Like a rock star who manages to climb his way back to the top of the Billboard charts after putting out a couple of flop records and aging just a bit beyond sexy, Sandinista leader and President-elect Daniel Ortega has managed to reinvent himself for the times by adapting his tune to a changed world.
His hippie-like campaign, based on the message of peace, love, reconciliation and swirling pastels, hit home in a country that is long divided and still injured from conflicts of the past.
The Sandinista campaign song, with lyrics: “All we want is work and peace…all we want is reconciliation,” and sung to the tune of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” caught on with such a wild popularity here that the CD almost seems to be standard issue in all taxis these days.
The message of peace and reconciliation is a simple one, but it’s one that people have embraced in a country that is fatigued by division and hate.
Nicaraguans are weary of being told that “the other” is their enemy; and they are tired of being scared by the threat of repercussions from outsiders.
Though Liberal challenger Eduardo Montealegre is to be commended for gracefully recognizing defeat and personally congratulating Ortega Tuesday night, he should now spend some quiet time reflecting on how his anti-Sandinista campaign message – delivered with ominous warnings of a return to the country’s dark past, and with the implicit understanding that an intimidating Uncle Sam was standing behind him in the shadows – ultimately fell flat.
Nicaragua, which has the feeling of a large extended family, and where everyone knows everyone else by name, has never undergone any process of reconciliation, despite having fought a war and counterrevolutionary war that left some 50,000 dead.
A therapist would probably say that’s not a good thing. In the 1990s, some 100,000 former soldiers from the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and the Contras were asked to demobilize and hand in their weapons.
But there was never any process of reinserting these former enemies back into society, or teaching them how to get along, or how to hold down a job. They were just told to hand in their guns, and given a pat on the ass.
Since that time, many of the former Sandinista and Contra combatants have discovered that they have more in common than their political chieftains led them to believe in the 1980s. Namely, they are mostly poor, unemployed, without land, without job skills, and waiting on promises from a government that doesn’t respond to their needs.
So when wealthy candidates try to convince these poor people every five years that they are still enemies, and that they have to unite to defeat the other, the message starts to sound a little hollow after 16 years.
Ortega understood this. Instead of trying to rally the old troops against foreign meddlers, he opened the doors of the Sandinista Front to his former adversaries, and to those who never understood him in the first place.
He didn’t stoop to the level of his mud-throwing opponents, and it paid off in the form of the presidency.
For a man elected to the tune of Give Peace a Chance, it’s time for Ortega’s adversaries – including the United States – to give him a chance in peace.