Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 19 | Enero 1983




Envío team

"Regarding the foreign policy of the Sandinista Revolution, the first thing that needs to be Pointed out is that it is a NICARAGUAN FOREIGN POLICY. It should be unnecessary to have to mention that, but in the historical context of what has been the foreign policy of Nicaragua at least since 1911 and especially since 1933, it is essential to mention it. It is intimately related to the cause that brought our people to take up arms to recover our sovereignty and our independence. During that long nightmare of 70 years which began with the American Intervention in 1909 and which we terminated once and for all in 1979, Nicaragua did not have its own foreign policy, as it also did not have its own domestic policy.

"When the Sandinista Revolution triumphed, Nicaragua did not have what would normally be understood as a foreign ministry. Evidently it was not necessary that there be one, since all the fundamental decisions that had to do with the establishment of relations, the type of relations with different countries, the positions to be adopted in sub regional, regional or world forums, all these decisions were made by the State Department or in the United States Embassy in Managua. Today and since July 19, 1979, this ignominious situation has changed in a radical way."

Miguel D'Escoto, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, in a prepared statement given at a press conference in Managua, Dec. 21, 1982.

A special meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Movement of Non Aligned Nations is being held in Managua from January 10 14. The purpose of this historic meeting is to analyze the problems of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the first time that a ministerial level meeting of the Non Aligned Movement has been held in Latin America.

There are 36 countries in the Non Aligned Coordinating Bureau, and other nations of the movement may also attend their meetings. It is expected that over 80 nations will attend and many of the delegations will be headed by the foreign minister of the country.

The fact that the site of the meeting is in Managua has a tremendous importance for Nicaragua. In the ongoing search for solutions to the tremendous problems facing Latin America, the meeting has an inherent significance. In addition, the presence in Nicaragua of so many government delegations, where they can see for themselves the situation in the country, gives it an added importance.

A policy paper will come out of the meeting which could be very important in the diplomatic efforts toward peace in Latin America, since the Non Aligned Movement represents 97 countries – more than two-thirds of the nations belonging to the United Nations and a large percentage of the nations of the Third World.

Since before the Sandinista victory in July, 1979, one of the three major planks of Sandinista policy (along with political pluralism and a mixed economy) has been that of a non aligned foreign policy. The site of the Coordinating Bureau meeting in Managua underlines some questions being asked about Nicaragua and presents an opportunity to examine them: What does non alignment mean? and Does Nicaragua meet the criteria of non alignment? This article will look at Nicaragua's stated policy and goals, in light of its own unique history and past domination by the United States. The article will look at Nicaragua's position on some of the more controversial issues of the world today and will examine its relations with its neighbors and the major powers. It will look at some recent events that will play an important part in Nicaragua's foreign policy in the coming months.


The Monroe Doctrine in 1823 laid the foundation for what has been an unbroken chain of more than 150 years of U.S. interference in and/or outright control of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. actions have been as subtle or as heavy handed as the particular situation warranted. Its methods of persuasion ranged from large amounts of economic and military aid with even larger conditions attached to overthrowing uncooperative governments and setting up more pliable replacements. The overriding motive of U.S. actions has been its desire to maintain its hegemony as well as its economic interests (as in Guatemala in 1954). Especially since the 1950's its publicly stated purpose has consistently been that of preventing communism from gaining a foothold on the continent. If no evidence of communist presence was to be found, it was conveniently manufactured and sold to the U.S. people and much of the world, through the cooperation of a willing press.

For Nicaragua, the U.S. presence came in full force in 1856 when Cornelius Vanderbilt's hired filibuster, William Walker, invaded Nicaragua and proclaimed himself president. Although Walker's actual tenure was short lived and even his mentor, Vanderbilt, turned against him, the arrogant dominance that his actions symbolized did not end until July, 1979.

In 1909, the U.S. helped in ousting President Zelaya and replacing him with a government more open to “U.S. interests”. There were seven invasions by U.S. troops between 1898 and 1933 with an almost continuous occupation from 1912 to 1933. When the U.S. finally left in 1933, they left behind their created, trained and controlled National Guard, and they hand picked Anastasio Somoza Garcia to run the country.

In 1912, the Nicaraguan "National" Bank was incorporated under a U.S. charter in the state of Connecticut. According to Lars Schultz in From Gunboats to Diplomacy, a series of papers prepared for the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy Committee:

"The U.S. financial advisors directed the nation's fiscal and monetary policy (including the creation of the cordoba as the national currency) and in general subordinated the Nicaraguan economy to U.S. and European creditors. This tutelage is unparalleled in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. As a vassal state, Nicaragua was not able to develop any type of independent political leadership or stable political institutions."

Nicaragua never deviated from the U.S. positions in the U.N. and other international political forums.

U.S. patronage was profitable to U.S. designs throughout the area. Somoza cooperated in the CIA overthrow of the Arbenz government of Guatemala in 1954, and he allowed the U.S. to launch the Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba from Puerto Cabezas on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast in 1961.

