great president who did many great things for Ecuador, and you would still see a lot of opposition protests, you’d see a lot of posters and people who are like slandering him. You don’t see the same in Nicaragua and that’s not because they’re being quote-unquote ‘censored’, it’s because the majority of the people who live there in the country support Daniel Ortega, support the government. Everywhere you go you see FSLN flags, you see red and black. The people support their government. Everywhere you go you see posters and murals of Sandino, of Daniel.
And it’s interesting too, because one of the things that you hear in the West, especially among the quote-unquote ‘Left’ circles in the West is, I support the Sandinistas and Sandino but I don’t support Daniel, right? That’s something that has been coming up and you see that as well with Venezuela. People say, I support Chávez but I don’t support this Maduro guy, and that’s such a cowardly position to take because when you go to these countries, when you go to Venezuela, people say, you know, Chavez vive, Maduro sigue, ‘Chavez lives, Maduro continues’ that work. The same in Nicaragua: people say, Sandino vive, ‘Sandino lives on’, Daniel sigue, ‘Daniel is continuing to build that work’. And I think it comes from this cowardice that you have within the western Left where people want to seem revolutionary, they want to have the revolutionary aesthetic, they wanna be against something but not for something, because the moment you’re for something you’re just brainwashed, a government propagandist. People in Nicaragua don’t see it that way. People in Nicaragua defend Daniel Ortega. Because here’s the thing: Daniel Ortega, even within the Left, he doesn’t get a lot of the credit and respect that he deserves. He’s the last living president of a nation, a head of state, who came to power through an armed struggle as a guerrilla fighter, the last living, coz even think about, let’s say for example Cuba, Fidel and Raúl, Raúl stepped down proud Fidel passed away, President Miguel Díaz-Canel is doing a great job but he comes from the next generation, right? Venezuela we know obviously Nicolas Maduro and Chávez came to power through elections – not to downplay that, that was an important and an appropriate role for Venezuela – but again, he wasn’t around during that time. Zimbabwe: Mugabe passed away. So you have in Nicaragua Daniel Ortega: he’s somebody who’s around in the 60s and the 70s, he saw the Cuban Revolution, he saw the height of Fidel, he saw the height of the DPRK the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he saw all these revolutions taking place, he took part in these revolutions. He was imprisoned, tortured for many years, his family attacked, like he went through the roughest of the roughest as a revolutionary, and now he’s still the head of state. So he’s seen all of that. And the brilliance of Daniel Ortega is, he’s been able to adapt.
One of the critiques that many people have of, you know, the 60s and 70s, and rightfully so, is sometimes people kind of romanticise the armed revolution, they love the image of the guerrilla fighters and you know being in the mountains with the AKs and that’s certainly part of the revolutionary moment and it was a necessary part but those are some of the darkest days and people don’t want to relive that and sometimes when that happens within the western Left that mystique or that aura or branding kind of falls and so, now, the Sandinista government has been in power at the second stage, has been in power because again there was 1979 to 1989, that was the first stage after the armed revolution, there was a period of neoliberalism where the Sandinistas were out from 1990 to 2006, 2007 to the present is the second stage of Sandinista government, now after the elections undergoing socialist construction and a lot of the revolution activities of the Sandinistas with Daniel, it’s not the sexiest thing to, like, the young kind of trendy lefties but it’s very important, right: nationalising electricity, building roads, building hospitals, building schools, food sovereignty, over 90% of the food consumed in Nicaragua is produced locally and Daniel Ortega understands very well that whoever feeds you controls you, and that’s why I think Nicaragua has been able to fare pretty well under the sanctions […] because they have their own sustainable food production process. And Daniel Ortega is somebody who has been able to adapt with the times dialectically, he’s able to learn from the past and applying new methods for the future they have socialist entrepreneurship where, instead of shooing away business leaders instead of trying to completely eliminate business, the government says, you know what let’s invest in the local economy, the national economy, so that instead of people leaving the country and starting a business in the US or something they stay, they develop the means of production in the country and they work in collaboration with the socialist government. So just the brilliance of Daniel Ortega, and also Vice President Rosario Murillo, compañera Murillo, who also has been somebody who has been there from the beginning to see and take part in all this.
