The Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua is one of the most important revolutionary victories of Latin America. Beating both a dictator, and then the brutal US-backed Contra, it has held out achieving extraordinary gains in social inclusion and equality. The Sandinistas remain in power today, with a huge majority, but nevertheless face many of the same violent obstacles that the revolution has had to face throughout its 40 years. The story of the revolution is also a story of the U.S. refusing to allow Nicaragua peaceful self-determination.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which led the revolution, was founded by student radicals and grew into a wider movement combining urban agitation with guerilla operations. By 1979 they had taken huge areas of the country, the turning point came with the ‘Masaya retreat’ just a few weeks before the final victory. This operation was designed to confuse the government's troops by withdrawing unexpectedly for their strongholds in eastern Managua, they marched to the city of Masaya which left the government thinking they had defeated the Sandinistas, leaving them unprepared for the guerilla final return and assault on the capital.


  • Nicaragua Under The Somoza Dictatorship

  • 1962 FSLN founded in Honduras

  • 19th July 1979, Revolutionary victory

    The final guerilla offensives expose the weakness of the Somoza dictatorship, peace talks break down as it becomes clear that Somoza will never agree to elections. A mass general strike proves the strength of the movement in the cities, as the guerilla began their final offensive on the capital. The dictatorship crumbles.

  • 1980 - Radical Changes

    The Sandinistas, under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, begin the revolutionary changes that would draw the anger of the U.S. The country becoming an ally of Cuba and the Soviet Union, a huge land reform redistributed large areas to campesino cooperatives. Large sections of industry are nationalized and social programs enacted. Among the most successful programs were the literacy campaigns, praised by UNESCO, they reduced illiteracy in rural areas by over 50%, then the health campaigns provided medical attention to those who had never received it. The victory bucked the regional trend where most revolutionary movements have been devastated by years of military dictatorship.

  • 1984 - Sandinista electoral victory

    Despite the devastating war, despite U.S. propaganda about Nicaragua’s ‘dictatorship’, the Sandinistas cruised to victory in the elections, Ortega won with 67% of the vote. The war intensifies.

  • 1982 - Contra war begins

    The progressive changes of the Sandinistas are not without their opponents. The US began funding and organizing right wing former military officers and others of the far-right, known as the ‘Contras’. This counter revolutionary army was a brutal force, using rape and torture as a weapon of war, murduering tens of thousands. The U.S. knew this would be an embarrassment, they kept their support for them secret. Much of the U.S. funding came from profits of drug trafficking that the U.S. diverted towards the Contra, then another source of funding was the profits of secret arms sales to Iran. One of those behind this operation was Elliot Abrahams, who today is leading the coup in Venezuela.

  • Blockade and Violence

    The war on Nicaragua was not just a military one, the U.S. launched a crippling economic blockade, coming at a time when the USSR couldn't send as much aid. The sanctions began to erode some of the Sandinista achievements in reducing poverty. The scale of the atrocities of the Contras traumatized the population.

  • 1990 - The right takes power

    By the end of the 1980s the Soviet Union was itself in crisis and isn't sending any meaningful support to the Sandinistas, increasingly isolated and suffering years of U.S. economic blockade, the Sandinistas lost the 1990 general elections. The elections were by no means free or fair, the U.S. openly threatened to double down on the blockade, to lay siege on the country if the Sandinistas won, in the face of that, those who were tried of war voted for Violeta Chamorro, from one of the most powerful elite families in the country. Under these conditions, many say its remarkable that the Sandinistas still won over 40% of the vote. Nevertheless, the FSLN would return.

  • 2005 - Crisis of the Right

    The period of the right in power was marked by the rolling back of social gains of the Sandinista period. Healthcare provision was drastically cut and the government began charging fees for school enrollment on orders from the IMF, huge numbers were forced out of school as they couldn't afford the fees. The country’s problems degenerated into a crisis by 2005 as mass protests broke out against the rising cost of living, just as the government was signing a neoliberal free trade deal with U.S.

  • 2006 - Sandinistas Return

    The FSLN win the 2006 elections, beginning the revolutions second term in power. Immediately, some of the worst policies of the previous governments were reversed, school fees were scrapped and free healthcare was reinstituted. The literacy campaigns were brought back, this time using Cuba’s successful ‘Yo Si Puedo’ model.

    A number of other innovative policies were brought forward, a land reform that gave land titles and farm machinery to Campesina women boosted agriculture and rural development. The countrys homicide rate was cut in half and is now the lowest in Central America, in stark contrast to neighbouring Honduras, which suffers a murder rate thats around double that of South Africa. The economy grew consistently at around 4% per year throughout. The gains of this period meant crushing electoral victories for the FSLN in 2011 and 2016, with well over 60% in legislative and presidential elections.

  • 2018 - Violence Returns

    Protests began in April in opposition to a change in social security law, the law was scrapped but became a much more violent movement began to break out, with an explicit aim. Overthrow the Sandinista government and the legacy of the revolution. Many of the protesters were armed and received glowing praise in western media. Though often unreported, were the atrocities carried out by the opposition. These included the murder and torture of a number of Sandinista activists, among them students and elderly government supporters. Protesters even attacked journalists, at the height of the violence, leftist media outlet Radio YA  had their offices burnt down by oppositionists, with journalists still inside. The U.S. was quick to support the protests, and indeed had funnelled money to many of these groups for some time.

    Today Nicaragua is beginning to rebuild, peace commissions have been set up around the country to bring people together. The government has released a number of prisoners who the opposition believe to be there on political charges. Violence has largely subsided, but the country will have to face down economic sanctions placed on the country by the U.S. after war hawk John Bolton declared Nicaragua as a part of a ‘troika of tyranny’.

  • Conclusion

    Nicaragua’s revolutionary legacy has survived some of the most extreme external attacks, from the Contra, to the U.S. blockade, through to threats and now an opposition, once again with funding from the U.S. only recently accepting the need for peaceful dialogue rather than armed attack. Nevertheless, Nicaragua’s achievements in human development remain an inspiration for a region scarred by violence and inequality. The revolution has survived 40 years and counting.


18 July 2019

40th Anniversary of the Sandinista Victory—But So Much More

The 40th anniversary of Nicaragua's Sandinista overthrow represents victory over Zamoza dictatorship in 1979 and U.S. imperialism today.


For all Nicaragua, and especially the capital of Managua, July 19 of this year

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18 July 2019

8 Curious Facts About Nicaragua's Sandinista Revolution

The Sandinista revolution of 1979, led by the FSLN, overthrew the U.S. backed dictatorship of the Somoza family. The revolution brought health, education and land reform to one of the region's poorest countries.




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17 July 2019

‘Live From Nicaragua’: What Media Didn’t Say About the 2018 Coup Attempt

In the new ebook, ‘Live from Nicaragua: An Uprising or a Coup,’ authors expose and refute these biased and false reports presented in corporate media and by international non-governmental organizations.



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