The Roots and Consequences of the Anti-U.S. Sentiments in Cuba and Nicaragua

The American desire to dominate the Western Hemisphere through the political and economic intrusions in Latin American nations, the incessant economic stagnation, and the weak, corrupted political institutions- all led to the naissance of the strong anti-U.S. sentiment and the desire among the local people to achieve both political and economic freedom, as well as extensive civil rights.

An example set by the Cuban revolutionaries in 1959 inspired others in Latin America to free themselves from the grasp of Yankee imperialism.

Nicaragua was one of those inspired nations to stand up for her rights.


The American National Myth

The Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionary paths, despite occurring twenty years apart from each other, derived from one powerful source- the urge to free their nations from blatant American domination.

The painting of John Winthrop.
John Winthrop (1588-1649). He was the first governor of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. In 1629, he joined the Massachusetts company and was elected governor of the colony that had to be established in New England and which he envisioned to be based on his religious Puritan beliefs. He was appointed governor 12 times between the years 1631 and 1648.
Credits: Wikipedia.

To understand the reasons behind such American foreign policy in Latin America, it is necessary to consider the symbolic history of American imperialism.

The oldest American myth claims that Puritan lawyer John Winthrop, while leading the first major immigration from England to North America in 1630, proclaimed that “they were engaged in a voyage that God Himself not only approved, but in which He participated.”[1]

Thus, calling themselves a Chosen People in a nation created by and for God, Puritans decided that America must be a world’s moral example: “for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”[2]

Brother Winthrop’s ideals are echoed throughout American history.

Loren Baritz explores the potential of the national myth, when coupled with sufficient national power, to impose one nation’s will upon the rest of the world. In fact, “American nationalism in its purest form thinks of the world as populated by frustrated or potential Americans”[3], and provokes dangerous solipsistic thinking, where the American self is being projected onto other countries and cultures.

The Importance of Metaphors for the American Power Projection

The painting portrays the Cuban War of Independence. It depicts a cavalry battle between Cubans and Spaniards. In the foreground of the painting some warriors are portrayed falling off their horses while being shot by soldiers (one of whom raises the Cuban flag) on the back of the painting.
The Cuban War of Independence occurred when the island of Cuba fought for its independence from the Spanish Empire from 1895 to 1898. The war, the last of three independence wars fought against Spanish rule, was won by Cubans after the United States intervened on their side in the greater Spanish-American War of 1898.
Credits: Historica.

The Cuban independence war of 1895-98 did not seem to satisfy the American ‘view’ on Cuba’s future; the future of an independent nation, not a subject to regional domination.

This dragged Americans into the Spanish-American War of 1898 and gave rise to American “popular belief in the deployment of power as a matter of moral discharge.”[4]

By portraying themselves as protectors of Cuban liberty and freedom- the pure American qualities- against Spanish domination, Americans justified the war- making.

Thus, the intervention in Cuba was celebrated by Woodrow Wilson as “an impulse of humane indignation and pity – because we saw at our very doors a government unmindful of justice or of mercy, contemptuous in its every practice of the principles we professed to live for.”[5]

The image depicts a school classroom, where a teacher, that is Uncle Sam, is trying to 'civilize' 'barbarian' children, titled Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Philippines, sitting at the front of the class. Meanwhile, the back of the classroom is portrayed as being filled with 'good students' representing different states of the U.S.
Credits: Pinterest.

Through the implementation of various metaphors, Americans concealed “the contradictions often produced by the pursuit of the national interests in the guise of the practice of national ideals.”[6]

The common metaphor of an adult-child relationship often portrayed the U.S. as a dominant figure- an adult supervisor- above the silly, uncivilized children represented by the Latin American countries.

The Spanish defeat during the Spanish- American War proved its incompetency in discharging that adult authority, thus ‘forcing’ the righteous Americans to assume the “burden of greatness”[7] in preparing the Latin American countries for adulthood by ‘civilizing’ them through the imposition of American ideals and morals.

The image portrays Uncle Sam who sits on a chair while holding a disobedient child labelled 'Chile' on his lap and threatening to punish him.
“A Warning”. Uncle Sam threatens to punish a small Chile during the USS Baltimore Crisis. [Puck Magazine cover, Janurary 1892].
Credits: imgur.

Like in any adult-child relationship, an adult has full moral authority to punish a misbehaving child.

Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, approved the idea of intervention into the Latin American country’s affairs in case if the latter did not act according to American interests: “if any South American State misbehaves towards any European country, let the European country spank it.”[8]

Therefore, any Cuban or Nicaraguan national act that was not approved by the U.S., tended to disappoint the latter and justify its intervention.


