Although Nicaragua is a rich country with abundant arable land, energy reserves and significant mineral resources, its citizens are among the poorest in Central and Latin America (Skidmore 1). Anastasio Somoza Garcia was the head of National Guard in Nicaraguan politics while Augusto Sandino was a Liberal activist, a nationalist and a social moderate at the time American forces departed Nicaragua. The essay compares the social, political and economic aspects of the Somoza and Sandinista administrations for the period 1936-1990.
Somoza took over presidency in 1937, collaborated with the elite, promoted Nicaragua’s economic growth and supported the United States government. His life came to a gruesome end when he was assassinated in 1956. In 1957, Somoza’s elder son Luis Somoza Debayle rigged and won the elections. He propagated his corrupt and self seeking nature and he made super profits from the reconstruction of Managua after an earth quake in 1972 (Skidmore 2). Therefore, three Somoza’s held power from 1936 to 1979 and throughout this period the family powers largely depended on the United States and Nicaraguan National Guard.
There was great impunity in governance as the National Guard was solely commanded by Somoza and isolated from the people. The Guard was like a Mafia as it members openly practised prostitution and gambling. In addition they took bribes from various quarters for various legal and illegal activities. Somoza secured support for the United States via personal ingratiation and political subservience. The Somoza’s were diplomatic in their approach because they were educated in the U.S and spoke fluent English. Politically, the Somozas always supported the policies of United States such as the Anti-axis during World War II and the anti-communist policy. Somozas also allowed Nicaragua to be the staging grounds for CIA- organized invasions of Guatemala and Cuba and also offered their troops to fight in Korea and Vietnam.
The United States thus offered support to the Somozas especially after the Alliance for progress in 1961 when Nicaragua received millions of dollars to support the social and economic projects. Somozas dictatorship also received a lot military support as compared to that of other Central American countries (Puig 84). Effective opposition to Somoza could only take place in form of an armed resistance because there were no representative institutions. Several forces joined arms to form a guerrilla movement dubbed the Sandinista National Liberation Front which subsequently took over from the Somoza regime in 1979 after years of bitter struggle. The policy goals for the Sandinista included implementation of an independent foreign policy free from United States submission. In addition there was the creation of a mixed economy so as to achieve balanced development and socioeconomic justice unlike the Somoza regime (Skidmore 3). The National Guard was the most heavily US-trained military establishment in Latin America by the time Somoza’s were being overthrown.
Nicaragua underwent a rapid industrialization and expansion of commercial export agriculture during the 1960s and early 1970s. The economic growth was rapid with per capita gross domestic product increasing to almost 3.9 from 1962 to 1971 and as a result, there were social changes. Nicaragua’s urban population and manufacturing output increased between 1960 and 1980 while the agricultural workforce declined. Somoza’s government policies however prevented the benefits from reaching the poor Nicaraguans by repressing unions and keeping wages low. The consumer prices rose but after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) embargo, inflation rose up to 11 percent.
By 1977, there was a significant difference in the Income between the rich and the poor Nicaraguans (Puig 83). Due to the decrease in working class wages, the long supressed industrial labour movement stepped up its organization and strikes in pursuit of wage gains. The middle class living standards sunk further and this led to increased union membership. This triggered great unrest and strikes by teachers and health personnel.
The Sandinistas, in contrary to the Somozas promoted their own brand of democracy that laid emphasis on participation of the popular in making public policies, services and programs for the poor. Grass root organizations of women, workers and neighbourhoods were also promoted by Sandinistas. Diversity of political opinion was tolerated because power had come as part of a coalition. The economic policy was moderate and pragmatic as opposed to Somoza’s regime. Sandinista obtained millions of dollars in grants and loans. The private sector was preserved although Somozas property was confiscated (Puig 82).
Sandinistas’ government received international assistance especially from the United States government who gave seventy five million dollars. Western Europe countries especially France, Spain and Western Germany also gave substantial support to Sandinistas’ administration. Although Soviet Union offered minimal hard currency assistance, it extolled the revolution and intensified commercial ties. Sandinistas also allowed two thousand five hundred doctors, sanitary engineers, nurses and school teachers from Cuba to assist in improving the basic living standards. There were also Cuban police and intelligence personnel to protect the Sandinistas from anti-revolutionary attacks (Skidmore 3).
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In 1980, the United States government launched a campaign to undermine Sandinistas government by funding a counter-revolutionary exile army therefore forcing Sandinista government to spend half of its total budget on defence. The economy therefore downturned and the output declined by four per cent in 1987 and 8 per cent in 1988 with the inflation reaching 33,000 per cent (Skidmore 4). Elections took place in 1990 and Sandinista’s Daniel Ortega lost to the opposition coalition of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.
In conclusion, both Somoza’s and Sandinistas administration got assistance from the United States. However, Somoza’s administration was selfish and accumulated family wealth through corrupt deals. Somoza also received a lot of military assistance from the United States because they supported their policies and Somoza’s were also diplomatic in their approach. Somoza’s administration was dictatorial as compared to Sandinista’s administration that emphasized on the participation of people in making of public policies. Therefore, the Sandinistas administration was better because it improved the economic status and living standards of Nicaraguans.
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