The Revolutions in Mexico, Bolivia, and Nicaragua – Explained!

Not only did Diaz court foreign interests, he allowed the clergy to become openly influential in temporal matters, and gave the army a free hand to violate guaranteed civil liberties. Opponents of the regime were either coopted or sent to jail.

Francisco Ignacio Madero, the son of a hacendado, issued the Plan of San Luis Potosi in October 1910 asking for political reform and the restoration of democratic principles. The Plan was enthusiastically received. By January 1911, a large-scale insurrection had broken out in the northern state of Chihuahua, led by Pascual Orozco, a local merchant, and Francisco “Pancho” Villa.

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Madero, who had declared himself provisional president in the Plan of San Luis Potosi returned to Mexico to lead the nascent revolution. The successes of the rebel bands in Chihuahua sparked similar uprisings throughout the country.

As early as 1909 in Morelos, the peasant leader, Emiliano Zapata, recruited thousands of hacienda labourers and landless peasants to attack the haciendas and reclaim the lost lands. By May 25, 1911, Porfirio Diaz submitted his resignation and turned power over to a provisional government.

Madero assumed the presidency in November 1911. The new administration faced insurmountable problems. The fall of Diaz raised popular expectations of far-reaching social reforms, especially land reform.

Zapata had come to Mexico City to claim hacienda land for the peasants of Morelos, which to him was the only acceptable result of the overthrow of the Diaz regime. Even in the revolutionary ranks, the revolution meant something different to different sections of the population.

Madero soon realised that to the liberals, the Revolution meant political change, but to the revolutionary fighters it meant radical social and economic transformations that Madero would not be able to fulfill. Labour unrest continued and even the Zapatista faction revolted. Revolutionaries from other areas began to challenge the new government.

Meanwhile, Felix Diaz (Porfirio’s nephew) and other counter-revolutionaries plotted a military coup. With the aid of loyal troops under Huerta, Madero initially resisted the Diaz forces, but Huerta changed sides and defeated Madero. Opposition to Huerta began to emerge once he assumed power.

Zapata and others remained in revolt against Huerta. The latter responded by increasing the size of the military. The country faced other problems. The federal treasury was empty, and each faction began issuing its own currency. Importantly, Huerta’s government had not been recognised by the United States. By 1914, Huerta had to resign.

After the fall of Huerta, the country went through another period of civil war and anarchy in which four governments claimed to represent the will of the people: Carranza in Veracruz, Obreg6n in Mexico City, Roque Gonzalez Garza (supported by the Zapatistas), and Villa in Guanajuato.

Later that year, Carranza emerged as the victorious commander of the revolutionary forces with the support of the US. Carranza presented his draft of a constitution to the congress. The final version of the constitution of 1917, however, gave additional rights to the Mexican people.

It was the fruit of the Revolution-an expression of popular wills that guaranteed civil liberties, no presidential succession, and protection from foreign and domestic exploitation to all Mexicans.

After formally accepting the Constitution of 1917, Carranza won the presidential election and was sworn Lito office on 1 May, 1917. Conditions in Mexico were again close to chaos: the economy had deteriorated during the years of civil war, communications had been seriously disrupted, and shortages had led to rampant inflation.

Land and labour remained the basic issues for the Mexican people, but Carranza chose to overlook the constitutional provisions dealing with these issues and returned lands expropriated during the Revolution.

In 1918 fighting continued in Morelos. The Zapatistas in that area, who had very specific grievances, wanted more than a constitution. However, Carranza’s men killed Zapata on 10 April 1919. By 1920 the Mexican Revolution was over with Carranza too being eliminated and General Obregon coming to power.

Bolivian Revolution (1952-1964):

Most of the countries of Latin America had suffered greatly during the Great Depression and Bolivia was no exception. Added to that were the after-effects of the Chaco War (1932-1935) in Bolivia which created outrage amongst the Bolivian population. The War was a result of a border skirmish in the disputed Chaco region with Paraguay.

The war effort mobilised a large part of the population of indigenous and mestizo peasants, and created a lot of dissatisfaction and social ferment. So much so, the so-far ineffectual left wing could galvanise an outrage against the political system that had produced a war. Several political parties were formed including three socialist parties and two pro-fascist parties.