The Roots Behind the Anti-U.S. Sentiments in Cuba

In Cuba, the biggest disappointment for the U.S. was the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Its aftermath- Fidel Castro’s Marxist-Leninist political standing- was branded ‘betrayal’ by the U.S.

The image depicts the concept of the Cold War Domino Theory. At the front of the picture, 8 dominoes are portrayed, which are titled  Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. The red (communist) arrow from the left side of the picture pushes the first 'Korea' domino, while the white arrow, from the right side of the picture, pushes the dominoes in another direction. The white arrow bears an American flag and reads "Stop the First to Save the Rest!"
Credits: History Crunch.

In an atmosphere of contentious ideological and political tensions for world domination between the communist Soviet Union, the liberal United States and their satellite states, divided by the Iron Curtain, there was a constant fear of the domino effect.

It was believed that if one country from west of the Iron Curtain fell under the influence of communism, the other countries in the region would follow its lead (similar to dominos), thus leading to the downfall of the American state and the rise of Communism in the world.

Thus, the Cuban sway to the left and its alliance with the Soviet Union has greatly undermined the American sense of security.

The photograph of Cubans harvesting sugar cane.
Credits: Cold War.

However, it would be fair to note that Americans themselves contributed (whether consciously or not) to the outcome they detested so much.

Cuban national sentiments were not invented by Fidel Castro, as they were already a part of an older Cuban political culture “to which Cuban leaders were heir and in which they themselves had been formed.”[9]

Historically, Cuba had a perfect environment for sugar production, which became the country’s main source of income, and “by 1850, Cuba produced one-third of all the sugar in the world.”[10]

Despite remaining a Spanish colony, Cuba became overly dependent on trade with the United States: “seventy percent of Cuba’s trade was with its neighbor to the north, and three-fourths of that was in sugar.”[11] The economy was stagnating due to the four-month sugar harvest, leaving the majority of the population unemployed for the rest of the year.

Besides the Cuban monoculture export economy that was extremely dependent on the U.S. markets, “the favored status of the American manufactured goods in the Cuban market limited the possibilities for Cuba’s economic diversification and development.”[12]

Overall, Americans owned eighty percent of the country’s assets, forty percent of the sugar industry, while in 1958 American investments in Cuba reached one billion dollars.[13]

Being exploited under two masters, Cuba appeared vulnerable and oppressed.


Jose Marti led the Cuban struggle for liberation from both Spanish colonization and American economic domination. He was

The photograph of José Julián Martí Pérez looking straight.
José Julián Martí Pérez (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895) was a Cuban poet, philosopher, professor, and publisher, who is considered a Cuban national hero because of his role in its liberation. He was very politically active and is considered an important revolutionary philosopher and political theorist.Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol of Cuba’s bid for independence from the Spanish Empire in the 19th century, and is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”. His death was used by Cubans as a cry for Cuban independence from Spain. 
Credits: Wikipedia.

killed while fighting for Cuban independence on May 19, 1895, and subsequently seen as a national hero. However, his dream of a politically and economically free Cuba was abandoned when, in 1898, the United States intervened in the Spanish-American War, since its “economic and geopolitical interests dictated constant oversight and close political control over the island.”[14]

In exchange for the American pledge to not annex Cuba in 1901, the Platt Amendment was added to the Cuban constitution. Under that legislation, the U.S. had “the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, [and] the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty”[15], thus making Cuba an American protectorate.

The subsequent grassroots mobilizations such as radical student movements and urban revolts led to the abrogation of the Platt Amendment in 1934 as part of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ aimed at the creation of new economic opportunities through trade agreements.


The photograph of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar wearing military uniform. .
Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (January 16, 1901 – August 6, 1973) was a Cuban military officer and politician who served as the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944 and as its U.S.-backed military dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution. Batista initially rose to power as part of the 1933 Revolt of the Sergeants, which overthrew the provisional government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada. He then appointed himself chief of the armed forces, with the rank of Colonel, and effectively controlled the five-member “pentarchy” that functioned as the collective Cuban head of state. He maintained this control through a string of puppet presidents until 1940, when he was himself elected President of Cuba, serving until 1944. After finishing his term, Batista moved to Florida and returned to Cuba to run for president in 1952. Facing certain electoral defeat, he led a military coup against President Carlos Prío Socarrás that pre-empted the election. Back in power and receiving financial, military and logistical support from the United States government, Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations and began to systematically profit from the exploitation of Cuba’s commercial interests. He also negotiated lucrative relationships both with the American Mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution businesses in Havana, and with large U.S.-based multinational companies who were awarded lucrative contracts. It reached the point where most of the sugar industry was in U.S. hands, and foreigners owned 70% of the arable land. To quell the growing discontent amongst the populace, Batista established tighter censorship of the media, while also utilizing his Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities secret police to carry out wide-scale violence, torture and public executions. Many people were killed, with estimates ranging from hundreds to about 20,000 people killed. Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement led an urban- and rural-based guerrilla uprising against his government, which culminated in his eventual defeat by rebels at the Battle of Santa Clara on New Year’s Day 1959. Batista immediately fled the island to the Dominican Republic. 
Credits: Wikipedia.


