Last year, writer and activist Margaret Randall returned to Nicaragua to talk to women about their participation in the revolution. She had interviewed many of the women 10 years previously for her book, Sandino's Daughters (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1981). The following excerpts are taken from Sandino's Daughters Revisited, which will be published by Rutgers University Press and New Star books in 1994.
I can tell you there were plenty of sexual pressures. According to a number of our male leaders, women continued to be seen as "meat" or "cattle," as our macho slang would have it. The quickest and easiest way for political women to acquire a "protector" and gain direct access to power was by sleeping with those in power. And who knows what my life would have been like if I'd had that sort of safety net.
In fact when I left the Ministry of Culture, one of the comandantes wanted to send me to Foreign Relations, also in the capacity of Vice Minister. I was never privy to the behind-the-scenes discussions so I don't really know what was on his mind. But I can tell you that some time later this same man started literally stalking me: it was invitation after invitation, insinuation after insinuation. One day I called him up and invited him to lunch. I had to tell him, "Look, I admire you tremendously. I respect you. You're one of the leaders of this Revolution. But I need you to understand that I'm a free person, with all the rights that implies, and I'm absolutely capable of deciding who I want to have a relationship with. Beleive it or not I'm not attracted to you just because you're a comandante. So I'm asking you to respect my decision and I hope we can remain friends." I remember he hardly touched his food. he left the table and for quite some time he wouldn't even say hello."
Party of the Erotic Left
P.I.E. stands for Party of the Erotic Left. A group of feminists began getting together, more than anything to talk about what was going on in the women's movement, because it was clear that the Sandinista women's movement operated more in line with male interests, with the so-called "interests of the nation." They kept telling us that we had to put off talking about women's problems until we'd won the war, until the economy was back on its feet, until...whatever. After all that had been accomplished, then we could talk about feminist issues.
By that time [the early 1980s] we women had experienced a real loss of power. We'd led troops into battle, we'd done all sorts of things, and then as soon as the Sandinistas took office we were displaced from the important posts. We'd had to content ourselves with intermediate-level positions for the most part. Besides, I remember at the beginning of the revolution it was practically a mortal sin if you mentioned your family. If a woman said, "I can't go to that meeting on Sunday because I have to be with my children," that simply wasn't acceptable.
We argued that this wasn't productive, that our own children were going to turn against the revolution because they were inevitably going to identify it with the loss of their parents. We had family obligations and they were important. I remember quoting a phrase of Jean Paul Sartre's: "I don't believe in the revolutionary who says he loves his people but is unable to love those closest to him." But this wasn't a popular point of view. And a whole process of displacement had begun. Even in our own organization, in AMNLAE, we thought we would have a voice. But it became apparent that we didn't. Women's issues just kept on being put off, eternally.
Our most important problems always seemed to be considered secondary. We couldn't talk about abortion "because it means fighting the Catholic Church." So as I say, a few of us began getting together to talk about these things. We didn't call ourselves P.I.E. at first, but later—joking around—we adopted the fame. It comes from ana María Rodas, a Guatemalan poet who has a book called Poemas de la izquierda erótica (Poems of the Erotic Left). That's how we chose the initials: P.I.E. We even thought of designing a logo: a woman's foot with painted toenails!
Mothers and Children
My husband tried to make me feel guilty—and I've seen this happen with other women—guilty about my children. Hed tell them: "You're mother is more interested in the revolution than she is in you. For her, society comes first, before her own children." It was systematic. And of course this is something we women have talked about. Making a revolution is a very absorbing task. It takes a lot of time and effort. It wasn't easy for us to juggle our roles as mothers and as revolutionaries.
Many of our children—particularly in the middle class where we had the privlege of having domestic help—were left alone for long periods of time. It's one of the contradictions you have to deal with. But when I've talked to my sons and daughters about this, I've told them: "Look, what you have to understand is that the revolution is for everyone, and we must all situate ourselves in that reality." Of course my dream was to have one of those families where everyone was committed to the struggle: husband, wife and kids. I dreamed about a family where everyone went out to do whatever talk they were involved in, and then came back together and shared their experiences with one another. The impossibility of this in my own life has been very painful for me. All the insinuations, the pressures, my children's father try to turn them against me.
As a mother I fought against that sense of guilt. And I tried to interest my sons and my daughters in the tasks of the revolution. But I always tried to respect my children's choices, even when it hurt me terribly that three of them didn't opt for the revolution. It hurt me because they're my children. And I believed and continue to beleive in the ideal of a society with justice for all. A society different from the one I grew up in. And it's frustrating to realize that I wasn't able to pass that ideal on to all my children. It makes me very sad. If I find political apathy upleasant in an adult, I find it all the more disagreeable in a child.
Fathers and Daughters
With my father, well, it was much more difficult. I was relieved when he completed his 30 years with the National Guard, and was ready to retire. I was incredibly relieved because years before, when I'd been involved in those student demonstrations, I remembered the Guard showing up on the street that borders the campus. My father was a comandante with the police at the time. When they launched their tear gas bombs, it was horrible for me. I suppose I was afraid like everyone else, but my worst fear was having to confront my father. I didn't think I could do that; it was so complicated. It just hurt too much: the thought that my own father would be forced to arrest me.
And I lived with that all along. There were a number of us in the Front who were daughters of Somocistas. The sons and daughters of the National Guard were constantly faced with the possibility of having to face our fathers in battle—in an armed confrontation, or if they picked us up. Emotionally I knew I wasn't strong enough for that.
Then Somoza asked my father to accept the appointment of ambassador to Guatemala. As his daughter at least I tried to help my father do an acceptable job as ambassador. I gave him a book called The Diplomat's ABC. I wanted him to learn something about diplomacy. I didn't want him to be seen as ridiculous, as one of those ignorant law-and-order types. I remember telling my mother that it would be a good idea if my father organized a library with Nicaraguan books at the embassy. I said that he could invite the Nicaraguan students in Guatemala to use it; that it would be a nice gesture, a contribution. My father agreed. One of my younger sisters went to help him set that library up, I bought books for it here, and she and my mother went to organize it.
By now we're talking 1976, 1977. The crisis was becoming more and more acute. I became more and more involved in the struggle against the dictatorship. I wanted to separate my life from his as completely as possible. But it was hard. I always thought he might find out what I was doing. And I also didn't want anyoneever to have to ask him for help, I mean in terms of getting me out if I got arrested.