edited by

Paul Wehr

Heidi Burgess

Guy Burgess

Lynne Rienner Publishers

Boulder & London


Violence, Nonviolence, and Justice

in Sandinista Nicaragua

Paul Wehr & Sharon Erickson Nepstad

A society undergoing massive discontinuous change such as Nicaragua in the 1980s is not where one would expect to find the achievement of justice without violence. Political revolutions have been generally characterized by considerable violence. Successful insurrections move quickly to consolidate their power, leaders compete for constituencies, scores are settled, and elements opposed to radical change may challenge the revolutionary regime. Violence in Sandinista Nicaragua was, however, unusual on two counts. First, it was stimulated and executed to a very large degree from the outside. Second, it was limited by a number of constraints on violence having both practical and theoretical implications for justice attainment.

Assessing the violence-justice relationship in Sandinista Nicaragua is considerably more difficult than in more repressive and less equitable Guatemala, for example. Social justice was a guiding principle of Sandinista policy and, since losing power in 1990, Sandinista organizations have struggled to preserve the agrarian reform and social welfare structures they put in place in the 1980s.

Despite- its intention to make Nicaraguan society more just and peaceful, the Sandinista revolution did give rise to deep conflicts over perceived injustices. There were regions and groups within Nicaragua with real grievances against the Sandinista state. Where these grievances produced open conflict, those opposing the state used both violent and nonviolent means to achieve what they felt was justice. Our focus in this study is upon the nonviolent methods used on all sides.

Those justice conflicts had diverse origins. Sharp ideological divisions developed rapidly after the fall of Anastasia Somoza in 1979. Marxists of every persuasion struggled both with one another and with democratic socialists. Mainstream Catholics took on liberation theologians, and both of them had uneasy relations with Protestant groups along the Atlantic Coast. Political pluralists resisted creation of a unitary state while pacifists criticized the growth of a militarized state. Those of the privileged class who had remained fought the Sandinista government as it confiscated property, developed mass education and health programs, and organized agricultural and industrial cooperatives.

Political and economic destabilization from the outside was a second major stimulator of conflict. The U.S. government's policy to derail the Sandinista revolution may have been the most intensive national destabilization program in history. The Contra resistance,.and to a much lesser degree the Yatama movement, were supplied and organized from the outside.

A third stimulator of violence was the constant militarization going on in Nicaragua in the 1980-1988 period. This factor was largely a reflection of East-West military competition in Central America-the United States in sharp opposition to Sandinism and other armed insurrections, and Cuba and the Soviet Union supporting them. Whatever their origins, political conflicts in Nicaragua rapidly became armed conflicts as weapons spread throughout the population. More military and paramilitary forces and armed civilians intensified the potential for violent challenges to state authority and equally violent responses.

A number of additional factors increased the potential for violence in Sandinista Nicaragua. There were residual class divisions. Though much of the privileged class had left Nicaragua, some remained to protect their interests. A second group of privilege was created by the revolution itself as leaders in the Sandinista party, administrative apparatus, and armed forces gained economic and social advantage. Geographical separation aggravated racial and ethnic divisions on the Atlantic Coast as the Sandinistas sought forcibly to integrate it. The general grinding poverty in Nicaragua and the unpopularity of military conscription, begun in 1983, elevated political tensions in the country, increasing the likelihood of intergroup and interpersonal violence.

Despite the estimated fifty thousand casualties resulting from the Contra war alone, there occurred less political violence than one might have predicted given the radically disparate justice goals pursued, the number of armed citizens, and the level of economic and social restructuring going on at the time. This lower-than-expected incidence of violence is explained, we think, in the violence-inhibiting, conflict-moderating, justice-producing constraints operating in Nicaraguan society. Our purpose here is to identify the more important constraints and to show how they supported resolution of the two most serious conflicts, the Contra war and the Atlantic Coast resistance. We will, in conclusion, suggest some implications of the Nicaraguan experience for justice attainment without violence.