However, this policy did not appease Cubans towards the U.S., since after the U.S.- staged assassination of the constitutional president Ramon Grau San Martin in 1933, the U.S. government placed the highly unpopular anti-communist Fulgencio Batista to power.

Batista’s base of support was rooted in the army, thus, he could not have cared less about public opinion and Cubans who despised him for his multiple human rights abuses and nullification of key civil liberties.

The United States, however, continued to provide Batista with financial, military, and logistical support, which, naturally, further engendered hatred towards the American domination of Cuba.

The situation was clearly blowing out of proportions.


The Roots Behind the Anti-U.S. Sentiments in Nicaragua

The image of William Walker in a suit.
William Walker (May 8, 1824 – September 12, 1860) was an American physician, lawyer and mercenary who organized several private military expeditions into Mexico and Central America with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering. Walker usurped the presidency of Nicaragua in July 1856 and ruled until May 1, 1857, when he was forced out of the country by a coalition of Central American armies. He returned in an attempt to re-establish his control of the region and was captured and executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.
Credits: Wikipedia.

In Nicaragua, the anti-U.S. sentiment has largely contributed to the spark of radical nationalistic sentiments.

Unlike the sugar-abundant Cuba, Nicaragua had few natural resources and its “rough terrain meant that only 10 percent of the land was arable.”[16]

In 1856, the U.S. traveler William Walker settled and, subsequently, took over the country as President. His abusive policies, such as the reestablishment of slavery, vagrancy law and English as the only official language prompted Nicaraguans to force him out of the country.

Despite the fact that Walker was not financed by the U.S. government, Nicaraguans remember him as a symbol of the first American attempt to control their country.

Walker’s negative reputation and his association with liberals resulted in a conservative-dominated politics for the next thirty years.

The photograph of the 6 United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino.
United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino, 1932.
Credits: Wikipedia.

In 1893, liberals finally won the election with Jose Santos Zelaya, who opposed the extensive American economic control

The photograph of Adolfo Díaz Recinos looking straight at the camera.
Adolfo Díaz Recinos (15 July 1875 – 29 January 1964) was the President of Nicaragua between 9 May 1911 and 1 January 1917 and again between 14 November 1926 and 1 January 1929. He was born in Costa Rica to Nicaraguan parents in 1875. In his capacity as a secretary for the La Luz y Los Angeles Mining Company, an American company that owned the large gold mines in Nicaragua, he helped channel funds to the revolt against Liberal President José Santos Zelaya, who was not favored by the United States after negotiating with Germany and Japan to resurrect the proposed Nicaragua Canal. Díaz became Vice President of Nicaragua in 1910. After he became president in 1911, Díaz was forced to rely on U.S. Marines to put down a Liberal revolt, which resulted in a contingent of Marines remaining in Nicaragua for over a decade. In return, in 1914, he signed the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty, which granted the United States exclusive rights to build an inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua. During his second term as president, another Liberal revolt occurred. The Liberal forces were on the verge of seizing Managua when the U.S. forced the warring parties to accept a power-sharing agreement, the Espino Negro accord. Augusto Sandino, rejected the agreement and waged a guerrilla war against the U.S. Marines, who remained in the country to prop up Díaz’s government and enforce the Espino Negro accord. In 1928, after elections supervised by the Marines, Díaz was replaced as president by former Liberal General José Maria Moncada. In 1936, after Anastasio Somoza García seized power, Díaz took up permanent residency in the United States, where he lived for more than a decade, before moving to Costa Rica where he died in 1964.
Credits: Wikipedia.  

and aimed to extend Nicaraguan sovereignty over the British-controlled Atlantic coast.

