Nicaraguans mourn Tomas Borge -- national hero

Nicaraguans commemorate Tomas Borge in Managua.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and a crowd of more than 100,000 people gathered on the night of May 2 in Managua's Plaza de la Fe to pay tribute to Tomas Borge.

Borge, who died on April 30 aged 81, was the last surviving member of the group that founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) more than 50 years ago. Borge has always been and remains a symbol of the Nicaraguan Revolution in Latin America and beyond.

Ortega made a point of stressing Borge's famous exhortation to the triumphant Sandinista revolutionary forces in 1979, after the overthrow of the brutal US-backed Somoza dictatorship, to avoid taking revenge on their former persecutors in Somoza's National Guard.

A sign of Nicaragua's continuing process of national reconciliation was the presence along side Ortega of Cardinal Obando y Bravo. The cardinal gave a brief homily in honour of Borge in front of representatives of governments and political movements from across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Ortega recalled that Bravo had greeted both Borge and himself in the Plaza de la Revolucion when the Sandinista forces celebrated their triumph on July 20, 1979.

For people outside Central America, it may be hard to understand why the death of Comandante Tomas Borge Martinez should be regarded as an event of such tremendous national and international importance. That fact itself illustrates the deep and widespread ignorance that exists about events in the region and in Latin America generally.

Borge's death has revived in the minds of people throughout Nicaragua and the region the meaning of the overthrow of the odious, murderous Somoza dictatorship. At the time of the horrific regime's fall, it was the US government's most faithful regional ally.

After Borge's death, May Day events planned for the next day were mostly cancelled. Instead, the day was devoted almost entirely to render homage to the last surviving founding member of the FSLN that was formed by Carlos Fonseca, Borge and a handful of other young revolutionaries in 1961.

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans of every social class waited patiently in line on May Day in Managua's Plaza de la Revolucion for the chance to file past Borge in a final farewell.

Former bitter enemies of the FSLN during the US government-sponsored war in the 1980s, from senior Contra (counter-revolutionary) leader Jaime Morales to grass roots fighters in various ex-Contra political parties, hailed Borge's decisive influence in modern Nicaragua.

Led by the nations that, like Nicaragua, are members of the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance of the People's of the Americas (ALBA) — Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela — governments from across Latin America sent their condolences.

Revolutionary movements from Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Panama and other countries also paid homage to Borge's enormous influence throughout the region.

On May 2, during an extremely emotional and solemn session of Nicaragua's National Assembly, Borge's fellow deputies from all parties paid their respects.

Former vice-president Morales gave truly eloquent and heartfelt testimony to the friendship he built up with Borge from the days when they faced each other as rival negotiators during the peace talks prior to the historic 1990 elections.

Borge himself often remarked that those elections marked the first time in history that any revolutionary government that had taken power by force of arms relinquished it peacefully.

In the National Assembly, musician and composer Carlos Mejia Godoy paid homage to Borge who was a poet and writer as well as a leading revolutionary and politician. Borge's book La paciente impaciencia won the prestigious Casa de las Americas prize.

The presence of Mejia Godoy, who ran against the FSLN in the 2006 national elections, symbolises Borge's unifying cross-party stature and influence.

But it is within the ranks of the FSLN itself that Borge's death has had the deepest impact. Sandinista leaders such as Secretary of Communications and Citizen's Power Rosario Murillo and leading National Assembly member Alba Palacios could not conceal their personal grief during public statements on Borge's death.

National Assembly President, Rene Nunez, a fellow prisoner with Borge under the Somoza dictatorship, stated clearly Borge's historical importance for the Sandinista movement.

When Borge was captured and imprisoned in the 1970s, he was held in solitary confinement hooded and handcuffed for nine months. Somoza's torturers worked in vain to break his spirit.

Nunez spoke of how even in the worst conditions and during prolonged hunger strikes, Borge always inspired confidence and faith by his example among his fellow prisoners.

After the revolutionary triumph in 1979, Borge, as head of the interior ministry, founded the National Police and reformed the prison system.

In everything he did, his commitment, personal humility and honesty in admitting mistakes won sympathy and support even from his political enemies.

In the days after his death, the mass surge of emotional affirmation of Borge's life vindicates his revolutionary political legacy and further consolidates the legitimacy of Nicaragua's Sandinista Revolution.

As Borge himself said of Carlos Fonseca, for Nicaragua and for Latin America, Comandante Tomas Borge is one of “those who have died but who will live forever”.

[Reprinted from Toni Solo's site.]

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