Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Nicaragua: The 40-Year Revolution

In 1979, a revolution led by Sandinista guerrillas overthrew an entrenched dynastic regime in Nicaragua.

The Sandinistas promised land reform, universal literacy and health care, expanded rights for women and minority groups, and a government that would respond to basic needs in their impoverished country. They had been in power only a short time when the “contra” rebellion, encouraged and financed by the United States, emerged to challenge their power. During the 1980s Nicaragua became a Cold War battleground, with Washington, Havana, and Moscow jousting for power and influence. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans died in this conflict.

Forty years later, the revolution remains unresolved.

What have been its victories? What have been its failures? What have been its unintended consequences? What are the sources of civil strife and political conflict that have led to a new crisis in Nicaragua today? In the Spring of 2019, the Watson Institute held an unprecedented conference exploring the history and legacy of this unfinished revolution. Out of that conference came this short film telling the story of the Sandinista Revolution from the people who lived it.

The People

Nicaragua 2019 conference participants

This film brings together senior figures who shaped Nicaragua during the Sandinista era—politicians, diplomats, academics, public intellectuals, and journalists—to assess the revolution and its lessons, tell its stories, and leave a legacy for history. Learn who they are.

The Conference

Taking place from May 2-4, 2019, the conference brought together scholars and key actors from the Revolution. Sessions included, but where not limited to; "Managua and Washington in the Early Years of Sandinista Power", "The Sandinista Revolution and the Contra War in a Global Context", "The Press: The Revolution as a Force that Gives us Meaning?", "Women & Ethnic Minorities: Did Revolution Change the Power Dynamic?", and "Literature of the Revolution". View conference recordings here.

The Podcast

We at Trending Globally at the Watson Institute asked many of the conference guests -- including former Sandinista fighters, diplomats, foreign correspondents, scholars, and activists -- to help us tell the story of this Revolution. Coming this Fall on Trending Globally, the story of the Sandinista Revolution from the people who lived it, and an exploration of how it brought Nicaragua to crisis today. Subscribe to Trending Globally (on Soundcloud or your favorite podcasting app) to get the first episode when it comes out.