The Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua began in the late 1950s. In 1978, it was intensified and in March 1979, its three factions signed an agreement and decided to start the final offensive to which the people adhered by a general strike. On July 19, 1979, the guerrillas entered Managua in triumph. The dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza ended. What is left of this revolution today?
July 19, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the bloody Somoza’s dynasty defeat. However, there is not much to celebrate in Nicaragua. The country lives under another dictatorship, that of Commander Daniel Ortega and his wife.
When the Sandinistas took power in 1979, the greatest expectation was agrarian reform. Four per cent of the land was cultivated by 70% of the poor farmers, while less than 2000 people owned more than 50% of the land and less than 5% controlled 85% of it. When they came to power, the Sandinistas devoted themselves to poverty reduction by establishing the Nicaraguan Institute for Agrarian Reform. The 1980’s were full of hope and dynamism, despite the Contra war financed by the United States.
Lands were allocated to landless peasants, co-operative farms and state-run farms were created. Only land that was not in production, abandoned or not used, was redistributed and so the expropriations were few. No attention was given to the farms’ extension as long as the land was productive. As a result, 13.7 million acres of farmland - 1.7 million hectares under cultivation and 12 million hectares of pastures - were reorganized to increase their productivity. In 1986, 10% of the land belonged to large farmers, 21% to former landless peasant cooperatives, about 20% to public enterprises, 35% to small and medium-sized producers, 7% to small farmers. In 1990, more than 40% of productive land had been redistributed through agrarian reform.
However, it was then that Daniel Ortega lost the election against Violeta Chamorro. During the 1990’s, conflicts broke out between the different streams of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Some Sandinistas had left the party, joining or creating other political parties, claiming that the FSLN was not democratic. The Contra war had lasted more than 10 years and people were tired. When Violeta Chamorro began the agrarian counter-reform, she met with no opposition. In 1997, the elections brought Arnoldo Alemán to the presidency. In 2002, at the end of his mandate - he will be condemned for corruption in 2003 -, less than 10% of the productive lands were still in the hands of the peasants who had obtained them through agrarian reform.
The presidency of Enrique Bolanos followed; he was a businessperson, former landowner, cotton producer and president of the Supreme Council of Private Enterprises (COSEP). His unpopular management of the state paved the way for the historic leader of the Sandinista revolution, Daniel Ortega, to return to the political scene and win the elections in November 2007. The Nicaraguans had not forgotten the Sandinistas and hoped that what could not be accomplished in the 1980’s because of the Contra War would become reality in a period of peace. A hope that did not last long.
After the first seven years of the new Sandinista era, much of the agricultural land was again back in the hands of large landowners and foreign companies. 40% of Nicaraguan farmers, about 170,000 people, were still landless and food security was again a concern. The agricultural sector was growing but only through cattle rearing: while causing deforestation the cattle rearing was in the hands of large landowners, among them some were Nicaraguans, but many others were foreigners. More than 100,000 hectares of land was belonging to foreign and transnational corporations. United States, Canada, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and China were the investors present everywhere and in all, even in the private tourist complexes and in the projects of co-ownerships. Everything suggested that Ortega had given up the national sovereignty, food security and the fight against poverty.
This deterioration of economic life led to the "social uprising" of April 18, 2018. The repression of the Sandinista government has been violent. Since then, everything has fallen into ruin. In the next five months, more than 30,000 Nicaraguans emigrated legally or illegally; there were 481 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and more than 1,200 illegal detentions, kidnappings, enforced disappearances and political detentions. The International Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) speaks of 322 deaths and the Ortega government recognizes only 198; but poverty and increased migration, the international isolation of the government, and the never-ending repressive wave condemn a regime that has brought so much hope to the country and to all of Latin America.
Alvaro Leiva, director of the NGO "Nicaraguan Association of Human Rights" (ANPDH), exiled to Costa Rica for security reasons, expresses an "absolutely negative" judgment on the situation. "There can be no economic development in a country that disproportionately uses force against civilians and human rights. The development of a country cannot be guided from the top of a mountain of corpses." International organizations, potential donors and allies no longer want to collaborate; others, like the United States, impose economic sanctions.
Nicaragua, governed by Ortega since 2007, is now the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti. 47% of its 6.3 million inhabitants, a percentage that reaches 60% in rural areas, live in poverty. The economic consequences of the political crisis are making the life of the most vulnerable populations more and more precarious.
According to economists, since the beginning of the crisis, 215,000 jobs have been lost, of which 70,000 in the tourism sector - which had become the main source of foreign exchange in recent years - and the tourism supply has dropped by 55%, according to Economic Central Bank of Nicaragua. More than $ 900 million have escaped the financial system; investments in tourism, construction, agricultural development, stock market activities and other sectors of the economy are frozen; international flights suspended or reduced. The economic impact of the crisis has been estimated at more than $ 1,200 million, in a country whose GDP (gross domestic product) is close to $ 14,000 million. Economic growth fell from 4.9% in 2017 to zero percentage according to independent economists.
The crisis breeds food insecurity: invaders seeking social housing have occupied thousands of hectares of productive land and more than 4,855 hectares of private land has been invaded by government supporters in retaliation against the legitimate owners for supporting protesters. More than 90% of the invaded farms were used for agriculture, livestock and genetic improvement of food.
The various dialogue attempts to find a way out of the crisis, which also involved the Catholic Church and social and student organizations, failed. During these dialogue sessions, the government supported violent street mobs to intimidate political opponents and even the Church (Cardinal, nuncio and bishop attacked by mob in Nicaragua. Turbas agreden a obispos y Nuncio en Carazo, y roban a periodistas - Crowds attacked bishops and the nuncio in Carazo and steal journalists). "The panorama of the country, in the short, medium and long term, is dark, worse than in Venezuela, because in Venezuela there is at least oil; we depend on agricultural production and tourism, two voices seriously affected by the crisis caused by Ortega’s repression" (Statement to IPS).
The situation has so deteriorated that it has led one of the old supporters and activist Sandinista to say, July 19, bitter day for Nicaragua. "The social gains of the first years of the Sandinista revolution have suffered a brutal and dramatic regression. It is disgusting to see how one of the leaders of this revolution has changed: from liberator to repressor, from pioneer to executioner of hope and reality. Doubtful business with the Chinese, flagrant corruption, brutal repression and legislative regression: Nicaragua is today a country that mourns the results obtained a few years ago" (19 de julho, data amarga para a Nicarágua - 19 July, bitter day for Nicaragua).