The interview was conducted at the Comandante’s residence, over breakfast, with the help of an old friend, Ileana Rodriguez, and a new friend, Daniel Alegría, whose stories—instructively different from the life trajectories of North American intellectuals—I hope to tell in another place. It was not a particularly propitious moment for a theoretical interview, being among other things the first week of the Hasenfuss affair. Contragate had not yet been disclosed; but clearly Nicaragua was living under the anxiety of invasion, and suffering daily from desperate economic conditions. The visitor was also reminded that week of the reason for Managua’s strange landscape: a basin filled with foliage and vacant lots, from which a few buildings emerged at intervals. For San Salvador had just been struck by a devastating earthquake, which recalled to Nicaraguans their own experience in 1972. ‘This is the beginning of the end in El Salvador’, they said; since Somoza’s pocketing of the relief funds for the 1972 disaster had spelled the real beginning of the final revolutionary process in Nicaragua. ‘Duarte will never be able to rebuild either!’

My own interest lay in the originality of the Sandinista revolutionary process; it was clear enough that others were prepared to take care of current events. When the Comandante drove me back to the Hotel Intercontinental that evening in his jeep (his staff did not particularly appreciate his exercise in bravura driving, although he obviously relished it), North American network correspondents descended on him in hopes of a scoop: the first interview with the pilot or, failing that, an interview on the subject with Borge himself. He explained that the first was impossible until after the trial; and as for the second, he offered as a consolation an interview about Carlos Fonseca, the martyred founder of the Sandinista movement about whom the Comandante was rewriting a memoir. ‘But that,’ he said, ‘you’re probably not interested in.’ The correspondents were frank to admit that the North American public would not be at all interested in Carlos Fonseca. Given the significance of martyrs in the Sandinista tradition—starting with Sandino himself—this particular indifference can stand as a useful illustration of the interests, or lack of them, that separate a us public, occasionally including the Left, from an understanding of the specific dynamics of a revolution. Virtually the only thing that can be affirmed in advance about a revolution (as Borge does here) is that it will be uniquely formed and articulated by its national situation—though this is not, I trust, an endorsement of nationalism.

Born in 1931, Tomás Borge first became politically active as a member of the Nicaraguan Conservative Party, and was held in prison for eighteen months in the 1950s following the assassination of Somoza senior. In 1961 he became one of the four founder-members of the fsln, of whom he is the only survivor, and went on to head the ‘Protracted People’s War’ tendency that favoured a strategy of rural guerrilla warfare. He and his wife were captured and tortured by the National Guard—she to death—but he was released with eighty-two other fsln prisoners in the wake of the attack on the National Palace in August 1978. Since the victory of the revolution he has been Minister of the Interior in the Sandinista government. The senior member of the collective leadership, he is also reputed to be the most ‘Marxist’ or ‘hard-line’ ideologue—something the reader will be able to evaluate on the basis of this interview. Like all Nicaraguans—such is at any rate the outsider’s impression and the international stereotype—he is a poet and a writer. His personality is clearly that of the rebel: on a visit to the penitentiary at Tipitapa, I was shown the cell in which he spent many of the Somoza years. Exceptionally, he was given an entire floor of the cell block to himself so he could not agitate the other political prisoners, and was frequently confined for punishment in the tiny compartment through which the system of pipes and ducts passed, a horrible makeshift variety of solitary confinement. Today the Nicaraguans have an open prison system, of which they are justly proud, and like many other Latin American countries do not have the death penalty. This has never been mentioned in the us media’s anxiety about the fate of Hasenfuss.

As well as being the Sandinista leader with the longest revolutionary experience, Borge is a very popular figure who plunges into the crowd on the appropriate occasion, ‘pressing the flesh’ like any American politician, kissing babies, listening to grievances which are noted down by his staff, capable too of stopping his jeep in the neighbouring village at the sight of a lighted window, to find out why this or that inhabitant failed to participate in the public meeting. The exceedingly inadequate category of ‘the charismatic’, however, is all the less apposite in a situation of collective leadership.