The Sandinista Years, 1979-90
The new government inherited a country in ruins, with a stagnant economy and a debt of about US$1.6 billion. An estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans were dead, 120,000 were exiles in neighboring countries, and 600,000 were homeless. Food and fuel supplies were exhausted, and international relief organizations were trying to deal with disease caused by lack of health supplies. Yet the attitude of the vast majority of Nicaraguans toward the revolution was decidedly hopeful. Most Nicaraguans saw the Sandinista victory as an opportunity to create a system free of the political, social, and economic inequalities of the almost universally hated Somoza regime.
One of the immediate goals of the new government was reconstruction of the national economy.
The junta appointed individuals from the private sector to head the government's economic team. They were responsible for renegotiating the foreign debt and channeling foreign economic aid through the state-owned International Reconstruction Fund (Fondo Internacional de Reconstrucción--FIR). The new government received bilateral and multinational financial assistance and also rescheduled the national foreign debt on advantageous terms. Pledging food for the poor, the junta made restructuring the economy its highest priority.
At first the economy experienced positive growth, largely because of renewed inflow of foreign aid and reconstruction after the war. The new government enacted the Agrarian Reform Law, beginning with the nationalization of all rural properties owned by the Somoza family or people associated with the Somozas, a total of 2,000 farms representing more than 20 percent of Nicaragua's cultivable land. These farms became state property under the new Ministry of Agrarian Reform. Large agroexport farms not owned by the Somozas generally were not affected by the agrarian reform. Financial institutions, all in bankruptcy from the massive capital flight during the war, were also nationalized.
The second goal of the Sandinistas was a change in the old government's pattern of repression and brutality toward the general populace. Many of the Sandinista leaders were victims of torture themselves, and the new minister of interior, Tomás Borge Martínez, tried to keep human rights violations low. Most prisoners accused of injustices under the Somoza regime were given a trial, and the Ministry of Interior forbade cruelty to prisoners. In their first two years in power, Amnesty International and other human rights groups found the human rights situation in Nicaragua greatly improved.
The third major goal of the country's new leaders was the establishment of new political institutions to consolidate the revolution. On August 22, 1979, the junta proclaimed the Fundamental Statute of the Republic of Nicaragua. This statute abolished the constitution, presidency, Congress, and all courts. The junta ruled by unappealable degree under emergency powers. National government policy, however, was generally made by the nine-member Joint National Directorate (Dirección Nacional Conjunto--DNC), the ruling body of the FSLN, and then transmitted to the junta by Daniel Ortega for the junta's discussion and approval.
The new government established a consultive corporatist representative assembly, the Council of State, on May 4, 1980. The council could approve laws submitted to it by the junta or initiate its own legislation. The junta, however, had the right of veto over council-initiated legislation, and the junta retained control over much of the budget. Although its powers were limited, the council was not a rubber stamp and often amended legislation given it by the junta. The establishment of the Council of State and the political makeup of its thirty-three members had been decided in negotiations among the revolutionary groups in 1979. The members were not elected but appointed by various political groups. In the discussions establishing the council, it was agreed that the FSLN could name twelve of the thirty-three members. Soon after its formation, however, the junta added fourteen new members to the Council of State, with twelve of those going to the FSLN. This new configuration gave the FSLN twenty-four of the forty-seven seats. Opponents of the FSLN viewed the addition of the new members as a power grab, but the FSLN responded that new groups had been formed since the revolution and that they needed to be represented.
The membership of the junta changed during its early years. Chamorro resigned in early 1980, ostensibly for health reasons, but later asserted that she had become dissatisfied with increased FSLN dominance in the government. Robelo resigned in mid-1980 to protest the expansion of the Council of State. Chamorro and Robelo were replaced by a rancher who belonged to the PDC and a banker, one of the members of Los Doce. In 1983 the junta was reduced to three members, with Daniel Ortega clearly playing the lead role among the remaining three.
Immediately after the revolution, the Sandinistas had the best organized and most experienced military force in the country. To replace the National Guard, the Sandinistas established a new national army, the Sandinista People's Army (Ejército Popular Sandinista--EPS), and a police force, the Sandinista Police (Policía Sandinista). These two groups, contrary to the original Puntarenas Pact were controlled by the Sandinistas and trained by personnel from Cuba, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. Opposition to the overwhelming FSLN influence in the security forces did not surface until 1980. Meanwhile, the EPS developed, with support from Cuba and the Soviet Union, into the largest and bestequipped military force in Central America. Compulsory military service, introduced during 1983, brought the EPS forces to about 80,000 by the mid-1980s.
Immediately after the revolution, the FSLN also developed mass organizations representing most popular interest groups in Nicaragua. The most significant of these included the Sandinista Workers' Federation (Central Sandinista de Trabajadores--CST) representing labor unions, the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Nicaraguan Women's Association (Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza--AMNLAE), and in 1982 the National Union of Farmers and Cattlemen (Unión Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos--UNAG) composed of small farmers and peasants. The FSLN also created neighborhood groups, similar to the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, called Sandinista Defense Committees (Comités de Defensa Sandinista--CDSs). One of the CDSs primary purposes was the gathering and dissemination of information to all Nicaraguans. The CDSs did a block-by-block census of all numbered houses in cities and therefore knew everyone's whereabouts. The CDSs were also responsible for distributing rationed goods and community improvement projects. The opponents of the Sandinistas made little attempt to develop effective mass organizations that could challenge the well organized and well disciplined Sandinista groups. Thus, the FSLN mass organizations were instrumental in consolidating Sandinista power over political and military institutions. By 1980 Sandinista organizations embraced some 250,000 Nicaraguans. Less than a year after their victory, the Sandinistas controlled the government.
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