Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 13 | Julio 1982



The Dilemmas Confronting the Sandinista Revolution: Three years after the victory

Both quantitative and qualitative data reflect aspects of the dynamics of Nicaragua’s reality. For this task we have found many limitations.

Xabier Gorostiaga

The following is an exclusive interview with Father Xabier Gorostiaga SJ on June 30, 1982, by the Central American Historical Institute. In this interview, Father Gorostiaga treats more in depth the concepts that he touched upon in his speech of May 30 at the close of the Nicaraguan Association of Social Scientists Seminar on U.S. relations with Nicaragua. Father Gorostiaga is presently directing the Institute of Economic and Social Investigations (INIES), located in Managua.

In analyzing the relations between the United States and Nicaragua at the Social Scientists Seminar, I tried to avoid falling into the interpretative legalism which was the somewhat predominant tendency in some presentations by the North Americans. I attempted to point out some structural themes with all the problems which they encompass. Some of the solutions given here have little meaning if the problems of Nicaragua and of the region are not examined within the larger structural dilemmas. This approach tries to create a framework within which the problems of Nicaragua and the region can be placed.

The conflicts that we experience today in Nicaragua can be reduced to three large dilemmas: first, internal dilemmas; second, dilemmas provoked by the regional crisis; and third, dilemmas provoked by the insertion of the Nicaraguan Revolution in the international situation.


1.1- The economic dilemma: How to satisfy the basic needs of the great majority of the population, while at the same time maintaining a mixed economy that is principally in private hands; how to assure that this mixed economy, largely in private hands, responds to the logic of the majority more than to the logic of submission to the private sector.

This is the essential theme and dilemma within the Sandinista Revolution. When the private sector complains of “lack of climate”, they do so only from the perspective of benefits to the private sector. The people, on the other hand, complain of “lack of climate” in relation to private enterprise because they perceive that private enterprise is not concerned with satisfying the basic needs of the great majority. Thus, this dilemma encompasses two distinct logics: a logic of the majority, of a social economy, of satisfaction of the basic necessities of the population; and a logic at the service of the interests of the proprietors of private enterprise.

How can these two necessities that seem contradictory be satisfied? For the Revolution, it is a serious problem that has no easy solution. The fact that the Sandinista Revolution has maintained an economy which is largely in private hands for three years is an example of the enormous effort that the Revolution has made to maintain economic pluralism.

The Sandinista Revolution has made it very clear that the logic of the majority is the dominant logic in this mixed economy. This logic demands that it not be a juxtaposed economy, but rather an organized economy at the service of the people who achieved the victory against the Somocista system and against the economically and politically oppressive system that had historically dominated the country.

A juxtaposed economy, as in some examples of a mixed economy, is where the private sector is on one side and the public sector on the other, with both sectors maintaining distinct dynamics. In that situation, the public sector subsidizes social costs so that the private sector can operate profitably. The Sandinista model tries to create a planned mixed economy (a mixed economy which at present is characterized by a lack of statistical data, trained technicians, and institutional capacity for planning). This planned mixed economy is under the logic of the majority where the private sector has meaning, has purpose, and can be a strategic solution in the long run only if the private sector accepts the logic of the majority and is at the service of the fundamental needs of the people.

Economists speak of a “trickle-down” effect in which goods and growth are produced and then trickle down to the poorer sectors of society. The Sandinista Revolution looks for an opposite dynamic, a “trickle-up” effect: first satisfying basic needs, then carrying the benefits of the economy toward the middle sectors, and finally arriving at non-essential consumption and private-accumulation investment once the basic needs and necessities of the vast majority have been satisfied. These are two concepts that respond to two distinct logics: the logic of private accumulation and the logic of satisfying the needs of the majority in order to later begin social accumulation and development of productive forces which allow underdevelopment to be overcome. The task in Nicaragua today is to move beyond the two juxtaposed economic sectors and to create a programmed, integrated economy planned according to the logic of the majority. Obviously this model creates tensions, but is there a better way to overcome the dilemma?

