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The Sandinistas' Impact in Nicaragua

Interview With Humberto Belli, Ex-Education Minister

By Viktoria Somogyi

ROME, NOV. 6, 2006 (Zenit) - As Nicaragua awaits the possible return of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to power, a one-time official says the country is still recovering from its Marxist past.

Humberto Belli, former education minister of Nicaragua, talked about the country's challenges, in this interview with us. He lectured at a conference on globalization and poverty, organized by the U.S.-based Acton Institute on Oct. 19 in Rome.

Belli was born and raised in Nicaragua. He studied law in Spain and later obtained a master's in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

In his youth he was a Marxist and a collaborator with the Sandinista guerrillas who later overthrew the Somoza regime.

Disenchanted with radical politics, he converted to Christianity. Belli became a vocal critic of Christian-left positions and became opinion-page editor of the only independent newspaper in the country.

He had to flee Nicaragua in 1982 as a political refugee and lived and taught sociology in the United States until President Violeta Chamorro defeated the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections.

Belli then became minister of education for more than eight years. Since 1999 he has been president of Ave Maria College of the Americas, a U.S.-based university that operates in Nicaragua.

Q: As a young man what attracted you to the Sandinista movement?

Belli: The idea of ending the very oppressive regime that we had in Nicaragua; the illusion of creating a new sort of utopia, a just society, things that usually attract young people; this relatively naive idea that you can create a new world without injustice and oppression.

Q: What made you convert to Catholicism?

Belli: The first step was to become disenchanted with Marxism, which happened when I was about to go to university to do my graduate work. I began to discover in a painful way that Marxism was not a science, it was a faith.

I had a lot of internal turmoil that eventually led me to Christianity by way of a personal crisis in which, in a very miraculous way, I had a personal encounter with the Lord.

Q: Why Catholicism instead of other forms of Christianity or other religions?

Belli: That was also a little bit gradual. First I converted to Christianity. I still had a mix of hostility and distrust toward the hierarchy of the Catholic tradition but I kept going to Mass and enjoyed the Eucharist and sacraments.

Soon, I also arrived at what you would call a logical conclusion; as a sociologist I was aware of the need for a single magisterium. When everybody is allowed to interpret the Bible as many Protestants do, you multiply the number of popes.

In a way every Protestant turns out to be a pope, willing to give himself or his group a unique interpretation of the Gospel, whereas in Catholicism you have a centralized authority that gives unity to doctrine and morals.

Q: What is wrong with the Marxist ideology of the Sandinistas?

Belli: It is an economic analysis believing that the state is the creator of wealth and prosperity, when in fact it is not. Their bad anthropology also led them to concentrate power in a single group, a party with no checks or balances.

There is a type of a political prudence that recognizes that men cannot be trusted, that men have a propensity to be selfish and to abuse. Western and Christian wisdom is the opposite of Marxism.

Q: What were the moral effects of the Sandinista regime?

Belli: They did tremendous damage to the work ethic of the Nicaraguan people. People who returned to Nicaragua after the Sandinista revolution saw the change in how people work.

One thing that happened was people were used to receiving subsidies from the state, to expect prosperity from the state, instead of believing themselves personally responsible for their own way in life. So a kind of state dependency became very acute along with a tremendous awareness of rights without any awareness of duties.

Q: How do you think these effects can be overcome?

Belli: It's going to take time. Moral reconstruction has to work very closely with the youth. We have to be engaged in a new re-evangelization of youth.

Q: As a minister of education what were your main goals? What were the main aspects of your policy?

Belli: We had two major goals. One was to return traditional values to the educational system. We began teaching the Ten Commandments, basic moral principles, and we re-established in the curriculum a subject that had been abandoned: civic and moral education.

And the other important goal was to empower parents to have a say in the running of schools, including the promotion of what we called an ...

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