For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation
From Nineteenth-Century Liberals to Twentieth-Century Sandinistas
  • Luciano Baracco
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Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation . From Nineteenth-Century Liberals to Twentieth-Century Sandinistas
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Interviewing former Sandinista officials, scouring Nicaragua's national archives, and studying facts on the ground, Luciano Baracco identifies the origins of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution in terms of the failure of nineteenth-century liberal regimes to complete the task of constructing Nicaragua as a culturally and historically distinct, sovereign, national entity.

About the Author

Luciano Baracco holds an MA in Development Studies from the University of Leeds and a PhD in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford; he has taught courses on social theory, postmodernism, development studies, and social research at the University of Bradford (UK) Nottingham Trent University (UK) and No. 7 Middle School, Chengdu (People’s Republic of China).

Dr. Baracco spent a year conducting research at the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamerica, Managua, and has been an observer of conflict resolution projects sponsored by the Organization of American States in post-war conflict zones in northern Nicaragua for the reintegration of former Contras. He has published articles on Sandinista nationalism and is currently researching the history of the Creole community on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast.

In addition to this volume, Dr. Baracco is editor of National Integration and Contested Autonomy: The Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (written in collaboration with Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University, BICU), Algora 2011.

About the Book

Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation is geared to students and academics of nationalism studies, history, and Latin American studies. Analyzing Nicaragua’s post-colonial history, the author studies the Sandinista Revolution in...

Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation is geared to students and academics of nationalism studies, history, and Latin American studies. Analyzing Nicaragua’s post-colonial history, the author studies the Sandinista Revolution in the context of Nicaragua’s ongoing efforts at nation-building. Baracco identifies the origins of the Sandinista Revolution in terms of the failure of nineteenth-century liberal regimes to complete the task of constructing Nicaragua as a culturally and historically distinct, sovereign, national entity.

The book is based on research of various sources from the archives of the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamerica, Central American University Managua, and on interview evidence taken from leading figures from within the Sandinista government (1979-90).

At the nexus of politics, sociology, development studies, nationalism studies and Latin American studies, this work takes Nicaragua as a case study to engage and advance Benedict Anderson’s ideas on the origins and spread of nationalism and illustrates his theories on nations as imagined political communities.

The empirical application of these ideas to national literacy campaigns and popular nationalist literature illustrates how nationalism has worked in Nicaragua on a routinized and daily basis, and shows how the Sandinistas attempted to complete a process of nation building that had been initiated in the previous century, yet had remained an unfinished task largely due to the successive interventions of the United States in the political and economic affairs of Nicaragua. It also illustrates how Sandinista nationalism departed from its nineteenth-century Liberal version, by re-imagining the nation in terms of an anti-imperialist political identity that would serve the revolutionary government’s developmental objectives.

The book offers insights into the evolution of states in post-colonial Latin America and their struggle to strike an acceptable balance between sovereignty issues and the imperatives of global politics.


Introduction

In the aftermath of the world-historical events of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the advent of capitalism, the long-established dynastic empires which had formed a familiar part of the landscape of the pre-modern world began to fragment and be replaced by the new geo-political and cultural entity of the...

In the aftermath of the world-historical events of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the advent of capitalism, the long-established dynastic empires which had formed a familiar part of the landscape of the pre-modern world began to fragment and be replaced by the new geo-political and cultural entity of the nation state. By the post-1945 era, this fragmentation process had extended to Africa and Asia as newly independent former colonies struggled to take their place in the world community of nation-states. In its first waves, and helped on its way by the French revolutionary wars, this process swept away age-old restrictive feudal polities ruled over by absolutist monarchies whose legitimacy had rested on the idea of divine right. In their place emerged states over which the nation would exercise sovereignty. An association between the attainment of nationhood and the freedom, liberty and self-determination of peoples was forged, which has led liberation movements to frame their political projects in national terms ever since. Such liberation movements, whether in the North or South, whether of liberal, fascist or socialist persuasion, have all been national and have framed their respective political ideologies through nationalist discourses.

