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The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was created in 1961 by Nicaraguan admirers of the Cuban revolution of 1959. It took its name from the nationalist hero, General Augusto César Sandino, who fought a guerrilla war against US occupying forces in the late 1920s.

Early attempts to follow Cuban strategic advice led to guerrilla setbacks, but the FSLN gradually adapted its strategy and in the struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the 1970s it relied more on popular urban insurrection than rural guerrilla warfare.

Strategic and tactical internal differences did not prevent the Sandinistas from uniting to depose Somoza in 1979, but did leave the Front divided into three factions. The solution was a nine‐member collective leadership, the National Directorate, which remained powerful even after Daniel Ortega's election to the Nicaraguan presidency in 1984.

Sandinism developed as an ideological hybrid, with influences from Marxism, nationalism, dependency theory, and Catholic Liberation Theology. In government between 1979 and 1990 Sandinista policies were based on political pluralism, a mixed economy, international non‐alignment, and social reform.

In the early 1980s the Sandinista government enacted a land reform and achieved substantial improvements in health care, education, and social welfare programmes. Its radical policies antagonized the United States which sponsored attacks by ‘contra’ rebels and boycotted the Nicaraguan economy. Sandinista popularity declined due to compulsory military service, hyperinflation, and shortages.

The FSLN was defeated at the polls in 1990, having won elections in 1984. Subsequently it embraced social democracy and became the main opposition party.

Richard Gillespie


Subjects: Warfare and Defence — Politics.

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