Contextual History of Struggle in Nicaragua
- 1909—1933: The U.S. is cementing itself as the world’s police in the 20th century; the marines invaded Nicaragua in 1909 “to help stabilize the country”. The U.S. occupied the land until 1933.
- In 1927, revolutionary political leader Augusto Nicolas Sandino began leading a tiny, fervent guerrilla army, the Army for the Defense of Nicaraguan National Sovereignty (EDSN), to successfully eject U.S. imperialism from Nicaragua in 1933.
- 1934-1979: A civilian entrenched by the glittery wickedness of the United States, Antonio Somoza assassinated Sandino in 1934 and in 1937 became the President. As a son of Empire and one of the US’ favorite puppets, Somoza and his political family dynasty tyrannized and exploited Nicaragua under a brutally violent dictatorship that killed and tortured thousands, wontedly ignored social issues and fed the national bourgeoisie. He warmly ushered U.S. companies such as Citigroup, Bank of America, Sears, Westinghouse, and Coca Cola to exploit Nicaragua.
- 1961-1979: Imperial barbarity is never taken lying down, though. In 1961, 19 year old marxist Carlos Fonseca formed the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN took time to build popular support and militant organization of the majority peasant farmer population. Somoza’s management of Nicaragua after the tragic 1972 earthquake was so inadequate that even the national bourgeoisie eventually too began to oppose his rule, and some liberal coalitions supported Sandinistas. After years of intensifying struggle, the FSLN successfully overthrew the Somoza dynasty in July 1979.
- 1979-1981: The Sandinista government almost immediately implemented an aggressive series of social programs that transferred ownership of millions of acres of land to small farmers for free, exponentially improved the literacy rate of the population, and began establishing the renowned agrarian model to drastically reduce hunger, cement the agricultural economy and create a political defense, and lay the roadblocks for food sovereignty on the land. At the time of the revolution, Nicaragua was a relatively successful Central American sugar, coffee, cotton, and meat producing agricultural economy. This wealth was concentrated in the hands of Capital. In 1981, the agro-export businesses owned 50% of the rural labor force while holding only 10% of the land. The private bourgeoisie 1.2% of the population owned 47.1% of the land, while 30% of the rural farming population either had no land or worked for meager wages as tenant farmers. The 1981 Agrarian Reform Law passed with popular support from workers and people’s unions like the Asociación Trabajadores del Campo (Rural Workers Union).
- 1980-1990: The Sandinista government led by revolutionary Daniel Ortega barely got 2 years to build the country in “peace” before the devil himself Ronald Reagan waged a duplicitous war against Nicaragua.
- The war was not only an attempt to crush Nicaragua, but a slick method to destabilize revolutionary forces in the U.S. and further imperialism in the Middle East. As the leader of U.S. hegemony now threatened by socialism building in a former puppet country of the U.S., Regan funded millions to the Contras counterrevolutionary army to terrorize Nicaragua through the 80s. These millions came from weapon sales to Iran. Some of the Contra forces were from the Afro Miskitu, Garifuna, and Kriol population of the Carribbean coast, who experienced generations of military abuse, alienation and discrimination from mainland Nicaragua. Reagan used the Contra forces to smuggle cocaine from Colombia through Nicaragua and into Black neighborhoods in the U.S. This state-manufactured drug epidemic provided a face for the mass re-enslavement of Black people via mass incarceration through the War on Drugs campaign. Such finalized the vicious repression of revolutionary forces like the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, permanently stifling the mass political awakening of the superexploited Afro population and further destroying Black communities. Let the Iran-Contra scheme serve as a reminder that the U.S. acts scarcely for true democracy, but in the interests of furthering fascism, expanding imperialism, maintaining neocolonialism, or otherwise generally extinguishing a peoples fighting for freedom.
- Nicaragua ached under war for nearly a decade. 50,000 were martyred, and the country suffered heavily as the new government fought impossibly against Somozismo and Yankees while trying to maintain and develop the gains of the revolution. In 1990, the Sandinistas conceded the war, and Violeta Chamorro of the neo-liberal bourgeois National Opposition Union (UNO) was elected President.
- 1990-2006: Neo-liberal governments ruled the country and undid all the progress of the 1st stage (1980-1990) of the revolution. For 17 years, people who bled for their progress watched capitalists burn it all down. They shut down the free education programs, privatized public services, ceased electricity development, and stuffed their pockets while extreme poverty in the country skyrocketed. Mind you, they elected a woman of an old money family to be the first neo-liberal president of the country. Chamorro’s election is a prime example of neoliberalism’s insidiousness—symbolic progressive concessions on social issues like gender or race are granted, while true power remains in the hands of the bourgeois, imperialists, and fascists.
