Returning to the revolution: an FSW professor’s journey

Bruno Baltodano, political science professor and Nicaraguan refugee

By Jose Diaz

Born the son of a revolutionary solider, the passion for change runs in the blood of Bruno Baltodano, an FSW political science professor.

His narrative of fleeing politically motivated warfare in his home country of Nicaragua is one familiar to many refugees.

“My story’s not unique,” Baltodano said. “There were hundreds of thousands of people in Nicaragua that faced a terrible calculus. Either stay and fight, and very likely die or be maimed, or leave your country and become an exile.”

His story began in Nicaragua in 1979, the year rebel groups won liberation against the 46-year-long dictatorship of the Somoza family.

The authoritarian and corrupt Somoza family, spanned three different presidents: the father, his eldest son, and a younger brother, Anastosio Somoza Debayle, the most violent and oppressive.

The Somoza family dictatorship ruled Nicaragua from 1936 until the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) grew enough support to overthrow the family in 1979.

The FSLN, also known as the Sandinistas, warred with the family for 20 years prior to their fall. Baltodano’s father, a Sandinista commandant, died one week before the war’s end.

One former Sandinista revolutionary told Baltodano: “Bruno, I hope you find your father’s voice at the end, I hope you hear your fathers voice because we did this to leave a better world for your generation.”

Nicaragua’s violent state didn’t end there. One year after the end of the Sandinista Revolution, a counterrevolution funded by the Reagan administration in the United States, dubbed the Contra War, sparked even more violence and persecution against the newly formed government.

The Contras used terrorism and guerilla tactics on Nicaraguan civilians to turn them against their revolutionary government.

Baltodano was forced to leave his home at 16 to avoid being drafted into the Contra War. In 1984, he crossed into Honduras and lived with a family of a friend of a friend for ten months.

He became an exile.

The Honduran family attempted to recruit him to fight on the side of the Contras back in Nicaragua. His own family moved him northward, to Guatemala. There was a genocide of Mayans in Guatemala at the time, so he soon moved on.

Three months later, his journey took him to Mexico City. There it was much of the same story; too dangerous to live in. By then, Balotdano’s cousin was living in Miami. Baltodano applied for political asylum in the United States.

“The expectation for me, for my family, was ‘we’ll send him to Honduras until the war ends, we’ll send him to Guatemala until the war ends, we’ll send him to Mexico until the war ends, we’ll send him to U.S until the war ends,’” Baltodano said, “but never did the end come soon enough.”

The whole process, from Nicaragua to Miami, took 15 months, from 1984-1985. The Contra War didn’t end until 1991, six years after Baltodano arrived in Miami. By then, Baltodano was attending the University of Florida, but shortly dropped out to have a family.

Ten years later, Baltodano went back to school, received a master’s and eventually a Doctorate of Political Science. Education played an important role in his life. After being pushed by his family to pursue an education, he fell in love with political science early in his collegiate career.

“All through those years [in college] I looked up to the teachers and those teaching classes and I admired them because I saw they were like this expert on the podium.”

It paid off for Baltodano. He is now a man who aggressively pursues knowledge, and fights for awareness in political action.

He teaches political science at FSW and the Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) in Managua, Nicaragua over the summer. Last year, student protestors and police fatally clashed on UPOLI campus when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega threatened cutbacks to social security funds, known as the April 19th Movement.

Ironically, Daniel Ortega was a Sandinista leader who became head of the Nation Directorate of Nicaragua and a spearhead in the FSLN governing party.

“I don’t know if history repeats itself, but it surely rhymes,” Baltodano said. “It’s devastating to me, as the son of a revolutionary who died for the cause, to see one of the leaders of the Sandinista movement act the same way that Somoza was acting.”

Whether at FSW or UPOLI, Baltodano teaches politics to help students understand their place in society and combat against those who infringe upon their rights.

“At the same time,” he said. “it gives me hope that young people are again acting the way that [the revolutionaries] did: in taking ownership at the current and the future of their country.”

This fundamental belief, mixed with his devout love for his home country inspired him to co-author a book last year about the insurgencies, the violent military attempt to change the political system, that happened in Nicaragua.

The book deals with the role of women in the Sandinista Revolution and Contra War, both domestically and politically, and contributes to his research on why people join insurgencies. The book is called The Role of Female Combatants in the Nicaraguan Revolution and Counter Revolutionary War.

It all leads back to Baltodano’s father, who fought and died in the mountains of Nicaragua for himself, his family, and his comrades in government. His sacrifice pushes Baltodano to fight for those same ideals in the classroom.

“In some ways, my revolution is here, while his was in the mountains.”

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