Nicaragua's Sandinistas and the Transformation of a Nation

The Sandinistas are members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN. This political party had a huge impact on the history of Nicaragua, and their influence continues to be felt today. The party was named after 1930s resistance leader Augusto Cesar Sandino, because he represented their idealism and resistance to oppression.

The Somoza dynasty ruled Nicaragua for many years and during this time living conditions rapidly deteriorated for many people. While there was industrial growth, there was a widespread lack of jobs and rampant poverty. However, this began to change because of the Sandinistas, who overthrew the Somozas and ran Nicaragua from 1979-1990. This was part of the Junta of National Reconstruction.

During this time, the FSLN devoted themselves to some humanitarian policies including promoting equality for women, redirecting funding towards healthcare and promiting literacy. However, the opposition movement known as Contras formed in 1981 and worked to resist the Junta, oftentimes through violent attacks. The CIA supported the Contras militias to oppose the Sandinista National Liberation front.

The Sandinistas had four fundamental principles: political pluralism, mixed economy, popular participation and mobilization, and international non-alignment. Scholars agree that the group sought to create a revolutionary socialism that was also truly democratic.

The Sandinista rule continued until the 1990s, and during that time, great strides were made. At the beginning, the country had a debt of 1.6 billion dollars in addition to other social problems. For example, 600,000 people were homeless and the economy was devastated. When the new government was created, it founded a council of national reconstruction with five members and a Council of State with representative bodies.

The party's political platform included important issues like nationalization of property owned by the Somozas, land reform and improved housing conditions. Working conditions were also addressed as the FSLN looked to improve them in rural communities as well as cities. Torture, the death penalty and political assassination were outlawed.

The Sandinistas had 100,000 residents work as literacy teachers and managed to bring the illiteracy rate down from over 50% to just 12%. Part of their plan was that if more people were literate, they could participate in elections. This literacy campaign was so successful that UNESCO recognized it with an award.

Another important aspect of the transformation included the addition of special neighborhood groups called Sandinista Defense Committees. These committees worked to ensure local governance including distribution of food, organization of Sandinista rallies, clean-up groups and establishing recreational activities. They also worked to control any looting that potentially took place in neighborhoods.

Even today, the Sandinista National Liberation front is one of the country's leading political parties. In 2011, former FSLN president Daniel Ortega was re-elected. Up until 2006, the opposing party had won elections for 16 years. Every year in July, hundreds gather at Plaza La Fe to celebrate the fall of the Somoza family dictatorship and the rise of the Sandinistas. There is no doubt that the Sandinistas are one of the strongest and most popular political parties in Nicaragua.

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