- 2007-2018: After losing elections in 1996 and 2001, the former President during the first stage of the revolution returned to power by popular vote in 2006. Daniel Ortega “llego al comandante y mando a parar.” The Sandinista government began rebuilding the country with 3 main goals: anti-imperialism, anti-Somozismo, and anti-local oligarchies.
Entering adulthood alongside the dwindling of 2020 uprisings for Black liberation (that I had naively seen as the beginning of the end), I felt very stuck. Understanding I am a poor queer Black woman, I saw myself facing a world where the options presented for survival were dehumanizing at best, and the innate dream of living as a free person essentially destroyed. I wanted to fight the liberal tendency of American youth to begin with strong spirits of resistance, before colleging, working and/or drugging, and ultimately, laying down into the nuzzle of the state we once claimed to relentlessly hate. I myself knew that I was seriously struggling, on so many fronts, save the one struggle that might bring peace. I knew a spoonful about Nicaragua and their struggle, but became personally interested after hearing report-backs of comrades who traveled to Nicaragua to observe the November 2021 election and January inauguration of President Daniel Ortega. I decided in February that I wanted to see for myself the realities of international socialist struggle and what Nicaragua was really about.
With the help of the Claudia Jones School for Political Education, I went on a 10 day journey, witnessing the reality of modern agriculture in Nicaragua and commemorating the 43rd anniversary of their revolution. From July 12-22nd, I participated in the Friends of ATC Food Sovereignty, Agroecology, & Victorious July delegation with 22 others, students, journalists, and activists from across the world. An account of my experience is as follows.
I arrived in Nicaragua around 8:30 AM on July 12th. The first day was very low-key. We rested, ate, toured the neighborhood surrounding the Francisco Morazan School where we stayed, and got to know each other.
The core delegation program began the next day with an essential teach-in from Nicaraguan leaders. We received lessons from Fausto Torrez, ex-Sandinista guerrilla and current Secretary of International Relations of the ATC, on the colonial and modern political history of Nicaragua, the formation of the revolutionary leading party Frente Sandinista por Liberación Nacional (FSLN), and the recent achievements of the Sandinistas since returning to power in 2006, despite U.S. backed opposition attempting to violently overthrow the government in 2018.
The Sandinista government has accomplished extraordinary feats since 2007:
- more than 1.2 million children have received free school meals in rural, urban, and dry corridor schools
- Nationwide electric coverage went from 54% to 99%
- Renewable Energy went from 25% to 75.9% from 2006-2020.
- 427,434 property titles and 124, 898 property credits distributed
- Construction of more than 71,376 homes and improvements, 21,568 subsidies for new housing.
- More than 1.7 million students with free education every year.
- Drinking water in urban zones went from 65% to 91% and in rural areas from 26.7% to 55.4%.
- Construction of 19 new hospitals, 192 clinics, construction and improvement of more than 1,333 medical posts, and 66 mobile clinics, 178 maternity homes, along other gains in the health sector.
- Road coverage doubled from 2,429 kilometers in 2006 to 4,868 kilometers in 2020.
2018 Coup vs. Reality
The right-wing opposition and Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) orchestrated a coup (golpe) attempt in summer 2018. They appealed to democratic values in students, rallying around “violent repression of the Ortega government” after the government issued an IMF-coerced pension decrease for seniors. Violence and chaos erupted on April 18th. For 3 months, hundreds were tortured or killed, and many roads were barricaded at gunpoint with cement blocks. Hospitals, public offices, banks, and homes burned. Nicaraguan teenagers I met from Masaya and Managua recounted the fear and uncertainty they felt because of the violence and political instability. Veteran Sandinistas worried that progress would be washed away in blood all over again.
U.S. backed oligarchies and NGO’s (in Nicaragua these include FUNIDES, Hagamos Democracia, and Violeta Chamorro Foundation) dominate the narratives with lies of the social and political situation in Central America. The goals of the gople were to halt economic progress and instill enough fear in the population for a seamless coup. In Western media, Nicaragua is described as a poor country suffering at the hands of socialism under crazed, abusive dictator Ortega. In this mirage, any dissent is ruthlessly silenced.
For a sense of reality, I witnessed opposition party campaign posters from last year’s elections on dozens of street poles and vendor carts across the country. I spoke with citizens neutral and candidly opposed to the government about their critiques. If this repressive regime exists, it certainly is doing a terrible job at silencing its citizens.
