A GROUP OF DEDICATED REVOLUTIONARIES, THE SANDINISTAS came to power in 1979 determined to transform Nicaraguan society. How well they succeeded in their goal was still being debated in 1993. during their years in power, the Sandinistas nationalized the country's largest fortunes, redistributed much of the rural land, revamped the national education and health care systems to better serve the poor majority, rewrote the laws pertaining to family life, and challenged the ideological authority of the Roman Catholic bishops. But although the Sandinistas were confronting a society that was subject to powerful forces of secular change, this society also had deeply ingrained characteristics. Before and after the Sandinista decade, Nicaraguan society was shaped by the strength of family ties and the relative weakness of other institutions; by rapid population growth and rising urbanization; by male dominance, high fertility rates, and large numbers of female-headed households; by the predominance of nominal Roman Catholicism existing alongside the dynamism of evangelical Protestantism; by steep urban-rural and class inequalities; and by sweeping cultural differences between the Hispanic-mestizo west and the multiethnic society of the Caribbean lowlands.
In 1993 the permanence of the changes made by the Sandinistas' was unclear. The relevant social scientific literature was slim, and many basic statistics were unavailable. Furthermore, the forces set in motion by the Sandinista revolution might take decades to play themselves out.
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