Nicaragua’s Political Parties and Movements (Part I)
Seven political parties are competing in the November elections. Three parties aren’t competing. We describe the historical roots of these parties so we can better appraise their real weight and their options.
Seven political parties are competing in the elections to be held in Nicaragua this November 4: the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Independent Liberal Party (PLI), Democratic Conservative Party (PCD), Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN), Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC), Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN) and Popular Action Party Marxist-Leninist (MAP-ML).
The three parties united in the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Body (CDN) have not signed up for the race, opting for abstention. These are the Social Christian Party (PSC), Social Democratic Party (PSD), Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and what is calling itself the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN). (The National Association of Political Parties has not yet granted the PCN legal status. The PCD opposes its using the name Conservative. Given the time needed for these legal processes, it seems clear that the PCN cannot be considered a party either participating in these elections or abstaining. This article does not include any reference to the PSD because it emerged after the revolutionary triumph.)
Two groups have opted for the war being financed by the US government: the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) and the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE).
To be able to appraise the real weight of the political forces at play in this electoral period we will try to minimally locate the historical roots of all these parties, leaving aside references to parties that have yet to be legalized or that have virtually no relevance. We will especially note their positions in the past two years of the Somocista dictatorship. This is not an attempt to set arbitrary limits. In fact no really rigorous studies exist about the political parties over the course of Nicaragua’s history. Furthermore, a brief analysis of the positions they were adopting with the approach of the revolutionary victory can do a lot to clear up the current positions of these parties. In the next issue of envío we will summarize in a second part of this article the activities and positions of the parties in the five years of the revolutionary process and will present the basic lines of the government programs they are campaigning on in the elections.
Three blocs in contentionThe Somozas governed Nicaragua for over 40 years—from the thirties up to 1979—as a prolongation of previous US interventions. These interventions frustrated any emergence of a national bourgeoisie at the same time that it impoverished and humiliated the people, leaving planted in their consciousness seeds of anti-imperialist rebellion, which gave fruit as the mature nationalism in the struggle of General Sandino.
During Somocismo Nicaragua’s political and social forces were grouped into three blocs:
The Somocista dictatorial bloc: This bloc hoarded all military power, nearly all political power and little by little the control, although not all ownership, of economic power.
It was made up essentially of the Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN) and the National Guard (GN) and—with a basic function in the dictatorship’s democratic “electoral” facade--the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN). Virtually until the end, this bloc represented the interests of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, although the interests of the Somocista bourgeoisie were always hegemonic within it.
In the first years of Somoza García, the father of the dictatorship, the GN, created, organized and trained by the United States in 1927, was being shaped by the dictator to function as a “new party.” Somoza established relations with the GN members and their relatives that were very similar to those that the Conservative and Liberal caudillos had established with their followers in the hundred years of independence.
Little by little a “civic façade” of the military dictatorship—the PLN—was built on the hegemony of the Somoza-Sevilla-Sacasa-Debayle family axis and with the progressive incorporation of urban middle sectors. A little before the assassination of Somoza García in 1956, the PLN had become a consolidated structure, especially based on the non-military state officials.
The fact that the state institutions were growing disproportionately over this period is key. They became a quarry for recruiting PLN activists. The PLN and the state apparatus were during Somocismo the most effective channels for the urban middle sectors to clime the social ladder.
In the final two years of the dictatorship, the Somocista bloc was made up of the powerful Somoza family, whose interests were defended by 7,000—and from September 1978 15,000—National Guardsmen, thousands of bureaucrats and PLN officials (the party functioned in 300 electoral districts), businesses of all kinds (agro-export haciendas, industries, commercial chains, banks, etc., with strong transnational links) and an ideological apparatus that controlled practically all spaces of communication and culture in the country. Somoza could not have existed without the unconditional support of the successive US governments. It is a typical case in Latin America of “internalized imperialism.”
To give the appearance of continuation of the bipartite “historic parallels” (Liberals/Conservatives) that characterized Nicaraguan political live for over 100 years, the Somozas made pacts with one fraction or another of the Conservative party over those 40-odd years so that it would participate as a contender in the elections.
As the final crisis of the dictatorship neared in October 1977, the Somocista dictatorial bloc showed barely any fissures. Clinging to power, it began to express its determination to conserve it with a growing wave of bloody repression (crimes and tortures, indiscriminate aerial bombing of the civilian population terror and death...) exercised by the GN against all sectors of the opposition, whether bourgeois or grassroots.
The bourgeois opposition bloc: This was made up of the bourgeois sector not linked to the Somoza family. It had a lot of economic power and limited political power, and could be separated into a large bourgeoisie (finances and agro-export of coffee, sugar and cotton) and a medium bourgeoisie (smaller businesses). Together they totaled 0.5% of Nicaragua’s population.
The US military interventions, which the local oligarchy, whether Liberal or Conservative, collaborated with, frustrated Zelaya’s nationalist project and the emergence of a national bourgeoisie with a coherent political and economic project at the end of the 19th century. For its part, Somocismo rendered impossible the establishment of a bourgeois democracy with social consensus. There was only space for the dictatorship.
Over its prolonged domination, the Somocista dictatorship developed its own interests, which increasingly came into conflict with those of the other bourgeois sectors. If in the fifties the bourgeoisie felt its interests represented by Somoza, the interests of both blocs were becoming more and more irreconcilable in the last seven Somocista years (starting with the Managua earthquake).
Faced with the compact and powerful Somocista bloc, the opposition bourgeoisie split into many parties and its proposal for an anti-Somocista and reformist alternative was weak. The irreversible crisis into which the dictatorship entered in its last two led to more unity in this bloc, which began to have an organ of political express in the coalitions first of the Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL) and later of the FAO that was more unified and more its own. But by then its historical “moment” had past: unity came too late.
