We Once Cheered Ortega: Revisiting History In Nicaragua

None should be more dismayed by Daniel Ortega's despotic slide than those who hailed his revolution as a triumph of democratic socialism, some 40 years ago.

Hooded students Managua, Nicaragua guard their university from Ortega's paramilitaries who storm campuses and injure dozens
Hooded students Managua, Nicaragua guard their university from Ortega's paramilitaries who storm campuses and injure dozens
Rodrigo Uprimny


BOGOTÁThirty-nine years ago, on July 19, 1979, those of us who were young were busy celebrating a historical event: the entry of rebel Sandinista forces into Managua, Nicaragua"s capital, after the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

It wasn't just us young people who celebrated the Sandinista triumph, but the full breadth of democratic Latin America, including then governments with no left-wing sympathies, including Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Only months before they had stated their hostility to the Sandinista front, though their posture only hastened the Somozas' downfall.

A tank of the Nicaraguan National Guard during clashes with Sandinista rebels in Estelí in 1979 — Photo: Wiki Yukito 2015

The enthusiasm was justified, because Somoza not only brutally suppressed his opponents but ran a veritable kleptocracy: his was a regime devoted to enriching a dictator and his family. And the family had wielded power since 1934, either directly with its members as president or through proxies and minions. The fall of the Somozas seemed to presage the end of the type of corrupt and brutal ruler that has proliferated in our region. They are a recurring theme in our literature, as in Mr President by Miguel Ángel Asturias, The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez or Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat.

39 years after overthrowing a dictator, Ortega is reproducing his worst traits.

Additionally the Sandinista front was not sectarian or dogmatic, but a refreshing movement. It was a pluralist coalition that did not resort to post-revolutionary executions as Cuba had done, but tried to combine political democracy with concerted effort to make profound social changes. And so they held open elections in 1984, which were won by Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. There was hope Nicaragua would progress toward being an inclusive democracy.

But four decades later, and after a very complex history that exceeds the scope of this column, Ortega is in power again after being elected in 2006, 2011, and again in 2016 amid constitutional violations and grave accusations of fraud. Slowly he has installed an authoritarian regime that has harshly repressed opponents and favored the enrichment of those close to the government. Since April, street protests against him and his wife Rosario Murillo have intensified, and the repression has been brutal. Estimates by the Inter-American Rights Commission put the deaths from 86 days of protests up to July 12 at 264, with at least 1,800 injured due to disproportionate use of force against demonstrators. Estimates of the Nicaraguan Association For Human Rights register 351 deaths and 261 disappearances.

Daniel Ortega swears into his first term of presidency on January 10, 1985 — Photo: Chicho96

How ironic that 39 years after overthrowing a dictator, Ortega is reproducing the worst traits of the Somoza regime: brutal repression of opponents, widespread corruption, cronyism. This is why a favorite slogan of protesters is "Daniel and Somoza Are the Same." All democrats on the continent must condemn the brutal suppression of the Nicaraguan people, and push for a peaceful, democratic end to a painful situation. Out of historical justice, this should be particularly true for those of us who cheered the Sandinista triumph 39 years ago.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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