1.2-The political dilemma: How to maintain political pluralism and at the same time respond to the expectation created by the massive popular insurrection against the dictatorship and against the system of economic and political oppression, which obviously raised expectations of popular power and demands for structural change, as well as respond to the traditional political power in the country?

The private sector perceives that this new political power affects their old political privileges and considers that this popular power is not democratic but rather totalitarian. Nevertheless, the proportion of political representation that the private sector has is greater than it should be according to statistics. For example, the participation given to private enterprise, the representatives of the private sector and the opposition within the council of State does not correspond to the real number of people that they represent in the country.

Of the 51 members in the Council of State, there are eleven (21.6%) who comprise the opposition (businessmen and political parties). The political organizations and unions of the left have seven representatives (13.7%). Independent organizations (the church, independent union organizations and professionals, etc.) have eight representatives (15.8%). Finally, the FSLN and the mass organizations identified with it have 25 representatives (49%).

My assessment is that the opposition in this country (the militant opposition against the Revolution) does not comprise 21.6% of the population and therefore these sectors have excessive representation in relation to the statistical proportion of possible voters that these sectors would have.

It helps also to distinguish between opposition and people who are discontented. There are those who are discontented and disillusioned with the revolution for its not having fulfilled all the expectations created by the same revolution. These sectors would never vote for a rightist opposition, but rather for a radicalization of the process that would more quickly satisfy their aspirations. Not all those who are discontented are on the right in Nicaragua today by any means.

The political dilemma exists within a notable political stability in the midst of a convulsed Central America, thanks to a growing hegemony of popular power led by the FSLN which, in the midst of natural tensions, respects the proportion of real political power that the private business sectors and opposition groups have.

The internal political tension, however, has sharpened since March when it became necessary to declare a State of Emergency and call on the country to defend the Popular Sandinista Revolution against the real threats and aggressions suffered in the last few months. (Ed. note: See envío 11) The State of Emergency has most sharply affected the opposition sector which has most noticeably felt the suspension of some of the provisions of the Statute of Rights and Guarantees of the Nicaraguan People. The State of Emergency did not originate with the Popular Sandinista Revolution, but is a defensive means which will end when negotiations with the U. S. are begun and the causes of the external threat are eliminated.

This political dilemma, nevertheless, can continue and even sharpen depending on internal and external counterrevolutionary forces (principally in Honduras and Costa Rica), and above all on the position that the Reagan Administration maintains toward Nicaragua.

How is popular participation at all levels maintained and increased while keeping a political pluralism that does not impede the social and cultural transformations demanded by a society where the poor have acquired civic rights and power for the first time in their political history? How is this accomplished without great social and political tensions?

1.3-The national dilemma: How to make Nicaragua an independent and sovereign country that is respected by the U.S., when it is located in a strategic and vital area for North American interests.

There is no doubt that after so many years of struggle the Nicaraguan people not only have won the right to social justice but also the right to national dignity. Nicaragua will never again be a “banana republic” and it has begun to be a free and sovereign state. The contradiction is between the new sovereignty, recently acquired, and the strategic interests that the U.S. has in this area which it considers an area of unshared hegemony. Maintaining a sovereign and independent country causes a rupture in the absolute hegemony that the U.S. intends to maintain in the area. It also causes a dangerous example. In addition, with the Vietnam crisis, the failure of North American foreign policy in various parts of the world, the international economic crisis, etc., the present Reagan Administration is trying to demonstrate in Central America, and especially in Nicaragua, that the U.S. is still the dominant world power. This is where the conflict arises: the dilemma and the tensions caused by this contradiction between the national sovereignty of Nicaragua and strategic North American interests in the area.

1.4-The significance of the dilemmas. The Popular Sandinista Revolution has approached these three internal dilemmas, which are extraordinarily difficult to deal with, pragmatically and with great realism and flexibility.