With the dictatorship’s final crisis underway, the bourgeois opposition bloc tended to unify and become more coherent. The parties that formed it can be divided into two groups. In one were the parties that had formed UDEL in December 1974 and in the other parties with less social representation.
In 1977, the UDEL group, a pluralist body that unified the petty bourgeois parties with worker parties and sectors of the medium-sized bourgeoisie, were made up of the:
Independent Liberal Party (PLI)
Constitutionalist Liberal Movement (MLC)
Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN), with the independent General Workers’ Central (CGTi)
Nicaraguan Social Christian Party (PSCN), with the Nicaraguan Workers’ Central (CTN).
In the other group were 2 fractions of the Conservative Party—Agüero’s PCD and Paguaga’s official pacting Conservative Party.
The Conservative Party, which is the oldest party in Nicaragua, was formed in the 30 years of consecutive Conservative government of the second half of the 19th century. Cattle ranchers and both civilian and military merchants, especially from the city of Granada, directed the party. The party’s social base was created around the cattle haciendas and it has always been more rural than urban. In some periods of the party’s history, the relations between its leaders and its base could be typified as that of traditional “patronage politics,” which establishes populist and paternalist links between a caudillo and “his” people. The opposition to the Somozas was headed up for a long time by the Conservative Party. Fractions of the party lent themselves to run in Somocista elections or made pacts with the dictatorship in exchange for perks and public posts. Those who did so were dubbed “zancudos” (the Spanish word for mosquito). The fact that the Conservatives never won the elections or else didn’t even run in them began to undermine the party’s social base. Starting in 1971, with the Somoza-Agüero pact known by the people as “kupia-kumi” (from the Miskitu word for “one single heart”), Conservatism began to be critically weakened, although in some regions it has remained rooted still today by family tradition.
The Liberal Party emerged in Nicaragua almost at the same time as the Conservative party and consolidated as such during the government of General Zelaya (1893-1909). It was led by hacienda owners linked to the production of coffee, above all from the department of León. Its social base was fundamentally urban: sections of the petty bourgeoisie, small manufacturers, merchants... In the 19th century, the Liberal ideology was linked in Central America to the movements that proposed Central American unity. (The maximum exponent was Honduran Liberal Francisco Morazán and in Nicaragua it was Máximo Jerez). Once Somoza “kidnapped” Liberalism in his PLN, it produced a scission among the historical Liberals, which ended up in 1944 in the founding of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), run by intellectuals of urban middle strata with a clear anti-Somocista orientation. The PLI was the party that for many years pulled together those who didn’t find a channel for opposing the dictatorship in either the Conservative party or the bipartite Liberal scheme.
In 1967 a minority fraction headed by Ramiro Sacasa Guerrero called the Constitutionalist Liberal Movement (MLC) split off from Somoza’s Liberal Party. It attracted sympathizers with the more civilest than militarist formulas that the government of Luis Somoza Debayle, president of Nicaraguan between 1956 and 1962, had represented. The MLC is the current Constitutionalist Liberal Party, while Ramiro Sacasa, who directed UDEL together with Pedro J. Chamorro, has lent his name to the current Democratic Coordinator (CDN).
The Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) was founded in 1954, in the context of important student revolts and economic crisis. Although it defines itself as a workers’ party, its initial leadership was fundamentally small manufacturers, such that its orientation for many years was a kind of revindicative-reformist style. Despite that it was the butt of the accusations made by Somoza against “communism” in the Cold War period. In some periods the PSN unified the most combative sector of the workers’ movement in the CGTi. Starting in 1967 the PSN tried to consolidate itself organizationally and ideologically with more progressive proposals. There were also schisms in the PSN. In 1970, the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN) split off, although it has always been marginal in the country’s political life, and in 1972 the Popular Action Movement Marxist-Leninist (MAP-ML) split from this same trunk, only to become even more marginal. Despite that, both leaders have enjoyed leaders of great dignity and political honesty.
The Social Christian Party (PSC) was founded in 1957, following the Christian Democratic ideology, by Nicaraguans who were returning from countries in which Christian Democracy was expanding in those years. Within the limited Somocista legality, the CD ideology was very advanced at that time. In 1975, a group with more progressive tendencies formed the current Social Christian Popular Party (PPSC), initially called the PSCN Edgar Macías fraction, for its opposition to the PSC, José Esteban González fraction). The PPSC exercised greater influence than the PSC over the workers in the CTN for some years, although that is no longer the case.
The grassroots blocThis is he largest bloc, and is made up of the impoverished majorities of a country dominated by a backward and dependent capitalist modality that was the basis of the Somozas’ voracity. These majorities are mainly rural (farm workers and semi-proletarianized peasants) to which a growing urban industrial proletariat is being added in the cities. The standards of living of the Nicaraguan people (health, education, housing…) were pitiful during Somocista period. Nicaragua’s great extension in comparison with its small population, helped facilitate the survival of the poor.
The Sandinista tradition of struggle remained well hidden in the first part of the Somocista period, fallowing Sandino’s assassination, the massacre of his followers and the razing of his northern cooperatives. The future organization of the grassroots sectors into autonomous movements that expressed their own interests is in direct relationship with the growing frustration being produced in their awareness by the pacts of the Conservatives and the timid reformist proposals of the opposition parties.
The self-identity and the struggle of General Augusto C. Sandino, of a progressive Liberal heritage, represented the definitive break in Nicaragua’s history of the “historic parallels” and the opening toward a “third force”—Sandino even called it a democratic and revolutionary grassroots party, in which the army of barefoot peasants had to play the role of armed guarantor and, properly, of “vanguard.”
