2001-10-02 05:27:39 (UTC)

I found this essay on the net,..

I found this essay on the 'net, and it helped me study for
my forthcoming test. This essay was not written by me, nore
may I share the same views as the author. I am posting it
because it's informative, and interesting.

The Impact of the Sandinistas on Nicaragua
Copyright 1998, by Jorian Polis Schutz

The Sandinista Revolution of 1979, in the nation of
Nicaragua, is a controversial and thought-provoking
revolution. In one year, Nicaraguans went from being ruled
by a strict right-wing dictatorship to being controlled by
left wing, idealistic revolutionaries. Which is the lesser
of the two evils? Which, if any, was good for the nation
and people of Nicaragua? These questions can only be
answered by studying the Sandinista Revolution in close
detail. The Sandinistas have undeniably had an enormous
impact on their people, and in evaluating them, all aspects
of their rule must be taken into account.
Before delving into the Sandinista revolution, the scene
must be set, and the background must be understood. The
Republic of Nicaragua is the largest nation in Central
America, both size-wise (with 49,579 sq. mi.) and
population-wise (with more than four million). In 1926, a
large revolution in Nicaragua threatened dictatorial rule
of the nation. Headed by General Augusto Sandino, the new
leftist revolutionaries took to guerilla warfare and killed
many US marines, who had come to aid the rightist regime.
The war continued until 1934, when General Anastasio
Somoza, of the rightist regime, invited Sandino to meet in
Managua for peace talks. Sandino agreed, and upon his
arrival Somoza summarily seized and executed the man. The
revolution was finally subdued, and in 1937 Somoza became
dictator. From 1937 to 1979, Nicaragua was ruled
autocratically by two successive generations of the Somoza
family. This seemed to please the US, which preferred
rightist regimes to leftist ones. But though Sandino’s
revolution had failed, the seed of radicalism had been
planted, and soon new leftist groups had emerged.

By the 1970’s, the Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN) had grown in popularity and started to threaten
Somoza’s hegemony. The Sandinistas, naturally, had taken
their name from Augusto Sandino, the martyr who fathered
the leftist cause in Nicaragua. The Sandinista cause was
supported by three major beliefs, “the three legs of the
stool of Nicaraguan revolutionary democracy” . The first,
political democracy, meant that the Sandinistas supported a
republican form of government, based on elections with
universal suffrage. The second, participatory democracy,
meant active citizen participation in government
organizations, task forces, etc. Finally the third,
economic equality, meant a communistic economy and complete
equalization of wealth, incorporating both Marxist and
socialist ideas. These three ideals together form a very
interesting combination. Whereas in Russia Lenin and Stalin
had focused primarily on economic equality, and “forgotten”
Marx’s rule by the workers, the Sandinistas held a much
better potential of representation of "Applied Marxism".

The Sandinistas were influenced by three major groups of
thought. First, and perhaps most heavily, they were
influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels. Marx’s dialectical materialism, proletariat
revolution, and rule by the workers seemed perfect and
ingenious. The Sandinistas arrogantly viewed themselves as
the catalyst of the proletariat revolution in Nicaragua.
Second, they were influenced by Augusto Sandino, the
aforementioned hero of the anti-US struggle. Sandino was a
paternal character whose ideas were reflective of his pagan
religion, his Marxist beliefs, and his close association
with anarchism. Finally, they were influenced by the
Christian Theology of Liberation. With this philosophy, the
Sandinistas justified their revolution as freeing people
from social, economic, and political oppression. The
Sandinistas were a mixture of these influences, which made
them a very unique cause, and very unique leaders.