So I would say that there’s a complete disconnect between the western Left and how they view Nicaragua and how Nicaraguans view it: like, they have no shame in defending people and I think it ties into something deeper which is pessimism and cowardice that is latent within the western Left where people are so great at critiquing, they’re so great at saying what they are against but not what they are for. They’re almost scared to be to defend someone coz that means that you’re with them through the good and the bad but in Nicaragua people are so proud of their revolution, they stand with Daniel, they stand with Rosario Murillo despite all the propaganda and they really understand what’s going on because they’re living it, they’re seeing the improvements themselves they’re seeing the roads, the schools, the hospitals […] just a few weeks ago a whole fleet of Russian buses came into Nicaragua because of the solidarity between Russia and Nicaragua. So I think there’s a complete disconnect and that’s why my advice to people is: go to Nicaragua. That’s the only way to really understand what’s going on, is go there talk to the people and you’ll see what it’s really like because if you just basing it off of, you know, mainstream media and these imperial left media publications you’re going to get a totally inaccurate view of what’s going on.
AK: Precisely! And, as you well know, if people watching can’t afford to go to Nicaragua either just once or regularly, their means of directly engaging with Nicaraguans is often itself under attack anyway because the big social media companies will continually close accounts that would give people more access to the truth and so on. So this is a battle that is kind of ongoing I suppose, but as you say, it’s ironic to put it mildly, that people in places like Europe or North America, leftists whose own traditions really are traditions of failure, you know, they have yet to achieve a great deal, seem to be wanting to go out of their way to cause trouble for those who are on the cutting edge of the anti-imperialist struggle, on the frontline as it, and who have actually achieved something, and I suppose one thing that your film also deals with is that the Sandinistas returned to power, it was remarkable what they were able to do having lost power under very dubious circumstances in 1989-90, they could have done what their opponents would do which is to cause trouble, violence and so on, but they didn’t; they regrouped and they came back and they’ve done absolutely brilliantly since they returned to power and the support base has just grown and grown and grown to over 70% when the when the right-wing coup happened and the whole sort of onslaught of misinformation which has sought to delegitmize the government but that within Nicaragua itself that hasn’t happened, there hasn’t been a kind of falling off of support precisely because people know exactly who’s on their side and who isn’t. I think one of the most – even if people are well intentioned they have a duty to be educated really – because one of the most offensive things about these lies is that they manufacture terrible events and killings and so on where they didn’t exist and they do this as a kind of slander against people who have genuinely suffered torture and murder, people have been butchered and burned alive in the in the streets and so on, over the span of history. When you follow the money, the people driving this, the United States, I mean, you have to be completely politically and historically illiterate to think that the United States has the best interests of the Nicaraguan people at heart, you know, whether it’s that phase of neoliberal damage through the 90s and the first five years of this century, whether it’s the Somoza dictatorships, whether it’s William Walker invading and reintroducing slavery and so on, I think genuine people need to kind of force themselves if necessary to engage directly with Nicaraguans and to get why most people support their government, why most people are involved on a daily basis with the kind of functioning of their democracy, their economy, their society and so on. One of the remarkable things about your film, one of the remarkable scenes in your film, is that Park of Peace which is built upon all the, you know, the remnants of the AKs and the arms dumping, and that very visually and very evocatively demonstrates that the government is a government of reconciliation as it were, that even with its his enemies it is kind of reaching out whether they choose to accept that hand of friendship or not. And I’m always reminded of those amazing words of Tomás Borge, which I will quote in English, despite all that he suffered and his family suffered, he said to his torturers, you know, my revenge will be your children’s right to schooling and to flowers, remarkable strong compassionate words, and that’s really the essence of the Sandinistas, that they have, even when they got back, even with this massive democratic mandate that they have, they have not been vindictive and they have gone out of their way to try and include everyone, including their opponents.
