(posted July 9, 3:00 p.m.)- President Daniel Ortega today decreed three days of national mourning for the death of former economist, banker, politician and presidential candidate Arturo Cruz Porras. He was 89.
Cruz, who campaigned briefly against Daniel Ortega in the 1984 presidential elections before dropping out of the race in shame for what he called a “fake candidacy” that was being controlled by the CIA, was also named “a distinguished citizen” by the same presidential decree.
Cruz, whose health had been failing recently, had a long history of political dissidence that started under the Somoza dynasty. In the 1970s, Cruz became a member of the Sandinistas’ “Group of Twelve,” a group of erudite intellectuals who gave an international voice to the Sandinistas’ revolutionary cause.
After the triumph of the revolution in 1979, Cruz was named the Sandinistas’ first Central Bank President. He was then sent to Washington, D.C., to serve as the government’s Ambassador to the United States.
But Cruz’s relationship with the Sandinista Front was short-lived. Before the second anniversary of the revolution, Cruz defected from the ruling party with serious concerns about the moral and ethical direction of the revolution. The Sandinistas, he said, “had no moral brakes” and “Sandinista ethics permitted any type of action or behavior for the cause.”
So when the Sandinistas announced presidential elections in 1984, Cruz, who was working for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington at the time, was the first to scoff at the idea. He said he was convinced the Sandinistas, with their absolute grip over the state electoral machinery, would orchestrate an electoral farce to try to justify their continuance in power. But Cruz was eventually urged by the CIA to run as the opposition candidate, and went on the U.S. intelligence agency’s payroll.
In a 2011 interview with The Nicaragua Dispatch, Cruz said he had a series of secret meetings with CIA handlers in Washington-area bars and in his home in Bethesda, Maryland. The CIA’s plan, he said, was to get Cruz to campaign against Ortega just long enough to rally anti-Sandinista sentiments in the countryside, but then drop out of the race before the vote. He said the CIA wanted to use the elections as an excuse to campaign openly against the Sandinistas, but then withdraw his candidacy to deny Ortega the satisfaction of winning a legitimate poll.
Cruz said once the campaign started, he was moved by genuine anti-Sandinista sentiment in the countryside and wanted to make his fake campaign real. But neither the CIA nor the Sandinistas wanted that to happen. He said he felt used by the CIA and eventually dropped out of the race, allowing Ortega to win an essentially uncontested poll.
In hindsight, Cruz said, mistakes were made by all sides in the 1980s. He said the U.S.’ meddling in the 1984 elections and their support for the contras was wrong. Uncle Sam, he said, would have been a lot smarter to “Let (the Sandinistas) fry in their own lard.”
In his 2011 interview with the Nicaragua Dispatch, which can be read here, Cruz said he was working on the second edition of his memoires, which are still unpublished at the time of his death.