In the 30's Sandino fought against this U.S. domination, and his inspiration became the motivating force behind the later movement that took his name and finally overthrew the hated Somoza on July 19, 1979.


Almost immediately after the Sandinista victory, Nicaragua asked for and received, in September 1979, full membership status in the Non Aligned Nations Movement. This movement is made up of 97 countries and operates within the framework of the United Nations as a bloc to protect the interests of the Third World. Within the Non Aligned Movement there is a wide diversity of political ideologies, but the countries are united by the common goals of maintaining their independence and by their opposition to imperialism, colonialism, neo colonialism, racism, apartheid and Zionism. The countries work together for economic and political mutual assistance among themselves.

The First Summit Meeting of the Movement was held in Belgrade in 1961. One of the factors which led to the formation of the movement was the almost automatic ability of the western countries to achieve a majority in any U.N. vote. With the birth of this movement, it has been possible to counteract to some extent the moves by the giant powers which often are to the detriment of the poor and underdeveloped countries of the Third World. This change in U.S. and Western European dominance in the General Assembly has brought a rise of questioning in the U.S. regarding continued U.S. participation in the U.N., even though the U.S. still has, and frequently uses, its veto power in the Security Council.

The five basic conditions for membership in the movement are: not having formal military treaties, supporting the movements of anti colonial liberation, having an independent policy based on peaceful co existence, not allowing foreign military bases in one's territory and not belonging to world military alliances.

Among Nicaragua's neighbors, Cuba and Panama are presently members of the Non Aligned Movement; Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica have observer status; and Honduras has asked for observer status. Colombia has expressed a desire to become a full member but has not yet formally applied. Venezuela sought membership once, but was rejected because of the objections of Guyana, two-thirds of whose territory is being claimed by Venezuela.

The movement has consistently supported disarmament, non interference in the internal affairs of other countries, respect for self determination and the establishment of a New International Economic Order.


The Non Aligned Movement includes a wide spectrum of political ideologies from countries like Zaire and Saudi Arabia to countries like Cuba and Vietnam.

There are two basic tendencies within the overall agreement of purposes of the Non Aligned Movement: that of equidistance or two imperialisms and that of a natural alliance with the socialist countries.

The equidistance theory divides the world into the First World (developed capitalist countries); Second World (developed socialist countries); and Third World (developing and under developed countries). In this scheme, the Third World is seen struggling against both the other two exemplified principally by the U.S. and the USSR. The First and Second worlds are seen as in constant battle for hegemony and areas of influence in the Third World.

This perspective also divides the world into the rich and industrialized North (where the developed countries of the First and Second Worlds are largely located) and the poor, agricultural Third World countries of the South. This tendency rejects any alliance with either the U.S. or the USSR and sees as priority the struggle for a more equitable redistribution of the world's riches and the promotion of self-sustained development in the countries of the South.

The natural alliance tendency sees the world more along the lines of class analysis, in which the world is divided into imperialist, colonial and reactionary countries on one side and neo colonial, colonized and progressive countries on the other. From this perspective a natural alliance is seen between positions of the countries of the Non Aligned Movement and those of the socialist countries. This natural alliance is precisely that natural and therefore arises spontaneously and requires no formal structure. It sees the imperialism of the U.S. and its major allies such as Great Britain as the greatest threat to the development of the Third World.

Nicaragua works closely with countries like Cuba and Algeria in promoting positions of support for the National Liberation Movements.

In practice, both of the tendencies of the Non Aligned Movement often lead to the support of similar positions. For example, positions against Israeli expansionism and the horrors of Beirut, or in support of the independence of Namibia.


Nicaragua meets the five conditions for membership in the Non Aligned Movement. It has no formal military pacts, nor does it have foreign military bases. It supports the principles that condemn racism, colonialism, etc. It has promoted, both within the United Nations and bilaterally, dialogue and negotiations to resolve the conflicts in Central America and other areas. When looking at the great differences between countries such as Zaire and Cuba, Nicaragua fits easily into the heterogeneous framework of the Movement, and is felt by some observers to be among the "least aligned" of the Non Aligned movement.

Nicaragua's foreign policy of non alignment cannot be divorced from its domestic policies. The preservation of its sovereignty, a mixed economy and a more equitable distribution of wealth have their corresponding action in the realm of foreign policy. Especially in light of U.S. efforts to destroy the present Nicaraguan government, the preservation of its sovereignty necessitates an increase in military preparedness and defense measures. The mixed economy necessitates constant efforts to develop new markets by both the private and state sectors. Political pluralism means dialogue with political parties around the world, and ties with such groups as the Socialist International. According to Aldo Diaz, head of bilateral relations in the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, "Nicaragua's foreign policy is a faithful reflection of our domestic policy. Peace is the priority for achieving both the domestic and foreign objectives. This is seen, on the one hand, in defense within the country and, on the other, with diplomatic efforts outside the country."