On August 22, 1978, twenty-four Sandinista guerillas
stormed the national palace at Managua, and by July 17,
1979, the Sandinistas had formally taken power. The
Sandinistas quickly wrote and passed a provisional
constitution, The Fundamental Law of State. This
constitution guaranteed human rights that were previously
ignored by the Somoza regime. It guaranteed equal justice
under law, the right to free expression, and the abolition
of torture. It seemed that the people were already
benefiting from this great revolution, which truly did
liberate them. Despite this advance in human rights,
though, the Nicaraguan economy was still failing, and with
the newly imposed US embargo, Nicaraguans were suffering

The Sandinistas, in the first few months of their
sovereignty, seemed to ignore the first and most important
of their principles: political democracy. They immediately
set up a ruling junta, made up of five top Sandinista
officials, including Daniel Ortega and Violeta Barrios de
Chamorro. The Sandinistas had promised political pluralism
and free elelctions—what had happened? Even the
Sandinistas’ call for international nonalignment was
violated in the years of the junta, who allied with the
Soviet Union and Cuba, receiving heavy financial and
military aid from these countries. They grew more and more
distant from the US and other capitalist nations, creating
international alignment—contrary to what they had promised.

The junta did, though, set out to educate their people in a
way the Somoza regime had never attempted. The National
Literacy Campaign of 1980 affected one in every two
Nicaraguans . The literacy rate rose from 45% to 86% in one
of the largest literacy campaigns ever, and the Sandinista
government drew international acclaim. In September, 1980,
the Minister of National Education, Carlos Tunnermann
received the UNESCO Prize. Critics accused the Sandinistas
of educating their people with propaganda and attempting to
win over the rural proletariat in this way. This was
undeniably true in part, but the outcome of this mass
campaign was indeed positive.

The junta then quickly set to work on the equalization of
wealth that had been promised in the Sandinista platform.
Prior to 1979, about 4% of the landowners controlled about
52% of the arable land. The Sandinista junta set out to fix
this, trying to make it an equal proportion. They directly
started to confiscate Somoza family land, and other,
similar land. The nationalization of Somoza’s property
alone affected a total of 168 factories—25% of industrial
plant in Nicaragua, valued at $200 million. This initial
confiscation led directly to the Agrarian Reform Law of
1981, which targeted unused farms, property of absent
landlords, and unproductive land for expropriation. From
1981-1985, thousands of acres of land were expropriated and
turned into new, peasant collectives. This was efficient
and productive towards the communist cause, but many were
still unhappy, and all knew that this couldn’t last.

The landlords that had had their land expropriated were
also politically and socially persecuted. They eventually
fled to the hills and joined the growing group of
rightists, left over from the Somoza regime. From the
commencement of Sandinista rule, many rightists and right-
wing sympathizers had fled for the hills. They feared for
their lives, as political persecution was very common in
Nicaragua, even under the “secure” new Sandinista regime.
With the discrete help of the US, these so-called counter-
revolutionaries, or contras, began a guerilla war on the
Sandinistas. Despite the irony of this switch in positions,
the contras, indeed, became guerillas, right after the
Sandinista guerillas had ousted them from power. Though the
Reagan administration was officially forbidden by congress
to support the contras, the US secretly provided financial
aid for them. Through Ollie North and the highly
controversial Iran-Contra Affair, the US provided the
contras with endless financial aid stemming from profits
from an illegal arms trade with Iran. With this aid the
guerillas conducted a war similar to that of the
Sandinistas before they had taken power. Many Nicaraguans
were now starting to doubt both Sandinista rule and the
expropriation of the bourgeois land that led to this
violence, terrorism, and death.

Along with nationalizing aristocratic land, the Sandinistas
began to nationalize certain industries. The Sandinistas
issued reform that nationalized sugar distribution,
commenced state control over agricultural cooperatives, and
started a limited policy of nationalization of business. By
1981, the state accounted for more than 30% of the industry
of Nicaragua. The government also initiated control, with
so-called ‘wildcat nationalizations’, over 20% of the
cotton industry, 50% of the tobacco industry, and 60% of
the ‘staple cereal’ industry. The effect that this growing
socialistic trend had on the people is arguable. It could
be seen as a triumph of the people, the workers, who now
are beginning to control their own lives. Contrariwise, it
could be concluded that the government was growing more
controlling, as the junta’s jurisdiction expanded. This is
an argument that still goes on today, and in the case of
Nicaragua led to a political and social rift between the
contra-sympathizers and the Sandinista-sympathizers.