The most talented leadership was from the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), which dropped its fascist tendencies. In 1952, after years of repression of the middle class from the right wing rulers, the MNR organised a revolt against the regime.

Under Paz Estenssoro’s presidency in July 1952, the government established universal suffrage, with neither literacy nor property requirements thus increasing the population of eligible voters.

The government also moved quickly to control the armed forces, purging many officers associated with past conservative party regimes and drastically reducing the forces’ size and budget.

The government then began the process, of nationalising all mines of the three great tin companies turning two-thirds of Bolivia’s mining industry over to a semi-autonomous enterprise to run state-owned mines, the Mining Corporation of Bolivia (Comibol).

This was followed by a far-reaching agrarian reform. The government decreed the Agrarian Reform Law, which abolished forced labour and established a programme of expropriation and distribution of the rural property of the traditional landlords to the Indian peasants.

Only estates with low productivity were distributed. More productive small and medium-sized farms were allowed to keep part of their land and were encouraged to invest new capital to increase agricultural production.

During the first years of the revolution, miners, wielded extraordinary influence within the government based on the miners’ decisive role in the fighting of April 1952. Miners organised the Bolivian trade union federation (Central Obrera Boliviana -COB), which demanded radical change as well as participation in the government and benefits for its members.

The peasants also exerted a powerful influence and the MNR eventually gained control of the peasants.

During the presidency of Siles Zuazo (1956-60) the United States economic aid reached its highest level. Advised by the United States government and the IMF, the Siles Zuazo regime then in power reduced inflation with a number of politically dangerous measures, such as the freezing of wages.

Conflicts within the MNR increased during Paz Estenssoro’s second term (1960-64). Paz Estenssoro endorsed the “Triangular Plan,” which called for a restructuring of the tin-mining industry demanding the end of the workers’ control over Comibol operations, the retrenchment of workers, and a reduction in their salaries and benefits which was strongly opposed by the COB. Moreover, rivalry among peasant groups often resulted in bloody feuds that further weakened the Paz Estenssoro government.

The country faced severe economic problems as a result of the changes enacted by the government. The nationalisation of the mines had a negative effect because of the lack of technical expertise and capital to modernise the ageing plants. Agricultural production too faced a decline in the first years of the revolution.

Although anarchy in the countryside was the main reason for the decrease in production, the peasants’ inability to produce for a market economy and the lack of transport facilities contributed to the problem. High inflation, primarily caused by social spending, also hurt the economy.

The divisions within the MNR seriously weakened its attempt to incorporate the support of the Indian peasants, the workers, and the middle class for the government. In 1952 the MNR was a broad coalition of groups with different interests. The bankrupt economy increased the factionalism within the MNR.

Because the majority of the MNR elite wanted a moderate course and the left wing demanded radical change, the polarisation increased and eventually led to the destruction of the MNR in 1964.

During its twelve-year rule, the MNR had failed to build a firm basis for democratic, civilian government. Increasing factionalism, open dissent, ideological differences, policy errors, and corruption weakened the party and made it impossible to establish an institutional framework for the reforms. Not even the peasants, who were the main beneficiaries of the revolution, consistently supported the MNR.

The MNR had succeeded because it could unify several major political forces of the country: the miners, the armed forces and large sections of the middle class and the peasants, which was the fourth group that emerged after the revolution. The MNR failed for the same reason-it was unable to maintain this coalition.

Nicaraguan Revolution:

The dictatorship established under General Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua was one of the most enduring in Central America’s political history. The most basic reasons for the success of the Somoza dynasty was its control of the US-created National Guard, a mixed military police force that monopolised armed power within Nicaragua and a constant cultivation of US support.

As long as the economy continued to grow and the traditional elite and the opposition parties got a share in the profits, they largely accepted this state of affairs. The devastating earthquake of 1972 almost caused a breakdown of this entire structural set up, but the system managed to survive with US support.