RSF: That’s exactly right and I think a big part of that is well is rooted not only in the socialist understanding of brotherhood and peace, because as revolutionaries, as people who oppose capitalism, we understand that capitalism and imperialism create violence. Every day poor people are subject to violence, chaos and crisis. I compare it to being on a flight that has turbulence. When you’re on a flight that has turbulence, the market itself is turbulent and even Marx talks about this in Capital where our rights as workers and as poor people are subjected to the whims of the capitalist class, the free market, the stock market at, any moment we’re just in constant turbulence because of the anarchy of production, the instability of capitalism. And that’s what the people of Nicaragua have been experiencing for so many years prior to the Sandinista government because their country has served as a neo-colony of the imperialists. And in Nicaragua the Sandinistas have ultimately sought to bring peace, to keep everyone in peace, stability and happiness, which is very rare in Central America. My family is from Honduras, which is right next door to Nicaragua. Honduras is arguably one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere and among those in the world as well. There is a violent, right-wing, neoliberal government that’s murdering indigenous, Afro-indigenous peoples, free trade zones being established where all sorts of rights and wages are being stripped, and it’s a complete night and day with Nicaragua. Nicaragua is very, very peaceful you can walk around at any time of day. Everyone knows that, if they need to, they’re granted access to a job, there’s some level of stability. Granted, it’s not perfect but everyone has everything that they need, the very basics and that understanding of peace and stability is so central to socialism.
And again this is someone, Daniel Ortega the president, he’s somebody who has seen the darkest, most violent, turbulent times; he doesn’t want people to go through that. He wants peace and that’s why in 2018 during the coup attempt a lot of people wondered, like, why did they take so long to respond, why didn’t they just go up because the Sandinistas have the manpower, the force, the ability, to go out and they could have gotten rid of those protests in a matter of hours, even less if they’d wanted to. But Daniel Ortega was smart. He said, look if we go out there, if we take that bait, then they’re just going to start a bloodshed, then the headlines are going to be bloodshed in Nicaragua, massacres in Nicaragua, and they get exactly what they want, they create the narrative. And this is the danger of imperialism in the 21st century, where it’s no longer just about military invasions and this sort, which is certainly part of it, but now it’s a hybrid warfare campaign, its media, social media hashtags, images, optics, it’s optical illusions and Daniel Ortega understands this very well. So he said, look, let them go out there let them make fools of themselves, tear down some posters, burn some stuff down. They represent violence, they represent terror, capitalism represents that, socialism represents peace and brotherhood and acceptance and I think also part of that is their ability to mould socialism, to adapt socialism to Nicaragua, which we can call something like […] Sandinsimo is most basically like socialism with Nicaraguan characteristics, where they understand that the majority of the population is Catholic, Christian, and they applied principles from the Bible of brotherhood, of, you know, the story of Jesus when he says forgive them for they know not what they do, when he was being crucified. It’s kind of a similar thing with the right wing, it’s like if you match their intensity and their evil and their hate, then you’re just going to form part of that spiral of hate and violence and terror.
The Sandinistas have an approach of, like, even if you were involved in those protests, you were misguided, you’re welcome back, you know, you made a mistake, you messed up, but at the end of the day this project is not just for Sandinistas, it’s for all Nicaraguans because at some point we all had incorrect political views, at some point we had a mindset that was not in favour of the working class, and everyone deserves a second chance, redemption, and that’s really what the Nicaraguan government is practising: the government of unity and reconciliation, the government of prosperity for all. That’s one of the slogans, you know, el pueblo presidente, the people are the president, and that includes everybody regardless of your political views. Obviously you have to respect the laws, the socialist laws of the country, and respect everybody else but that’s really what the message is about and I think that’s why they have been successful, that’s why they have been able to build unity because it’s so much easier to burn bridges than to build bridges and that’s what Nicaragua has been all about, and they’re forced to by the way too, because again, right, Nicaragua, we’re talking about a country that historically was the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti for many years, now that position is taken by Honduras, and Nicaragua has one of the fastest growing economies in Central America, they’re trading with China, Russia, they’re collaborating on the belt and road initiative, they have a lot of amazing projects that are going on and that has been possible through alliances, temporary alliances with the national bourgeoisie, even with people who they can’t stand.