Justice Through Nonviolent Means

We must obviously qualify our description of the two struggles as achieving justice nonviolently because both were characterized initially by armed conflict. But nonviolent means were later used, and those means did lead to settlement of justice grievances. Each conflict, however, produced only partial justice as defined by the challenging parties. The Democratic Resistance, commonly known as the Contras, did see political pluralism introduced and its forces were repatriated. But three years after repatriation, many had yet to be settled on land of their own. The indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Coast did achieve political and cultural autonomy in principle but are still pressing the national government to develop workable autonomy structures. In both cases, however, the challenge groups appear to be better off than they were when they pursued goals through violent means. In both cases, violent conflict was ended within the framework of Esquipulas, the regional peacemaking structure.

The Sandinista-Atlantic Coast Conflict

The conflict between the Nicaraguan government and the Indian and Creole peoples of the Atlantic Coast began soon after the Sandinistas came to power in Managua. The Atlantic Coast had been largely isolated from both the Somoza repression and the Sandinista insurrection. When the Sandinistas sought to integrate the region politically, economically, and administratively, there was quick local resistance. The government sent the national army to impose its control over the region. There followed extended military occupation, the harsh treatment of indigenous communities, armed rebellion by loosely allied paramilitary groups, and mass flight of thirty thousand refugees into neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica.

The grievances of the Atlantic Coast resistance groups against the government were numerous: the killing and imprisonment of community members; destruction of crops and churches; violation of traditional tribal property rights and ethnic cultures; restriction of human rights including the right to refuse military service; and the denial of local self-government.

By 1984, realizing the errors of its coercive policy, the Sandinista government began a two-track conciliation strategy. It first initiated talks with Atlantic Coast political and cultural leaders. These consultations ,would subsequently result in a National Autonomy Commission (1984), elected local peace and autonomy commissions (1986), the drafting of a National Autonomy Law, and its ratification by a Multi-Ethnic Assembly (1987).l Certain Atlantic Coast Sandinistas trusted by both the government and indigenous leaders were central figures in this autonomy-building process.2

The second track involved government negotiation with the Indian resistance leaders in exile. Having formed Yatama in 1987, the latter's goal was the restoration of historical territorial rights, not the multiethnic regional independence permitted in the Autonomy Law. For the Sandinista-Yatama conflict, then, the Esquipulas process provided a conflict management frameworks Within Esquipulas, Nicaragua created a National Reconciliation Commission to resolve the larger Sandinista-Contra conflict and a Conciliation Commission to mediate the more limited Sandinista-Yatama disputes. The Moravian Church, the primary religious organization in the East, acted as the intermediary. In the early 1980s, the Moravians had lost pastors, churches, schools, and hospitals in the Sandinista-Indian war. From 1983 on, however, the Moravian Provincial Board and the Sandinistas had worked together in arranging for cease-fires and in autonomy consultations. The Conciliation Commission consisted mainly of people from the Moravian and Mennonite churches, both known for their traditions of pacifism and conciliation.

From early 1988, the commission mediated the conflict under the most difficult conditions. Oliver North and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were doing their best to inhibit a Sandinista-Indian agreement. That agreement would preclude the united resistance to the Sandinistas the United States sought to build. The mediators had to overcome kidnapping threats, assassination attempts, and.competition among Yatama leaders to craft a settlement. In September 1989, a full agreement was reached with the eleventh-hour intervention of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Thus, the Atlantic Coast challenge to state repression shifted from initial armed response to the nonviolent approacheslof consultation, negotiation, and mediation along both the internally.initiated autonomy track and the externally assisted conciliation track. Certain justice goals -,were achieved through that shift: refugee repatriation; regional self-govern 'me:nt; military demobilization; and reintegration of resistance leaders into the national political system.

The Sandinista-Contra Conflict

The civil war between the Sandinistas and the Contras had quite different origins from the Atlantic Coast conflict. The Contras were not seeking ethnic justice and autonomy as were the Atlantic Coast challengers, but rather the replacement of the Sandinista state with a more conservative, pluralist one. Contra grievances were as diverse as the paths by which Contra leaders came to resist. Many were former National Guard officers seeking a return to something resembling Nicaragua under Somoza. Others were disaffected Sandinistas, fallen away over ideological differences with former insurgent colleagues. They sought a more pluralist social democracy. Most of the Contras were peasants, some forced to serve against their will.


Whatever their personal motives, all but a few of the Contra leaders were organized, armed, and paid by the U.S. government. Its policy of low-intensity warfare was designed to destabilize the Sandinista regime and end its support for other Central American insurgencies.4 With genuine grievances against a radical government and its uncompensated property seizures, Contra leaders were bo ught off with large amounts of U.S. funding.

By 1983, the United States was establishing Contra bases in Honduras and Costa Rica. For the next five years, Contra troops carried economic warfare and political assassination to the Nicaraguan countryside. The Sandinista government responded with military conscription, large increases in military expenditures, and the widespread arming of civilians through local Committees for the Support of the Sandinistas. Military activity was at high levels through the end of 1986. ,,,,,Three sets of external events served to reduce the level of violence in ,the 'Sandinista-Contra conflict after 1986. The first were the Iran-Contra hea rings in Washington in 1986-1987, which obstructed the Reagan administration's Nicaragua policy. The Contras could no longer be supplied. Second, the growing cooperation between the United States and the USSR in arms control and conflict mitigation reduced East-West competition in Latin America. Nicaraguan proxies for that rivalry became increasingly superfluous.

Finally, the Esquipulas peace process from 1987 on was providing both impetus and framework for negotiated settlement of the conflict. Esquipulas called for a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to resolve each civil war in Central America. The Nicaraguan NRC was the first to become operational.

Chairing the Nicaraguan NRC was Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. The Catholic Church played the same central role in the Sandinista-Contra conflict as did the Moravian Church in the Sandinista-Atlantic Coast conflict. The commission worked to implement the peace agreements negotiated in the Esquipulas summit meetings of 1988-1989. Sandinista and Contra negotiators first met under O,bando's auspices early in 1988. Several months of bargaining 'produced the Sapoa agreement and a de facto cease-fire. Esquipulas agreements were subsequently reached for: internationally supervised elections; demobilization and reintegration of Contra forces; and United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) monitoring. Faithful implementation of those agreements produced what we believe to be one of the most successful peacemaking cases of modern times. That process will be more fully explored below.

Although the goals of the challenge groups-local autonomy, political pluralism, demilitarization of the state, an end to conscription, and land to work-were in principle met through the 1990 elections, they had not been fully realized even two years later. In the West demobilized soldiers re- verted to armed threat, as recontras (former Con tras) and recompas (former Sandinista military), to press their demands for land and jobs. On the Atlantic Coast, the indigenous peoples pressing for implementation of the Autonomy Law have not generally reverted to armed threat in their conflict with the national government. By April 1992, all opponents in the East and West were resolving their disputes through negotiation and disarmament agreements.5

Conflictant Power Mixes

One way to analyze how these challenge groups achieved justice is to v iew their power strategies and those of the Sandinistas as mixes of Boulding's three forms of power-threat, exchange, and love (that is, integration). .Most often challenge groups use a mix of these three strategies.6 At any given moment, an extreme approach on the threat end may appear to eclipse integrative efforts at the other. The exchange (that is, negotiation) elements should keep the mix in workable balance-for example, the threat may be kept merely implicit or nonviolent and the integrative force incomplete or tentative.

We would argue that in a conflict, the less violent the mix of power strategies, the more successful the challengers will be in achieving justice. There must be, in such a strategic mix, sufficient threat to escalate changeproducing conflict. That threat, however, need not take the form of violent action. On the other hand, the love, or integrative, inclination cannot be too strong or creative conflict will not occur. The exchange in the mix is the means by which threat and integration are kept at sufficiently moderate levels to permit movement toward justice-oriented change.

Each resistance group and the Sandinista government had a mi.x of power strategies they were using toward their opponent(s). The power mixes of the opponents shifted as the two wars continued. Initially, the mixes were all heavy with threat characterized by violent force. Then, over time, the exchange portions in the mixes expanded, violent sanctions in the threat sector were increasingly supplanted by nonviolent ones, and the integration portions were expanded as negotiation agreements were implemented.

We further propose that such movement toward a less violent strategic mix is encouraged or discouraged by the larger context of a conflict. In Nicaragua, that context was influencing the opponents' strategic mixes away from armed force and consequently was moving the two justice conflicts toward negotiation and settlement.

The Conflict Context

Three types of factors were instrumental in moderating conflict and limit-ing violence, as justice was pursued in the two conflicts: (1) institutional


constraints; (2) normative restraints; and (3) innovative use -of conflict


Institutional Constraints

The political and legal systems in Sandinista Nicaragua tended to limit the coercive capacity of the state. Constitutional guarantees of human and civil rights, judicial grievance procedures, and a popular army close to the people all served to limit any inclination the state might have had to use violence. Though there were attempts at times to silence opposition and restrict political space available to Sandinista challengers, open repression wag rare. When the state did repress, the psychological and political costs to it were so great that it had to retreat and publicly apologize. The political culture of Sandinism would not tolerate much repression.

Socioeconomic structures built by the Sandinistas had violence-inhibiting consequences. Their serious efforts at life-chance redistribution through national health, agrarian reform, education, and basic-needs prograins not only measurably reduced social inequality but provided mediating organizations that could respond to individual and group justice claims. The primary intermediary organizations were the branches of the Sandinista party and its mass organizations built around rural and industrial labor, professionals, women, and students. Of special importance were the cooperatives 7 and the Base Christian Communities within the People's Church, both of which have been important mechanisms for participatory democracy throughout Latin America.8 Such organizations provided multiple grievance channels and safety-valve mechanisms that tended to reduce violent conflict and preserve system legitimacy. These mediating organizations increased social justice, but their influence was to a degree offset by the development of a Sandinista "new class," which tended to distance national leaders from local problems. Still, the organizational density providing for two-way communication and influence between levels of Nicaraguan society probably outweighed any class alienation.

A third set of structural factors were the extensive integrative affiliatioris encouraged by Nicaraguan society and Sandinista organizations. There were cross-cutting religious, political, and social ties that bridged existing cleavages. Religious, family, and friendship links cut across political affiliations to moderate conflict. A notable example is the family of Violeta Chamorro, two of whose children were Sandinistas and two members of the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO). Chamorro used family solidarity as a base to build national solidarity as a conflict-moderating device. Nicaraguans, for her, were all members of the national family. Such safety-valve institutions and cross-cutting affiliations can lead to identification and mitigation of grievances and greater societal solidarity. Where conflict is thus limited, its associative functions can strengthen both the social system generally and specific units within it.9

Finally, violence was reduced in the two justice struggles in question by the relations Nicaragua developed with two external facilitators of justice and nonviolence-the regional peacemaking machinery of Esquipulas 11 and the international movement of solidarity with the Nicaraguan people.

Esquipulas pushed the Sandinistas and their civil war opponents toward negotiated settlement. Most important, it removed the SandinistaContra war from U.S.-Soviet competition. Its summit agreements, its International Commission for Verification and Support (CIAV), and its sponsorship of reconciliation commissions in member countries moved violent conflict into negotiation. The Esquipulas agreement of 1987, "Process For Establishing a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America, created the framework for bringing signatory governments and their insurgent opponents together.10

The Esquipulas agreement set objectives and prescribed specific measures: demilitarization of conflict through cease-fires; refusal of support for and use of territory by insurgents; national reconciliation through negotiated settlements, amnesty for insurgents, and repatriation of refugees; democratization of political systems through free and open elections, ending states of emergency, and protection of human rights; and continuing regional consultation through periodic summits and a parliament.

The attention of the successive Esquipulas summits was almost entirely on resolving Nicaraguan conflicts. Each meeting produced additional steps toward their peaceful resolution: San Jose (1988), a Sandinista-Contra cease-fire and negotiations; San Salvador (1989), agreement on elections and Contra demobilization/repatriation; Tela (1989), supervision o demobilization by the ICVS and request for UN monitoring; Montellimar (1990), postelection transition and Contra disarmament procedures. Nicaragua, then, was at the center of a violence-reduction, justice-producttion process that built a momentum for reducing threat and for increasing exchange and reconciliation in the strategic mix of the opponents.

Nicaragua was also set within an international solidarity and support network that by its very nature discouraged violence and encouraged justice. Through it came international volunteers; material, technical, and financial aid; and pressure from external support organizations on behalf o nonviolence and justice. Its North American segment pressured the U.S. Congress away from military aid. Very important was the physical presence of this network's "sympathetic third parties."12 Working and watching throughout Nicaragua, they served to limit violence and rights violations on all sides.

We have discussed some institutional and structural characteristics o the national and regional settings where Nicaraguan justice struggles were taking place. Those dimensions were damping political violence and encouraging the mitigation of justice grievances. Those constraints were a


Normative Restraints

Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua was also moderated by ethical commitments to reconciliation and justice within the revolution itself. Those commitments were not always honored, but sincere efforts were made to do so. Upon taking power, the Sandinistas abolished the death penalty, prohibited torture, set about to correct the worst of the social injustices, and welcomed reconciliation with dissidents., The Sandinista revolution was gentle as such movements go. Reason not coercion, conciliation not division, nonviolence not violence were to be its guiding principles for transforming society. A good faith effort was made by the Sandinistas to apply those principles. Countering such ethical restraint, however, were sharp ideological and theological conflicts. Marxism confronted conservative Christianity, and the Hispanicized West rejected the religious, political, and racial separatism of the Atlantic Coast. In the face of these sharp conflicts, twlo@ factors were particularly influential in reducing violence-religious values and the participation of women.

Religious values. Elements of both the Catholic and Protestant churches were deeply involved in the justice conflicts in question. Liberation theologians and lay -Catholics helped create the Sandinista state and the theoretical, ideological, and cultural bases for transforming Nicaraguan society.13 The values of religious solidarity, social justice, and nonviolence were therefore tempering policymaking and the state's use of force. An ethical tone was established that afforded political space for nonviolent protest. .

There are numerous documented illustrations of how practicing Christians active in the revolution restrained its violence.14 The Sandinistas acknowledged that involvement in their official statement on religion.

[Christians were involved] to a degree unprecedented in any other revolutionary movement in Latin America and perhaps in the world. The fact opens new and interesting possibilities for the participation of Christians in revolutions elsewhere, not only in the phase of struggle for power, but in the phase of building a new society.15

Time and again, the spirit of reconciliation was evident in the way Sandinistas dealt with their opposition. By way of illustration, Interior Minister TomAs Borge came upon a National Guard officer who had only months before the Sandinista victory tortured, raped, and killed Borge's wife. He took the officer out of the line, who undoubtedly feared he would be executed immediately. Instead, according to the account, Borge told him, "My revenge will be to.pardon you."16

Perhaps the most direct influence of Christianity on reducing violence and facilitating justice occurred in the Base Christian Communities. Through their overlapping membership with Sandinista mass organizations, they worked to "Christianize" the revolution at the local level.

As the Sandinista-Contra war intensified, Christians were using active nonviolence for peace and justice. Father Miguel D'Escoto, Nicaraguan foreign minister in the mid-1980s, led this nonviolence movement. In 1985, D'Escoto launched a nonviolence campaign, Evangelical Insurrection, with a month-long fast during Lent. It was an insurrection, he explained, because Christians of all persuasions could rise up against war, repression, hatred, violence, external intervention-from wherever they came. It was evangelical because he believed nonviolence to be the essence of the Gospel. After Easter, D'Escoto spread his campaign through the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), a two-week, two-hundred-mile walk across Nicaragua. Its purposes were to heal conflict internal to Nicaragua and to move U.S. Americans to work for a conciliatory U.S. policy. As D'Escoto told one interviewer: "This uprising, this protest, uses a different arsenal, with weapons different from the traditional, conventional. . . . The weapons that the Lord wants us to use are nonviolent weapons. The most obvious ones are fasting, prayer, and walking."17

D'Escoto and other priests in the Sandinista government constrained revolutionary excess, constantly urging moderation and nonviolence. D'Escoto was personally intrigued with the potential of nonviolent sanctions. This interest led him to invite to Nicaragua in July 1988 a team of specialists in social defense-the use of nonviolent resistance against either external attack or internal repression. The concept, as an alternative or supplement to military defense, was discussed with government leaders, mass organizations, and the political opposition. 18

Catholic nonviolence was matched from the Protestant side by a, constant search for conciliation. In 1986, partly in response to D'Escoto's insurrection of the year before, Nicaragua's evangelical church council barked on the "Campaign of Fasting and Prayer for Peace and Justice in Nicaragua." Prayer vigils for peace were held throughout the nation, culminating in an all-night vigil by ten thousand in Managua in October.19 Nicaragua's international solidarity community used nonviolent action against violence. Witness for Peace (WFP), for example, had a physical presence from 1983 onward in the war zone, where it had observed that Contra attacks were reduced when international volunteers were present. WFP representatives challenged U.S. warships off the coast in unarmed boats, sailed along border rivers to protest attacks on civilians, and obtained hostage releases.20

The most enduring effort to minimize violence in Nicaraguan conflict, 9

however, was the tradition of pacifism and conciliation among the Moravians and Mennonites. The Moravian tradition of peacemaking stretches back to the Czech reformation of the fifteenth century. Their reconciliation work with the Sandinistas and among the numerous ethnic groups in the


East was a most important force for violence reduction. By 1992, the Moravian leaders in the East were once again mediating conflict, this time between the UNO government and local groups calling for implementation of the Autonomy Law.

The Mennonites' tradition of conscientious refusal to participate in war brought them into direct conflict with Sandinista military conscription. Refusal to bear arms led some Mennonites to officially sanctioned conscientious objector status, others to alternative service, some to imprisonment, and still others to flee the country. Such principled resistance to war and military service presented a complication for Sandinista militarization policy. It may have inhibited Contra recruitment as well. The Mennonites' pacifism also led them to urge that nonviolent resistance be explored as an alternative to military defense against the Contras.

The role of women. Women have been a force for conflict moderation and making in contemporary Nicaragua. They may have a natural inciination toward nonviolent personal and group relations. They have also been a disadvantaged group even during the Sandinista period and thus more sensitive to justice issues being raised by aggrieved groups generally. Such women as Violeta Chamorro, Hazel Law, and Myra Cunningham demonstrated their peacemaking and justice skills in high positions. Elsewhere, women applied those skills in cooperatives and local government and as family heads.

Women appeared to vote heavily against the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections. They did so first because they felt it would end the war. As mothers, they wished to lose no more children to it. A UNO victory, the U.S. government had promised, would end the war. Second, Nicaraguan women are often single parents and managers of the family economy. The economic decline in the later Sandinista years, whatever its causes, was particularly burdensome for women responsible for feeding their families.

Finally, women had grievances against the Sandinistas. Although they had made some gains under Sandinism, its promises of sexual equality, full- political participation, and protected gender rights remained largely unfulfilled.21 The promises of a woman-led UNO coalition to end the war and improve the economy appeared to be sufficiently compelling to women voters. Their voting in itself served to reduce violence levels, at least in the short term.

