News Release

Ortega: From “Revolutionary to Absolute Overlord”


    Available for a very limited number of interviews, Kinzer was the New York Times bureau chief in Nicaragua from 1983 to 1989 and is the author of Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. He is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

    He wrote the piece “Ortega in His Labyrinth” for The New York Review of Books and “Daniel Ortega: from revolutionary to absolute overlord” for Responsible Statecraft.

    Writes Kinzer: “As the cream of Nicaraguan society was celebrating Christmas 1974 at a glittering cocktail party, the unthinkable happened. Masked gunmen from the Sandinista National Liberation Front burst in, killed the host and took the other guests hostage. In exchange for their lives, the dictator Anastasio Somoza gave the Sandinistas one million dollars and free passage to Cuba for themselves and 14 imprisoned comrades. One of those released was Daniel Ortega, a convicted bank robber who had been in jail.

    “Ortega went on to become Nicaragua’s absolute overlord. President since 2007, he appears determined to rule until death and, through his family, even beyond. Two weeks ago, evidently fearing the prospect of an election scheduled for November, he suddenly began ordering the arrest of opposition leaders. Among them was Hugo Torres, one of the commandos who carried out the daring Christmas Party raid in 1974.

    “’Today’s paradox of life,’ Torres mused in a video as police closed in on his house, ‘is that someone who abandoned his principles, Daniel Ortega, the man I helped free 46 years ago, is now my captor.’

    “The ferocity of Ortega’s crackdown is puzzling. He has plenty of experience manipulating elections, and could presumably work his corrupt magic again this year. Perhaps he worried that a competitive political campaign might set off a cascade of uncontrollable events. Whatever his calculation, he shocked Nicaraguans by arresting four aspiring politicians who had dared to announce interest in running against him. The best-known is Cristiana Chamorro, scion of the country’s most famous family and daughter of former president Violeta Chamorro who defeated Ortega and ended Sandinista rule in elections in 1990.”

    Kinzer’s other books include Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq and most recently, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.