Conditions for the formation of the nation in the case of Nicaragua were extremely problematic. By 1838, the failure of initial attempts to consolidate this process on a regional, Central American basis led to an alternative, provincially based, process from which Nicaragua first began to be conceived of in national terms. This book will take as its major field of enquiry the various attempts to build a Nicaraguan nation. It does so by acknowledging that such attempts have been intimately bound up with the hegemonic projects of political agents who have all held modernization as their goal; from nineteenth-century Liberals to twentieth-century Sandinistas. However, it will also show how the Sandinista period represented a unique break with the past in two ways. Firstly, by the time the Sandinista regime had been established in 1979, significant developments had occurred in Nicaragua's administrative infrastructure which increased the state's capacity to engage in serious nation-building strategies. Secondly, the coming-to-power of the Sandinista government through an anti-imperialist, popular insurrection made the critical notion of popular sovereignty into a visible reality. Despite the attainment of formal independence from Spain some hundred and fifty-eight years previously, this period presented an opportunity like no other before it, in which the essential conditions for nation-building were present; a significant bureaucratic-administrative infrastructure and the attainment of popular sovereignty.

Many theoretical approaches have informed the conclusions drawn in this book, although the most influential approach has been that of Benedict Anderson (1991) on the nation as an imagined political community. It covers a period up to 1981, with the major analytical work concentrating on the latter part of the twentieth century. Although the revolutionary triumph of 1979 presented an opportunity for the construction of a sovereign nation, the intensification of US economic and military aggression led to the debilitation of that potential as the Sandinista government became more and more preoccupied with fighting this aggression. No doubt this was a deliberate outcome of the Reagan administration's war against Sandinista Nicaragua. The year 1981 forms the end point of a period in which the original program of the FSLN was most directly applied, a program geared towards the transformation of the political identity of the nation so as to become more amenable to the political nature of the Sandinistas' modernization plans. This identity became a lived experience for so many Nicaraguans through the mass mobilizations that characterized this brief period. This book is about such mobilizations and the visions of communion with anonymous others which they inspired, a communion whose membership was limited and defined in national terms.

Chapter 1 reviews some of the existing literature addressing the subjects of nationalism, the nation and nation-building. Firstly, it reviews the functionalist approach of Ernest Gellner, whose ideas center on the rise of industrialism as the primary factor behind the emergence of nations and nationalism. Secondly, it discusses the approach of Tom Nairn (1981), which presents nation building as a political process essential in all modernization projects. Thirdly, the review turns to the state-centered approach of Anthony Giddens, who links the emergence of nations to the formation of the inter-state system, and portrays it largely as a reflection and an appendage of the modern state. Fourthly, the review examines the cultural approach of Benedict Anderson and the idea of the nation as an imagined political community, one made possible through the cultural system that emerged with the Enlightenment and capitalism.

Chapter 2 examines how these theoretical frameworks can be applied to nineteenth and twentieth-century Nicaragua. Characterized by constant civil wars and competing conceptions of the nation this is a period that defies the simple application of theoretical models. The role of the idea of an inter-oceanic canal in the generation and resolution of these conflicts will also be assessed. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that Nicaragua experienced significant modernization during the Liberal Revolution of Jose Santos Zelaya (1893-1909). The eventual overthrow of this administration by a US-backed coup illustrates the limits of Nicaraguan nationalism in an age of growing US imperialist influence in the Central American region. The post-Zelaya period resembled the early period of independence with the re-emergence of internecine civil war, and formed the background for the Sandino Rebellion (1927-33). Despite the emphasis on Sandino's military activities common to most histories, the rebellion he led will be seen as an attempt to complete the nation-building project of Nicaragua's nineteenth-century Liberals in an age of US imperialist intervention in the Central American region.