In 1961 the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was born as a revolutionary movement, inspired by Sandino’s thinking and struggle. Analyzing the Nicaraguan reality from the socialist perspective, it chose the armed path for bringing Somoza down. The FSLN inherited from Sandino the nationalist and anti-imperialist nature of the struggle and would try to make it reality through a political-military organization linked to a front of masses with the intuited role of “vanguard that Sandino conferred on his popular army. The FSLN immediately discarded the reformist and electoral visions of the bourgeois opposition. Starting in 968 it would have growing influence on youth and university sectors, sectors of the petty bourgeoisie and among the impoverished masses, both urban and rural, who felt themselves represented by the radical proposals for change proposed by the Sandinistas. In 1975 the FSLN split into three tendencies, but from the very moment of the split—having more to do with military and political strategies than ideological differences—it began successfully working for reunification, which it achieved in March 1979, four months before the overthrow of Somoza.
With the start of the final crisis of the dictatorship, the grassroots bloc expressed itself in a set of ever more massive, belligerent and conscious actions, mobilizations and other initiatives thqat were also ever more united and organized.
The three blocs at three stages in the dying of the Somocista dictatorshipThe behavior of these three blocs—in which all of Nicaraguan society could be found—as well as their definitions, their advances and retreats, their alliances and ruptures, reveal the parties’ ideologies and their social weight.
In October 1977 the dictatorship began its death agony. These last two years of Somocismo are dense with activities that happened at a mounting speed with contradictions emerging at a rate that surprised even the protagonists of the events. The general tendency in each of the three blocs was toward unity because the social polarization made them choose sides and close ranks. They were closed by Somocismo, which was rockier than every, by the bourgeois opposition, which believed its historical hour had arrived, and by the grassroots sectors with the hope that this might actually be their hour.
We’ll briefly recount the three stages in which this agony of Somocismo can be divided, concluding with the failure of bourgeois reformism and the victory of the grassroots bloc.
October 1977-January 1978:
Everyone’s talking about dialogue
In the last quarter of 1977 the dictatorship was showing profound political erosion and went into an irreversible crisis of representation and legitimacy. The country had suffered 33 consecutive months of a State of Siege and Martial Law (decreed after the FSLN’s spectacular action in December 1974 when it took over the house of well-known former Somocista minister Chema Castillo and took the guests of his Christmas party hostage, with whom it negotiated the release of a group of Sandinista militants and a large amount of money and publicity).
The economic crisis had become generalized (finances in bankruptcy, inefficient tax collection, inflationary issuing of millions of córdobas, no investment, difficulties with the external financing sources, excessive administrative corruption...)
The repression had also become generalized and appeared to be the only way Somoza had left to stay in power. From that point until the toppling of the dictatorship, charges multiplied about disappearances, tortures and all kinds of other crimes committed by the National Guard, which up until then had been silences.
Jimmy Carter won the presidential elections in the United States, bringing with him a “human rights policy” that influenced the dynamics at a world level, including in Nicaragua. It was a life raft that kept a capitalism in crisis afloat.
In October, the FSLN’s attacks in San Carlos, Masaya and Ocotal, which were of an unprecedented scope for the Sandinistas, shook the dictatorship. Despite everything, however, the dictatorial bloc remained solid, determined to defend the power accumulated over two decades at whatever price.
At that stage the bourgeois opposition was struggling to jell and be accredited as a non-violent “alternative” for the change that appeared imminent and that would have to democratize society. To achieve it, it had to unify.
In 1974, following the last of the elections in which Anastasio Somoza Debayle was reelected, the political forces that opted for “belligerent abstention” (“There’s no one to vote for,” was the slogan popularized by the prestigious Conservative journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro) they had come together in UDEL, under his leadership. That coalition, with the member parties listed above, proposed civic struggle under the banners of honest elections, public freedoms, agrarian and tax reforms, national self-determination, regulation of foreign investments, improvement in labor legislation and union rights.
Also in 1974, the associations of Nicaraguan private enterprise (COSIP, INDE, Chambers of Commerce, etc.) had held the first huge convention in their history. In it they supported government measures to guarantee “order” (a clear allusion to the FSLN, which by then was becoming increasingly active), but they ordered the “unfair competition” in which Somocismo was engaging.
* The concept of “unfair competition” is key to understanding the anti-Somocismo of those sectors. It expresses the objective base of the conflicts between the Somocista and non-Somocista bourgeoisie. Somoza exercised this competition manipulating the state apparatus to his benefit. In fact, Somoza’s economic policy benefited the whole capitalist class, but the Somoza group was the one that had the greatest possibilities of channeling earnings to itself.
In 1974, and even upon entering the critical period at the end of 1977, no tight organic links had been created between private enterprise and UDEL. In this first phase of its history, UDEL expressed the interests of the middle sectors, the petty bourgeoisie and some politicians from the traditional parties, all of which had been constant enemies of the Somozas, while COSIP, the Supreme Council of Private Initiative, mainly represented the political position of Nicaragua’s big business and the most radicalized political sector of the bourgeois opposition to Somoza.
The progressive advanced of the grassroots bloc led UDEL to intensify its activities to the maximum. Once launched into the civic struggle for the democratization of Nicaragua, and with the lifting of censorship, La Prensa became UDEL’s daily voice. At the end of 1977, UDEL expressed in a basic document the minimum demands for achieving democracy: 1) Lifting of the State of Siege and media censure; 2) Effective freedom of trade union political organizing; 3) Assignment of the National Guard chief position to a military officer with sufficient merits and someone not from the Somoza family; 4) Legal order that would guarantee political pluralism and participation of the civic sectors in administering all public powers; 5) General amnesty and pardon for political prisoners and exiles.
