Image by VectorOpenStock
On the morning of February 26, 1990, I watched a tired Daniel Ortega address a crowd of shocked supporters after enduring a rather crushing defeat to Violeta Chamorro in a bitter election battle for the presidency of Nicaragua.
The United States had played a significant role in his defeat, by funding the opposition and launching a menacing invasion of Panama just two months before. The Panama Invasion (called ironically “Operation Just Cause”) was an object lesson to the Nicaraguan population: This is what Uncle Sam can do to you if he does not like your leader. It also led to huge shortages of consumer goods, as planes bound for Managua’s “Dollar Store” were held up indefinitely in the Panama City airport.
For weeks, people of Nicaragua had told pollsters they were voting for “The Rooster”—as Ortega was nicknamed in some of his campaign ads. But in the privacy of the voting booth, they marked their ballots with the choice that they felt would end a nearly ten-year long crippling U.S. trade embargo and, more importantly, the U.S.-funded contra war that had already killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans—mostly non-combatants.
In his concession speech, Ortega told the crowd that the Sandinistas would continue to govern desde abajo—from below—meaning that popular pressure, and a will to maintain a society that addressed the inequalities that had led to the 1979 Sandinista victory, would continue.
Speaking this morning from the ballroom of a New York hotel, Hillary Clinton told her supporters much the same thing. “This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it,” she told the tearful crowd. “Keep up the fight now, and for the rest of your lives.”
The defeat of Daniel Ortega in February 1990 was devastating for many on the U.S. left who had supported the Sandinista revolution with their dollars—and even, in the case of murdered volunteer Ben Linder, their lives. But February 1990 was also the month that Nelson Mandela walked free from a South African prison after twenty-seven years. Mandela went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and become president of the country he once sought to liberate from Apartheid.
We are often confronted with stunning setbacks, less often with astounding victories. Clinton’s loss at the polls was in many ways precipitated by the fact that she was indeed breaking glass ceilings, as her predecessor, the first African-American President, had done. The issues addressed by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in attempting to make this a more just and equitable society will carry on beyond November 8, 2016.
Tomorrow we will continue our work.
Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive.