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Feminine Power: The Guerilla Women of Nicaragua

08 Dec

When living in a nation such as America, people aren’t easily restricted to their human rights and freedom of speech, since many battles were fought to maintain America as the “Land of the Free”.  Although Americans are granted the privilege of freedom, many can’t handle being free and living without having fear of losing their families, friends, and relatives due to social and governmental injustices. Such as in the novel, One Day of Life by Manilo Argueta, the writer centralizes the view of peasant women, who are tired of being repressed and fearful of losing their families due to the abusive Government during the Salvadoran Civil War. Similarly, the poor nation of Nicaragua was ruled under an oppressive dynasty of men, specifically, father and sons for forty years. Accordingly, Nicaragua became a prison, and the dictators were the warden; they took away their human and gender rights, and their economic stability all throughout. Evidently, the repression led to the rise of one the most notorious rebel/guerilla groups in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Front of National Liberation (FSLN). The FSLN stood their ground as being the Nicaraguan suppressers; they were about the people and their human and gender rights, trying to gain a fearless and equal Nicaragua. As to say, that Nicaraguan women became the basis for social change under the Sandinista Front of National Liberation. Under Sandinista leadership, Nicaraguan women began to break away from stereotypical gender roles, thus becoming social and political fighters in order to change society’s view on women and aid to overthrow an unjust government.

Courtesy: galeon.com
In the late 1960’s through early 1980’s, Nicaragua suffered under an unjust and abusive dictator, Anastasio Somoza-Debayle. Somoza-Debayle was the third child of the first intolerant dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia, and brother of deceased mild-dictator, Luis Somoza Debayle; a dynasty of Somoza men, who equally abused human and gender rights. Obviously, a nation, especially the people can take so much abuse and repression, but ultimately they are going to revolt and stand up against the dictator. Evidently, in 1961, three young men took the challenge, Carlos Fonseca, Silvio Mayorga, and Tomas Borge formed the most notorious rebel group in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Front of National Liberation (Isbester 27). These young men took the name “Sandinista”, after Nicaragua’s national hero, Augusto Cesar Sandino (Isbester 27), who actually protected Nicaragua from U.S. settlement during his presidency by forming a rebel guerilla group (1927-1933). Unfortunately, Sandino was murdered in 1936, when a coup d’état led by future oppressor, Anastasio Somoza-Garcia broke through, and lashed “the liberal president and installed himself in power” (Ibester 24). Moreover, the FSLN as an organization stood by incorporating gender rights; women being the main subject.

The first vestige of women incorporation in the FSLN military was firstly seen in 1967 during the devastating battle of Pancasán, where nearly the whole FSLN was wiped out. A battle that happened little after Anastasio Somoza-Debayle, ex-head of the Nicaraguan National Guard took control of Nicaragua. It was a battle meant for the fittest, and the FSLN had the short end of the stick in this battle; unfortunately even founding FSLN member Silvio Mayorga, met his match with the torturous National Guard (Isbester 27).  “At that point, there was only one female guerilla fighter with the FSLN, Gladys Baez. She escaped death at Pancasán only because she was recuperating in Managua form the tortures of the National Guard” (Isbester 27). As a result the FSLN took a mini-break from guerilla fighting, since the National Guard won every time and were only inflicting much abuse to the FSLN and “the peasant women in northern Nicaragua” (Isbester 27). The FSLN knew that they needed to change their military tactics to become successful in their governmental take-over, and the women also began to change their tactics to become better involved within this FSLN.

In 1971, Many working class women began to become politically involved by creating neighborhood groups, making the women open their eyes to the injustices. But the women actually partook in the organizations thoroughly, after a devastating earthquake that erupted in Managua, Nicaragua in 1972 (Isbester 28). At this time many of the women were heavily involved in Catholicism, and ingeniously, the Christian-churches “were also centers of anti-regime mobilization” (Isbester 28). Such as the life of a young woman named Amparo, introduced in the book, Still Fighting: The Nicaraguan Women’s Movement 1977-2000, who became involved in the FSLN through the influence of the Catholic church. The church held a concept of, “Liberation Theology, this new doctrine emphasized that the power structure in society denied people their fundamental rights and freedoms…suggested that people who fought against this sinful structure would be performing God’s work and enlightening themselves in the process” (Isbester 2). Thus, Amparo’s Catholic retreat consisted of teaching her about “forming groups, writing memos to share ideas, and communicate those to the illiterate peasants…in other words she learned how to fight back” (Isbester 2). Such as in the novel, One Day of Life, the new priests of Chalatenango, El Salvador had become the positive change in this little pueblo according to narrating protagonist, Guadalupe. “If it hadn’t been for the priests, we wouldn’t have found out about those things that are in our interest. They opened our eyes, nothing more…” (Argueta 32). Therefore, many working class women became better interested in joining the physical military aspect of the FSLN and became effective in the years to come.

As the FSLN became militarily disabled in 1967 due to strategic error, the guerilla group came back in 1974 to make a name for themselves and the women as well. On December 27, 1974, a Sandinista commando consisting of thirteen guerilla fighters, three of which were women, ambushed and “took hostage a diplomatic party held by the American ambassador, Turner Shelton” (Isbester 28). The Sandinista guerilla unit negotiated with the National Guard demanding to liberate fourteen imprisoned Sandinista followers, and weren’t leaving until they did. The FSLN was successful, but recognized that they were successful because, “it was a highly visible and successful action with female guerilla fighters” (Isbester 28).  After, this action the Sandinistas saw that having more women in the military could be the answer to overthrow Anastasio Somoza-Debayle, who actually became more oppressive and abusive after this success.

The Sandinistas picked a new and concise ideology, which “integrated all people into a governing ideology of social justice achieved through group liberation” (Isbester 29). Basing on this ideology, in April 1977, the Sandinistas decided to create an all women’s group that would organize women as women, thus formed the Association of Nicaraguan Women Confronting the National Problem (APRONAC). Accordingly, Sandinista commander Jaime Wheelock called two prominent educated Sandinista women to organize and form AMPRONAC, Lea Guido and Gloria Carrion. The task of organizing a mass movement out of depoliticized and repressed women in the midst of a revolutionary insurrection would be a Herculean task by any calculation (Isbester 31). Both, Guido and Carrion had no hands-on experience on forming and organizing a women’s mass-movement, they only new the formation in theory. Ultimately, Guido and Carrion knew that they had to not lead but create a horizontal [superiors and subordinates] organization, thus called in seven educated and promising Sandinista women. The seven included Leonor Hüper, longtime Sandinista supporter, member of one of the elite families, and future consul general to Los Angeles during the Sandinista years; Milú Vargas, daughter of the leader of the Conservative Party and future drafter of the Nicaraguan constitution; Nora Astorga, future UN ambassador’ and Gladys Baez, the first woman guerilla fighter for the FSLN (Isbester 32). Agreeably, these seven women including Guido and Carrion, “led AMPRONAC, provided it skills such as magazine printing, applied their education to the formation of its political and economic agenda and funded it” (Isbester 33). Although, as a strategy to lure in the working-class and upper-middle class women, AMPRONAC needed to accommodate models that would become appealing to both.

Accordingly, the FSLN came up with an economic platform that the AMPORNAC found as an appealing strategy by convincing the peasant and working-class women. The economic plan consisted on “explaining women’s economic oppression and expanding on women’s economic liberation” (Ibester 37). And this isn’t the end of the economic platform, it also promised, “to eliminate prostitution…and raise the political, cultural, and vocational level of women” (Ibester 37). And for the upper-middle class women, they were promised a political standpoint. “Both groups [poor and bourgeois] were attracted to AMPRONAC’s and the FSLN’s platforms which promised a new understanding of women’s participation in society” (Isbester 39). In August 1977, four months after Guido and Carrion’s involvement in the AMPRONAC, more than sixty women joined, and the first assembly was underway. In the first assembly, “they adopted three objectives: to fight for the participation of the Nicaraguan women in the study and for the solution of national problems; to defend the rights of Nicaraguan women in any and all sectors of their life, be it economic, social, or political and to fight against all human rights violation” (Isbester 34). And a month after the first assembly, in September 1977, AMPRONAC had its first public act, “it denounced human rights abuses in the countryside by bringing one thousand peasants into Managua to tell their stories” (Isbester 34). This act actually gained national and international interest, “calls and letters from concerned women in other cities…wanted to organize themselves and follow suit. AMPRONAC chapters were founded in Chinadega, Leon, Matagalpa, and Carazo” (Isbester 34).  AMPRONAC was beginning to look like a women’s mass-movement but unfortunately couldn’t be considered, since there were only twenty-five or so members at the end of 1977. But fortunately, a tragedy built the group back up again.