In a recent statement given at a press conference in Managua, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto summarized Nicaragua's foreign policy with the following four guidelines:

First: Promotion of peace.
Second: Maintenance of normal relations with all countries.
Third: The right to choose the countries with which, in a sovereign way, we intend to deepen our political, economic, commercial and cultural ties for our benefit and the happiness of our people.
Fourth: The most pure and authentic non alignment, which inevitably implies the carrying out of an anti imperialist, anti colonialist, anti racist, anti apartheid and anti Zionist policy. These evils are the primary obstacles for the achievement of peace and harmonious coexistence between countries and people.


The Nicaraguan government has worked to solidify its diplomatic relationships and develop new ones with all countries that want such relations. Nicaragua did break off diplomatic relations with Israel. The relationship with Israel was severed as a symbol of protest over the Israeli actions in Lebanon, even though the relations with Israel had been merely a formality since 1979. It recently resumed relations with Bolivia which had been severed by Bolivia after the military coup by Garcia Meza in 1980.

Nicaragua has deepened relations with the Latin American countries such Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, Peru and Brazil.

It has developed new relations with many African countries including Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia.

It has strengthened relations with Arab countries such as Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Libya and the PLO. It has good relations with most Western European countries including France, West Germany, Spain, Holland, Greece, Switzerland.

It has developed new relationships with socialist countries such as Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Vietnam.

In Asia, it has relations with India, Iran, Japan and others.


This extensive diplomatic effort has a very definite purpose: to diversify the economic and political dependence that Nicaragua has historically had and to be able to maintain its dignity and sovereignty through a wide variety of political and economic relationships.

There are concrete proofs that this effort to diversify its dependence is paying off and Nicaragua has moved from being almost totally dependent on the U S. to having a much broader base.

Economically, in exports Nicaragua does 31% of its export business with the U.S., 29% with Europe, 20% with Central and Latin America, 6% with the Socialist countries and the rest with Japan and Canada. Nicaraguan imports come from Central and South America (55%), the U.S. (27%), Western Europe (10%), and about 2% from socialist countries.

In loans and aid to Nicaragua, 49.4% comes from Third World countries, 32% from capitalist countries and 18.5% from socialist countries.

In spite of the good relations with the Socialist International, one of the problems facing Nicaragua is that the help it has received from the Social Democrat countries is only 32%. Thus, there is a desperate need for more financial help from this sector. The socialist countries, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide the help that Nicaragua needs. The geographic distance makes commerce very difficult and expensive, and the economic problems of the countries themselves limit their financial aid. Added to that is the fact that Nicaragua's technology, such as it is, is a western, principally North American technology which is not easily converted. As economist Xabier Gorostiaga expressed it, "The small level of our market and the large level of our technological underdevelopment prevents a rapid transfer of the present technology to a new socialist one."


Nicaragua was left, after the revolution, with a huge foreign debt. The costs of reconstruction and defense have increased that even more. However, unlike many underdeveloped countries burdened by a foreign debt that cripples them, Nicaragua has continued thus far to meet all its commitments on its debt. It has recognized, nevertheless, that it, like those other countries, has to find a solution to its foreign debt problem that is more equitable and workable. However, in international forums on the economic problems of the underdeveloped countries, the United States has consistently blocked any effort to set up a system that would be more advantageous to these poor countries. This economic intransigence by the U.S. has also solidified the Non Aligned countries on economic issues. Most of the countries are burdened with overwhelming economic problems. The causes of these problems are, in large measure, the economic policies of First World countries. These countries, led by the U.S., have blocked any progress in developing a New International Economic Order.


Nicaragua's voting record in the last General Assembly of the United Nations is worth examining as an indication of its non alignment. According to Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry figures, Nicaragua's vote coincided with the U.S. 12.5% and with the USSR 78.5%. This would, at first glance, tend to support those who insist that Nicaragua is firmly aligned with the Soviets. However, a closer examination shows that Peru coincided more with the Soviets (79%) than did Nicaragua. Nicaragua's coincidence with the U.S, was about the same as the U.S. major ally in Central America, Costa Rica ( 19.8%) and that of Peru (16.7%). The voting record of Nicaragua has been, in general, consistent with the positions of the Non Aligned Movement and the interests of the Third World countries.


Nicaragua's position of non alignment in the eyes of other U.N. members was demonstrated by its election to a two year seat on the Security Council. 104 countries voted in favor of Nicaragua, against the strong efforts of the U.S. to put the Dominican Republic in the seat.

According to the Foreign Ministry official, "The vote in the U.N. shows a recognition of the maturity, seriousness and responsibility in the handling of its foreign policy .... And the fact that it is a two year position will give us the opportunity to utilize in a frank, serious and mature way, this highest forum for peace in the world for the benefit of peace in Nicaragua."

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>




Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development