From May 1927 to December 1932, the Nicaraguan nationalist Augusto C. Sandino waged guerrilla war against the U.S. Marines and Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua to expel the “Yankee invaders” and achieve genuine national sovereignty. The war was centered in Las Segovias, the mountainous, sparsely populated northcentral region of Nicaragua bordering Honduras. The website is envisioned as a comprehensive, interpretive, open-access digital archive on this much-discussed but still dimly understood “small war” of the interwar years. Rigorous accuracy, judicious interpretation, and the democratization of knowledge rank among the website’s most important guiding principles. Before mid-1927 there is very little documentation on Las Segovias. Then, starting with the June 1927 Marine invasion and occupation, our documentary base explodes. For nearly six years, the US imperial spotlight—expressed in a dazzling variety of texts—illuminated the hidden corners of a society and history hitherto almost totally obscured. Alongside this explosion of imperial texts was the proliferation of texts and artifacts created by the Sandinista rebels. In January 1933 the spotlight vanished, and a month later Sandino's rebellion ended in a provisional peace treaty with the newly elected Sacasa government. The Marines went home, carting hundreds of boxes of records with them. What the U.S. imperial gaze spotlighted for those six or so years constitutes the bulk of this website’s focus. Smaller in scale but often punchier in impact are the textual fragments and social memories produced in Las Segovias that survived the brutal repression that followed Sandino’s assassination in 1934. Inspired by social and cultural history “from the bottom up,” this project conceives of the Sandino revolt as a social and cultural process, as a local response to foreign invasion and occupation. The documents presented here reflect this focus, selected because they speak in some fashion to the agency of Nicaraguans and Segovianos in shaping their own history—including campesinos and Indians, tenants and sharecroppers, smallholders and squatters, miners and migrant workers, seasonal and day laborers, as well as townsfolk and artisans, smugglers and bootleggers, peddlers and traders, boat-drivers and mule-drivers, ranchers and coffee growers, merchants and professionals, politicians and military leaders—individuals, families, and communities caught up in a whirlwind of foreign invasion and insurgency as complex and multifaceted as any in history. What manner of revolutionary movement was this? What were its origins, characteristics, and legacies? All the documents presented here speak to these broader questions and themes. A work in progress, the website currently houses nearly 5,000 primary documents from U.S., Nicaraguan, and other archives, including patrol and combat reports, intelligence reports, photographs, letters, diaries, maps, oral histories, propaganda fliers, and more. Comprised of 20 expansive, interlinked digital file cabinets organized by archival repository and theme, this noncommercial, easy-to-navigate website contains a goldmine of readily accessible information for students, teachers, and scholars on the period of the Sandino rebellion.
Michael J. Schroeder
Augusto C. Sandino (1895–1934) led a peasant rebellion against the armed forces of the United States which occupied Nicaragua between 1926 and 1932. While much has been written about Sandino’s military prowess in this 20th-century guerrilla warfare, less is known about the development of his political thought and intellectual formation. That issue necessarily takes historians to the Mexican Revolution, and specifically to the period between 1923 and 1926 when Sandino was an immigrant worker in the oil fields of the larger Tampico area. Radical labor unionism and anarcho-syndicalism were the principal currents that Sandino encountered, and that helped shape his outlook and subsequent political manifestos. Because Sandino did not directly refer in any detail to this period of his life in subsequent interviews and statements, an examination is made of the cultural and social roots of working-class formations in which he immersed himself. Fortunately, historians have explored the social aspect, labor union activity, economics, and politics of the oil fields in depth (Adleson, Alafita-Mendez, Alcayaga Sasso); Dospital and Hodges were among the first to point to Sandino’s early experience in Mexico including his encounters with the metaphysical schools and mentors who shaped the idealism underpinning his anti-imperialism economic, political, military, and cultural thinking. During a military campaign and at the peak of his fame, Sandino returned to Mexico (1929–1930) expecting that the “revolutionary” government, on the one side, and the Communist Party of Mexico, on the other side, as representative of the international communist movement (Comintern) would lend political, financial, and military support for the war in Nicaragua. Cerdas Cruz told that story well, although without the benefit of primary sources. But Sandino was mistaken and eventually felt betrayed by both sides that laid claim to the revolution. He returned to Nicaragua where he fought successfully until the US Marines’ withdrawal at the end of 1932. Months after signing a peace treaty, Sandino was assassinated (February 1934) in Managua by the leaders of the proxy military constabulary or Guardia Nacional left behind by the United States in Nicaragua. At that time, he was establishing communes in northern Nicaragua according to the teachings of his first intellectual and spiritual mentors.