Naturally, like with Martin in Cuba, Americans were dissatisfied with Zelaya’s political views, and in 1909 intervened in order to remove him from power. Zelaya was substituted by conservative pro-American Adolfo Diaz, who in 1911 invited the U.S. Marines to Nicaragua in order to prevent Zelaya’s return and to guarantee American economic and geopolitical interests.

This led to a long occupational period of Nicaragua by the U.S. Marines (1911-1933).

The Liberals, in return, initiated a revolution against the Diaz regime. Fearing a long-term military entanglement, the U.S. sent a special emissary Henry Stimson to Nicaragua to sign the Espino Negro Pact of 1927, which made the U.S. supervise the first fraud-free elections, allowing the Liberals to win.


The photograph of Augusto C. Sandino standing up. He is wearing a hat, loose jacket, pants and long boots.
Augusto C. Sandino (May 18, 1895 – February 21, 1934). He was a Nicaraguan revolutionary and leader of a rebellion between 1927 and 1933 against the United States occupation of Nicaragua. Despite being referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government, his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to American imperialism. Sandino drew units of the United States Marine Corps into an undeclared guerrilla war. The United States troops withdrew from the country in 1933 after overseeing the election and inauguration of President Juan Bautista Sacasa. Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by the National Guard forces of General Anastasio Somoza García, who went on to seize power in a coup d’état two years later. Sandino’s political legacy was claimed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which finally overthrew the Somoza government in 1979. Sandino is revered in Nicaragua and in 2010 its congress unanimously named him a “national hero”. 
Credits: Wikipedia.

One Liberal general, Augusto Cesar Sandino, who was not satisfied with the U.S. encroachment, demanded “the complete withdrawal of the marines, respect for Nicaragua’s national sovereignty, and a government that represented the interests of the majority.”[17]

He formed a guerrilla army and waged a five-year campaign against the U.S. Marines and the Nicaraguan National Guard. The Sandinistas provided schools, agricultural assistance, and, unlike the American Marines, established close connections with the local populations on the Atlantic Coast.

The photograph of Anastasio "Tacho" Somoza García in a military uniform sitting on a chair and looking at the camera.
Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza García (1 February 1896 – 29 September 1956) was the 21st President of Nicaragua from 1 January 1937 to 1 May 1947 and from 21 May 1950 to 29 September 1956, but ruled effectively as dictator from 1937 until his assassination. Anastasio Somoza started the Somoza family dictatorship that maintained absolute control over Nicaragua for 42 years. The son of a wealthy coffee planter, Somoza was educated in the United States. After his return to Nicaragua, he helped oust President Adolfo Díaz. He became the foreign secretary and took the title of “General”. With the help of the US Marine Corps, which occupied Nicaragua at the time, Somoza became the head of the National Guard. This gave him the power base to remove his wife’s uncle, Juan Bautista Sacasa, from the presidency, and make himself president in 1937. In 1947, an ally nominally succeeded him, but he retained power. A month after his successor had been inaugurated, Somoza used the military to carry out a coup. The president was declared ‘incapacitated’ by Congress and Somoza served in his stead. Returning to power in his own name in 1950, he maintained an iron grip on his own Liberal Party and removed all opposition. This left him free to amass a huge personal fortune. On 21 September 1956, he was shot by poet Rigoberto López Pérez. Mortally wounded, he was flown to the Panama Canal Zone where he died a week later. His eldest son Luis Somoza Debayle, who was Speaker of the House at the time of Somoza Garcia’s death, took over and was elected in his own right in 1957 to serve until 1963. In 1967, his younger brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle was elected to serve until 1972 and was reelected in 1974. Somoza Debayle was forced to resign in 1979 and was assassinated in exile in Paraguay the following year.
Credits: Wikipedia.

The popular support helped the Sandinistas to withdraw the Marines, which were then replaced by the U.S.-trained National Guard, headed by Anastasio Somoza Garcia. Somoza, like Batista, was pro-American and spoke English fluently.

In 1934, Sandino, as the only person with adequate popular support able to prevent Somoza’s grasp on power, was assassinated.

In 1936, Somoza took over the government and manipulated the constitution to establish “his personal empire as a family dynasty”[18], making him and his two sons to serve as presidents for 43 years in total. The political repressions, nullification of civil rights and massacres were their presidencies’ common attributes.

Moreover, like Batista, Somoza was fully submissive to American wishes, allowing, amongst many other things, “the U.S. military to use Nicaragua as a base for attacks on Jacobo Arbenz’s government in Guatemala in 1954 and for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.”[19]

It seemed that as long as American imperial interests were served, U.S. governments were willing to cooperate with authoritarian leaders. Therefore, American commercial and geopolitical interests and, with the advent of the Cold War, the incessant fear of the communist takeover by fidelista fighters inspired by the Cuban Revolution of 1959, fed the American preference to ‘assign’ dictators instead of the democratic leaders in the Latin American countries.


