Dislodging Somozas

The history of the Central American states is a bloody one, with Nicaragua having more than its fair share of intrigue and assassination in forty-three years of dictatorship. In 1936 Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a used-car salesman who had become a general overnight, installed himself as dictator after ordering the murder of Augusto Sandino, the guerilla leader who had held the American Marines at bay for seven years. The general was assassinated in 1956 but power remained in the hands of his eldest son, Luis. In February 1967 Anastasio Somoza Garcia Jr. came into his inheritance, conservatively estimated at 600 million dollars.

The Somozas were no egalitarians. Prior to the civil war, one-third of the nation’s income went to the top five per cent of the population, who also owned half the arable land. Blindness and brain damage through malnutrition are common in the country’s northern rural areas, and only three people in ten achieve elementary education. More murders per head of the population are committed every year in Nicaragua than anywhere else in the world, and the proportionate numbers of chronic alcoholics exceed those of every other Central American state. The Somozas owned the country’s shipping and airlines, the cement plant, textile factories, sugar mills, the local concession of Mercedes Benz, travel agencies, oil refineries, banks, radio, television, boutiques, and human blood and plasma export businesses. The family also controlled and financed the armed forces.

Armed resistance to the Somoza dynastic rule gained momentum in the mid-seventies, becoming a serious threat to the repressive Guardia Nacional. On 22 August last year, two army lorries pulled up in front of the National Palace in Managua and twenty-six men. who appeared to be a contingent of the army’s infantry school, formed into three squads on the forecourt and marched inside. They were members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) putting into operation a bold plan to occupy the seat of Congress.

American Democracy
The raid on the National Palace was prompted by an upsurge of support for Somoza by the American government, with loans totalling 150 million dollars (a year later the International Monetary Fund would add 33 million). Carter had written a letter to Somoza congratulating him for promises to restore ‘human rights’ in Nicaragua, thirty years of American support for the dictatorship having slipped his mind.

After acceding to the Sandinistas’ demands, repression began in earnest. Guardia units were ordered to move into rebellious towns and dissenters were rounded up by the hundred. The ‘Broad Opposition Front’, a coalition of anti-Somoza parties and labour unions, called a general strike. The Nicaraguan working class has developed very slowly as a result of the country’s backward coffee-planting and cattle-rearing economy; the introduction of the country’s one modern crop, cotton, is only recent, and the sugar refining industry has not yet grown to significant proportions. Resistance to the regime is particularly strong among independent businessmen, and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce lost no time in voting in favour of a lockout to reinforce the strike. The Sandinistas gained the support of sections of the opposition Conservative family, the Chamorros, and many of the younger set of Nicaragua’s capitalist class became linked with guerilla activity.

By June of this year, popular support for the rebels was such that only Israel would supply Somoza with arms. Having abandoned Somoza, the Americans directed their efforts to the search for a ‘moderate’ solution that is, one which would not endanger their interests in the area. The State Department called for a ‘democratic solution’and put pressure on its Latin American allies to urge the provisional government to accept an agreement less radical than one likely to be imposed by a Sandinista victory.

Change of Masters
The FSLN, influenced as it is by the Cuban revolution, have let it be known that on gaining power they will set up an ‘interim’ government and start a programme for the redistribution of the country’s wealth. There are, however, no purely nationalist movements in capitalism; nationalist sentiment, mixed with economic factors, is made use of by the class that has an interest to serve by achieving its aims. Life without Somoza means not the emancipation of the exploited section of the population but a mere change of masters.

The capitalist world has reached the stage where, for economic reasons, small countries are driven into one or other of the big economic and military groups. In all important questions they must frame their policies and adapt their industries and trade agreements to the needs of their more powerful neighbours. If in Nicaragua the Somozas are replaced by the Chamorros, the working people might reasonably ask — what’s in a name?

Miles Webb