Shelley A. McConnell
Nicaragua was among the last countries in Latin America to become democratic and among the first to regress to authoritarian practices. It has thus been a fertile testing ground for theories of democratic development, addressing hypotheses about whether leftist revolutions can produce democracy, the difficulties inherent in wartime transitions to democracy, and the roles that foreign actors play in constraining and fostering democratic governance. After achieving independence from Spain in 1823, Nicaragua fell under the hegemony of the expansionist United States and endured a lengthy U.S. occupation. The U.S.-supported Somoza dictatorship was overthrown in 1979 by a revolution that brought to power the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN initially implemented a progressive authoritarian regime under an appointed junta while fostering widespread political participation channeled through mass organizations associated with the party. Policies that centered on improving equality for the majority at the expense of traditional elites and the private sector drew U.S. hostility. For a decade, U.S.-sponsored counterrevolutionary forces made war on Nicaragua in an attempt to unseat the Sandinista government, and a U.S. trade and financial embargo deeply damaged the economy. During that time, Nicaragua put in place a presidential system, permitted the development of opposition political parties, held partially competitive elections in 1984, and in 1987 inaugurated a constitution that mixed socialist and liberal principles. The 1984 elections were boycotted by right-wing opponents but shifted the basis of legitimate governance from winning the revolution to winning at the ballot box. In 1990, Nicaragua held competitive and internationally observed elections convened as one element of a regionwide Central American peace process. The FSLN lost in an upset that yielded an alteration in power signaling the advent of democracy. After negotiating to depoliticize the armed forces, President Violeta Chamorro took office and signed peace agreements with the counterrevolutionaries. For a decade, democracy prevailed and was deepened via a constitutional reform that transferred budgetary power to the legislature, shortened the presidential term, and prohibited immediate reelection to the presidency. In opposition, the FSLN employed both social mobilization tactics and parliamentary procedure to defend their constituents. Liberal remnants from the Somoza era regrouped and won the presidency in 1996. Democratic consolidation proved elusive, however, and instead the caudillo leaders of the FSLN and liberal parties, former President Daniel Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán, reached a pact through which they radically reduced the political space available to smaller parties and assumed exclusive joint control of state institutions. The liberals again won election in 2001, but after their party split in 2006, Ortega was reelected to the presidency. The new FSLN government introduced progressive policies that reduced poverty, but the quality of elections declined and presidential term limits were abolished, introducing a competitive authoritarian regime. The FSLN then eliminated rival parties from serious contention and used legal reforms to consolidate a one-party-dominant system lacking horizontal and vertical accountability and marked by old political patterns of caudillo rule, elite pacts, and personalist rule centered on a single family.
During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.
Iran-Contra was a major political scandal in the late 1980s that nearly derailed a popular president and left American society deeply divided about its significance. Although the affair was initially portrayed as a rogue operation run by overzealous White House aides, subsequent evidence showed that the president himself was its driving force with the knowledge of his most senior advisers. Iran-Contra was a foreign policy scandal, but it also gave rise to a significant confrontation between the executive and legislative branches with constitutional implications for their respective roles, especially in foreign policy. The affair exposed significant limits on the ability of all three branches to ferret out and redress official wrongdoing. And the entire episode, a major congressional investigation concluded, was characterized by a remarkable degree of dishonesty and deception, reaching to the highest levels of government. For all these reasons, and in the absence of a clear legal or ethical conclusion (in contrast to Watergate), Iran-Contra left a scar on the American body politic that further eroded the public’s faith in government.
