The Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1970's encompassed opposition to the then president Somoza’s dictatorial leadership. The opposition campaign was led by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). The liberation led to the violent ouster of Somoza’s dictatorial leadership in 1979. The FSLN governed the country from then till 1990 on socialist conditions. The revolution is credited with playing a significant role in Nicaragua’s foreign policy but is also remembered for marking the proxy wars. The paper will discuss in detail the Nicaraguan revolution, reasons why the revolution occurred and what happened in the country afterwards. The paper will also describe the political, economic and social developments in Nicaragua after the revolution.
Reasons Why the Nicaragua Revolution Occurred
Although it is difficult to say when the revolution exactly began, it is however correct to say that revolution started in the 1970s when serious armed resistance to the dictatorial leadership of Somoza began. The revolution resulted in the ouster of President Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979. The president was viewed as being politically naïve and was criticized as being a socialist thus isolating the Nicaraguan Revolution from its perspective of the cold war. He was also accused of obstructing revolutionary struggles across Latin America.
It subsequently led to the formation of the revolutionary movement after the assassination of Sandino and Chamorro. Anastasio Somoza García assassinated the guerilla warfare hero Augusto César Sandino who stood against the occupation of Nicaragua by the U.S. marines in 1926. Sandino had developed an armed warfare to fight the U.S. marines and what he saw as seizure of the country’s sovereignty and independence by the U.S. After Sandino was betrayed and killed by Garcia, he became an inspirer of the birth of Nicaraguan revolution.
From 1936 to 1979, Nicaragua was under the dictatorial leadership of Somoza family. The Somoza family stayed in power because they had control of the military and police force combined. The family received power from the U.S. when they named a street in the country after President Franklin Roosevelt as well as allowing them to launch the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The family also accumulated a lot of wealth while the rest of the country was impoverished and everyone who rebelled against them was either imprisoned or exiled. By 1967, things had gotten worse when Anastasio Somoza Debayle became president. In 1972, the president and his National Guard stole relief funds meant for victims of the Managua, the capital city that was hit by an earthquake. The FSLN was angered by the earthquake results and decided that they wanted a change of government.
Somoza targeted wealthy bourgeoisie who were especially critical of his rule and in 1978 he ordered the assassination of a newspaper editor, Pedro Joaquín Chamorr, who was a scion of wealthy families in Nicaragua. The murder prompted a march of more than 120,000 people to his funeral highlighting the widespread hatred towards Somoza and his government. Later, Chamorro’s conservative party sought to oust Somoza; the FSNL rallied massive support for a revolutionary overthrow of Somoza’s regime.
Theories for Revolution That Were Used By the FSLN
The FNL was formed in 1961 by university students Carlos Fonseca, Tomás Borge and Silvio Mayorga, taking its name from the earlier assassinated leader Augusto Cesár Sandino. FSNL leaders were nationalistic leaders outraged by conditions under Somoza and the U.S. over what they termed as U.S. intervention over the country’s internal affairs. FSNL ideology was rooted in Marxism ideas and they also thought that Sandino was a pseudo-Marxist (although he was a populist). Despite this mix, the Sandinistas were influenced by Marxist and Leninists teachings and interpreted their ideas in the context of the country’s history. The FSLNs thought themselves as the professional revolutionaries who could unite the country’s peasant farmers and workers and destroy Somoza’s present system of capitalist exploitation and oppression that was supported the U.S. After FSNL was successful in ousting Somoza and his regime, they led Nicaragua towards socialism (to which they did not agree what it meant).
To deepen the roots of the revolution, there was organized a series of FSNL sponsored mass organizations that included the youth, women and students but with leftist guerilla movements gaining support in El Salvador and Guatemala, the U.S. was determined to end the revolution immediately. But in 1981, when Reagan took office, he significantly increased funding and arms training from the CIA. He also supported the right-wing Cuban exiles to the Nicaragua contras. Reagan is said to have called the FSNL as totalitarians and offered to teach them a lesson.
Changes in Nicaragua after the 1979 Revolution
Careful not to evoke the ire of the U.S., the Sandinistas were united with other groups in the opposition to Somoza and masked their true reasons for the revolution. But after a successful broad-based revolution against Somoza triumphed, the Sandinistas sought to consolidate its power especially from the bourgeoisie from waging a counter revolution. They organized peasant farmers into large organizations of revolutionaries to defend them. These organizations became their physical defenders during the contra war when the government disseminated weapons to militias.
Sandinistas economic policy was reflected in their socialistic ideology. They nationalized the country’s financial sector as well as its major exports. The Sandinistas seized some farms while encouraging the formation of state farms and farming cooperatives. As the contra war grew in force, the Sandinistas distributed land to individual peasants and farmers. The country was forced to undertake heavy foreign loans from the U.S. banks when capital flight became a big problem for the government. The loans were to be used to finance its expenditures.
The revolution was able to bring down the heavy burden that the ousted Somozan government had imposed on the country’s economy. Somoza had deformed the country by creating a new country’s head at Managua where he consolidated and emanated his power from and creating a semi-feudal rural economy with few productive goods. Somoza and his adepts used to own banks, ports, communications, important services and massive amounts of land but after the revolution, all sectors of the economy were restructured. The country headed to a mixed economy and the revolution set the agrarian revolution. The revolution brought with it enormous restructuring to all the sectors of the economy. The agrarian peasantry in Nicaragua was developed into four phases, started in 1979 and ended in 1986 after which the agrarian reform distributed 235, 000 acres to peasants whose main purpose was to increase support of the government and guarantee people ample food delivery to cities.
After Somoza was ousted, he fled to Paraguay where he was later assassinated by suspected members of the Argentina Revolutionary Army in September 1980. The Sandinistas began the task of forming a new government by creating a council of national reconstruction (called junta). A counterrevolutionary called the Contra was later formed the following year, a label that anti-socialists chose to embrace. The contras were involved in Nicaragua’s economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government. Elections were later held in November 4th 1984 where 75% of the voters participated. Daniel Ortega of FSNL garnered more than two thirds of the total votes cast and was declared the president.
The revolution’s political project was an "anti-imperialist, popular, and revolutionary" project that gave birth to growth of the military. Early anti-Sandinist movements were reported in 1981 especially the counterrevolution (the Contras) which was taking place along the Honduras border. Contras were later backed by secretly the CIA.
The Nicaraguan revolution brought many social developments and improvements. The revolution led to the utilization of the country’s literacy campaign called Cruzada Nacional de Alfabetización that utilized secondary and university students as volunteer teachers (as well as teachers). Within a short period of six months, the literacy rates in the country had fallen from 50.3 to 12.9 percent. UNESCO was later to award the country with the Nadezhda K. Krupskaya literacy prize in recognition of its efforts to a successful literacy campaign. More other literacy campaigns were held in 1982 and 1986. The revolution was later to fund the ministry of culture that established an editorial brand that encouraged the printing and distribution of cheaper books; never seen in Nicaragua.
Some of Sandinistas large scale programs received international recognition especially in gains in literacy, land reforms, health care, education, unions and childcare.
Due to massive and popular insurrection Somoza’s dictatorial leadership in Nicaragua was put to an abrupt end in July 19, 1979. The Somoza family had ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist for the last 43 years but assassination of Chammorro and Sandino led to massive demonstrations and formation of the Sandistino party called FSNL. Somoza was later ousted and FSNL under Daniel Ortega formed the government. FSL led to some social, economic and political developments but faced opposition from anti-socialists who were opposed to their socialist stand. Although the 1984 elections saw Ortega being elected the president, he lost the subsequent elections in 1990 to Violetta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of the assassinated Chamorro.