Is there some magic solution to these tensions? Has the opposition presented one single concrete proposal to resolve them?

The originality of Sandinism is more significant when it rises out of forty-five years of an iron-clad dictatorship and a bloody war of liberation. Without a doubt the Popular Sandinista Revolution has gained an international legitimacy and respect that the present Reagan Administration considers highly dangerous since it has become a point of reference for the peoples of the region and many others in the Third World.

Is the North American Administration trying to destroy this legitimacy and the presentation of a new model in Nicaragua? Nicaragua is a dangerous and difficult example for an Administration with a very simplistic vision of international reality.

Certainly there have been deficiencies and errors, lack of technical capability and of human resources to resolve these complex dilemmas. It would be naïve and dishonest for us not to recognize them and learn from them through a healthy self-criticism. However, when the critics of the internal and external opposition analyze the Revolution, they do not recognize any of the achievements and emphasize only the errors; there is a patent lack of concrete suggestions. They are amateur critics who neither present alternatives nor constructively confront the dilemmas that are inevitably at the base of the actual problems in Nicaragua.


2.1-The Popular Sandinista Revolution and the Central American Crisis: How to bring about a social and political transformation, a national transformation in Nicaragua, within a region which is in a deep economic and political crisis.

The Sandinista Revolution is not constructed on an island, rather it exists in an area which is profoundly integrated, politically and economically. At this moment the Central American region is experiencing the greatest economic and political crisis in its history. In these circumstances, how can this dilemma be resolved: bringing about a revolutionary transformation in Nicaragua peacefully, at the least possible social cost, within the reality of political and economic crisis in Central America, especially at a moment in which this area has been chosen as a battlefield by the Reagan Administration? And all of this within a framework of international tensions of considerable magnitude: the East-West tension; the tension between the Socialist International and the Christian Democrats, whose European as well as Latin American differences are being played out at a Central American level; the diverse interests among the most powerful Latin America countries such as Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, which are also affecting the area.

Within all the concentrated conflict in the Central American region, there is the phenomenon of the Sandinista Revolution, the first social revolution in the hemisphere in the last twenty years and the first on the continent. Undoubtedly that creates regional difficulties and dilemmas.

The Sandinista Revolution feels a bond of solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of El Salvador and Guatemala because of the more than 100 years of similar conflicts against the oligarchy and North American domination. How can this solidarity be demonstrated while maintaining a position of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries?

2.2-The Sandinista Revolution and U.S. Aggression.How can the Revolution be accomplished in the Central American region with the present Reagan administration? It is important to analyze, as some U.S. congresspersons like Representative Tom Harkins have done, and to try to visualize what Central America could be today without Reagan. The Sandinista Revolution would possibly have maintained sufficiently cordial relations, both economic and political, with the U.S. if the negotiations proposed by Nicaragua to resolve some of the dilemmas had been accepted. Possibly, without the Reagan Administration, there would have been internal negotiations in El Salvador between the popular forces and the former government of Duarte, without having carried out elections that have polarized even more the Salvadoran dilemma.

Negotiations with Honduras would possibly have been established to accomplish a joint border patrol and a control over the thousands of Somocista ex-Guardia trained and financed by the Reagan Administration. Without the Reagan Administration, instead of having in Central America the divisive phenomenon of the so-called Central America Democratic Community, which divides the region economically and politically in contradiction to all Central American principles, perhaps some steps would have been taken to find a joint regional solution.

Nevertheless, these conjectures serve no purpose. We have a very simplistic and militaristic U.S. Administration, with fascist overtones, that prevents visualizing a peaceful negotiated solution in the region.

All of the rhetoric and the international propaganda of the U.S. tries to present Nicaragua as promoting the conflict and the regional tensions and using the region to build up the East-West crisis, when that tension comes instead from the center of domination toward the region and not vice-versa.