Like, Daniel Ortega, it’s interesting, the people he probably meets with the most are not even his loyal base, like the rank and file Sandinistas, the poor people, who support him and love him – although he loves hanging out with them and spending time with them – the people he has to spend the most time with are probably the people he hates the most, the private sector, the Catholic universities, the people who participated [in the coup] but he understands that you have to keep potential enemies close, you have to work with them, find points of unity and build a national alliance, similar to the way that in China, the People’s Republic of China, Mao understood that you have to build New Democracy, that in order to go from feudalism to socialism, you have to go through this temporary stage of national capitalism and ally yourself temporarily with the national capitalist class to build the local industry, because again one of the big problems facing Latin America, the global South in general, is neoliberalism and globalisation where you don’t even have a national industry.
So, for example, where my family’s from, again Honduras, because it’s such a great parallel example, in Honduras the telecommunications industries are owned by Mexican companies, the flight companies are owned by Colombian companies, the media industry is owned by US companies, the food companies by US companies, so it’s all these foreign, more powerful influences that dominate the market. There is no Honduran media industry, there is no Honduran food industry, there’s no Honduran aviation industry, because the country has been divided and pillaged so much that we haven’t even been given room to develop our own industries and that’s Nicaragua is in the process of doing now. So instead of Daniel being, like, you know, we’re gonna kick you all the way, we’re gonna you know just kill you, or get rid of you, he’s like no, we’re gonna work with you and use you to build up the industry, so that we don’t have to rely upon these foreign interests for our own national development, which I think is pretty brilliant and I think that’s one of the reasons why Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in general have been able to maintain strength and stay in power, because they know how to build alliances.
AK: Most certainly. I guess, again, the contrast is quite stark between those who have succeeded in these kinds of terms in really disadvantageous conditions, former colonies still on the frontline in the battle against imperialism, their successes as opposed to those who are living, relatively speaking, quite wealthy lives or in wealthy societies in North America or Europe, who have yet to achieve a great deal and tend to be themselves quite disparate or fractious, and are often disparate and fractious on the basis of doctrinal disputes about a deviation from this particular text or that particular text, whereas, as you’ve told us, whilst they have a very clear unity of purpose and a sense of direction, there is also something quite sort of heterogeneous about Sandinismo. You could say the same about Cuba, you know, the fact that the revolution there combined lots of different strands, Chavismo in its own way as all these different strands, it’s that sort of capacity to synthesise and shape what are core principles that you will stick to, but that you are strategic and you’re intelligent, you’re clever, and that these will play out in particular ways in your own given society. But at the same time, I suppose, one other thing that comes out of the film is that there is obviously that sense of national sovereignty, national liberation, but also internationalism right at the core of Sandinismo, just as much as, say, the Cuban Revolution or the Bolivarian Revolution. Would you like to say something about that? Which at some level again doesn’t make sense for some Europeans or north Americans and their understanding of what nationalism is, you know, that nationalism is always just this one sort of bourgeois thing, that there are these different versions of nationalism that are already kind of international as well coz I guess one thing about Nicaragua and Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia – hence ALBA for example – is that in addition to taking care of their own national business, as it were, what they’re trying to do is build up a continental sense of unity strong enough to finally defeat the empire in the north.