Among the main charges made by UDEL of the Somocista regime were corruption of the basic institutions of democracy, politicization of the administration of justice, identification of the interest of the state with those of the ruler, unfair competition with private enterprise, virtually no union organization, etc. Although this was intolerable to Somocismo, such demands and denunciations were nothing more than the reformism of a bourgeois democracy. The proposals of UDEL were those of a national bourgeoisie that had been frustrated for half a century.
To get out of the evident crisis of that moment, UDEL proposed a National Dialogue between the civic opposition and Somoza.
The positions in the dialogue divided UDEL. The most conservative sectors of the coalition suggested them aspiring to getting Somoza to back off and make a pact with them (the “fourth pact” according to the preceding history of pacts), which would guarantee them political space, liberties and perks. The ANC, with Pedro J. Chamorro and Rafael Córdova Rivas heading those in UDEL who were proposing the dialogue as a tactic to unmask Somoza, knew that the dialogue’s “minimum demands” (the six points mentioned above) were “impossible” conditions for Somoza, and proposed them precisely for that reason.
When UDEL created the Dialogue Commission, the “pactistas” prevailed. The Commission was made up of Monsignors Obando and Vega, a jurist linked to the Archdiocese of Managua and Alfonso Robelo, of the private enterprise group known as INDE (Nicaraguan Development Institute). The United States, although it did not see UDEL as a power alternative, supported its dialogue initiative.
Seeing that the repression continued despite the “atmosphere of dialogue,” Pedro J. Chamorro asked for yet another “impossible” demand: that the FSLN—which he acknowledged had major social weight, also participate in the dialogue. Nonetheless, the dialogue the FSLN wanted at that moment wasn’t with Somoza but with the genuinely anti-Somocista sectors, who it saw represented by Chamorro.
While the Commission functioned inefficiently, Chamorro, with his natural leadership and capacity for influence provided by La Prensa, undertook a personal struggle against Somoza, who was also talking about a dialogue, to unmask his hypocritical attitude publicly. His confrontational tone grew and ended with the assassination of the journalist on January 10, 1978. The dialogue proposal died with him and UDEL as a civic-political organization entered into a crisis.
The increased weakening of the dictatorship in that period showed the grassroots block increasingly stronger. The FSLN created what was called the “Group of 12” at that point, made up of twelve personalities from the medium and large bourgeoisie who enjoyed social consensus, professional prestige and an honest anti-Somocista trade record.(*) The Group became the FSLN’s interlocutor with the bourgeoisie opposition bloc for the purpose of establishing an alliance with those parties that could guarantee the broadest possible national unity to resolve the country’s basic contradiction: dictatorship-people.
From the outset, the Group’s proposal was radical: it would not dialogue with Somoza as the objective of the alliance was the total eradication of Somocismo. This posture, which was revolutionary rather than reformist, was initially “minimized” by the opposition bourgeoisie. The 12 also laid out the need to include the FSLN to achieve any change in the country. In that first stage the grassroots majorities were still not organized enough to express the awareness of their own misery and their repudiation of the dictatorship effective.
The events are illuminating from the perspective of Nicaragua’s current situation. The interlocutors that the Carter government chose for the dialogue with Somoza excluded The Group of 12 and the FSLN. The delegitimizing of the Somoza regime was already evident by 1977, but the United States refused to accept that a new scheme of power was emerging in Nicaragua and that its source could be in the people’s aspirations and their acceptance of the FSLN as the only sufficiently radical and legitimate rival of the delegitimized Somocista power. Today the United States is again trying to condition dialogue with Nicaragua to the admission of interlocutors—the counterrevolutionary leaders—who are not legitimate to the people because the represent the threat of a return to Somocismo.
January 1978-September 1978: The killing of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro opened a new political stage in the country. Just as important as his assassination were the month-long business shutdown and the spontaneous grassroots mobilizations following the crime, which had radicalized all of Nicaragua against Somoza.
Everyone against Somoza
The Somocista dictatorial bloc stuck together and went on the defensive. When the work stoppage decreed by the opposition bourgeoisie ended, Somoza declared: "As my father said: I’m not going and you can’t make me go.”
With the assassination of Chamorro the dictatorship revealed its true identity for all to see. The crime created an essential rupture of the implicit pact by which the Somoza bourgeoisie pledged to respect at least the life of the opposition bourgeoisie, if not their belongings. More than any other previous or posterior event, the crime revealed that the Somocista system now represented only the interests of the dynastic bourgeoisie. All of Nicaragua thus was, and had to be, anti-Somocista.
In this stage, the National Guard’s repression clearly changed its motive. It was no longer to defend the “constituted government” from the FSLN’s subversive attacks, but to defend Somoza from the wrath of all society.
The bourgeois opposition bloc radicalized rapidly and private enterprise began to take an unusually active role within the bloc. The parties’ reformism reached its ultimate expression in the Broad Opposition Front (FAO).
At the time of Chamorro’s death, 17 associations represented private enterprise. All except the financial sector joined the employers’ strike to last “until Somoza leaves power,” a collective decision that tightened the relationship between UDEL and the private sector. The bourgeois opposition believed that the duration of the strike and the unity expressed through it would move Washington to pressure Somoza into relinquishing his power. However, the US State Department did not react as expected because it was not ready to abandon its faithful and predictable servant and didn’t consider the bourgeois opposition a viable alternative to Somoza.