The fact that Nicaragua is presently suffering a State of Emergency is not a product of a radicalization and a rigidity of the Sandinista Revolution; it is the product of external threat and aggression. At the beginning of this year, the Sandinista Revolution had planned a project to reinforce national unity through laws of economic incentives and foreign investment, by freeing all the imprisoned COSEP people, through the political-parties law, etc. All of that went by the boards with President Reagan’s December 1st approval of covert action, which came to light in the first months of 1982; this has brought threats and attacks that have cost some 200 lives and great economic losses for Nicaragua.

It seems contradictory, but these covert operations are now public because they have been publicly approved and recognized by the principal leaders of the Reagan Government. Different from the covert operations against Allende in Chile, which were always denied by the U.S. Administration, these are publicly recognized.

Therefore the regional dilemma is this: how to bring about, at a minimum social cost for our people and the region, the revolution demanded by the historic conditions in Nicaragua and at the same time confront possibly the most simplistic and militant administration that the U.S. government has had in this century.

2.3-Alternatives of the Reagan Administration for the Region. What solutions are anticipated for this regional dilemma? In short, three scenarios can be visualized:

a) The possibility of direct U.S. intervention. This alternative, which was seen as very possible during March, has now lessened due to internal opposition from the U.S. public. (Some 87% oppose this intervention, according to a poll published by Newsweek in May, 1982). In addition, international and Latin American opposition to this intervention has increased with the Falklands war and makes it less possible. But the intervention is less possible due, above all, to the defensive capacity and decision created by the Nicaraguan people themselves. Nevertheless the possibility of military intervention cannot be eliminated because logic and analysis have been overcome repeatedly by the irrationality of many policies used by imperialist forces so often in history.

b) An intervention by proxy is seen as more probable, using mercenaries and Latin American troops. But this possibility also seems to have decreased because of the Falklands crisis which, according to sources from Great Britain, has caused 250 Argentine military advisors to be removed from the region. In addition, the support of the United States for Great Britain in the Falkland Islands conflict has weakened the possibility that the U.S. could invoke the Río Treaty (Interamerican Reciprocal Assistance Treaty of Río de Janeiro) to attack Nicaragua.

c) In this regard, the possibility of military intervention at a Latin American level is lessening. Nevertheless the possibilities of an attack by the Somocista ex-Guardia and the group of countries from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) remains open. This possibility continues to exist and could be used as a “way out” of the Salvadoran crisis, in which Nicaragua would be used as a scapegoat.

In spite of the determination of Nicaragua not to be directly involved in El Salvador, Nicaragua continues to be accused of such military aid, even though the U.S. has never been able to present any proof.

If the Sandinista Revolution had not taken place within the revolutionary context that embroils the neighboring countries of Central America, it would have been able to act with more speed and depth and possibly more radically. But the Sandinista Revolution again proves its pragmatism and originality by placing its own process within the whole regional crisis in such a way as not to jeopardize indigenous processes in neighboring countries or to antagonize a militaristic U.S. Administration.

In the face of all of this, the Sandinista Revolution has offered to negotiate with the United States as well as with neighboring countries. Concrete peace proposals have been introduced in the Security Council of the United Nations. The answers have been evasive, or in the case of the U.N. the answer received was the U.S. veto. From the Nicaraguan perspective it seems ironic, not to say cynical, that the Sandinista Revolution is accused of being a threat when the revolution is offering peace negotiations in all the international forums and those who accuse the Sandinista Revolution of being “dangerous” veto the peace negotiations.

These are the large regional dilemmas that create enormous difficulties for the Nicaraguan process. Thus, when “simple solutions” are suggested to the Sandinista Revolution, a lack of in-depth analysis is perceived for the structural problems that this young revolution needs to confront – or a lack of respect for a people who sacrificed thousands of their young people to achieve an identity and a national dignity.