RSF: 100% and it’s a really fascinating history that is connected to internationalism because a lot of times people in the imperial core, the first world, they’ll see nationalism and they think it’s like British nationalism or US nationalism but it’s very different because the nationalism of oppressed nations is usually against empire, because they came about in a totally different way, like for example like Irish nationalism versus like British nationalism is totally different because the histories of the struggles and the people and in this in a way we can see the same thing with Latin America the Caribbean. In Nicaragua, in the case of Nicaragua, it’s interesting because Nicaragua in the 1800s was part of the Central American Federation, the United Provinces of Central America, which was led by Francisco Morazán, who was a revolutionary independence leader in the same era of Simón Bolívar at the time when he oversaw La Gran Colombia, which included Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and what is today Panama. And so there were multiple waves, like, we talk about the ‘pink tide’, but there were multiple eras of that, and multiple eras of Latin American unity and this idea called Nuestra América or ‘Our America’, which was coined by José Martí who was a Cuban revolutionary. So going back to the 1800s, the independence movement of Nicaragua formed part of the United Provinces of Central America, so the five Central American countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica – were one federation that was united and at that point they fought for independence from the Spanish who had colonised the region for obviously hundreds of years, and at that point they were battling against the US and British backed nationalists wanted to balkanise the country, and so if you go to Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast, there’s a lot of English names, Corn Islands, Bluefields, and the reason is because the British at that point wanted naval control of the region. Nicaragua is one of the thinnest parts of the Western Hemisphere between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the biggest fear has always been for a canal to be constructed in Nicaragua that was under their control because at that point Central America could have been the biggest naval power in the hemisphere, they had access to not only the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but also North and South, they could control all trade that goes on in that region.
The British wanted a slice of that, so they colonised what is today the Miskito coast and they actually supported them, so even the support of, the weaponizing of the Miskito people against the revolutionary Sandinista government, was also a tactic used by the British against Francisco Morazán and the Central American federation, so that was one interesting aspect. And so at that point Francisco Morazán was murdered in battle, the Central American Federation was dissolved in the mid-1800s and, in the mid-1800s towards the 1850s you had William Walker, who was a US filibuster to use the name of that time, a colonizer, a pirate, who declared himself president of Nicaragua, and he went to Nicaragua, he wanted to create what was called ‘the golden ring’, a really horrible idea that basically he wanted to create a ring around the southern US, the Caribbean coast of Central America and the Caribbean coast of South America, and make it into a giant slave plantation that would be an annex of the Southern Confederacy and he wanted to establish Nicaragua as the first colony of that. He was murdered by, he has assassinated by a man named Florencio Xatruch who came from Honduras, and there has always been unity between Hondurans and Nicaraguans because of that.
So there’s a lot of internationalism. Again, Francisco Morazán, who was the leader of the Central American Federation, was actually in the same lodge as Simón Bolívar, La Logia Lautaro, which at that time was used to organise against the Spanish. That’s a whole other discussion but it’s interesting because that sort of internationalism has always played a role and their goal was create the United States of Latin America. So there’s times where it arises and disappears. So moving forward into the 1920s you have Sandino. Sandino, born in a region called Segovia, a very impoverished area, northern, bordering Honduras, and he openly talks about reviving Bolívar’s dream, of Morazán’s dream, of uniting Nicaragua with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. And Sandino goes on to do so. Interestingly enough, in the 1920s Sandino makes a friend, a very close acquaintance, by the name of Farabundo Martí, who was the founder of the Communist Party of Central America. He was from what is today El Salvador; and Farabundo Martí was to El Salvador what Sandino is to Nicaragua. He inspired the FMLN guerrilla movement in the 70s and the 80s. Farabundo Martí and Sandino collaborated. They wanted to revived the idea of a united Central American Federation as a socialist federation, because, again, this is the 1920s, this is the height of the Soviet Union. They were very inspired by the Russian Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union and wanted to have something similar in Central America because this way they would be able to unite and defeat the US, which was the rising imperial power. So Farabundo Martí and Sandino collaborated a lot. Sandino also was in close contact with José Carlos Mariátegui in Peru, who is the founder of the Communist Party of Peru, and also wrote about what he called Indo-America, uniting an indigenous federation of socialists in Latin America and the Caribbean. So again, there’s many iterations of this idea of uniting Nuestra America, Our America, against the empire because you have one huge empire like the US and then multiple, balkanised nations to the South. The goal was always to revive that.