The employers’ strike thus produced neither the desired pressure from the US nor a sufficient social uprising. It actually eroded the bourgeoisies without weakening the National Guard, which was impervious to civil pressures.
The most significant occurrence within the opposition bloc was the emergence in April 1978 of Alonso Robelo’s Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN). Understanding the origin of that movement required considering the important role that the economic organizations would have to play in any strategy opposing Somoza. It cannot be forgotten that these associations emerged as splits from political parties at a time when the Somoza system represented their business interests much better than the parties did. With the dictatorship on its last legs and the interests of the private sector in contradiction with the Somozas, the business associations began acting politically. Nonetheless, Nicaragua’s private sector had limits that even its own members recognized, leading them to create a party: the MDN.
When the MDN was founded, the 17 associations were organized in the umbrella organization COSIP, which, behind the scenes, was actually directing the political parties. In turn, COSIP was controlled by INDE, of which Alfonso Robelo was a former president.
Before forming the MDN, Robelo contacted all the opposition parties, including those not part of UDEL, to get their green light for setting up another opposition party. From the moment of its creation, the MDN, most of whose members were young businessmen, became the most active party within the bourgeois opposition.
In the grassroots sector, Chamorro’s assassination broke the dike, loosing the people’s anti-Somoza wrath. In protesting against Chamorro’s murder, large sectors of the population came onto the political scene not to defend the interests represented by UDEL but to claim their own rights. The people’s rebellion was not limited the way the employers’ strike was. A February uprising in Monimbó, which the FSLN channeled very effectively, was the most prominent example of the new awareness and determination of the organized poor. From that point onward, their struggle gained momentum and evolved into a genuine offensive.
During the final offensive, the people challenged the National Guard’s powerful weapons with anything they could find or contrive. Patterning their struggle along the lines of the strategy the FSLN had been using since 1961, they eventually reached the stage of armed insurrection.
As the people learned to organize themselves, the FSLN attacked Rivas and Granada, causing the Guard its most serious setbacks in several years of fighting. On the political front, the FSLN entrusted the Group of 12 with a decisive mission: unify and radicalize the bourgeois opposition, in disarray following the assassination of Chamorro.
The MDN’s activism facilitated the task and the FSLN’s force, combined with that of the young businessmen, achieved the desired result. Even the four different factions of the Conservative Party came together in the Democratic Conservative Union, led by Rafael Córdova Rivas, a member of what is now the PCD. In April 1978, all these forces joined to form the FAO, which represented the most united and radical positions ever expressed jointly by the bourgeois opposition. (Its representatives and their respective organizations are listed at the end of this article.
In July 1978, the FAO received clear support from the people with the return to Nicaragua of the Group of 12, who were in exile. In the massive demonstrations that took place wherever they appeared, the 12 clearly supported a Sandinista, anti-imperialist and revolutionary ideology. As this period drew to a close, a new balance of power became increasingly clear: the bourgeois opposition had irretrievably lost control of the anti-Somoza struggle, having neither the weapons nor the mass support necessary to topple the dictator alone.
The Democratic Program for National Government proposed by the FAO in August 1978 has become a historical document. It proposes:
DEMOCRATIC PROGRAM FOR NATIONAL GOVERNMENT (FAO) 1. To organize the national army so it serves the freedoms and interests of the people.
To replace the military regulations inherited from the US intervention with a comprehensive military law that guarantees socially and economically fair regulations for noncommissioned officers and privates and a national system to promote and remunerate other officers.
To prohibit military trials for civilians.
To create a police force that is strictly separate from the army.
2. To eradicate the corruption characteristic of the Somoza dictatorship: fraudulent appropriation of property, contraband, illegal tax exemptions, fraud in official tenders, arranged advantages in land dealings, embezzlement of state funds, illegal granting of loans, unfair commissions on borrowed funds and other dishonest dealings.
3. To abrogate all politically repressive laws and establish absolute respect for human rights, especially human dignity and life, putting an end to political killings, disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and house break-ins.
Repressive state bodies, such as the State Security Office and paramilitary bands, will be abolished.
4. To free immediately all political prisoners and permit all exiles to return to Nicaragua.
5. To abrogate all laws that repress free expression, free thought, or the free dissemination of information.
6. To provide immediate guarantees for free and unrestricted organization in labor unions, trade or business associations and grassroots groups in both urban and rural areas. To ensure the right to employment, compensation, pensions and a share of company profits.
7. To initiate a genuine and complete agrarian reform aimed at establishing new and fair modes of agricultural production and peasant ownership.
8. To pass emergency measures designed to solve health and welfare problems in the cities and countryside. To provide social security, medical and hospital care, and protection for children and mothers.
9. To begin an authentic urban reform in order to solve the problems of marginal neighborhoods, illegal property sales, environmental health, rent speculation, etc. To build decent dwellings for the middle- and low-income population sectors.
10. To attend immediately to the serious public transport problem through efficient organizing and planning.
11. To ensure effective price controls for basic needs, including medicine, to avoid speculation.
12. To begin an effective literacy program within an educational system of an authentically democratic orientation.
13. To reform the financial system and implement a more equitable tax structure, as well as to end tax fraud and evasion.
14. To restructure the judicial branch in order to eliminate corruption, especially through bribes and the use of judicial influence.
15. To provide the municipalities with full political, economic and administrative autonomy. To restore the municipality of Managua, with freely elected authorities.
16. To establish a new political order that will guarantee a free electoral process on both the national and municipal levels. To ensure that all political parties may organize and function freely, with no threat of ideological discrimination.