This rift led to protests, demonstrations, and an increase
in guerilla-warfare. The Sandinistas saw this, and in an
attempt to resolve the situation, created the ‘National
Assembly’, in 1985. The president of the assembly became
Daniel Ortega, previously of the Sandinista junta. Though
the assembly was overwhelmingly seated by Sandinistas and
was somewhat biased, it nevertheless represented a
semblance of the democracy guaranteed to Nicaraguans by the
Sandinista revolutionaries. It did not, however, stop the
constant contra war that was causing so much loss of life.

How was the individual Nicaraguan affected in this long
period? They definitely gained some basic rights that had
been deprived of them during the Somoza years. Moreover,
they gained some say in government matters as well as in
the workplace, where they now supposedly ruled. But most
Nicaraguans were overwhelmingly poor, and too uneducated to
enjoy these new rights. In Nicaragua during the Somoza
years, the bourgeoisie had risen and turned into a new,
unassailable, indomitable aristocracy. This new aristocracy
had all but blatantly exploited the people, and Sandinista
rule was a great improvement from this. Otherwise,
conditions for Nicaraguans barely changed—the previous
enemies became leaders, the previous leaders became
enemies, and they could care less whether they were ruled
by one or ruled by several.

The Sandinista regime was, day by day, losing the
revolutionary ideals they had fought for. In 1986, they
closed a popular Nicaraguan newspaper, La Prensa, because
of “subversive activities” and anti-Sandinista literature.
This caused a massive uproar that only exacerbated the
already present conflict. What was different between this
and Somoza’s censorship and other conservative activities?
Was the classic summation of communism, as detailed in
Orwell’s Animal Farm, coming true? Were the Sandinistas, in
their glory and triumph, picking up traits characteristic
of the previous dictatorial regime, and indeed of any
ruling, vanguard party?

Political oppression, freedom violations, oligarchy--these
are all things that the Somoza regime represented, and
sadly enough, the Sandinistas inherited. The left-wing
turned out to be not much of an improvement from the right-
wing, as has been the case in history. Despite this,
though, there is a rather happy ending to the story of the
Nicaraguan people. In 1990, Daniel Ortega, president of
Nicaragua, decided to hold free elections within Nicaragua.
This controversial decision occurred for several reasons.
First, the collapse of the Soviet Union had left Nicaragua
seemingly without allies. International pressure was
mounting, and many countries were imposing heavy economic
sanctions on Nicaragua. Second, the contra war, going on
for more than a decade, was getting unbearable to
Nicaraguans, who wanted nothing but peace, and a chance to
succeed in global markets. For these reasons Ortega gave
the presidency up to elections—a noble act that put him in
front of the race for president. He lost though, barely, to
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, previously of the junta, who
had split off and formed the political party National Union
of Opposition (UNO). Chamorro became president, and was
immediately faced with an endless amount of conflicts to

Chamorro now had to deal with all of the Sandinista’s
errata. The contras, appeased by free elections, had ceased
fighting and even put forth a candidate for the presidency.
With the return of peace, Chamorro was faced with a new
problem. The landlords whom the Sandinistas had confiscated
he land from were now returning to reclaim their land. The
peasants who had lived on the land in collectives ever
since the early 1980’s, naturally refused to leave. This
conflict, and other similar Sandinista-induced conflicts
were filling Chamorro’s domestic platter. But now there was
peace—and there was democracy.

Though the Sandinista Revolution is behind us, the role of
the Sandinistas in history is still an enigma, and many
questions still remain. Why had the Sandinista’s democratic
ideals taken so long to be implemented? The Sandinistas
seemed to have democratized themselves a rather long time
after they democratized their nation. They had great
intentions, but were their plans ever instated? Is the
failing of idealistic revolutionaries inevitable? What is
the significance of the failed Sandinista economic model?
The Sandinistas’ exact long-term contribution to history is
as yet unknown. One thing that historians agree upon is
that the Sandinistas’ unique case should be subject to
intense scrutiny, so that we may better understand history,
politics, and humanity.