The Sandinistas took their name from Augusto César Sandino (1895-193), the leader of the nationalist rebellion in Nicaragua against the U.S. occupation of the country at the beginning of the 20th century (ca.) Postrevolutionary politics and ideology. Despite their firm socialist leanings, the Sandinistas joined other groups in opposition to Somoza to “mask the true nature of their revolution and not provoke the ire of the United States.” After the victory of the broad coalition against Somoza, the FSLN sought to consolidate its power to prevent the bourgeoisie from waging a successful counterrevolution. They organized sectors of society, such as peasants and workers, into “mass organizations” that, apparently, would defend the revolution.
The Sandinistas believed that these organizations gave voice to the Nicaraguan people in the new revolutionary government and promoted democratic participation. The masses also became the physical defenders of the revolution during the Contra War, when the government distributed weapons to the militias. In addition, the FSLN instituted a national literacy crusade that, according to Kagan, served both to increase literacy and to ideologically indoctrinate students. Sandinist economic policies also reflected their socialist ideology.
The Sandinistas nationalized the financial sector and Nicaragua's main exports. They seized some agricultural land and encouraged the formation of state farms and agricultural cooperatives, although they eventually distributed the land among individual peasants as resistance against the contra grew. Throughout their administration, it could be said that the Sandinistas became more radicalized, especially in times of crisis. For example, in 1981, the Sandinistas announced new economic policies designed to weaken the private sector, such as the appropriation of “unused agricultural land”; the confiscation of companies that apparently threatened the revolution; and the confiscation of the finances of those who had been absent from Nicaragua for at least six months.
In 1982, after Argentinian-trained rebels blew up two bridges, the Sandinistas declared a state of emergency and, among other things, restricted the Nicaraguan press. Rather than defining democracy in terms of elections, the FSLN believed that democracy meant popular support and participation. In fact, soon after the revolution, the FSLN declared that the party would make decisions with the informal participation of the people, so formal elections were downplayed. However, in 1984, faced with military pressure from the Contras and trying to gain legitimacy abroad, the Sandinistas held elections in which they were very successful.
However, it is a matter of debate whether they were really fair elections; Vanden and Prevost argue that they were, while Kagan argues that the Sandinistas were unwilling to make any real changes regardless of the elections. In this 1978 video, presenter Jim Lehrer pressures a commander of the Nicaraguan National Guard to deal with allegations of human rights abuses by the Nicaraguan military.