If, in February 1978, the US had offered decisive support to the Nicaraguan private enterprise associations, they might have been able to replace the dictatorship with another form of government. However, the US Administration maintained its support for Somoza and the National Guard. Events were moving quickly and people’s confidence in the Group of 12 and the FSLN was growing: they had become the only ones who could eliminate the Somoza system. Today, Reagan is once again committing this same error of the past by backing the former ex-GN “freedom fighters,” and the people are again determined to fight, this time to defend their independence.
August 1978-July 1979: The FSLN’s spectacular takeover of Managua’s National Palace on August 22, 1978, and the one-month general strike that followed demonstrated and reinforced the importance of the grassroots bloc in the balance of power. The 1978 insurrection was a kind of rehearsal for the final insurrection, which took place within less than a year. When total victory was not attained in September, the two blocs in conflict with Somoza clearly defined their interests and objectives, breaking with the unity established in the FAO.
Much activity and many contradictions
At that stage, the reformist opposition parties undertook their last attempt to convince Somoza to leave power: mediation. This also represented an opportunity for the US government to persuade Somoza to push for a system of “Somocismo without Somoza,” but it continued backing Somoza and the Guard even when the system was on its deathbed. Washington demonstrated no confidence in the bourgeois opposition and underestimated the strength of the grassroots bloc.
The pro-Somoza bloc tried to maintain its power until the very last. The National Guard intensified its reign of terror, with repression becoming increasingly indiscriminate. Crises began to spring up within the Guard in the form of protests by officers, as well as desertions in the barracks and during fighting with the FSLN. This weakening encouraged the bourgeois opposition, whose objective was always to divide the Guard but never to destroy it.
The grassroots bloc continued to increase its strength. Private enterprise and the FAO supported the general strake, considering it a “decisive means” to overthrow Somoza, but the grassroots bloc saw the strike more as an opportunity to achieve a higher level of organization and deepen the dictatorship’s crisis. With this strike, the United People’s Movement (MPU) began to operate in the country’s main cities. Made up of 22 different organizations (trade associations, labor unions and students’, women’s and peasants’ groups), the MPU ended the monopoly on civil opposition previously held by the FAO. The MPU became the FSLN’s representation among the mass organizations. CDCs (Civil Defense Committees) began to form in December and prepare for the struggles that would take place in the urban working class districts during the final insurrection.
As the war developed, the bourgeois opposition attempted to implement civil solutions that were no longer possible. Such was the case of the mediation between the FAO and Somoza, which lasted from August 1978 to January 1979. The Mediating Commission was composed of representatives from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and the United States. Although the FAO’s professed intention was to give the Church hierarchy a preponderant role in the mediation, INDE actually played the principal role.
The US government hoped that mediation would help remove the stigma of the Somoza dynasty and eliminate administrative corruption. The bourgeois opposition viewed the mediation as a “necessary bridge” leading to subsequent democratic reforms. A certain sector of this opposition bloc saw the US presence in the mediation as a hopeful sign.
In October, when the FAO presented the Mediating Commission with an outline for a provisional government, the Group of 12 declared that the “mediation has become a brazen intervention,” denounced the growing US influence in the process, and told the US representative that the only solution to the conflict was the Somoza family’s immediate departure from Nicaragua. Shortly afterwards, the Group of 12 withdrew from the FAO.
Somoza and the PLN refused the proposal for a provisional government. Faced with two irreconcilable positions, the Committee suggested that a referendum be held in 60 days to allow the citizens of Nicaragua to decide whether Somoza should go or stay. The FAO began to yield to US pressure aimed at imposing certain conditions for the referendum, but in December the PLI asked the FAO to drop the “Washington Plan” so that together they could initiate talks with the FSLN and the MPU about forming a National Patriotic Front (FPN).
The PLI pulled out of the FAO, as did the PPSC the same day. This set off a chain reaction in which the most progressive parties also decided to leave the FAO. Through the efforts of the Groups of 12, the 22 organizations in the MPU, plus the PLI, the PPSC, the PCdeN and a faction of the CTN formed the FPN. In an attempt to advance its national unity policy even further, the FPN asked the FAO to take part in the new alliance, but the remaining FAO members refused to unite with the grassroots bloc, whose force they underestimated.
Following the failure of the US-led mediation, the remaining FAO parties decided in April 1979 to promote a “national mediation” process, supported essentially by the private enterprise sector. Those parties created the Patriotic Reflection Committee, headed by Archbishop Obando, and proposed talks with all the political forces: the FAO, the FPN, the PLN and the National Guard. This committee also met with failure.
THE FPN PROGRAMA. NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
1. To demand and defend the Nicaragua people’s right to political, social and economic self-determination.
a) To reject any kind of foreign intervention designed to exert political, economic and social control over Nicaragua.
b) To denounce as criminal intervention any collaboration on the part of a foreign government with the illegitimate, unconstitutional and genocidal Somoza regime.
B. AUTHENTIC DEMOCRACY2. To overthrow the Somoza dictatorship and eradicate all remnants of it, while rejecting any maneuver aimed at establishing “Somocismo without Somoza,” in order to move toward a democratic transformation of Nicaraguan society.
3. To dissolve the National Congress and form a Democratic Assembly that will elect a new government and assume legislative responsibilities. The Assembly will be composed of representatives of the organizations that have taken part in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship.
4. To form a national democratic government uniting all political and social forces that played a genuine role in the elimination of the dictatorship. This government will lay the foundation for a new democratic order based on this program.