2.4-New tactics: Economic destabilization. After analyzing the possibilities of intervention, we should examine how the Reagan Administration is attempting considerable economic destabilization of the Sandinista Revolution, which has caused a sharp drop in the growth rate of the Gross National Product in 1982, compared to 10% in 1980 and 6% in 1981. This drop will be aggravated even more by the disaster produced by the floods the end of May and beginning of June (more than $ 300 million in damages, according to ECLA). All of these factors could produce shortages that will continue increasing until the end of 1982, requiring a marked austerity which could affect the standard of living of the vast majority. In spite of the spirit of the Nicaraguan people, this economic situation could cause popular discontent that could be used by the opposition to foment political destabilization.


Nicaragua is a small, poor country, underdeveloped in productive resources and also in human resources. It is also a country which is extraordinarily dependent upon and susceptible to the international market. Nicaragua cannot isolate itself, it must continue to be tied to the international market. The problem is: How to do it.

The economic policies of the Government of Nicaragua are based on the principle of diversified dependence: increasing the interrelation with the countries of Europe, Latin America and the non-aligned countries; and beginning new economic and diplomatic-political relations with the socialist countries. In the 50’s the economic dependence of Nicaragua on the United States was immense, close to 60-70%. Presently an attempt to diversify these relations is being made in order to achieve greater flexibility and a certain harmony. It is necessary to walk on “four legs”: one-fourth of the total economic relations would be maintained with the U.S.; one-fourth with the European countries; one-fourth with Latin America and the nonaligned countries; and a process is being started trying to establish one-fourth of the economic relations also with the socialist countries. This is a slow process. Until now, relations with the socialist countries have been very small, on the order of 5-7% of our total international economic relations.

In spite of this flexibility in our international relations, Nicaragua has been accused of being part of the Soviet bloc. The last visit of Comandante Daniel Ortega was presented by the U.S. press as the “definitive alignment” of Nicaragua with the URSS. Nevertheless, the fact that another Junta member, Dr. Sergio Ramírez, had visited Spain, Austria, Holland, Sweden, Ireland, Greece, etc., was minimized in the international press. The trip of Dr. Rafael Córdoba Rivas (the third member of the Junta) to Venezuela and Costa Rica was barely even mentioned. The Sandinista Revolution maintains its plan of sovereignty and independence, by which it establishes relations at all levels and with all countries. This is a requirement which is an outgrowth of the dependency, smallness and underdevelopment of our country.

This structural dilemma in our international relations is complicated because the friendly countries of the non-metropolitan capitalist bloc both in Europe and Latin America, the so-called Social-Democratic or Social-Capitalist countries such as Holland, Sweden, México, Venezuela, have given aid which in absolute terms appears large but in relative terms is small.

The following is an outline of the order of magnitude of destruction and decapitalization that the Sandinista Revolution has had to confront. All the figures are in millions of dollars.

Nothing close to that amount of over four billion dollars has been received nor has been generated in the country in the last three years. Therefore the country is suffering a decapitalization crisis in spite of the fact that private enterprise says that it has received enormous amounts of help and financing which still do not even reach half of that amount.

The new dilemma is that the non-metropolitan capitalist countries which have helped Nicaragua have not covered even half of the needs left by the tragedy of the destruction and the war, and their help and financing has not even allowed the initiation of the process of development toward the new economy that the country needs. It is worth noting that of all the loans and gifts received in Nicaragua, 49% come from the non-aligned countries of the Third World and only 32% come from the developed capitalist countries, while the remaining 18% comes from the socialist countries including Cuba. Therefore, for those who say that the solution to the international dilemma of the Sandinista Revolution is the non-metropolitan capitalist countries such as the Social-Democratic countries, the Revolution finds that those countries have good words, good support, but have not made a commitment to this revolution in the terms that the revolution needs.