Mario Samper Kutschbach
Coffee production has been a significant economic activity in Central America since the 19th century, and it has played an important role in shaping social relations, politics, and culture in various ways over time, both within coffee-producing areas and in each country. Coffee continues to be a major export crop, although the region’s economy has diversified, and the prospects of coffee as a commodity and a way of life will influence the fortunes of many in the highland areas of the isthmus. The Central American coffee commodity chain, from planting, care of the coffee groves, and harvesting through transportation, processing, and storage to shipping, roasting, and distribution abroad and within each country, has evolved in response both to internal dynamics and to changes in the world market for coffee and consumer demand, international trading systems, capital flows, and marketing systems. The supply of credit and the exchange of knowledge and information on the market as well as technical expertise and the provision of inputs, genetic material, and equipment have helped shape and reshape this value chain. Farmers’ strategies and cooperative endeavors, as well as local processing, gathering, and storage facilities and financing and regulations, have adapted to changing trends and to market downturns, recoveries, and segmentation. Vertical and horizontal integration of the various links in this chain have also evolved, in ways that differ from one country to another. While historically there has been a trend toward concentration especially in processing and export, there has also been fragmentation and greater involvement of small- or medium-scale producers in cultivation and in primary processing in specific countries or areas. Certain pests and diseases, whose geographical distribution and severity have been related to agro-ecological conditions and practices, have also contributed to modifications in productive systems. Climate change has had increasingly severe short-term impacts on the frequency of extreme events and variability of rainfall and temperature, while warmer average temperatures have begun to affect the altitudinal range of coffee cultivation. There is definitely a future for specific types of Central American coffee, but not necessarily for all current areas, farms, and firms specializing in this tropical product.
Evan D. McCormick
Since gaining independence in 1823, the states comprising Central America have had a front seat to the rise of the United States as a global superpower. Indeed, more so than anywhere else, the United States has sought to use its power to shape Central America into a system that heeds US interests and abides by principles of liberal democratic capitalism. Relations have been characterized by US power wielded freely by officials and non-state actors alike to override the aspirations of Central American actors in favor of US political and economic objectives: from the days of US filibusterers invading Nicaragua in search of territory; to the occupations of the Dollar Diplomacy era, designed to maintain financial and economic stability; to the covert interventions of the Cold War era. For their part, the Central American states have, at various times, sought to challenge the brunt of US hegemony, most effectively when coordinating their foreign policies to balance against US power. These efforts—even when not rejected by the United States—have generally been short-lived, hampered by economic dependency and political rivalries. The result is a history of US-Central American relations that wavers between confrontation and cooperation, but is remarkable for the consistency of its main element: US dominance.
Cindy Sousa and Tamarah Moss
As social work continues the ongoing work of developing frameworks for community practice, globalization and the increase in multicultural societies make urgent the need to consult international models. Community practice must center attention on building and sustaining relationships; determining who defines need and who controls the practices within the social work cycle of engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation; and maintaining community-centered practices that grapple with power dynamics in terms of status, resources, and culture. A learning approach is needed within international social work collaborations, characterized by an ethics of respect for sovereignty, cultural integrity, and the ways historical, political, cultural, and sociocultural contexts inform practice. Solidarity, authentic collaboration, and a respect for individual and collective autonomy and grassroots power are key features of community practice in international settings. The goal of the comparative perspective is for social workers to be better able to apply an international perspective to the building of theory and practice modalities within community practice.
The role of religion shifted dramatically in Central American politics during the 20th century, as the Catholic Church moved from a position as conservator of the status quo to a powerful force for reform and human rights. The century also witnessed the rise, then the “boom,” of Protestant—specifically Pentecostal—religion. By the century’s end, Central America had become among the most Protestant regions of Latin America, with every country except Costa Rica and Belize measuring a large and rising evangélico minority. These changes unfolded alongside, and deeply affected, one of the most traumatic and violent periods in the region’s history, the so-called Central American crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s, when Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala became the battlegrounds for one of the last large proxy wars of the larger Cold War, between Marxist insurgencies and authoritarian governments.