5. To create and organize a new patriotic national army in order to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This new army will be made up of soldiers and officers who have remained honest and patriotic in the face of the dictatorship’s corruption, repression and submission to foreign powers; those who have joined the struggle to overthrow the Somoza regime; all sectors of the nation that have fought for its liberation and wish to join the new army; and those citizens fit for compulsory military service, which will be instituted.
6. To abolish all repressive institutions, such as the National Security Office (OSN) and the Military Intelligence Service (SIM), which have been responsible for the political repression of the masses and their organizations.
7. To form a civilian police force.
8. To bring to trial all military personnel or civilians involved in crimes against the people.
9. To eliminate governmental terror and abolish all repressive laws in order to guarantee respect for the lives and physical and moral integrity of all Nicaraguans, as well as for their civil and social rights: freedom of organization in political, labor union, peasant, communal and other groups, in addition to freedom of expression, information, religion, etc.
10. To provide Nicaragua’s municipalities with full political, economic and administrative autonomy, with authorities freely elected by the people. To restore the municipality of Managua.
11. To restructure judicial power, eliminating corruption from the administration of justice.
12. To establish a democratic regime that will provide ample guarantees for the right of all citizens to participate in politics without ideological discrimination or restrictions with respect to the registration of candidates. The only exception to this right will be those parties and organizations that represent or advocate the return to Somocismo.
C. JUSTICE AND SOCIAL PROGRESS
13. To confiscate all goods and property belonging to the Somoza family, as well as all riches accumulated by Somoza supporters through murder, repression or any other kind of criminal activity against the people. This also applies to wealth transferred out of Nicaragua by these sectors.
14. To carry out a thorough agrarian reform that will provide rural workers with different forms of access to the land, as well as indispensable technical, educational and financial assistance. This reform will initially use land expropriated form the Somoza family and its clique, uncultivated land on large forms and fallow state land.
15. To ensure state control over all natural resources: mines, forests, fishing, energy, etc.
16. To enact a labor law that will truly protect factory workers, form laborers and all types of wage earners. To establish special rights for labor unions and guarantee the night to strike.
17. To enact a civil service law in order to protect state workers.
18. To promote planned and coordinated national development, subordinating individual interests to the overall interests of the nation, by means of a national plan designed to free us from underdevelopment and foreign dependency. This plan will prioritize industrialization based on the country’s own raw materials. The state will protect national businesses, especially small and medium ones, against transnational companies and will support these national businesses with an incentive policy related to the national development plan.
Bank savings and credit will be oriented in accordance with the guidelines of the national development plan. Economic and social development in the Atlantic Coast region will be given the highest priority so as to incorporate this region fully into the rest of the country.
19. To carry out an authentic urban reform in order to solve the problems of marginalized neighborhoods, illegal property sales, environmental health, rent speculation and other related problems. Of primary importance will be the construction of decent low-income housing.
20. To reform the financial system and implement a more equitable tax structure, as well as end tax fraud and evasion. All taxes on basic needs will be reduced or abolished.
21. To offer all Nicaraguans a real opportunity to improve their living conditions through a full employment policy designed to fight unemployment, guarantee the right to housing, health care, social security, efficient transportation, education, cultural opportunities, sporting activities and wholesome recreation.
Women and children will be guaranteed full participation in the country’s economic, political and social activity.
22. To carry out an educational reform designed to eliminate illiteracy, promote adult education and establish a compulsory and free educational system that will help the population develop critical thinking to benefit all the other changes proposed in this program.
Educational plans and programs will be of a scientific nature and will be adapted to the country’s development needs.
The acceptation of the points of this program and those of common agreement in the struggle to eradicate Somocismo and democratize Nicaragua does not imply that the political organizations and labor unions comprising the National Patriotic Front must give up the objectives that distinguish or characterize their own programs.
UNITED PEOPLE’S MOVEMENT (MPU): Workers’ Struggle Committee (CLT); Confederation for Action and Labor Union Unification (CAUS); Working People’s Union Movement (MSTP); Independent General Workers’ Union (CGTi); National Union of Employees (UNE); Association of Rural Workers (ATC); University Center of the National University (CUUN); Secondary Students’ Association (AES); Secondary Students’ Movement (MES); University Center of the Private University (CEUPA); Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Students’ Association; National Association of Women (AMPRONAC); Managua Federation of Youth Movement (FMJM); Revolutionary Students’ Association (FER); Nicaraguan Revolutionary Youth (JRN); Sandinista Revolutionary Youth (JRS); Nicaraguan Socialist Youth (JRN); Socialist Party (PSN); Revolutionary Workers’ Movement (MORE) and Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN).
INDEPENDENT LIBERAL PARTY (PLI)
GROUP OF TWELVE
NICARAGUAN WORKERS’ CONFEDERATION (CTN)
POPULAR SOCIAL CHRISTIAN PARTY (PPSC)
MANAGUA UNION OF RADIO REFPORTERS
Following the September insurrection, the US government began to consider Alfonso Robelo’s MDN potentially “dangerous” because of its short-term objectives that easily lead to alliances with the FSLN. The US tactic for neutralizing the private businessmen led by Robelo was to change the nature of COSIP by broadening its membership to include representatives of the high-finance sector with very conservative views and close ties to Somoza capital. COSIP thus became COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), moving further to the right and increasing its dependence on orientations from the US. The FAO’s remaining parties followed suit. While the FPN organized for the final offensive, the reformist bloc looked on from the sidelines and waited for new US initiatives, the last of which was an unsuccessful request for OAS military intervention.
By the time the final insurrection was launched in June, the different blocs were clearly defined. Organized and unorganized grassroots support for the FSLN was unquestionably strong. This massive support was the force that would thoroughly uproot the Somoza dynasty. With patient organizing, a plan responding to the poor majority’s hunger for bread and justice, and the military power attained over long years of struggle, the FSLN won the confidence of the entire population and achieved the political capacity to lead a large sector of the bourgeois opposition, thereby profiting from its energy and contradictions. This has been its mark of genius.