The Rise of National Resistance in Cuba

The photograph of young Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz looking away.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (13 August 1926 – 25 November 2016) was a Cuban revolutionary, lawyer and politician who was the leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008, serving as the prime minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and president from 1976 to 2008. A Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party communist state; industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms were implemented throughout society. He was the longest-serving non-royal head of state in the 20th and 21st centuries. Born in Birán, Oriente, the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer, Castro adopted leftist and anti-imperialist ideas while studying law at the University of Havana. He planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. After a year’s imprisonment, Castro traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the 26th of July Movement, with his brother Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Returning to Cuba, Castro took a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s forces from the Sierra Maestra. After Batista’s overthrow in 1959, Castro assumed military and political power as Cuba’s prime minister. The United States came to oppose Castro’s government and unsuccessfully attempted to remove him by assassination, economic blockade, and counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. Countering these threats, Castro aligned with the Soviet Union and allowed the Soviets to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Adopting a Marxist–Leninist model of development, Castro converted Cuba into a one-party, socialist state under Communist Party rule, the first in the Western Hemisphere. Policies introducing central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education were accompanied by state control of the press and the suppression of internal dissent. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba through the economic downturn of the “Special Period”, embracing environmentalist and anti-globalization ideas. In 2006, Castro transferred his responsibilities to Vice President Raúl Castro, who was elected to the presidency by the National Assembly in 2008. 
Credits: Wikipedia.

The constant repressions, discrimination and the human rights abuses inflicted by those dictators led to the rise of national oppositions.

The image of Fidel Castro and a quote that reads "Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me."ll
Credits: Meme.

Fidel Castro’s failed foco attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, Cuba on July 26, 1953, which, he believed, would produce the shock waves sufficient enough for the popular insurrection against the Batista regime, brought him before the court.

His 1953 courtroom defense speech, famously known as History Will Absolve Me, proclaimed the ‘five revolutionary laws’, such as:

  • the reinstatement of the Cuban Constitution,
  • land rights to those “who hold parcels of five or less ‘caballerias’ of land”[20],
  • the right of industrial workers to 30% share of all large enterprises,
  • the right of all planters to 55% share of sugar production,
  • and the confiscation of all possessions acquired through frauds under previous regimes.

Castro successfully turned his defeat into a call for revolution, proclaiming that “the problems of the Republic can be solved only if we dedicate ourselves to fight for that Republic with the same energy, honesty and patriotism our liberators had when they created it.”[21]

While serving his prison sentence, Castro was inspired by Marti’s desire to achieve both political and economic independence.

Castro was released from prison in 1955 and exiled to Mexico, where he founded the 26th of July Movement (M-26) organization and started preparations for an armed rebellion.


The photograph of Castro's Granma yacht.
Granma yacht.
Credits: Waterway Guide.

In December 1956, the yacht Granma with Castro and 82 revolutionists returned to Cuba. However, due to the rough sea, the yacht’s arrival did not coincide with the urban underground resistance led by Frank Pais.

Thus, Pais’ uprising and Castro’s guerrilla force, which landed a couple of days later, were firmly crushed by Batista’s troops, leaving only eighteen fighters alive.

The photograph of Fidel Castro and his cheerful supporters, who try to shake his hand, just after the revolutionaries seized power from dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The photograph by Burt Glinn of Fidel Castro and his supporters just after the revolutionaries seized power from dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Credits: huck.

Here, the importance of the local grassroots mobilizations and support by students, peasants and urban dwellers should not be overlooked.

It is likely that the M-26 would never have gained strength again after the Granma attack, would it not have been for the local peasants who joined the struggle. By the same token, the urban underground shifted Batista’s attention toward the students and middle- class residents and away from the rural guerrillas, thus allowing Castro to prepare his village fighters for future victorious attacks, which led to Batista’s escape from Cuba on January 1, 1959.


Fidelismo vs. Communism

The successful Cuban Revolution of 1959 gave birth to fidelismo– a new social-political movement in Latin American countries, which was named after its leader Fidel Castro.

Fidelismo brought the dramatic intensification of political situations to other Latin American countries, since it created the attitude that revolution should be pursued immediately.

The photograph of Fidel Castro giving a speech of the First Declaration of Havana at the square full of people.
First Declaration of Havana. Castro’s speech.
Credits: John Riddell. 

