New life, old line
By Juanita Darling Posted Oct 1 2000
When revolutionary commander Tomas Borge announced the temporary closure two years ago of Barricada, the newspaper of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, there were serious doubts that the feisty periodical would ever publish again.
Barricada was millions of dollars in debt to its own workers, who had been paid only erratically in the months before the closure, its staff was decimated by internal conflicts and those who were left remained at odds with the Sandinista leadership over the paper’s direction. Top Sandinistas considered the paper too critical of the party and of themselves.
But surprisingly — or tragically, as former editor Carlos F. Chamorro puts it — Barricada is now appearing on the banner of a weekly newspaper.
The new eight-page version is far more like the original Barricada than the professional publication that Chamorro, son of former President Violeta Chamorro, developed in his 14 years as editor.
The original version, written and edited by Sandinista loyalists with no newspaper experience, had an unusual beginning. The staffers worked under the headlights of newspaper delivery trucks to bring out the first edition, which appeared on July 25, 1979, six days after the Sandinistas marched into Managua and overthrew military dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
“We’ve Won! Now Onward,” the lead headline proclaimed.
The current weekly “is a mere caricature of what Barricada was,” says Juan Ramon Huerta, the last editor of the daily edition. Although its reporting is not as hard-hitting as the daily version under Chamorro’s editorship, the new Barricada also lacks police photos of semi-nude rape-torture victims, which became front-page illustrations after Chamorro was fired in 1994.
“We became ridiculous,” Huerta says. “It is an era that embarrasses me.”
Barricada sees the news strictly from the vantage point of how events involve the Sandinista Party. One recent edition dedicated the entire front page, above the fold, to a photo of the Sandinista candidate for mayor of Managua.
The readership is fundamentally party activists, says Borge, the former director who became part-owner of the newspaper when he mortgaged one of his vacation houses to help pay off some of its debts.
The weekly started out with 8,000 copies, he says, more than double the circulation of the daily when it closed in January 1998. He projects that with more effort, circulation could reach the 1994 level of 15,000. “We haven’t really made a big push yet,” he says.
Currently, distribution depends on local party leaders, who buy a stack of 100 newspapers at about 30 cents each and then re-sell them in their neighborhoods. The paper is also sold at party rallies. There are no subscriptions, Borge says, and the publication is not available on newsstands.
“This newspaper has no impact,” Chamorro notes. “Its echo in society is minimal.”
With just three staff writers, an editor and a volunteer director, compared with more than 400 employees when Chamorro was editor, Barricada is not likely to undertake the investigations that became its forte in the early 1990s.
And that is just fine with Borge. He terms the newspaper’s reporting during those years as attacks.
Barricada embarrassed the Sandinistas in 1993 by revealing the Salvadoran left’s collusion with the Basque terrorist group ETA in creating an arms stash in Managua, which the police had found. Chamorro wrote a signed opinion piece that year calling for the resignation of Sandinista stalwart Humberto Ortega as chief of the army.
After Chamorro was fired, Barricada's attacks on the party intensified.
“Day after day, the policies and editorial preferences of Barricada’s news directorate were exposed to withering criticism from Barricada’s journalists and remaining editors in the paper’s own pages,” writes political scientist Adam Jones in a history of the paper.
Borge still bristles when he recalls that period.
“There is no newspaper in the world that does not respond to the interests of its owners,” he says. “Yet, they were directly attacking the policies and the directors of the [Sandinista] Front.”
He fired most of the journalists and ended up shutting the paper down.
“No newspaper is independent,” he says. “Officially, they say they are, but they are not. We just aren’t hypocrites.”
And this time, Borge says he plans to keep a tight rein on Barricada and to avoid what he considers the mistakes of the past.
Huerta, now editor of the weekly El Seminario, said Managua is a strong market for weekly newspapers with analysis and cultural news, but not a publication like the new Barricada.
“It’s not a weekly,” he says. “It is a political pamphlet.”
Chamorro shares the opinion: “It is an anachronism.”
But criticisms from former editors do not worry Borge.
“We are going to sell it through our political sections,” he says. “There are 400,000 Sandinista activists. Surely, we can sell 50,000 newspapers.”