Sandinista Defense Committees

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Sandinista Defense Committees

The Sandinista Defense Committees constituted the largest popular mass organization in Nicaragua during the Sandinista administration (1979–1990). A grassroots organization, Sandinista Defense Committees (CDSs) arose from a nucleus of prerevolutionary clandestine neighborhood groups known as Civil Defense Committees that promoted support for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional—FSLN). Serving as independent yet integral components of the Sandinista Party, CDSs were conduits between the government and the people, and in the immediate postwar period they assumed traditional responsibilities of the state, including social and administrative services.

Early objectives of the CDS included unification of the populace and advancement of the revolution. Through the achievement of these goals, the CDS hoped to alleviate many societal problems. Immediate concerns included the implementation of basic social, educational, and health services. Under the guidance of the Sandinista Party, the CDS helped to direct literacy campaigns, vaccination programs, food distribution, construction, and civil defense projects. Open to any individual over the age of fourteen, regardless of party affiliation or social status, membership in the CDS soared to more than one-half million in the early 1980s. Organized by neighborhood blocks and by rural areas, the CDS included zonal, regional, and national committees through which information, ideas, and complaints flowed between the people and the state.

As its strength in numbers increased, so did charges of corruption, favoritism, and abuses of power. To its supporters, the CDS was a true form of participatory democracy. To its critics, it functioned as a dictatorial association. Four years after the revolution, approximately half of the CDSs were defunct. It took the threat of external counterrevolutionary attacks on the FSLN to revive the CDS. After reorganization in the mid-1980s, democratically elected CDS leaders worked more closely with local and state governments. Following the 1990 election of the opposition president Violeta Barrios De Chamorro, the CDS officially disbanded.

See alsoBarrios de Chamorro, Violeta; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).


Luis Hector Serra, "The Sandinista Mass Organizations" Nicaragua in Revolution, edited by Thomas W. Walker (1979), pp. 105-106.

Carlos María Vilas, The Sandinista Revolution: National Liberation and Social Transformation in Central America (1986), pp. 239-244.

Gary Ruchwarger, People in Power: Forging a Grassroots Democracy in Nicaragua (1987), pp. 90-94, 148-186.

Luis Hector Serra, "Grassroots Organizations," Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua, edited by Thomas W. Walker (1991), pp. 64-75.

Additional Bibliography

Hoyt, Katherine. The Many Faces of Sandinista Democracy. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1997.

Vargas, Oscar-René. El sandinismo: veinte años después. Managua: ANE: NORAD: CNE, 1999.

Wellinga, Klaas. Entre la poesía y la pared: Política cultural sandinista, 1979–1990. Costa Rica: FLACSO; Amsterdam: Thela, 1994.

                                                  D. M. Spears