As stated before, in January 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a newspaper editor of La Prensa, who opposed and trash talked Anastasio Somoza-Debayle’s was assassinated, but became a great turning point to the AMPRONAC. As proof, “AMPRONAC presented the assassination as proof that no one was safe from the dictator” (Isbester 35). Numerous upper-class and middle-class women joined the working-class women in AMPRONAC, and in the social change. And with the help of the upper and middle-class influence the AMPRONAC occupied the United Nations building for twelve days in January 1978 (Isbester 35). The AMPRONAC women created a national strike to protest Chamorro’s death, but Somoza’s National Guard turned against the women inflicting imprisonment and torture. And it was time for the FSLN to step in and begin to get more peasant/working-class women in the military.

Ridiculously but effective, the FSLN wasn’t as trusting of the upper and middle class women taking over the social change and leaving the working/peasant women out of the change. Therefore, the FSLN “was pushing for more involvement from the poorer barrios, where the women were suffering from greater abuses of all kinds” (Isbeter 36). The FSLN assumed that it would be easier to mobilize women around the concept of a politically active woman (Isbester 36). And since the working-class and peasant women were actually okay with the fact of physical fighting, they became more militant. And so “AMPRONAC garnered more support in the poorer neighborhoods than in the richer ones by integrating socioeconomic rights with political rights” (Isbester 36). Ideally, women partaking in warfare created walls of gender equality, “women being warriors shattered the concept of women as creators of life and men as destroyers of it” (Isbester 38). As the numbers grew, by the end of 1978 AMPRONAC, “numbered three thousand members, making one of the largest group of the opposition” (Isbester 41). In September 1978, APRONAC concentrated and began to train and ready the women for battle, thus the AMPRONAC had to ready itself for the insurrection, “it built emergency medical clinics, stored supplies, built bombs and barricades, spied on and harassed the National Guard, carried messages, hid combatants, and joined the armed fight” (Isbester 42). During this final insurrection, “the activities of FSLN female guerilla fighters meshed with those of AMPRONAC…they would fundamentally change themselves and the political role and understanding of women” (Isbester 42).


On July 19, 1979, the women fighters ambushed into Managua, Nicaragua, in the National palace where the weakened Somoza-Debayle was conquered and taken over by the Guerilleras and Sandinista combatants. “AMPRONAC’s actions delegitimized the dictatorship and mobilized ten thousand women to protest, resist, and literally to battle the Somoza-Debayle dictatorship” (Isbester 42).  According to Lea Guido, founding AMPRONAC organizer stated “We were successful because we learned how to organize women in the national struggle while at the same time organizing around problems specific to women. We always looked at the situation from a women’s point of view” (Isbester 43).  And according to general Clara Murguialday , “AMPRONAC emphasized the necessity that women organize themselves in order to defend their rights and obtain full social and political participation ‘because only by doing so are we able to guarantee the total destruction of the system of women’s discrimination and oppression’” (Isbester 43). This was clearly a women’s win, they broke their gender roles, becoming women of combat and full of rage and fear for their families, thus being the courage to tame and lead Somoza-Debyle into exile.

As society has a highly misconception of women, mainly seeing women as delicate and feeble humans that don’t have the same strength and guts as men do, is quite wrong. Agreeably, both women roles in the novel One Day of Life, and the uproar of Sandinista women in Nicaragua have broken the gender roles in time of repression and oppression. As the notorious rebel group FSLN based its morals on human rights and gender equality, it influenced many Nicaraguan women to become involved in the social and political aspects of overthrowing an oppressive dictator. Even though women were the victors of the Somoza-Debayle dictatorship, but the women will still get no respect in later years and the new reigning governments will screw them over with no women rights. Leading to a better knowledge of fighting the oppressors and keeping their heads high and do what they do best,  Fight!

Work Cited

1. Isbester, Katherine . Still Fighting: the Nicaraguan Women’s Movement, 1977-2000. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Print.

2. Argueta, Manilo. One Day of Life. New York: Vintage Books(Random House Inc.) , 1980. Print.

Pictures

Banner: “Guerilla FSLN Mural”. http://www.indymedia.ie.com. 2003.

1. “FSLN Propaganda”. http://www.galeon.com. 1985.

2. “Mujer”. http://www.nicaraguasc.org.uk. 1979

3. “FSLN Woman”. http://www.redportamerica.com. 1994

4. “FLSN/Nicaragua Flag pin”. http://www.flickr.com. 2005

Video

1. Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQnpwOpc6fc

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