Chapter 3 follows the emergence of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), tracing the inspiration for its formation to the Cuban revolution. It then shows how the FSLN moved away from the Cuban revolutionary model, and especially the foco theory of guerrilla warfare developed by Che Guevara owing to the failure of these ideas in the Nicaraguan context. An alternative strategy was then developed which centered around the rediscovery of Sandino. This work was largely the achievement of the principal founder of the FSLN, Carlos Fonseca Amador. It was not until Fonseca went into a period of exile in Cuba (1970-75) that the link between Sandino's anti-imperialist nationalism and revolutionary socialism was fully elaborated. Whilst Somocismo's Conservative opponents aligned themselves with the US in their endeavor to win state power by portraying themselves as the heirs of Sandino, unlike any other opposition group the Sandinistas legitimized their own struggle by drawing upon national history and traditions. Their struggle was to be self-consciously represented as the ongoing struggle of the Nicaraguan nation against US imperialism and its oligarchic allies. As will become clear, despite claims to be the only true representatives of Nicaragua's people and history, Sandinista nationalism both naturalized and nationalized political and economic ideas which clearly had their origins outside Nicaragua. Sandinista nationalist discourses did not so much represent the nation as create a certain image of it, which not only legitimized Sandino's anti-imperialism but the Sandinistas' own revolutionary socialist program as well.

Chapter 4 will present a detailed examination of Sandinista nation-building, which not only sought to construct a national community but to cast the political identity of that community as anti-imperialist, revolutionary and socialist, in line with its own modernization program. The principal example taken in this chapter will be the period during which the new regime undertook the National Literacy Crusade (1980). Through the application of the ideas of Benedict Anderson, a close analysis of the events which filled that time will provide a description of how the imagining of Sandinista Nicaragua became a lived flesh and blood experience. The evidence used to illustrate this will be the official bulletin of the Literacy Commission La Cruzada En Marcha (1980), literacy primers and the popular nationalist story El Muchacho Niquinohomo (1973) by Sergio Ramrez. Together, these offer a glimpse of Sandinista attempts to create 'that remarkable confidence of community in anonymity which is the hallmark of modern nations.'1 Such a massive mobilization consequent on the Literacy Crusade was unprecedented in Nicaraguan history, not only granting a sense of community in anonymity, which was perhaps for the first time conveyed across the whole national space, but also acting as an impulse towards the expansion of the administrative capacity of the state apparatuses.

Chapter 5 examines the culturally and ethnically distinct Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. It provides an historical introduction to the groups that inhabit the region: Indians, Creoles and mestizos. The over-riding theme within this history has been that of the impact of Anglo-American colonialism on the region. Through the analysis of development programs, government agencies, academic studies and popular literature, the chapter examines the visions of the Atlantic coast held prior to 1979 by various mestizo political groups, and then contrasts them with Costenos' visions of themselves and the Atlantic Coast.

Chapter 6 examines the new Sandinista government's policies towards the Atlantic Coast. Regardless of their revolutionary nationalism, which distinguished them from both Somocista and Conservative mestizos, the Sandinistas tended to reproduce an ethnocentric view of the Costenos, which had been common to all mestizo nationalist discourses. Costenos' visions of themselves and their place within the revolutionary process are then outlined by the discussion of various ideas about their own ethnic or indigenous identity. Adopting a similar approach to the case study in Chapter 4, the literacy campaign in English and Miskitu is examined to assess its impact on creating the conditions for a national imagining process. On this occasion, however, the very opposite of the intended effects was to occur. The chapter illustrates how the Literacy Project in Languages led to the alienation of most Costenos from the revolution. In the case of the Miskitu, this alienation was to culminate in the emergence of an alternative national imagining process based around the idea of the Miskitu nation.


Reviews
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2007.
The relatively brief consideration of the topics surveyed in the title proves to be an asset, as Baracco (Univ. of Bradford) successfully builds his study around... | More »

Pages 188
Year: 2005
LC Classification: F1526.3.B29
Dewey code: 972.85'04—dc22
BISAC: HIS007000
BISAC: HIS041010
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Price: USD 23.95
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