While the pretty faced National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds America’s commitment to devastating Nicaragua, to this day, the U.S. Department of State owes $18 billion to Nicaragua for terrorism of Contra period per a 1986 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling.
Agroecology, ATC & La Via Campesina
I also learned about the Asociación Trabajadores del Campo (Rural Workers Association) and La Via Campesina global peasant workers movement from Marlen Sanchez, a leader in both organizations, and Edgardgo Garcia, Secretary General of the ATC. The ATC formed out of the revolutionary struggle and works to improve the life, working conditions, and political integration of over 50,000 rural farm workers in Nicaragua. The union is independent but works with the state, private enterprises, and workers to negotiate for better salaries and work conditions, administer political education programs, ensure social security for rural workers, ensure public safety for vendors and unions, and increase accessibility to basic services. The ATC is active all across the country, but especially in 12 of Nicaragua’s 15 departments and 2 autonomous regions. They’ve built many technical schools for agroecology and political education on the mainland and in the autonomous regions.
The Banners of Struggle that inform the ATC’s work in La Via Campesina include:
- Comprehensive and popular agrarian reform
- Food sovereignty based on agroecology
- Defense of human rights in territories and implementation of the Declaration of Peasant Rights
- Protagonism of peasant women and peasant and popular feminism.
- Building alliances with organizations from other sectors
- Militant and internationalist solidarity
- Youth development from intergenerational frame
- Political, ideological and technical training
African and Indigenous Nicaragua
I was especially curious about the process of building this national organization in the Caribbean coast autonomous zones—the Indigenous and African-descendant population of Nicaragua. The pervasive malevolence of anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity across the world, no exception granted to Hispanic nations, leaves mainland with a historically strained relationship with African-descendant Nicaragua. Nicaragua is home to a large African-descendant population. The Afro Miskitu, Garifuna, Rama Cay, Zambu, and Kriol populations of the Carribbean coastal region that spans the major area of Nicaragua used guerrilla and cultural techniques to repudiate British slavery and colonial forces in the 17-20th centuries. A common calamity of colonialism, mestizo and indigenous people of Spanish Nicaragua clashed with the African and Indigenous people of English Nicaragua. Experiencing racist alienation and exploitation from mainland Nicaragua, English Nicaragua had no schools, no electricity, no potable tap water, poor infrastructure, and no roads until the revolution of the 1980s. Divisions imposed on us by colonists should not underpin and dictate the societies we are creating in the aftermath. The Sandinista government understood the simultaneous need for nationality unity, multi-ethnic diversity, and autonomy for oppressed peoples on Nicaraguan land. Sandinistas passed the autonomy law in 1987, officially recognizing the African populations in the North and South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS).
The ATC’s relationship with the Caribbean coast is still strengthening in comparison to the mainland. They are cognizant of the racialized aspects of social and economic treatment towards Indigenous and African peoples in Nicaragua, and are working to better relationships and partnerships with the populations while maintaining their sovereignty and dual power. The ATC has a stronger presence in the RAAN (northern autonomous zone) and invites participation from both regions to participate in intercultural exchange and benefits of a pluricultural nationhood. ATC strongly upholds the autonomy of these zones and their unique cultures, epistemologies, processes, and governing structures.
Agroecology School in Matagalpa, Nicaragua
On day three, we were welcomed to the Rodolfo Sánchez Bustos Agricultural and Livestock Technical School, one of the agro-ecology schools (Instituto Agricultura Latin America or IALA’s) in the Santa Emilia department of Matagalpa. The dormitory campus was beautiful, with expansive farmland for hands-on learning high in the lush cloud forests region.
The Sandinistas are characterized by a revolutionary agrarian model, affected largely by the significant role of agricultural labor unions and women in the ATC struggle. Two women from one of 26 women’s cooperatives in Matagalpa gave us a thorough tour of the IALA campus. They shared with us losses of sisters, neighbors, and children to domestic violence, brutal work conditions, machismo, poverty, and misogyny that ultimately forced them into revolutionary action when people’s power called. One of the women was a lawyer in addition to farmer, mother, and organizer, and spoke of the hardships to follow after the revolution was won—gaining political respect and organizational independence/funding as women leading unions.
