Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 17 | Noviembre 1982



A Revolutin That Is Self-Critical

Envío team

In the Envío N° 16 of October, 1982, we included an article about the Sandinista Block Committees. This article presented examples that clarify the work the problems, the make-up and the differences of this Nicaraguan organizational structure.

During the second week of October, a letter from Comandante Bayardo Arce began to circulate publicly. It was addressed to those in charge of the Sandinista Block Committees. In his capacity as Coordinator of the Political Commission of the National Directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Comandante Arce directed himself to those in charge of the CDSs in order to share a series of concerns with them that directly touched upon the work of the CDSs.

The CDSs were created in 1978, before the victory, and were called Civil Defense Committees. Their formation was the result of a proposal by the FSLN that was promoted by the MPU, the United People’s Movement. The CDSs rapidly became an organizing tool for the people’s participation in the struggle against Somoza. They played an extremely important role in channeling human efforts in the final stages of the anti-Somocista struggle, above all after the September insurrection in 1978. In that particular stage of the struggle they were the principal channel between the people and the FSLN. An important part of the logistics, the health services and the agitation during the insurrectional phase was centered in their work.

After the victory, their name and their activities were changed. They became the Sandinista Block Committees and the FSLN gave them the role of “the eyes and the ears of the revolution”, thus defining their vigilant character and their task of controlling the tasks of reconstruction and of the process in general.

Today there are more than 450,000 CDS members (more than 1/5 of the total population of Nicaragua and almost 50% of the adult population). For them the CDSs are the principal organizational structure of the people throughout the country. The immense diversity of tasks that they carry out makes them the most important mass organization for reconstruction and for defense. Everything from voluntary night watch, structuring of civil defense procedures, and promotion of reserve battalions to control of consumer prices and tending to health needs of the population are the responsibility of the CDSs. There are, in addition, important community projects (clean-up brigades, etc.) as well as the task of promoting adult education, political preparation of the people and other tasks.

Because of the importance that the CDSs have in Nicaragua and because of the significance of the aforementioned letter, we are reprinting the complete text. We are also including some reflections on the significance the letter has. Implicit in the letter is an ideological consolidation in the search for a better person and a more just and human society. This is another contribution to the experiential participation of the Nicaraguan people in the process that is being built.

FROM: The Coordinator of the Political Commission of the National Directorate.
TO: Coordinators of cities, regions, Barrio Committees, and Block Committees of the Sandinista Block Committees.
DATE: October 7, 1982.

The National Directorate of the FSLN sends greetings to the 459,750 members of the CDSs throughout the country. The CDS members day by day strengthen the defense and preserve the gains of our people by carrying out their jobs. That is precisely why we want to repeat to them the concepts pointed out by the National Coordinator, Comandante Leticia Herrera, and by Sergio Ramírez in the commemoration of the 4th Anniversary of the CDSs.

We affirm that the body of CDS members, fully involved through their jobs and continually working to become more responsible, contributes in a decisive way to the manner in which the Sandinista Revolution confronts the difficulties inherited from the past. The same holds true in regard to the problems brought in by bellicose policies that have tried to strangle our aspirations to be respected, sovereign and independent.

We strongly believe that the CDS leadership and members should express qualities that can be measured by:

- Their participation in defense activities.
- Their respect for the laws of the Revolution.
- Their discipline and respect in carrying out the directions of their immediate superiors.
- Their willingness to be the best servants of the people, avoiding and combating opportunism, bureaucracy, favoritism and bossism.

A concern has arisen that troubles the National Directorate, and we feel obligated to present it to you: there are signs that many coordinators have not accurately understood the persuasive characteristic of the line of the revolutionary directives. The goal of this policy is to attract the sympathy of sectors which, because of their conditions, should be in favor of defending the Revolution.

We refer to arbitrary attitudes and actions that exert influences which are contrary to Sandinista principles. For example:

- Authorization for arbitrary takeovers of lands and buildings, in spite of the fact that every legal effort has been made to give a piece of land to everyone who needs and deserves it.

- Withholding the sugar distribution card from someone who still does not understand the Revolution, instead of using the accomplishments of the Revolution to raise his consciousness. We know that this method is sometimes used to pressure people into doing CDS tasks, which are supposed to be voluntary.

- Harassment by words and actions of people who profess another ideology – whether religious or political – or of persons who work with persons or entities not identified with the Revolution.

- Assumption of arrogant and haughty attitudes, taking on a kind of authority that only jeopardizes the Organization; creating small elite groups, and fostering divisiveness and intrigues between neighbors in a community.

- The misuse of one’s position, transforming personal problems into problems of the organization and promoting destructive campaigns to discredit persons with whom one has disagreements.

- Falling into an abuse of authority and using a position of responsibility in the Organizations as a way to enjoy personal and family privileges. A concrete example of this is awarding lots to close family members, overlooking the directives of the Government and in that way fomenting and practicing concepts inherited from Somocismo.

- To allow and lead abuses in carrying out the Voluntary Night Watch, especially in taking repressive measures against those who do not participate in this task. (There are even cases which have gone so far as to break a door or cast a shadow of suspicion on someone, ignoring the fact that all CDS jobs are voluntary).