This contradicted the famous communist notion that the country had to achieve a certain level of capitalist economic development for a socialist revolution to occur.

The communists contended that economically backward Cuba would not succeed against the Batista regime and they did not (at first) support the revolution.

It proves that despite following the Marxist teachings, Castro’s Cuba was not a ‘U.S.S.R.-style’ communist, in spite of what the official American foreign policy proclaimed.

Castro’s reply was the First Declaration of Havana, 1960, in which he denied the Soviet or Chinese intent to “use Cuba’s political and social situation… to break the continental unity and endanger the unity of the hemisphere.”[22] He also proclaimed that the revolution was “Cuba’s firm reply to the crimes and wrongs perpetrated by the imperialism in America”[23], thus China and the Soviet Union could not be blamed.


The Rise of National Resistance in Nicaragua  

The successful Cuban insurrection “engendered a mystique about guerrilla warfare”[24], making it a popular undertaking, and highlighted the importance of the extensive social and political reforms, such as the famous First Declaration of Havana’s ten point program, which included, among many other things, national sovereignty, social justice, and education.

Thus, fidelismo inspired other Latin Americans to attempt to achieve social and political changes within their societies through a wide variety of ways.

Nicaragua was not an exception.

The image of the FSLN flag. It is comprised of a black and a red stripe and white letters FSLN written in the middle.
Flag of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is a socialist political party in Nicaragua whose members are called the Sandinistas. The party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s. The FSLN overthrew Anastasio Somoza DeBayle in 1979, ending the Somoza dynasty, and established a revolutionary government in its place. Having seized power, the Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, first as part of a Junta of National Reconstruction. Following the resignation of centrist members from this Junta, the FSLN took exclusive power in March 1981. They instituted a policy of mass literacy, devoted significant resources to health care, and promoted gender equality, but came under international criticism for human rights abuses, mass execution and oppression of indigenous peoples. The FSLN is now Nicaragua’s sole leading party. In the 2006 Nicaraguan general election, former FSLN President Daniel Ortega was reelected President of Nicaragua with 38.7% of the vote to 29% for his leading rival, bringing in the country’s second Sandinista government after 17 years of other parties winning elections. Ortega and the FSLN were reelected in the presidential elections of 2011 and of 2016.
Credits: Wikipedia.
The photograph of Carlos Fonseca Amador wearing sunglasses and looking away.
Carlos Fonseca Amador (23 June 1936 – 8 November 1976) was a Nicaraguan teacher and revolutionary who founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Fonseca was later killed in the mountains of the Zelaya Department, Nicaragua, three years before the FSLN took power. The Cuban Revolution was a central event in Fonseca’s political evolution as it convinced him that a revolution was possible and that organisation was necessary. Between 1959 and 1963, Fonseca and the earliest future members of the FSLN began to organise in the hopes of forming a true revolutionary organization. The FSLN came to be in 1963. In mid-1963, a guerrilla cadre entered the Rios Coco y Bocay area of Nicaragua. Poorly prepared and having done little advance work in the area, several guerrillas were killed by the Guardia Nacional, while others were able to escape across the Honduran border. Between 1964 and 1966, the FSLN carried out educational work and community organizing, creating indoctrination classes and campaigning to bring resources to working-class neighborhoods in Managua. By mid-1966, plans for a second FSLN guerrilla operation in the Pancasan region (near Matagalpa) were underway. The operation began in May 1967 with about forty guerrillas. This time, the guerrillas were better trained and armed and had women among their ranks. Like the earlier guerrilla incursion, the Pancasan operation ended with many of the FSLN guerrillas being killed by the Guardia Nacional. 
Credits: Wikipedia.


Convinced that they too could establish a guerrilla movement to topple the Somoza’s regime and replace it with a socialist government, Carlos Fonseca Amador and Tomas Borge Martinez formed the Sandinista National Front (FSLN) in 1961.

The Nicaraguan Socialist Party, much as Cuban communists who criticized Castro’s M-26 movement, denounced the FSLN as premature and too idealistic, opting to wait for the appropriate economic conditions for a socialist takeover.

However, after visiting Cuba in July 1959, Fonseca realized that the economic backwardness of the country was not a deterrent for revolutionary action.

Similar to Castro’s foco tactic, the FSLN believed that a small guerrilla army could spark a broad revolution.

However, in 1967, the Sandinistas ran into the police, which slaughtered all but fifteen fighters. Again, the Sandinistas, like the fidelista fighters, could regroup only due to their close collaboration with local peasants and workers, which made them reassess the validity of the foco approach and instead aim at building peasant and urban connections.

