A Latin American Revolution: The Sandinistas, the Cold War, and Political Change in the Region, 1977-1990
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Jarquin, Mateo Cayetano
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CitationJarquin, Mateo Cayetano. 2019. A Latin American Revolution: The Sandinistas, the Cold War, and Political Change in the Region, 1977-1990. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractInspired by Fidel Castro’s proclamation of a socialist Cuba in 1961, armed groups throughout Latin America pursued violent struggle as a means to redistribute wealth and transform their societies. Unlike most of their contemporaries, however, Nicaragua’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) actually succeeded in taking power (1979-1990). Though unique and short-lived, their victory was no aberration. In fact, when seen from the Latin American perspective, the Nicaraguan Revolution was – like the Cuban and Mexican revolutions before it – a true watershed that reconfigured the region’s political landscape.
Departing from the existing literature’s narrow focus on U.S. intervention, this project draws on archival and oral history sources from Managua, Havana, Mexico City, Panama City, and San José. Nicaragua’s revolutionary process was, from the moment regional actors conspired to topple the U.S.-backed Somoza regime, deeply intertwined with wider Latin American politics. Because of this internationalized quality, events in Nicaragua set off revolutionary changes elsewhere in Latin America, even as the FSLN failed to achieve social transformation at home. The first seizure of state power by the armed Left since Cuba, and the inability of U.S. intervention to reverse it, forced regional governments to build peace in Central America by creating democratic transitions where all actors – including the previously marginalized Left – could participate legitimately. This process entailed a re-ordering of hemispheric international relations because Latin American countries, having identified U.S. intervention as a threat to regional peace and autonomy, excluded Washington from these South-South discussions in unprecedented fashion. Thus, the Sandinistas both reflected and propelled a wider revolution that took place in Latin America in the late-Cold War; though they lost power, their project inadvertently helped build the region’s Third Wave of democratization and set the stage for a revised (though still hegemonic) role for the U.S. after 1990. In making this argument, this dissertation suggests that the adoption of liberal democracy in the so-called Third World was a historically specific response to the challenges posed by the superpower interventions and ideologically fueled revolutions of the Cold War.
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