Marlen Sanchez, who is also the Director of IALA Nicaragua, taught us about the formation of agro-ecology schools as a pillar of the revolutionary youth movement, Sandinista juventud. Adorably, she and her husband met as teens at the first IALA campus in Venezuela, and continued to lead in the agro-ecology movement in Latin America since. Alongside technical agriculture education, IALAs are training militant, socialist leaders under 35 from all over Latin + Central America & the Caribbean who will be equipped to organize their communities. There are IALAs in Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and over 700 students at the Ixim Ulew school in Nicaragua (Ixem Ulew refers to Latin America, what Mayan peoples described the “Land of Corn”). Some of the technical instruction includes courses in agropecuaria, computación, eco construction, agroindustry, agrobiodiversidad, and more concepts that went over my city-girl head. Marlen stressed that in these schools they are building permanent, time-resistant formations to continue through generations, so social consciousness is developed with technology, Indigenous knowledge, and a thorough historical and political analysis. Students at IALAs learn about internationalism, praxis, gender, sexuality, La Pachamama, and transformative family structures, communism, work skills, organizing strategies, místicos or spiritual/artistic expressions, cultural and social movement history, and more.
I was extremely nervous to do so, but it was a very special thing to meet teens and young adults from the rest of Abya Yala (America) who were enriching themselves at the Santa Emilia School. With a little help from translators, we bonded over consignas (fight songs) and hip hop music, punta dancing and shared struggles. All the students were from peasant farmer families, similar to my own grandparents, aunts, and uncles back home in Cameroon. I fellowshipped with young people who were actively resisting hegemonic imperialism in their lands, while building sustenance, alternative systems of reality through communal living, and a scientific, Earth centered rooted approach to the creation of food. Que tuani.
After dinner and rest, we convened in the auditorium for another great lesson from Fausto Torrez on the transition from a unipolar to multipolar world. We learned about the hybrid warfare tactics of the NATO dominating powers, the rise of the Five Eyes against socialism in the 20th century, and possibilities to come from the rising economic and political collaboration between progressive states of the East and Global South, like BRICS. For centuries, particularly from 2009-now, the U.S., Canada, Britain, and other colonial powers have used ideological, physical, psychological, and social warfare to orchestrate a number of coups and destabilization efforts in Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Haiti, Bolivia, and other American countries. Tactics of such control include spreading ideological disinformation through social media campaigns and cultural agitations, mercenaries, blockades, sanctions, and occupations to address “human rights violations”.
Women’s Struggle, Free Maternity Houses, and Sustainability in San Ramon
The fourth day, we were honored to be welcomed by the Mayor of San Ramon, Matagalpa for an informational presentation and gift giving ceremony. Consuela Morán is the first woman to ever hold the position and was candid about the challenges of being a single mother while becoming a woman in power. She shared how the city cultivates and defends food sovereignty in their municipality—protecting native seeds, minimizing use of chemicals in agricultural processes, and specializing production + empowering campesinas to grow, buy, and sell local crops. The Mayor also showed us a newly formed trash processing plant in the region, where 43% of waste is able to be repurposed into compost or other reusable material.
We stopped for a hearty lunch at a local restaurant, then visited one of the 170+ free maternity houses implemented by the Sandinista government. For at least 3 weeks and until needed, women are able to rest and receive free specialized pre-natal or postpartum care through the birthing process from trained physicians and doulas. Transportation, lodging, food, and family support is all provided to expecting mothers. As an African woman from the U.S. who can give birth, but is terrified of the process due to medical racism and high maternal & infant mortality rates for African women, this level of equitable maternal health support was shocking.
How to Support the ATC
On our last day at the Santa Emilia School, a local women’s cooperative and ATC collaborator hosted a feria (farmers market) and celebration. All goods were produced in entirety by the cooperative—I left with rich insight into their experiences, and even richer coffee, honey, wine, and herbal medicines. We also visited downtown Matagalpa for sightseeing.
Erika Takeo, the National Coordinator of the ATC’s solidarity network, Friends ATC, gave a more in-depth presentation on the ATC’s global functions in the evening. The main initiatives of Friends ATC include: fundraising, education, reviving the once strong 1980s international solidarity movement in young people, communications, and building solidarity through international delegations & exchanges.
Internationally, one can best support workers in the ATC by disseminating truthful news and counter-stories to the destructive narratives propagated by U.S.-NATO dominating powers. Nicaragua is expecting 100% food sovereignty by 2026! Organize against transnational agribusiness corporations, visit the country, organize in your city against U.S. sanctions, and send remittance or directly fundraise for farming tools and other local initiatives of the ATC (not large NGOs).
Donate to the construction of an ATC office in Esteli.
Be sure to purchase Cafe Revolution, coffee produced by the May 1st cooperative in Jinotega, Nicaragua.