And again, into the 1960s, when the Sandinista Front was founded, Tomás Borge, Carlos Fonseca and others, they also had this idea of creating a united socialist Central America and Latin America. They were deeply inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian revolution, hence why they were called the National Liberation Front and they added Sandinista to it to adapt it to Nicaragua. They were deeply inspired as well by Grenada and the New JEWEL Movement and Maurice Bishop, they were also deeply inspired by the socialist movements in South America as well, so a lot of collaboration, a lot of unity between the different movements in the 60s and 70s, again with this vision of uniting socialist Latin America, which is why you see, for example, the Sandinista flag is red and black, which is also the flag of the July 26 movement in Cuba, the revolutionary movement, also the flag of the ELN in Colombia, also the flag of the MIR in Chile, the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, so that became sort of the banner of uniting socialist movements in Latin America at that time. And even to this day, Nicaragua is extremely internationalist, they work very closely with Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia, they have conferences: I got to visit a school called IALA, the Agroecological Institute of Latin America, where they bring students from working class backgrounds all over Latin America and the Caribbean to teach them how to farm, teach them how to grow crops in very hostile areas and they’re passing on that knowledge of internationalism through food sovereignty, through socialist education. So at its root, Nicaragua, not only the Sandinista Revolution but also the Nicaraguan people, have been deeply internationalist. I think not only because they are the centre of Central America but the centre of the Americas, so they are at the heart of America.
AK: Indeed, well put I think! And that’s one of the many reasons why they are in the cross hairs of the empire, sort of strategically and so on, but also I think politically in what they represent and what they have achieved. Given that you mentioned agriculture and farming, I guess that’s one other thing that that your film deals with, that when it comes to trying to create a better world time is running out on a planetary scale, and at the time that we’re recording this there is a conference taking place in Glasgow in the UK where lots of important people are apparently going to try and save the world, though I would suggest only a fool will take them at their word. But one of the horrible things about climate change is that it’s precisely places like Nicaragua who are going to be on the sharp end of that much more acutely than people further north or in Europe and so on, and that, again, one of the really egregious things about this campaign to unseat a really popular, democratic government is that in addition to robbing people of self-determination it would also seek to chisel away at one of the progressive governments in terms of ecology and trying to protect the earth and the climate and so on, that again just I suppose returns to the overwhelming hypocrisy behind all of this anyway that, you know, that the imperialist powers have good intentions and are bearers of progress, and on that note I was really glad to see Paul Oquist Kelley, who’s sadly departed now but was a really wonderful man, who spoke about the hypocrisy of human rights and this kind of discourse about human rights and the fact that the imperialist powers are waging this economic war called sanctions but there is no real legal sanction, as it were, in terms of international law, these are really coercive, illegal measures and I suppose Nicaragua is just one of a really sad, long list of situations by which we can point out the hypocrisy of empire, given that the US claims it sits atop a ‘rules based order’ and its the sort of policemen of that rules based order. And it’s worth recognising that Nicaragua is the main reason why the US walked out of the international Court of Justice when it lost the case there and was found guilty and told to pay reparations that it has never bothered doing. Obviously the US and international law was always a kind of convenient fiction anyway, they’ve never really subjected themselves to international law but when required to by the Nicaraguan government, the US lost and they walked away, they refuse obviously to subject themselves to international law in a whole series of situations but that’s particularly case with Nicaragua, Central America, Latin America, where they have done utterly horrendous things in the name of their Monroe Doctrine. But I guess, ultimately, what this comes down to is that imperialism is tyranny, imperialism is not democracy, imperialism does not facilitate democracy it is really just tyranny. But could you say a bit about that sort of that kind of agroecology and that kind of ecology that you get and the economics of it and how people participate in that in Nicaragua?
