The Churches in a Revolutionary Society
Nearly all Nicaraguans would agree that July 19, 1979, began a new era in the nation's history--but not all would agree that Sandinista rule is fulfilling the promise evoked by the dawning of that new era. At the time of the triumph the country's most immediate task was the reconstruction of a devastated land, both materially and morally. In the final two months of the insurrection Somoza's struggle to retain power became indiscriminate. He authorized heavy bombing of key cities, where even the churches became targets for attack. The Sandinistas came to power determined to assert Nicaraguan sovereignty and effect a social revolution, but the political system they had conquered was in a state of near-total collapse: the old political institutions had lost legitimacy and the bureaucracy was in disarray. In short, the FSLN faced the task of nation-building in the broadest sense. As the Sandinistas saw it, their nation-building project hinged on two primary objectives: creating new political institutions responsive to the needs of the poor majority, and pursuing a nonaligned foreign policy. 1
As Nicaragua set out on a revolutionary course in 1979, it contrasted sharply with Mexico in 1910, and Cuba in 1959. In those two earlier cases the Catholic church had set its face against the revolution. The leaders of the Mexican Revolution responded with a harsh anticlericalism, while the Fidelistas in Cuba paid little heed to the church as they embarked on a program of revolutionary change that was heavily inspired by Marxism. In neither case was the church expected, or encouraged, to play any significant role in the nation-building process launched by the revolution. In Nicaragua, on the other hand, it was evident that a large number of Christians proffered active support to the revolution and accepted the legitimacy of Sandinista leadership.