This only served to increase the popular discontent with the Somoza regime. The Sandinista National Liberation Front guerrillas (FSLN) increased their activities. The killing of Nicaragua’s leading newspaper publisher and opposition ruler Carlos Fonseca Amador in January 1978 by Somoza’s business associates resulted in national defiance and international indignation. A series of popular uprisings and heavy fighting by the FSLN along with international opposition compounded the dictator’s problems.

A mediation process led by the OAS collapsed during January 1979, when president Somoza refused to hold a national plebiscite and insisted on staying in power until 1981.

As fighting increased, the Nicaraguan economy faced a severe economic crisis, with a sharp decline in agricultural and industrial production, as well as high levels of unemployment, inflation, defence spending, and capital flight. The government debt also increased mostly as a result of defence, expenditures and the gradual suspension of economic support from all international financial institutions.

On 1 February 1979, the Sandinistas established the National Patriotic Front (Frente Patriotico Nacional-FPN), which included Los Doce, the PLI, and the Popular Social Christian Party (Partido popular Social Cristiano -PPSC).

The FSLN launched its final offensive during May, just as the National Guard began to lose control of many areas of the country. In a year’s time, bold military and political moves had changed the FSLN from one of many opposition groups to a leadership role in the anti-Somoza revolt.

On 19 July 1979 the Sandinistas entered Managua bringing to an end the longest lasting family dictatorship in the Latin American history.

The five-member junta consisting of Daniel Jose Ortega Saavedra of the FSLN, Moises Hassan Morales of the FPN, Sergio Ramirez Mercado of Los Doce, Alfonso Robelo Callejas of the MDN, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of La Prensa’s editor entered the Nicaraguan capital and assumed power, reiterating its pledge to work for political pluralism, a mixed economic system, and a non-aligned foreign policy.

The new government inherited a country in ruins, with a stagnant economy and a debt of about US$1.6 billion. Most Nicaraguans saw the Sandinista victory as an opportunity to create a system free of the political, social, and economic inequalities of the almost universally hated Somoza regime.

The first or immediate goal of the new government was the reconstruction of the national economy. The new government enacted the Agrarian Reform Law, beginning with the nationalisation of all rural properties owned by the Somoza family and their associates representing more than 20 per cent of Nicaragua’s cultivable land.

These farms became state property under the new Ministry of Agrarian Reform. Financial institutions, all in bankruptcy from the massive capital flight during the war, were also nationalised.

The second goal of the Sandinistas was a change in the old government’s pattern of repression and brutality. Most prisoners accused of injustices under the Somoza regime were given a trial and the Ministry of Interior forbade cruelty to prisoners. Amnesty International and other human rights groups found the human rights situation in Nicaragua greatly improved.

The third major goal of the country’s new leaders was the establishment of new political institutions to consolidate the revolution. This was done by abolishing the constitution, presidency, Congress, and all courts through the proclamation of the Fundamental Statute of the Republic of Nicaragua on 22 August 1979.

The junta ruled under emergency powers. National government policy, however, was generally made by the nine-member Joint National Directorate (Direction Nacional Conjunto-DNC), the ruling body of the FSLN. A consultative corporatist representative assembly, the Council of State approved laws submitted to it by the junta.

The junta, however, had the right of veto and retained control over much of the budget. The membership of the junta changed during its early years. By 1983 the junta was reduced to three members, with Daniel Ortega clearly playing the lead role.

Immediately after the revolution, the Sandinistas had the best- organised and most experienced military force in the country, a new national army, the Sandinista People’s Army (Ejercito Popular Sandinista-EPS), as well as a police force, the Sandinista Police (Politia Sandinista -PS).

The new Sandinista government was not universally welcomed. On the domestic front, the ethnic minorities from the Caribbean coast rejected Sandinista efforts to incorporate them into the national mainstream. The United States government accused the government of supplying arms to guerrillas in El Salvador and even supported groups of counter-revolutionaries known as Contras.

The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church distrusted the Sandinista ideology and although supportive of the anti-Somoza movement during the late 1970s, opposed the Sandinista regime in the 1980s.

On 4 November 1984, about 75 per cent of the registered voters went to the polls. The FSLN won 67 per cent of the votes, the presidency, and sixty-one of the ninety-six seats in the new National Assembly.

