Sandinista Policies: The Peasantry
Agriculture is the key sector in Nicaragua's economy. Today, as in 1979, about 60 to 70 percent of Nicaragua's nearly 3 million people obtain the bulk of their resources directly from the land.1 Roughly half of them are peasants or campesinos -- direct agrarian producers cultivating parcels of land that they own or rent.
On the eve of the Sandinista takeover, the remaining 30 to 40 percent of Nicaragua's rural population included large and medium-sized "capitalist" landowners, seasonal farm workers, and full-time plantation wage laborers. A large proportion of the peasant proprietors also engaged in temporary or seasonal forms of wage labor to supplement their subsistence incomes.
Before 1979, Nicaragua's agricultural economy was dominated neither by foreign corporations nor by large quasi-feudal haciendas. During the previous 30 years the latter had been gradually displaced by capitalist agro-export farming on latifundios, or large estates. By 1978, the "rural bourgeoisie" accounted for about 9 percent of the rural population; it owned 84.8 percent of the nation's farmland and focused on agro-exporting. The bourgeoisie included large owners with holdings in excess of 350 acres and small and medium-sized owners with farms ranging in size