A Crisis Erupts in Central America
During the summer of 1979 an unusual thing happened to Central America: it became important in the eyes of others. The focus of attention was Nicaragua--physically the largest country in Central America, but even so a tiny nation with a total population of less than three million. What attracted attention were the convulsive events of a political revolution. The Nicaraguan people were carrying out a massive popular uprising against the corrupt and repressive Somoza dictatorship, which had dominated the country for over four decades. Their struggle captured the attention and imagination of North Americans, who were able to witness its progress on the nightly news. Television brought home to those viewers the indiscriminate brutality of the Somoza regime: scenes of the National Guard beating civilians, and glimpses of the Air Force bombing civilian neighborhoods, were daily fare. U.S. audiences even witnessed the senseless murder of American news reporter Bill Stewart by a young National Guardsman. The widespread revulsion provoked by these events hastened the rift between the Somoza regime and the U.S. government, which had long been its principal benefactor. 1 Lacking essential support from abroad and facing an armed mass uprising at home, the Somocista political system crumbled throughout the month of June. When Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami in mid- July the regime collapsed totally.
Nicaragua's insurrection brought to power a political movement, the Sandinista Front of National Liberation (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN), that was committed to a revolutionary transformation of the society. In the eyes of U.S. officials Nicaragua was now perceived as strategically important--not so much in its own right, but for what it portended. Nicaragua's troubles could easily be repeated elsewhere because the conditions that had provoked the popular uprising there were equally present, even if in unique con-