On the other hand, there are the socialist countries, among whom the extraordinary generosity and commitment of the Cuban Revolution stand out, in spite of its limited resources. We know that the Cuban Revolution, to maintain that solidarity, is sharing its austerity, even taking “bread from its own mouth”, and this cannot be a long-term process. The socialist countries have begun a process of closeness and solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution in a concrete way, but still insufficiently. This insufficiency in aid has structural explanations, such as the tremendous geographic and economic distance that separates Nicaragua from the European socialist countries and also the economic difficulties in which they find themselves, especially due to their commitment to help Poland resolve its economic, financial and political crises. Also, the help of the socialist countries is limited by technological problems since Nicaragua, having been within the North American sphere of influence, has a fundamentally North American technology, and the technology of the socialist countries is not easily adaptable. The low level of our market and the high level of our technological under-development prevents a rapid transfer of the present technology to a new socialist technology.

We are again immersed in a serious dilemma and a strange paradox. It is a surprising situation in which the Reagan Administration seems to be pushing Nicaragua toward the socialist bloc. This is manifest at the level of both military and economic aid. The U.S. authorities jailed the Nicaraguan pilots who went to buy civilian helicopters and they have repeatedly refused to sell Nicaragua arms. In addition, the U.S. protested to France for the sale of a small amount of military equipment to Nicaragua which as yet has not been delivered. What are they trying to do? Keep the Sandinista Revolution without an air force, without a naval force, while the U.S. disproportionately arms Honduras and El Salvador?

The U.S. cuts all economic aid, creates strong pressures on the multilateral aid of the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank; it creates strong pressures on friendly countries not to give economic aid to Nicaragua. In the case of Canada, it pressured Canada to choose Honduras instead of Nicaragua as the country on which to concentrate its economic aid in the region. The U.S. creates pressures on Venezuela and some European countries not to continue aiding the Sandinista Revolution. In addition, it pressures private international banks not to grant financing to Nicaragua, in spite of the fact that out country is complying with all its international financial commitments, including those of the foreign debt incurred by Somoza.

Undoubtedly, the Nicaraguan Revolution is not going to permit this military and economic boycott and will look for resources wherever it can find them. The very U.S. pressures and threats force Nicaragua to look for survival in the socialist countries. Thus the great question, the paradox that this dilemma presents: could it be that the Reagan Administration is hoping that the Nicaraguan Revolution align itself more and more with the socialist bloc in order to delegitimize its originality and prevent this model of mixed economy and political pluralism from succeeding, and to prevent the economic success of the Nicaraguan Revolution from demonstrating that it is possible to maintain an efficient popular economy? Could it be possible that the Reagan Administration, which has not shown a great capacity for handling the international situation, has been so astute and subtle as to provoke a strategy of pushing the Sandinista Revolution toward the Soviet bloc, of forcing it to use political and economic systems which are more rigid and less flexible, less original, for the purpose of discrediting it with those friendly countries which have supported it?

In short, we have seen the great dilemma at an international level. The Nicaraguan Revolution needs to keep itself structurally open to the non-metropolitan capitalist area; nevertheless, these countries have not committed themselves in the way that the revolution requires. The socialist countries are not in an economic situation to be able to commit themselves to the requirements of the Sandinista Revolution.

In addition, the small size and the distance that geographically separates us from the socialist countries does not permit a strong economic working relationships with them. At the same time, the Reagan Administration seems to be using a tactic of pressure to force the Sandinista Revolution to lean toward the socialist bloc as a means of salvation and, in this way, to isolate the Revolution from Latin America and from Europe.

With these three large dilemmas – the internal, the regional and the international – we have tried to synthesize the large structural problems that the Sandinista Revolution has to confront and avoid an overly simplistic or legalistic analysis. The errors that have been committed have been recognized as well. Not all has been or could have been perfect, but we have tried to present the entire complexity of this present panorama. However, the solution will come from within the same process. Some solutions are sensed, but the solutions are going to come out of the people themselves organized in the process and in the very march toward the construction of a New Society and a New Person. The more popular participation, the more self-criticism, and the more international solidarity, the easier it will be to avoid mistakes and find the most efficient solutions in order to resolve the problems of our people at the same time that solutions are sought to the Central American crisis. This is the great task of the Third Anniversary of the Popular Sandinista Revolution.

Translated from original in Spanish.

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