Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)

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Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)

The Sandinistas are the revolutionaries who toppled the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua in July 1979. In July 1961 Carlos Fonseca Amador, Tomás Borge, and Silvio Mayorga formed the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN). Their military actions in the 1960s were failures. In 1975 the Sandinistas divided into three ideological factions. The dominant Prolonged Popular War (GPP) faction was led by Fonseca, Borge, and Henry Ruíz. The Proletarian Tendency of Jaime Wheelock Román, Luis Carrión (b. 1952), and Carlos Nuñez (1951–1990) rejected the GPP's Maoist notion of voluntarism and focused on factory workers and barrio dwellers. The third (Tercerista) faction of Humber to Ortega Saavedra, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and Víctor Tirado (b. 1940) sought tactical alliances with businessmen, religious leaders, and professionals in 1977 and 1978. The three factions publicly united in March 1979.OnJuly 19, they marched into Managua to assume political power.

The Sandinistas pursued the goals of national sovereignty, social security, agrarian reform, literacy, and a nonaligned international status. By 1982 they were confronted by a counterrevolutionary force supported by the Reagan administration. The Sandinistas dominated the first free election in Nicaragua's history, held in November 1984. They became the minority party in the National Assembly after losing the February 1990 election to the Nicaraguan Opposition Union. The Sandinistas held their first party congress in July 1991.

Serious political differences emerged within the party in the mid-1990s. The debate between orthodox leftists and moderate elements culminated in a confrontation at a special party congress in May 1994. Daniel Ortega was reelected party general secretary, and his orthodox faction won control of the Sandinista Assembly and two-thirds of the National Directorate, the party executive committee. The moderate elements described the results as a setback for democracy within the party and for the country at large. Prominent intellectuals and moderate professional and working-class members of the FSLN resigned in the latter 1990s, and many of them joined the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS). The split also led to the closing of the party newspaper, Barricada.

In September 1997 the FSLN and the Nicaraguan government under the Constitutionalist Liberal Arnoldo Alemán (b. 1946) announced an accord on the controversial issue of property. The accord created a tribunal system to rule on the properties in dispute on a case-by-case basis, consistent with provisions of Law 209 passed by the National Assembly in November 1995. On May 18, 1998, the 103rd anniversary of the birth of the Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino, the FSLN held its second party congress that shifted power decidedly in favor of the orthodox position. During the administrations of Alemán (1996–2001) and Enrique Bolaños (2002–2007), the FSLN held about 40 percent of the National Assembly, and important municipal and departmental offices throughout the country. In 2005 an alliance between the FSLN and the Constitutionalist Liberal Party restricted the power of President Bolaños. Representatives loyal to Alemán and Ortega cooperated to block constitutional reforms and policy initiatives in the National Assembly in a veto-proof majority.

During the electoral campaign in May 2006 the FSLN presented a plan of government that promised to address problems with employment, health, poverty, and education, to reject the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and to reconsider economic reforms requested by the International Monetary Fund. FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega won the presidency on November 5, 2006, with just under 38 percent of the national vote, and was inaugurated on January 10, 2007. The FSLN won departmental control of Estelí, Leon, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Managua, and Jinotega, among others, and thirty-seven of ninety-one legislative seats in the National Assembly. FSLN loyalists were named to the Supreme Court of Justice and the Supreme Electoral Council.

In March 2007 the FSLN complied with an agreement with the Constitutionalist Liberal Party to lift completely the conditions of house arrest and movement imposed on former president Arnoldo Alemán in 2003 for corruption and misappropriation of funds. During the first months of the Ortega government, the FSLN clashed with the United States on an array of issues related to trade and economic policy, immigration, and extradition of criminals. The Ortega administration named Sandinista Samuel Santos (b. 1938) foreign minister. Santos began an immediate review of loan conditions from international financial institutions, and sought to improve diplomatic relations with leftist governments in Latin America such as Venezuela and Bolivia.

See alsoCommunism; Nicaragua; Nicaragua, Organizations: Sandinista Defense Committees; Ortega Saavedra, Daniel.


Cardenal, Ernesto. La Revolución Perdida. Managua, Nicaragua: Anama, 2003.

Gilbert, Dennis. Sandinistas: The Party and the Revolution. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

Laramée, Pierre. "Differences of Opinion: Interviews with Sandinistas." NACLA Report on the Americas 28, no. 5 (March-April 1995).

United States Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. "Background Note: Nicaragua." January 2007. Available from

Vilas, Carlos M. The Sandinista Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986.

Walker, Thomas W., ed. Reagan versus the Sandinistas: The Undeclared War on Nicaragua. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

                                    Mark Everingham