It is absolutely necessary that we review our positions and make corrections. We have thought that in the near future we should meet to discuss these matters internally. Today more than ever national unity is the determinant factor in defense and for that reason we have put forth these ides upon which your surely will reflect.


Although we do not pretend to given an in-depth analysis of every point included in the letter and even less to supercede each reader’s own analysis, we will comment on some aspects that we consider important.


1- The public to whom it is addressed. Because it is a public document that is distributed and discussed in all the Sandinista Block Committees, it has very far-reaching effects. It is not something reserved for an elite or the theoretical self-criticism of an “inner circle”. It contains policies meant for the entire organized community.

There is another public, which could be called an “indirect” public. This is those sectors of the population who are discontented with the Government. While it is true that the letter is not addressed to them, it can affect them to the extent that it may possibly increase their political confidence in the Government and in the FSLN when they see pluralistic and unifying principles affirmed.

2- The time in which it is published. This is an extremely difficult period for the country. Constant threats from the border, economic, financial and military pressures and aggressions against Nicaragua and the dismal prediction of an intensification of these activities (which could unleash a full-scale intervention in the month of December) characterize the present moment as “tense” and “complicated”. In spite of these conditions, it is extremely positive to see that encouragement of popular participation continues to be promoted; that it is not being replaced by a unilateral and vertical leadership of the FSLN which could be expected to be implemented in a “pre-war” moment such as exists right now.

3- Practical use of the letter. Between the middle of October and November 7, there was an organizational restructuring of the CDSs throughout the country. At that time, in meetings and elective assemblies, the people at the grassroots level chose their leaders. In that way the old leadership of the CDSs was either ratified or replaced at all levels – block, zone, barrio and even city. In practice, this was a moment of great organizational importance. The elements of the letter of Comandante Arce were used as a practical conceptual tool in all of this reorganization. They were norms which needed to be taken into account in the reorganizational work. There was also an Act of Commitment as part of these assemblies which incorporated the aspects enumerated in the first part of the letter and which serves to measure the dedication of the organization’s leadership.

4- The authorship. Comandante Arce wrote the letter in his capacity as head of the political structure of the FSLN. Thus, it is not only a directive of the national CDS authorities, it is a pronouncement by the FSLN itself as the leader of the process. Although it contains concepts which were mentioned previously by Sergio Ramírez (member of the Government Junta) and by Comandante Leticia Herrera (National CDS Head), by being signed by a member of the National Directorate, it has much more far-reaching effects for the organized public.

5- The language used. The letter is characterized by its simplicity. The language is completely appropriate for the objective that it is trying to achieve. It also uses a series of examples which easily facilitate widespread understanding of the problems which the letter presents.


We do not intend to repeat textually each one of the points contained in the document but rather to offer a hypothesis of what it represents.

1- A criticism/self-criticism. It is a criticism because it mentions that many of those persons who run the organization have made errors in understanding and interpreting the more global lines of the revolution. It is self-criticism because many of these coordinators are an integral part of the party structure of the FSLN. The fact of generalizing the criticism and making this letter public gives it an added dimension, for it then becomes a normative instrument, both in criticism and in self-criticism, to evaluate those persons who are most integrated in the process.

2- Affirmation that leadership is “service to the people”. All the shortcomings of leadership mentioned are based on the concept that the persona who leads has certain special rights or powers in their social and even personal relations. The alternative concept put forth in this document is expressed in the phrase “…their disposition to be the best servants of the people…”. Undoubtedly this signifies the political-ideological premise that leadership is a function and a service, not a privilege.

3- Affirmation of respect for the most fundamental rights of the human person. This is expressed in the explicit condemnation of those attitudes which tend to harass by word and actions those citizens who profess another ideology, whether in the area of religion or politics, or who work with persons or entities not identified with the revolution.

4- The affirmation of persuasion as a method of political work. This opposes attitudes of arrogance which discourage certain people from integrating themselves into the process – persons whose interests objectively should be in agreement with that process. Instead they distance themselves because of mistakes in implementation of global policies.

5- It is a proposal for consolidation, from the grassroots, for the purpose of national unity. This is, perhaps, the most important political element and it is intrinsically related to the method analyzed in the previous point. All the shortcomings pointed out in the letter tend to provide a justification for certain people who do not have an active commitment to distance themselves from participating in community works of the reconstruction process. They are generally persons who judge the revolution by the behavior of the nearest leader that they know, without evaluating the globality of the process initiated only three years ago. The errors that these leaders may commit are “justifying anti-bodies” for their non-participation.

Within this framework, to promote criticism from the very grassroots gives birth to a new concept of national unity. It is not the criteria of national unity about which the FSLN and the opposition dialogue around a negotiating table. It is a criteria of national unity which primarily comes out of the monolithic integration of the people themselves, which at times is weakened by the mistakes of certain leaders. Although these mistakes are human, each day they are less admissible because of the pressures, threats and aggressions which Nicaragua suffers and because of the way in which these errors feed discontent and ill-intentioned criticism and also weaken unity in a time of crisis.

On November 1, there was an election assembly for CDS leaders in Ciudad Sandino, a poor barrio on the outskirts of Managua. After reading the letter of Comandante Arce, a lady at our side said, “We should make copies of that letter and give it to everyone. Here our rights are underlined. And we ought to show it to our leaders often so that they fulfill it faithfully”.

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