The Historic Program of the FSLN, 1969 outlined a thirteen-point program, including land to the peasants, labor legislation, emancipation of women, end of discrimination against ethnic minorities, and proliferation of education, which taught “new generations [the] eternal gratitude and reverence for those who have fallen in the struggle to make Nicaragua a free homeland.”[25] Sandinistas also enjoyed a high degree of support from the Indigenous neighborhoods such as Miskitu, since they both drew on their actions as part of the historical resistance to colonial domination.

However, unlike the fidelista fighters in Cuba, the Sandinistas did not necessarily aim to achieve Marxist revolution, but “one firmly grounded in their own historical reality and experience.”[26] For this reason, Augusto Cesar Sandino was represented everywhere as a national hero and a symbol of Revolution (his name (the letter S) was also added to the FLN).

Moreover, the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 became one of the first to openly accept the role and contributions of the Church in toppling the dictatorial regime. Instead of seeing religion as false consciousness, as Marxists in Cuba did, “the Sandinistas believed that religion could be used to heighten people’s revolutionary awareness.”[27]

The liberation theology, unlike traditional Christian theology, gave hopes to the oppressed and led people to realize that they must take responsibility for their destiny, thus representing “a historic turning point in the attitude of the Catholic Church toward popular movements for social justice.”[28]

The photograph of José Daniel Ortega Saavedra smiling.
José Daniel Ortega Saavedra (born 11 November 1945) is a Nicaraguan politician serving as President of Nicaragua since 2007; previously he was leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, first as Coordinator of the Junta of National Reconstruction (1979–1985) and then as President (1985–1990). After the retirement of Fidel Castro in 2008, Ortega is currently one of the longest non-royal rulers in the world and the longest serving non-royal leader in the Americas. Joining the Sandinistas as a student in 1963, Ortega became involved with urban resistance activities and was arrested and imprisoned in 1967. He, like many political prisoners of the Somoza regime, was tortured and abused in jail. Upon release in 1974, he was exiled to Cuba, where he received training in guerrilla warfare from Fidel Castro’s government. Ortega played a crucial role in forming the Insurrectionist faction, which united the FSLN and sparked the mass uprisings of 1978–1979, culminating in the Nicaraguan Revolution. After the overthrow and exile of Somoza’s government, Ortega became leader of the ruling multi-partisan Junta of National Reconstruction. In 1984, Ortega won Nicaragua’s disputed presidential election with over 60% of the vote as the FSLN’s candidate. A Marxist–Leninist, Ortega pursued a program of nationalization, land reform, wealth redistribution and literacy programs during his first period in office. After a difficult presidency marred by war and economic collapse, Ortega was defeated in the 1990 general election by Violeta Chamorro. He continued to be an important figure in Nicaraguan opposition politics. Ortega was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1996 and 2001, while finally winning the 2006 presidential election. His second administration has become increasingly antidemocratic, alienating many of his former revolutionary allies, some of whom compared him to Somoza whom they had overthrown. In June 2018, Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States reported that Ortega had engaged in a violent oppression campaign against protesters in response to anti-Ortega protests since April 2018.
Credits: Wikipedia.

Nowadays, unfortunately, many equate the Nicaraguan Revolution with repression, as that struggle against the Somoza dynasty has only brought a new, equally authoritarian, group of people in control of power, who have slowly reinstituted everything the nation has fought against.[29]

Moises Hassan, an ex-Mayor of Managua and a former Sandinista fighter, believes that the current Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, has done even worse things than Somoza.[30]

He recalls that under Somoza administrations children were not as indoctrinated about the gloriousness of the regime as they are now, since “from nearly the first moment of the 1979 triumph, the cult of the Sandinista Front was already being implanted. Portraits everywhere. Propaganda in the school notebooks. Now they give the children the Sandinista flags and send them out to parade in activities that Ortega organizes.”[31]

Most importantly, per Hassan, unlike the current administration’s total invalidation of the opposition and alternation in power, which includes the recent imprisonment of 26 civic and political leaders (including six potential presidential candidates)[32], the Somoza’s government permitted some criticism and opposition of its ministers and policies. He also mentions that, unlike the Ortega government, the Somoza administration would never have gone after the opposition leader’s family[33], as well as he “knew exactly who was stealing and how much they were stealing”[34]– that is, corruption was more controlled.

Hassan thus concludes that “the Ortega regime is an updated edition of Somoza, corrected and improved, with much more weaponry, much less respect for human rights and a greater degree of corruption.”[35]



American imperialism, rooted in the traditional myth of the City upon the Hill, granted Americans the moral validity to extend their power and influence throughout the world.