Daniel Ortega began his six-year presidential term on 10 January 1985- The Reagan ministration ordered a total embargo on United States trade with Nicaragua the following month, accusing the Sandinista regime of threatening United States security in the region. The FSLN government responded by suspending civil liberties.

The media of the church as well as the conservative newspaper La Prensa were censored or closed for various periods and the Sandinista government was forced to divert more and more of its economic resources from economic development to defence against the Contras.

An additional step toward the solution of the Nicaraguan conflict was taken at a summit of Central American presidents held on 15 January 1988, when President Daniel Ortega agreed to hold direct talks with the Contras, to lift the state of emergency, and to call for national elections.

In March the FSLN government met the representatives of the Contras and signed a cease-fire agreement. By mid-1988, international institutions had demanded that the Sandinistas launch a drastic economic adjustment programme as a condition for resumption of aid. This new economic programme imposed further hardship on the Nicaraguan people.

With the country becoming bankrupt and the loss of economic support from the economically strapped Soviet Union, the Sandinistas decided to move up the date for general elections in order to convince the United States Congress to end all aid to the Contras and to attract potential economic support from Europe and the United States.

The FSLN government reinstated political freedoms. Many Nicaraguans expected the country’s economic crisis to deepen and the Contra conflict to continue if the Sandinistas remained in power.

In contrast, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro promised to end the unpopular military draft, bring about democratic reconciliation, and promote economic growth and won in the 25 February 1990, elections. The FSLN accepted its new role of opposition and handed over political power to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and the UNO coalition on 25 April 1990.

Cultural Revolution:

The Nicaraguan Revolution brought many cultural improvements and developments. Undoubtfully, the most important was the planning and execution of the Nicaraguan Literacy Campaign Cruzada Nacional de Alfabetizacion). The literacy campaign used secondary school students, university students as well as teachers as volunteer teachers.

Within five months they reduced the overall illiteracy rate from 50.3% to 12.9%.As a result, in September 1980, UNESCO awarded Nicaragua with the “Nadezhda K. Krupskaya” award fortheir successful literacy campaign. This was followed by the literacy campaigns of 1982, 1986, 1987,1995 and 2000, all of which were also awarded by UNESCO.

The Revolution also founded a Ministry of Culture, one of only three in Latin America at the time, and established a new editorial brand, called Editorial Nueva Nicaragua and, based on it, started to print cheap editions of basic books rarely seen by Nicaraguans at all.

It also founded an Instituto de Estudios del Sandinismo (Institute for Studies of Sandinismo) where it printed all of the work and papers of Augusto C. Sandino and those that cemented the ideologies of FSLN as well, such as Carlos Fonseca, Ricardo Morales Aviles and others.

The key large scale programs of the Sandinistas received international recognition for their gains in literacy, health care, education, childcare, unions, and land reform.

Military:

Since the political project of the Revolution was an “anti- imperialist, classist, popular and revolutionary” project the growth of the military was also a direct consequence of the Revolution.

As early as 1981 (1980 to some evidence) an anti-Sandinista movement, the Contrary revolution (Counter-revolution) -or just Contras, was already taking form and place along the border with Honduras.

An armed conflict would then arise in no time, adding to the ongoing civil wars across Central America. Later, Contras, heavily backed up by the CIA and, although secretly, by members of the US Government, opened a second “front” in the Atlantic coast and Costa Rican border of the country, thus making the 80’s an even more stressful decade.

With the civil war opening up cracks in the national revolutionary project, the military budget grew in numbers of money and men. The Servicio Militar Patriotico (Patriotic Military Service), a compulsory draft, was established to help defend the Revolution.

1990 General Elections:

The 1990 Nicaraguan General Elections marked a setback for the Sandinista Leadership. The winner of the elections, UNO (Union Nacional Oppositora, or National Opposition Union), a coalition of political parties, was devised to match the strength of FSLN political front and to access the presidential chair.

The candidate for UNO was Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a member of the original Junta de Reconstruction Nacional (National Reconstruction Junta) and widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated by Somoza on January 10, 1978. For FSLN, the same formula that won the 1984 General Elections was presenting its candidacy for a new term: Daniel Ortega for President of Nicaragua, and Sergio Ramirez for Vice-president.

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