MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Thousands of Sandinista militants on Tuesday bid goodbye to Tomas Borge Martinez, the last surviving founder of the guerrilla movement that overthrew Nicaragua's U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorship in 1979 and replaced it with a leftist government also criticized for repression.
Mourners wearing hats and T-shirts with Sandinista logos waited in snaking lines up marble stairs to the second floor of the National Palace of Culture where Borge's casket was surrounded with dozens of floral arrangement while revolutionary music blared in the plaza outside.
Most of the mourners came with their neighborhood organizations or unions.
"We wouldn't have had a revolution without him," said Glenda Perez, a social science university professor and Sandinista militant.
President Daniel Ortega announced three days of national mourning on state television for his longtime ally Borge, who died Monday night at age 81 after being hospitalized last month for pneumonia and other ailments. Borge joined with Carlos Fonseca Amador and others in 1961 to found the Sandinista National Liberation Front. It was named for Augusto Cesar Sandino, who fought against U.S. military intervention in Nicaragua in the 1930s. Ortega joined the front later and became its leader.
"Like Carlos Fonseca, he (Borge) is one of the dead who never die," first lady Rosario Murillo said in an emotional announcement, her voice appearing to break at times. "He will always be with us in the Sandinista Front."
Borge's body, dressed in a faded olive drab military jacket, lay in state in an open casket at the National Palace of Culture. Ambassadors and government ministers filed by, some tearfully. A few mourners bowed or saluted in front of Borge's body.
An incendiary speaker, combative personality and avid admirer of the communist governments in Cuba and North Korea, Borge was central to both the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and the establishment of a junta after the revolution and then the elected Sandinista government. He became the target of the Contra rebels supported by the Reagan administration.
Jailed twice by the Somozas' brutal dynastic dictatorship, Borge was himself accused of human rights violations as the powerful interior minister during the 1985-90 elected Sandinista administration, until it was voted out of power.
Working from a six-story building that bore the slogan "Guardian of the People's Happiness," he controlled the police, immigration agents, jails and even firefighters, often using his nearly unbounded powers to punish the Sandinistas' enemies in the press, Roman Catholic Church and private business.
Miskito Indians living along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast alleged Borge orchestrated the displacement and killing of Miskitos suspected of anti-Sandinista activities, said Marcos Carmona, president of Nicaragua's Standing Commission on Human Rights. Borge was also accused of ordering the killing of 37 opposition members in a jail in the city of Granada during President Daniel Ortega's first term in office, something Borge always denied.
A staunch defender of the Sandinistas and Ortega, who won back the presidency in 2007 and was re-elected last year, Borge once wrote that "the return of the right is inconceivable" and pledged before the 2011 presidential election that the Sandinistas would stay in power "forever." Asked that year who he most admired, he responded: "First, Fidel Castro. Second, Fidel Castro. Third, Fidel Castro. Fourth, Fidel Castro. Fifth, Fidel Castro."
Congressman Jacinto Suarez called Borge "a transcendental figure in Nicaraguan history, not just for his founding of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, but for his fight to free the Nicaraguan people from Somoza's dictatorship ... I knew him for 40 years and we always had a friendly relationship, but due to his strong character it was impossible not to have some kind of rift with him."
Renowned Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli, a Sandinista who later broke with the movement, found a tragic trajectory in Borge's life.
"For a good portion of the Nicaraguan revolution, Tomas Borge sought to embody its free-flowing, original character," Belli said. "Grandiose and unpredictable, he could be tough with one hand and extremely generous with the other. He was a good friend of his friends. After 1990, I have the sense he gave up his revolutionary illusions ... He ended up a tragic-comic figure."
Still, Belli said, Borge's death "has made me very sad. I feel as if an era of Sandinismo died with him, notwithstanding the fact that he did not end his life as valiantly as he once lived it."
Cut pounds of stomach fat every week by using this 1 weird old tip.