The adult-child metaphor allowed Americans, under the guise of the high morality of ‘parental responsibility’ for the ‘uncivilized’ nations of the South, to pursue their imperialist economic and geopolitical desires and, eventually, to dominate the world.

American support for the pro-American dictatorial regimes in the Latin American countries before the Cold War allowed Americans to dominate their economies and easily extract their resources.

During the Cold War’s incessant clashes between the U.S.S.R., the U.S. and their satellites, Americans developed a new fear of communist takeover. Dreaded by the domino effect in the western side of the Iron Curtain, they supported the dictatorial regimes which were seen as more durable against the communist threat.

The democratic nominees, who could be easily subverted by the socialist guerrilla fighters, were usually removed from office or assassinated through the U.S.-sponsored actions.

The ultimate anti-U.S. sentiment, the dependence on sugar agriculture, which created huge unemployment for eight months of the year, and the corrupted political system- all stimulated the growth of the first small guerrilla forces which aimed to bring justice back to Cuba.

Through their programs for social change, they were able to receive support from all the societal groups, including peasants, the urban middle-class and even some elite.

The successes of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its fidelismo movement inspired people in other countries such as Nicaragua to fight for their rights (whether or not it led to desirable outcomes).



  • Baritz, Loren. “God’s Country and American Know-How.” In Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did, 19-54. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986.
  • Becker, Marc. Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions. Lanham; Boulder; New York; London: Rowman et Littlefield, 2017.
  • Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me. Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968.
  • Fidel Castro, The Declaration of Havana. n.p.: 26th of July Movement in the United States, 1960.
  • Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, Programa historico del FSLN. Managua, Nicaragua: Departmento de Propaganda y Educacion Politica del FSLN, 1984; trans. by Marc Becker.
  • Hale, Charles R. “Nation Building, Resistance, and Hegemony: Historical Roots of Ethnic Conflict, 1894-1960.” In Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987, 37-59. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.
  • Ramirez, Hans Lawrence. “Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime Is an Updated Version of Somoza.” Havana Times, July 25, 2021.
  • Rojas, Rafael. “Nicaragua: Where Revolution Is Equated with Repression.” Havana Times, July 21, 2021.
  • Roosevelt, Theodore to Herman Speck von Sternberg, July 12, 1901. In The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt. Cambridge, Mass., 1954.
  • Perez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • The Platt Amendment, 1903.
  • Wright, Thomas C. Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution: Revised Edition. Praeger Publishers, 2001.




[1] Loren Baritz, “God’s Country and American Know-How,” In Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986), 26

[2] Baritz, Ibid, 26

[3] Baritz, Ibid, 31

[4] Louis A. Perez, Jr., Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos (Chapel Hill, 2008: University of North Carolina Press), 5

[5] Perez, Ibid, 8

[6] Perez, Ibid, 258

[7] Perez, Ibid, 258

[8] Theodore Roosevelt to Herman Speck von Sternberg, July 12, 1901, in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, Mass., 1951-54)

[9] Perez, Ibid, 274

[10] Marc Becker, Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions (Lanham; Boulder; New York; London: Rowman et Littlefield, 2017), 108

[11] Becker, Ibid, 109

[12] Wright, Ibid, 5

[13] Becker, Ibid, 110

[14] Thomas C. Wright, Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution: Revised Edition (Praeger Publishers, 2001),4

[15] The Platt Amendment, 1903

[16] Becker, Ibid, 161

[17] Charles R. Hale, “Nation Building, Resistance, and Hegemony: Historical Roots of Ethnic Conflict, 1894-1960,” In Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 53

[18] Becker, Ibid, 162

[19] Becker, Ibid, 163

[20] Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968), 39

[21] Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968), 40

[22] Fidel Castro, The Declaration of Havana (n.p.: 26th of July Movement in the United States, 1960), 2

[23] Castro, Ibid, 2

[24] Wright, Ibid, 1

[25] Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, Programa historico del FSLN (Managua, Nicaragua: Departmento de Propaganda y Educacion Politica del FSLN, 1984; trans. by Marc Becker), 4

[26] Becker, Ibid, 170

[27] Becker, Ibid, 173

[28] Becker, Ibid, 174

[29] Hans  Lawrence Ramirez , “Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime Is an Updated Version of Somoza,” Havana Times, July 25, 2021,

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Rafael Rojas, “Nicaragua: Where Revolution Is Equated with Repression,” Havana Times, July 21, 2021,

[33] Ramirez, Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

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