(posted May 1, 1:00 p.m.)- Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans continue to gather in Managua’s Plaza of the Revolution to file into the old National Palace to pay final respects to Tomás Borge, co-founder of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), who died last night at the age of 81 after suffering from respiratory problems.
Borge’s death is already causing controversy in Nicaragua, where the population is polarized over Borge’s legacy and how he should be remembered.
Members of the Sandinista Front remember Borge as a stalwart revolutionary who fought bravely to help overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in 1979. Sandinista officials and supporters filing through the National Palace are calling Borge a “man of exemplary courage and principle,” “an example for the youth,” a “great revolutionary” and even “a prophet of God.”
Supporters are remembering him as a sensible and rational man who was both dedicated to the revolution but humble enough to recognize the mistakes it made.
René Núñez, president of the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly, said Borge was a man who “dedicated his life to the liberty of Nicaragua.”
“He defended Nicaragua; he was Nicaragua,” Núñez said.
Sandinista supporters are calling on the country to honor Borge’s memory by continuing to promote the “transformative change” represented by President Daniel Ortega’s government.
“We have to adhere to this government that is socialist, Christian and in solidarity!” bellowed Sandinista union boss Gustavo Porras, in a twisted May Day speech essentially calling for unconditional compliance with the government’s political project.
Several foreign countries have also started to pay their respects, including El Salvador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Taiwan.
Others in Nicaragua and abroad, however, are remembering Borge as the iron-fisted ex-minister of the interior who was allegedly responsible for some of the worst abuses and atrocities committed by the Sandinista government in the 1980s. Online forums on Nicaragua’s daily newspaper sites and Facebook reveal a wide range of comments expressing anger and hatred for Borge, and frustration that he was never held to account for his alleged crimes.
One of the darker hours of the revolution was the May 30, 1984 bombing at La Penca, which killed four rebels and three journalists – including Tico Times reporter Linda Frazier, a 38-year-old U.S. journalist, mother and wife.
In a 2009 documentary film made by Swedish former journalist Peter Torbiornsson, an internationalist who sympathized with the Sandinistas in the 1980s and claims he was a gullible accomplice to the bombing, Borge gets uncharacteristically ruffled when questioned about his alleged role in the bombing.
In an interview, Borge and Torbiornsson get in a heated exchange as the elderly comandante at first denies any involvement in La Penca and then accuses Torbiornsson of being an accomplice.
“You are my accomplice! You are my accomplice! I don’t accept this interview! It’s a trap!” Borge says.
“I am going to say something I’ve never said before,” Borge tells Torbiornsson. “I never knew that they were going to do this. And I never would have accepted it …how do you think I am going to kill journalists? It’s completely against my principles and my way of being… But I don’t want to talk about this.”
The interview then ends abruptly when Borge throws Torbiornsson out of his house.
Edén Pastora, the former Sandinista-comandante-turned-ex-contra-leader-turned-diehard-Ortega-supporter was the principal target in the La Penca bombing, but apparently harbors no hard feelings towards Borge. “He was a man who left his mark,” Comandante Cero said ambiguously, quickly adding that he is godfather to Borge’s youngest child.
The Nicaraguan government has declared three days of national mourning for Borge’s death. He will be buried tomorrow in the Plaza of the Revolution, next to the body of Sandinista Front co-founder Carlos Fonseca.