THE SANDINISTA LEGACY

September 25, 2007

A HISTORIAN LOOKING BACK ON TIlE SANDI- nists period many years hence may see it not just as the upheaval of a revolution, but also as a transition period nation-building and modernization.The revolution displaced the obgarhy of' Somoza family and friends who controlled sizeable chunks of the national economy, and put land in the hands ofprcducthepeasanisratherthanlarge landowners often left it idle. Feudal arrangements of tenant farming were

largely (eliminated. The state began to be thought of as public)
domain rather than personal ficfclom. The revolutitin health care, education., and agricultural extension services to ar of the countryside where virtually no state presence had existed before. Socially, the t'evolotion was accompanied by
advances of women in the workplace and at home.
Inthe political realm, revglutionaiy and opposition forces laid the foundations for free elections and representative democracy. although The party system is still weak and a
'winner-take all" mentality remains firmly rooted in society at large. The repressive National Guard was completely
dismantled something thin would neverhave happened had
the ituun'eerion led only to a change in top lea&rthip. The revolutionary movement marked the first surge of nationalism since Sandino took on the U.S. Marines in the 1920s.This national spirit is carried on by the Chamorro government, deeply obligated tothe United States butno longer spineless,
The revolution also contributed to the development of strong unions, peasant movements, and other pulat and nongovernmental organizations so a once weak civil society. The adversary relations in the Chamorro period have strengthened civil society further,

The experience of a decade in power. and the Sandinistas' electoral defeat, also left some useful, often bitter lessons for those who hope for rapid social change.t Above all, h) per inflation, a burgeoning black market and other economic ills showed that. in a Lapiktlist world economy, governments ignore market forces at their peril, State investment, poce controls, selective subsidies. and exchange rate management have been so bluntly-and excessively-used that they became counterproducthe policies, bringing abottt the need for the harsh austerity policies which undermined the
(Sandinistas' popular base of support. And the)government's initial reluctance to carry out individual land reform alienated much of the peasantry and fueled the Contra war. Some domestic economists have called for an alternative prugres- agenda, which is less dominated by the state and stresses small-scale agriculture and cottage industry.
The second lesson concerns organizing strategies. A top
down, you-are with us-or ag4inst-us strategy served well to win an insurrectioa, but poorly as a method of governing, A failure to recognize very different regional and sectoral interests ledto conflict and rebellion. Although somepolicies were dramatically changed by the late 1980s, with a ground-
breaking autonomy agreement for the Atlantic Coast and
individuaUand reform for the peasantry. the political damage had already been done. The electoral defeat crystallized similar criticisms snthin the Sandinista Party. Many support-era questioned the party's top-down. vanguard structure, and the parry's heavy-handed relationship to social move-rnents.2
The third lesson reniins an open question. which only the people in each country in revolution can answer. Is it worth so many lives to stand up to the United States? Is a revolution worthwhile if all it delivers is endless war?

In many respects. the legacy of the Sandinisra revolution is undetermined, and it matters sery deeply how certain quest ions arc answered in the next few yea. \Vill the FSLN change its top-down leadershipstyle and emerge revitalized?
Will grassroots movements continue to show independent ininatise? Will the conservative Chamorro government stay the course of compromise and reconciliation? &nd will the United States permit such a course?

I. For varying imerpretations of the Sandinistas electoral defeat and critiques of their administration, see Carlos Vilas.
'What Went Wrong," and George. Vickers, The Spider's Web." in Report an the Americas. Vol. XXIV. No. 1 (June 1990); Vilas,
'The Contribution of Political Econtimy and International Negotiation to the FaIl of the Sandinisra Goseniment," &is' Political Science. No. 18119 (Fall/WinIer 1990). John VT. Soule. ed.,
"Nicaragua: Political Ec000m) of Revolution and I)efeat. In-ternanonal Journal of Pa/il/cal Economy, Vol. 20. No 3 (Fall
1990',: Rene Mendoza, "We Erred to Win." esn'w. Vol. 9, No.
111 tou- 1990).
2. For critiques of the party's relation to social movements. see Jeffrey Gould's line study. To Leados Eqoals: Rum/Protest and PrAtt/cat Consciau'aze.cw in Chinantieqrt, N/caragua, 1912 1979(Chapel Hill' University of North carolina Press, I 990') and
'Notes on Peasant consciousness and Revolutionary Politics in Nicaragua 1955-1990" Radical H/stan Review, No. 481.1990),
Pierre LaRamEe and Erica Polakoff, "The Transformation ol the
CDSs and the Breakdown ot Grassroots Ikmocracy in Revolutionary Nicaragua," Neis Political Srience. No. 18/19 (Fall!
Winter (99W. For a comparison of social movements under the C'hamorro and Sandinista administretiorts, see Lisa Haugaard.
In and Out of Power: Organizing Dilemmas for Grassroots
Movements in Nicaragua," Socialism and Dernacraq, Vol. 7,
No.3 (1991).

Tags: Nicaragua, Sandinistas, reform, local organizations


Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.