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Essay: U.S. Foreign Policy: Nicaragua

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Sierra Club

by Nicholas Klar

The FSLN victory was a surprise to the many who thought Nicaragua was not susceptible to revolution under strong Somoza leadership. Somoza built his own power base and ruled the country like his own personal fiefdom, alienating not only the lower and middle classes but many of the property class. He was opposed by a majority of coffee growers, conservatives and other oligarchy. This would ensure that the opposition to Somoza would be a broad movement, not a narrow class-based political structure. In fact Augusto Sandino, the namesake of the Sandinistas, was a former general and not a commoner.

The FSLN championed the interests that cut across the class divide. Although it wanted an equal distribution of wealth it was not radical or Marxist in its outlook. After the tragic 1972 earthquake opposition grew more rapidly. By the late 70's most opposition had rallied around the FSLN, including business interests.[1] After the assassination of opposition leader Pedro Chamorro a major strike took place in 1978. This was followed by an occupation of the National Palace by the FSLN. Somoza was forced to flee shortly afterwards and the Sandinistas assumed power.

Despite the paranoia of Ronald Reagan, the FSLN had a different orientation to that of Cuba. A pluralist Council of State was created, reaffirming the Sandanista's determination to carry out revolutionary reforms in a framework of broad democratic participation, non-alignment, a mixed economy, political pluralism, and respect for individual liberties and rights.

The FSLN tried to establish their own particular social democracy,[2] reaching for support into the cities and sectors of the property class, seeking the broadest possible alliance. They did not tend to expropriate property, except for that of the Somozas and uncooperative owners. Although a mixed economy was sought, it prioritized education, welfare, land reform, wage levels, the health system and childcare. By choosing a stance of non-alignment the new government showed it wanted relations with all states, and did not renounce the idea of ties with the U.S.

The Sandinistas allowed other political parties to exist and tried to integrate two different concepts of democracy. Elections were held in 1984 that returned the FSLN but which were quickly denounced by the U.S. Also somewhat surprisingly, the government agreed to repay the $6billion debt left by Somoza. This was meant to send a message to the world that Nicaragua was not a closed Marxist state, but one that actively encouraged investment.

The revolutionary movement of Nicaragua differed from the FMLN in El Salvador in several ways. Most importantly, it was a broad alliance whilst the FMLN tended to be strongest amongst the rural poor and Indian communities. Nicaragua never had a strong reformist party similiar to that of El Salvador’s Christian Democrats.[3] At the time of the Nicaraguan revolution the FMLN tended to be more Marxist orientated, although that was to weaken during the 1980's. The FMLN also had to deal with a much more polarized state than Nicaragua, where by 1979 opposition to Somoza had been almost universal. Lastly was the FMLN’s lack of real ability to seize power in a situation not equivalent to that of Nicaragua.[4]


[1] Gilbert pp. 90,93

[2] Jonas and Stein p.1

[3] Gilbert p.105

[4] Menjivar p. 28


Dennis Gilbert "Nicaragua" in M. Blachman, et al ‘Confronting Revolution’ Pantheon:NY 1986

Susanne Jonas and Nancy Stein "The Construction of Democracy in Nicaragua" in ‘Latin American Perspectives’ Issue 66, Vol. 17 No. 3

Rafeal Menjivar "El Salvador:The Smallest Link" in ‘Contemporary Marxism’ #1 1980

© 1993-2008, Nicholas Klar, PO Box 280, Brighton SA 5048, AUSTRALIA 

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REF: Nicholas Klar, 1993, "U.S. Foreign Policy: Nicaragua" - + date accessed


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