Gloria Quintanillia Women’s Cooperative
One week in, the delegation visited men and women’s farming cooperatives that work with the ATC. I was honored to visit the Gloria Quintanilla Women’s Cooperative in Santa Julia, Chinandega, Nicaragua. The cooperative of 49 women (22 youth) supports 79 families, around 600 people. The women here have built and sustained intergenerational radical restructuring of their community. They are no longer slaves to men or random chance, they have realized and taken their power—and are supported by the Sandinista government in doing so. The lovely Doña Lola who welcomed us to her home grows 19 different crops herself—each woman is able to do the same on their own plot of land. They receive from government organizations cows, seeds, and loans with 1% interest as needed. They create organic compost with land specific plants, water, and decomposing bugs. Protecting and nurturing La Pachamama (Mother Earth) is paramount. We live in by, with, and for the Earth, so the co-op takes special care to protect the land and monitor/clean the river that quenches thirst for the community. The community is very waste conscious; excess harvest is used to make jams, vinegars, chillies, deserts, medicines, and other goods for sale. Since 2010, they’ve built a primary school, a community-controlled justice model that has drastically reduced femicides and domestic violence, and a potable water well system for their people. Educational opportunities are eagerly sought, and literacy in the community is very high. This is a remarkable achievement after the destruction of neo-liberal period. Major literacy, gender, sexuality, and family planning education has completely changed the personhood and future possibilities of young campesinas in the area.
The Spirit of Revolution and end to Hegemony
Once returned from Chinandega, we got ready to attend a joyous (and delicious) dinner hosted by the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry in Managua on July 18th. Journalists, organizers, politicians, and freedom fighters from all over the world convened to celebrate the revolution anniversary. Viva la revolución Sandinista! Vigil celebrations, beautiful fireworks, and festivities emblematic of the people’s love continued through the late night.
19 de Julio finally arrived. On this day 43 years ago, Sandinistas emerged victorious after years of armed struggle. The delegation attended the official government 43/19 celebrations in Granada. Representatives from the multipolar world, including Russia, China, Palestine, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Angola, and more, were present. Presidential couple Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosarillo Murrillo gave powerful addresses renouncing U.S. imperialism and bourgeois liberal democracy. With Biden issuing sanctions under the RENACER Act in November 2021, and a new set targeting Nicaragua’s gold and mining industry in October 2022, Ortega maintained the justifiably antagonistic status of U.S.-Nicaragua diplomatic relations: “Dialogue is impossible, it’s impossible. Dialogue is just for putting the noose around your own neck.”
And What About It?
The majority of Nicaraguans are engaged in the political realm at a level that makes modern U.S. political discourse laughable. The sense of education and political efficacy was a loud culture shock. Outside the American bubble of red and blue, revolution is not a theoretical concern for essays and the ether but a tangible, hard won necessity to leading a dignified existence on Earth in the face of colonialism’s catastrophic effects. Young and old, they are dedicated to building something better of a world for all of us together with Mother Earth. This means revolutionary militancy starts young and continues from generation to generation. The land is a priority to the people here. Balancing the climate disaster with best practices for ecology and development is an especially difficult task for Global South countries starved of resources and facing the brunt of eco-decline. Despite this, the national government puts major effort towards preservation, flora y fauna maintenance, and disaster mitigation.
The Sandinista government of once colonized peoples are unrelentingly committed to anti-imperialism. Clear in the dignified fervor of the Nicaraguan people, who proudly tout the slogan “somos pueblo presidente”, the people are the power here. Sandinistas have an acute understanding that struggle turns you toward death or victory. If you remain alive, you may as well choose victory. After 2 stages of revolution, 10 years of war, and 17 years of decay under neoliberalism, it’s not over till it’s over. The struggle is not separate from life, and neither is hope.
In 2018, the Trump administration issued emergency Executive Order 13851 and the NICA Act: policies to escalate political aggression against Nicaragua and a set of unilateral coercive measures barring significant trade and international aid. In 2021, Biden ordered more sanctions against Nicaragua under the evilly ironic RENACER Act. On October 18, 2022, Biden issued additional sanctions targeting the gold/mining industry (gold was Nicaragua’s biggest export last year) and specific Nicaraguan political and military leaders. Three weeks ago on November 10th, the Biden administration renewed Trump’s executive order for the second year in a row. Whether wearing blue or red costumes, U.S. bourgeois imperialists attack Nicaragua to punish them for struggling towards an equitable society under socialism. Countries like Nicaragua and Cuba have shown what is possible. Major media coverage gravely misrepresents Nicaragua’s social/political affairs. Stories are usually pejorative and sensationalized to keep the American public confused, indifferent, or antagonistic regarding the Nicaraguan struggle. It is only right that those of us in the imperial core condemn our government’s ceaseless warmongering and assaults on the sovereignty of the Nicaraguan people.