After several weeks of battling for his life against a respiratory problem in the intensive-care unit of Managua’s military hospital, comandante Tomás Borge, the last living member of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), died tonight around 9 p.m. He was 81.
Borge’s death was announced by First Lady Rosario Murillo, who seemed to be fighting back tears as she spoke over the phone in a recorded message looped on official media outlets.
“He will be with us forever in the Sandinista Front in this revolutionary process of men and women and honest Nicaraguans,” Murillo said. “He will be with us in all our battles and victories.”
“He is on another plane of life, meeting our Creator, and from there he will continue to illuminate our path with light and truth,” Murillo said.
Murillo said the details of Borge’s wake and funeral will be announced Tuesday morning.
Borge, the once-feared minister of the interior during the first Sandinista government in the 1980s, was named Ambassador to Peru five years ago. When he was named to the post, he told the media he was going to Lima to be with his wife, who is Peruvian, and his children, who were living there with her. He said it would be his last job.
“I calculate that I have got seven years left to live, and I want to pass that time with my children,” the former guerrilla leader told Channel 12 TV at the time.
It turned out he only had five years left to live.
As the number-two ranked Sandinista leader behind President Daniel Ortega, Borge was still considered a firebrand member of the old guard, even years after his voice faded from booming to tremulous and crackly in his old age.
Borge was rumored to have a rocky relationship with Murillo. Though he denied that was the case, Borge played a noticeably less-visible role within the party leadership over the last six years, as Murillo’s role became omnipresent.
During the 2005 Anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Borge was relegated to the second stage designated for special invitees, rather than sitting with the other party leaders on the main stage. He wasn’t present at all at the 2006 Anniversary of the Revolution and made minor appearances from then on, as Ortega and Murillo dominated the stage.
Borge, who in 1978 spent nine months being tortured by the National Guard in prison, where he was reportedly partially castrated, said in 2004 interview that his time in prison was the easiest part of the revolution.
“That’s when I realized how easy it would be to defeat them,” he told me in an interview in his Managua office, which was cluttered photographs of him posing with a virtual Who’s Who list of U.S.-identified bogymen: Fidel Castro, Col. Muammar Kaddafi, and Yassir Arafat, to name a few. Borge also kept a photograph of Sandinista namesake Augusto Sandino posing with his father, a revolutionary from the 1930s.
Borge defended the Sandinista revolution until the end.
“The revolution recuperated the dignity of the country and achieved some social advancement,” he told me in an interview several years ago. “The revolution was a seed without which there would be no possibility to produce fruits and flowers. But the fundamental achievement of the revolution was to give birth to hope.”
Borge also acknowledged the mistakes made by the Sandinista government in the 1980s.
“We were victims of arrogance,” he said. He said that next Sandinista government would implement “more realistic” policies and not repeat the mistakes of land confiscations, nationalizations or mandatory military service.
Ironically, Borge believed firmly in a rejuvenated Sandinista movement as the country’s “only hope.”
When Ortega won reelection in 2006, a misty eyed Borge told me on election night, “This is a very happy night after 16 years of sadness.”