In 1912 U.S. Marines first landed upon Nicaragua's shores after Conserative president Adolfo Diaz requested they come to help restore peace. The marines remanined in the country until 1933, with little success in keeping order in a turmoil-filled nation. A revolt in 1926 led to a truce between the Marines and Nicaraguan generals, but one Liberal general did not accept. Agusto Cesar Sandino instead armed himself and a small following to drive the Americans from the country. Sandino vowed not to stop his fighting until the Marines were gone, and he kept his vow until the American forces left in 1933. The Nicaraguan government agreed to grant Sandinos guerilla army amnesty after the truce, and after signing the accord, Sandino was captured and executed by government forces.
In 1932 Anastasio Somoza Garcia gained national office. Somoza was referred to as a caudillo, the traditional Latin American "strong man." The Somoza family was incredibly wealthy, and the first Somoza leader was eventually succeeded by his son, and a long line of strong man leaders. The Somoza rule was fully supported by the United States and the U.S. spent generous funds creating opposition to the Sandinistas. The capital, Managua, was ravaged by an earthquake in 1972, and the current Somoza in power couldn't resist the urge to line his own pockets. He alienated the elite and became greedy enough to pave the way for his own downfall. The FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) and a general uprising of all sectors of society eventually threw Somoza out of office in 1979.
The FSLN, which removed the strong man Somoza reign from power, was founded in 1961, took power as the National Anthem bellowed in the streets of Managua. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, their leader Carlos Fonseca organized the group and served as cheif theoretician. The FSLN basis of ideology was in Marxism, though they somewhat altered the writings of Karl Marx to the Nicaraguan situation (for more on how the Sandinistas were affected by Marxism, click here). After Fonseca was killed, the group split into three factions and the Insurrectionist faction emerged in strength. The lead FSLN branch was known for it's ideological flexibility and the building of a multi-interest alliance against Somoza.
When the FSLN took control of the capital, the black-and-red flag was waving in the wind, and they set up a Governing Junta and by 1980 a represenative branch, the Council of the State, was established. The Sandinista government was well suited for rapid and effective change. The U.S. spent large sums of money on anti-Sandinista propoganda. To see the anti-Sandinistas cartoon book your parents' tax dollars went to fund click here. In 1984 national elections were held and National Assembly was put into place. The regime was further solifidied by the adoption of a Constution in 1987.
In 1981, a counterrevolutionary force composed of the remains of Somoza supporters and military leaders emerged alled the Contra. The government had to spend half the nations budget to comabt the Contra forces, and the nation suffered a loss of almost 40,000 peoples in combat, and the creation of over 50,000 refugees.
Overall, the Sandinista government was not fully comprehensive in reorganizing the economy, and resources were not fully redistributed to the poorer classes. The general society was not very changed, though the elites lost a great deal of power.
For the best general Nicaraguan information we found, click here.
For more information provided by U.S. government agencies: Department of State or Library of Congress.
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The Sandinista leaders never forgot their debt to early Marxist thought. Not only did the group adopt a red-and-black flag and the motto "fatherland and liberty," but they also adopted several of the early Marxist manifestos. Leaders of the FSLN were Marxists first, and early champion of the Sandinistas, Victor Tirado explained:
"Marxism for the Sandinistas was a complete revelation--the discovery of a new world. And the first thing we learned from it was to know ourselves, to look inside our country into our people's heritage-toward Sandino. Through Marxism, we came to know Sandino, out history, and out roots. This is, among other things, the teaching we received from Marx--reading, as Fonseca said, with Nicaraguan eyes."
Although the Sandinista's drew much ideology from Marxist thought, they considered it more of a body of insights which they molded to their own situation. Another consideration is the various interpretations of Marxist writings, which the Sandinistas fit to their own case. Fonseca repeatedly warned members of the party that he did not want their thought and ideology to become dogmatic or sterile, but alive and functioning in the Nicaraguan situation.
For more information, consult:
Bugajski, Janusz. Sandinista Communism and Rural Nicaragua. New York: The Center for Strategic and Internaitonal Studies, 1990