The final insurrection took the US government by surprise in 1979 just as widespread participation in defense and voter registration surprises the Reagan administration today. In the Contadora negotiations and in those presently taking place between the United States and Nicaragua, the administration is acting in much the same way it did when it unsuccessfully tried to pressure the OAS and the Costa Rican government in June and July of 1979. Past and present pressures have basically the same objective: to stop the revolution. In 1979, the goal was to avoid a victorious insurrection. In 1984, the administration’s aim is to prevent the electoral process from providing the revolution with additional legitimacy.
PREVIEWPart I of this article concludes here on July 19, 1979, with the victory of the revolution. In the second part, we will analyze the evolution of Nicaragua’s political parties throughout the five years of the revolutionary process.
The three blocs that existed during the reign of the Somoza dynasty still exist and can be easily identified. The pro-Somoza bloc, which was overthrown, is the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN). Its core is composed of the thousands of National Guardsmen who fled Nicaragua at the time of the revolutionary victory. Many of its military leaders are former Guard officers. Numerous former members of the PLN and the “zancudo” Conservative Party are now exiled, primarily in the US, and some of them support the FDN’s military apparatus either economically or by other means. The FDN’s political leadership is made up of the most reactionary and pro-US elements from the bourgeois opposition to Somoza, as well as of former members of his government. The financing, training and political support with which the US administration furnishes the “freedom fighters” are transparent proof that the FDN is Reagan’s party.
The bourgeois opposition forces that remained in the FAO, without joining the FPN, are now with the CDN or the armed counterrevolutionaries. Some of the members of the CTN, which belonged to the FPN, are now in the CDN. As in Somoza’s time, the real force in this bloc is COSEP, whose members attempt to direct the different parties and thereby recreate capitalism’s political role in society.
In 1981, Alfonso Robelo’s MDN, the most active reformist party, joined in the formation of the armed counterrevolutionary group, ARDE. ARDE also included former Sandinista Edén Pastora and his Sandino Revolutionary Front (FRS), as well as Brooklyn Rivera’s group of dissident Miskitus, Misurasata. Edén Pastora and the FRS have now been expelled from ARDE together with other members of the alliance. The remaining members have reached an agreement with the FDN. The CDN has said that it will not take part in the November elections. Instead, it has proposed its non-registered presidential candidate, Arturo Cruz, as a “mediator” for talks between the Nicaraguan government and the armed counterrevolutionaries. The CDN seems to represent the same interest and positions inside Nicaragua as the FDN and ARDE outside the country.
The grassroots bloc is participating in the electoral process. The overwhelming force in this bloc is the FSLN, although it also includes businesspeople and representatives and organizations from many different social sectors. All parties taking part in the electoral process hold positions that are more or less distinct from those of the FSLN. There is a wide range of political positions and the two “historical parallels,” the Conservatives and Liberals, are present in this spectrum.
The overthrow of the Somozas, which ended the dictatorship-people contradiction, quickly revealed the existence of a deeper contradiction: national sovereignty versus US imperialism. Somoza, who bragged that he spoke English better than Spanish, was an extension of this imperialism. Reagan’s war against Nicaragua is the most explicit evidence of this contradiction.
Although several parties (with differing viewpoints on how to resolve this contradiction) will be participating in the November elections, only two projects are actually at stake: a continuation of the revolutionary process or an attempt at reformism. Nicaragua’s history has demonstrated that the reformist plans eventually end up supporting those of the US. The CDN’s latest positions are a clear example of this reality.
Despite its mistakes and difficulties, the FSLN’s program appears to have the continued support of the majority. A realistic political outlook has led the PLI, PCD and PPSC (all less revolutionary than the FSLN), as well as the PSN, PCdeN and MAP-ML (all of which propose “traditional” Marxist-Leninist projects), to participate in the electoral process. They see the elections as their best opportunity to have some political influence on the course of the revolution. However, none of these parties seems to oppose the fundamental framework of the new historical period that began in 1979.
The major outside threat to fair elections is the continuing possibility of a direct US attack on Nicaragua before November 4. Within Nicaragua, there are great expectations that the elections will be an important step in building a truly democratic society.
BROAD OPPOSITION FRONT (FAO) Democratic Union of Liberation (UDEL): Rafael Córdova Rivas, President Rodolfo Robelo Herrera, Secretary Genera. and Juan Manuel Gutiérrez; Independent Liberal Party: Ramiro Sacasa Guerrero; Constitutionalist Liberal Movement: Héctor Sánchez Argüello; Conservative National Action: Gustavo Tablada; Nicaraguan Socialist Party: Edgar Macías; Nicaraguan Social Christian Party: Julio Briceño Dávila; Nicaraguan Socialist Party: Domingo A. Sánchez Salgado; Independent General Workers’ Union: Adolfo Bonilla; Nicaraguan Workers’ Confederation: Nicaraguan Conservative Party: Julio Icaza Tijerino; Authentic Conservative Party: Adolfo Calero Portocarrero; Nicaraguan Social Christian Party: Róger Miranda Gómez and José Esteban González; Nicaraguan Conservative Party: Enrique Sotelo Borgen and Julio César Avilez; Group of 12: Emilio Baltodano and Sergio Ramírez Mercado; Confederation for Labor Union Unification: Luis Medrano; Nicaraguan Democratic Movement: Alfonso Robelo Callejas and Ramiro Cardenal.