RSF: Most definitely. Nicaragua is building socialism and not just a socialism that is focused on industry but also the rural areas. In Nicaragua they understand that capitalism creates a contradiction between town and country. And it’s something that, throughout the history of the socialist movements, has always been a problem. And this is, for example, in the Soviet Union flag, you have the hammer and sickle: the hammer representing their urban proletariat and the factory, the sickle representing the peasant class, and one of the key contradictions was always uniting these two sectors. And this lives on today even in the US, I’m sure in Ireland as well, the difference – political and economic – between those in the city and those in the rural. Nicaragua has the beautiful slogan that they approach and they apply, which is: grow where you’re planted. Get rid of the contradiction between town and country. Instead of forcing everyone to move into cramped urban areas, let’s build schools and hospitals and educational centres where you live in the rural areas. So even if you go to Nicaragua, you’ll be surprised at not only how green Managua is as a city, as a capital city, and how sparsely populated it is, but also how many people live in the rural and countryside, because people don’t need to go to the urban centres for sustenance. Which is not the case in Honduras, again where my family is from, where you have Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, these two hyper-cramped cities, where people are forced to go there because neoliberal economic programmes kicked them out of their lands, they can’t farm on their lands anymore, it’s also because of climate change and the dry corridor, so people go to the cities where their only job opportunities are there. It is not the case in Nicaragua. You go to Nicaragua, there are farming communities all over the country. Industry is being constructed on an equal and level playing field, bridging the gap between urban and rural, and part of this is also the mindset of indigeneity. Earlier I talked about the influence that Christianity and Catholicism has on Nicaraguan socialism; there’s also an indigenous influence that plays a big role, because one of the big aspects of indigenous cosmology and understanding of the world is that humans are not separate from the environment, we are extensions of the environment and by harming the environment we’re harming ourselves. And in Nicaragua, they really practice that. So instead, we’re not growing or producing for production’s sake. You go to other countries, Honduras again a perfect example of this, you have palm oil plantations, miles and miles and miles. I was there a few years ago, just driving down the coast, just endless miles of palm trees, built and grown military style, it’s not an organic forest. And all those crops, those products, are used internationally. The people of that area, they don’t see, they don’t benefit from the fruit of those crops and that is extremely harmful not only for their soil but for their economy because they can’t even consume the product that they’re growing for foreign export. In Nicaragua they grow according to what’s in season, to what people are consuming, they diversify the farming plots and it’s in accordance to the seasons, to the calendar, and they are very in tune with nature in that sense. They are not producing for production’s sake, they’re not just pumping up bananas like any other quote-unquote ‘Banana Republic’, they’re growing corn, they’re growing dragon fruit, all kinds of beans, everything, plantains. So they have a very centrally planned an locally coordinated process, where what they consume, everything that people consume in Nicaragua, is produced locally, hyper-locally. So if you live in one area, you know, all of the food that you’re getting is grown, grazed, farm to table, within 10 to 15 miles. And it’s interesting because these are all things that a lot of liberals and hipsters in the West talk about, right? They love their organic food, the non-GMO food, they love all this stuff. If you go to Nicaragua, they’re practising that, they’re building that, they are innovating that in a socialist economic model that protects the environment. it’s interesting – Rest In Peace to Paul Oquist who I had the honour of meeting – his speech is part of the documentary, he and Nicaragua in general is one of the only nations to reject the Paris climate accord. The US rejected it because it was too much regulation; it went against the profit motive. Nicaragua rejected it because it didn’t go far enough. It didn’t go far enough in addressing the urgency of the state of the environment, where forests are being depleted every second of every day, water levels are rising. And so not only is Nicaragua on the front lines of protecting the environment, of growing crops, of teaching people how to maintain and preserve their area, but they’re also being directly hard hit by the climate. I have to remind everybody that in November 2020, actually just a year ago as we’re speaking, two hurricanes, one category 4 and one category 5 hurricane, Eta and Iota, struck Nicaragua in the same area and I went to that area and it’s part of the documentary, is called Bilwi on the Caribbean coast, completely devastated, flooded. And they’re experiencing and bearing the brunt in terms of climate change that is produced by the industrialised capitalist countries and yet they are the ones who are speaking out the loudest against climate change. So not only are they protecting and doing the best they can – and by the way, that area that was struck by the two hurricanes within a matter of weeks, they mobilised the population, they cleared out the garbage, they gave food and housing, nobody died, which is crazy because in Honduras, the same hurricane struck because it’s right along the same border, thousands of people died. They only sent the military to protect the private property of landowners who were there; they killed people, some people lost their homes and that’s why people have left on the migrant caravans to the US from Honduras. Nicaragua, nobody died, they are rebuilding it, government-funded programmes. And this is where you have the difference between people versus profits. Nicaragua prioritises the people and part of that is the environment, prioritising saving the environment, saving the climate from capitalism. And this is how indigeneity, socialism, Christianity all weld together as Sandinismo to protect Nicaragua’s environment, to protect the global environment but also to rapidly respond in emergency cases of climate change.
