Democracy and Socialism: Latin American and Nicaraguan

Harry E. Vanden, University of South Florida


When it took power in July 1979, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua did not have any well-developed theory of Marxis democracy on which to draw. Nor did it have fully democratic Marxist models on which to base its praxis or on which it could rely for support, sustenance, and encouragement to develop its own democratic Marxism. There were few real-world examples and little support from actual nation states to develop a democratic form of socialism, and even fewer to do so within the specific historic conditions of Nicaragua. The absence of these factors made the construction of such a democratic socialism difficult. It also retarded the development of sufficient confidence to sustain truly unique democratic institutions in the face of increasing external pressure from the United States and decreasing support from the Easter European countries. Both the United States and the Soviet Union though their respective model was the best for the Nicaraguans. Even though the Soviets were more subtle, both superpowers were to some degree uncomfortable with a uniquely Nicaraguan road to development and emocracy that would break radically from teh Eastern and Western models. Ironically, each side believed that developments in Nicaragua were wholly inadequate and indicative of either dominance by Western influences (from the prespective of the socialist East) or communism (from the perspective of the capitalist West). The socialist states were, however, clearly more willing to support Nicaragua because the ideology was nominally Marxist (even though the economic and political systems were very different from those in Easter Europe). The socialist states also realized that Nicaragua's newly found independent, nonaligned stance threatened the traditional hegemony that the United States had exercised in the Caribbean Basin.