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Sandinista Founder, Who Led Overthrow of Somoza, Dies

Tomas Borge Martinez
Co-founder of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Liberation front party, Tomas Borge Martinez. Photographer: Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)

Tomas Borge Martinez, a founder of the Sandinista guerilla movement that led the 1979 overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza, died last night at age 81.

Borge, who co-founded the National Sandinista Liberation Front party in 1961, had been suffering from a respiratory illness for several weeks, according to a statement from Nicaragua’s government. His death was announced on government radio by Rosario Murillo, wife of current president and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.

“He was a brave man, a man of many battles that was at the head of all of the vital moments of the revolutionary fight,” Murillo said on government station Radio Nicaragua. “Even in death, Tomas will never die.”

During the 42-year rule of the Somoza family, Borge and government dissidents formed the socialist Sandinista party based on the ideals of Augusto Cesar Sandino, a rebel general who fought U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s. Borge was imprisoned in 1956 for three years for his alleged knowledge of a plot to assassinate Somoza.

Borge served as the interior minister in the first Sandinista government and became a target of the U.S.-backed Contra rebels. He later served as a congressman and ambassador to Ecuador and Peru.

Ortega declared three days of national mourning to honor Borge’s death.

“The days of mourning are to honor his fight to liberate and his fight to improve democracy,” Murillo said in a statement today. “His life’s commitment to the revolution is forever part of Nicaragua.”

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