AK: I think that your film does a great job in encapsulating all of those facets of Sandinismo, and you also capture really wonderfully just the vibrancy, the colour, the sounds, the culture, the music. And, as you’ve told us, that there’s something really remarkable about how they’ve built back up, particularly given not just the dictatorship but then those neoliberal years which removed the state assistance for people trying to grow things and live on the land, and indeed led to lots of internal migration as well as in the external migration, just because of the impoverishment of people in rural areas, they’ve turned around so quickly, and indeed as you indicated the film itself, when they first got into power in 79 they really rapidly turned round illiteracy and all sorts of things. They’ve done such an amazing job. And I think for all genuine people listening to the conversation and anybody who watches your film – I would encourage everybody to watch your wonderful film – I think the key thing, the key question, is why would I want to side with a bunch of liars who are trying to destroy something which is really important in its own terms, it is of vital importance that that government is not overthrown through democratic means for people in Nicaragua itself but that on a big scale they are also a kind of microcosm of a better kind of world, a more sustainable kind of existence, and indeed a different kind of reorientation of our consciousness away from alienation and greed and materialism towards being able to look at one another again through equitable, egalitarian eyes rather than up and down chains of exploitation and so on, and to look at the world around us as something wonderful, something to be protected and cared for rather than exploited, that they are already doing this, they are achieving so many great things. And I guess, again, that is precisely why they are a target for the empire, coz they are the antithesis of everything that imperialism and global capitalism stands for.
RSF: Very well said, I couldn’t have put it better myself. It just represents the real contradiction between David and Goliath. I mentioned in the intro of the film that they portray the opposition as David and the government as Goliath. They make it seem like the government is so powerful and it’s cracking down and, you know, we have we have to also keep in mind that they’re doing all this in the middle of sanctions, right, all of their financial institutions have been targeted, major leaders, they haven’t been able to trade. So they’re handicapped and they’re still able to do all these amazing things. So the Sandinista government, the people of Nicaragua, they are the real David. The real Goliath is the US, the western imperialist powers, that are trying to destabilise the country and it’s one of those situations where, if Nicaragua isn’t free, the working class of the world is not free, because everything that they are experimenting on, everything that we’re seeing today in the US and Ireland and the UK and the European Union of neoliberalism, of rising costs of public services, of rising militarisation, police crackdowns, that has been tried and tested in Nicaragua during the neoliberal period. In Chile as well after the coup against Salvador Allende. So we have to be aware of the strategies that they’re using against our sisters and brothers in Nicaragua because those strategies will come home and we’re seeing that happen already.
AK: Precisely. So I think that, you know, that it’s really important, and your film does such a great job to this end, it’s really important that people are aware that Nicaragua is one of the few situations on this planet where working people are on the front foot, you know, and that they are advancing and they should be defended because they deserve to be defended but they should also be defended as part of that more global struggle to create a better world. And I think everyone should watch your film and the way in which you allow Nicaragua and its people to speak and the way you think critically and evaluatively about all the misinformation, as well as the selection of places and people that you talk to, it’s really wonderful and rich and replete film. So, thank you very much for talking to me about it and I would encourage everybody in Ireland and elsewhere to watch the film and to learn from it and indeed then to start taking steps to defend the sovereignty and the democracy of the Nicaraguan people. Thank you so much, muchas gracias Ramiro!
RSF: Muchas gracias. Sandino vive, la lucha sigue!