MEXICO CITY -- Tomas Borge, last living founder of the Sandinista movement and one of its most hard-line enforcers, has died. He was 81.
In Nicaragua, the government of President Daniel Ortega made the announcement, saying Borge died Monday night in a military hospital in Managua. No cause of death was given, but Borge has been sick for some time, suffering pneumonia and other ailments.
Ortega declared three days of mourning for Borge. (The link is in Spanish.)
In the early 1960s, Borge helped create the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front, a guerrilla movement that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. The Sandinistas then installed themselves in government, creating an often-harsh pro-Cuba system that swiftly earned the ire of the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
The United States spent millions of dollars to build and arm the Contra forces that unsuccessfully fought to oust the Sandinistas. Ortega and his allies lost power in an election in 1990. Ortega, a previous president, returned to the presidency in 2007 and was reelected last year.
Through the 1980s, Borge was considered the most rigid member of the nine comandantes who ruled Nicaragua. He was known for his heavy-handed repression of dissidents and opposition figures, especially in the Roman Catholic Church and among the Miskito Indians on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast. He repeatedly shuttered or punished the opposition press.
But he was also a spellbinding orator who commanded the loyalty of his troops.
"They accuse me of having a hard hand, but people closest to me know that is not the nature of my heart," he once said.
Borge's influence had faded in recent years, though he was one of the few early Sandinistas who remained allied with the erratic Ortega. Borge served as ambassador to Peru before his death.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: An August 2010 file photo shows Tomas Borge in Managua. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.