Conflict Management Experience

A third conflict-moderating force in Sandinista Nicaragua was the skill at conflict settlement that developed there. Nicaraguans learned to innovate while drawing on their own peacemaking traditions. They learned to use third parties to negotiate settlements and to invent solutions where past experience provided none.

Third-party approaches. Nicaraguans quickly learned a good deal about third-party intervention. Use of the insider-partial to mediate disputes appears to be a tradition in Central American societies. The insider-partial is one chosen fr6m within the conflict, known to be more sympathetic to one side but trusted by both because of their personal distinction and institutional prominence.22 Cardinal Obando began such an intermediary role during the rebellion against Somoza. In 1974 and 1978 he mediated hostage negotiations successfully despite his open antipathy toward the Somoza regime.23 Ten years later, with his hostility redirected against the Sandinistas, he was still accepted as head of the National Reconciliation Commission. He mediated the Sapoa cease-fire, the Toncontfn demobilization agreement, and the 1990 electoral transition process.

Violeta Chamorro has played a similar insider-partial role since the 1990 elections. As UNO president, she was obviously anti-Sandinista. Yet, she headed a family representing both sides and chose to retain Sandinista Humberto Ortega as defense minister. In post-election Nicaragua, she built the presidency of the republic into a mediating force, trying to lead the Sandinista and right-wing groups into a concertaci6n process to review and negotiate the conflicting claims of expropriated landowners and those given land titles by the revolution.24

One could even claim that Oscar Arias, the architect of Esquipulas, played an insider-partial role for Nicaragua. He was known to be hostile to Sandinism. As president of Costa Rica, then having border and ref pe problems with Nicaragua, he was a party to the conflict. Yet his stature as Nobel Laureate and head of a traditionally neutral state made him acceptable as mediator.

The Nicaraguans also used outsider-neutral mediators-those brought in from the outside who were ostensibly impartial in the conflict. The United Nations Observer Group--Central America (ONUCA) monitored the Contra demobilization process that included a precedent-setting "swords into plowshares" weapons destruction. Jimmy Carter, representing the Council of Freely Elected Heads of State, mediated and monitored the power transfer process after the 1990 elections.

Negotiation. Nicaraguans on all sides learned to negotiate effectively. In both civil wars, negotiation success required that opponents conceive a preferred outcome that did not require the elimination of either side. In the Sandinista-Contra conflict, internationally supervised elections transformed a win-all/lose-all struggle into one where each side's goals would be at least'partially met regardless of electoral victory or defeat. In the Sandinista-Atiantic Coast conflict, the indigenous peoples retained their cultural identity and local autonomy but within the unified national state required by the Sadinistas.

Perhaps the richest illustration of how well Nicaraguans had learned the negotiation game was the peaceful transition from Sandinista to UNO government. Georg Simmel might easily have been referring to that transition process when he wrote: "The ending of conflict is a specific enterprise. It belongs neither to war nor to peace, just as a bridge is different from either bank it connects.... Such forms in which a fight terminates ... constitute interaction not to be observed under any other circumstances."25

In that tense and ambiguous period of March-April 1990, settlements were negotiated for a series of complex issues-Contra demobilization and reintegration, transfer of governmental power, protection of smallholder property rights, and transformation of security forces. How those agreements were achieved and implemented will be the subject for more than one doctoral dissertation.

Invention. Nicaraguans often used conventional peacemaking approaches but c ombined them with their own original ideas. The Atlantic Coast autonomy process and the 1990 transition procedures are cases in point. There just seemed at the time to be no historical precedents either in indigenous rights protection or in revolutions relinquishing state power peacefully. The Nicaraguans had to "write the handbook" as they went. That handbook was still being written in 1993. Atlantic Coast regional governments must resolve conflict both between themselves and the national government over autonomy and natural resources, and among leaders of ethnic minorities who continue to compete for power and influence.

The need for conflict improvisation hardly diminished in the postSandinista period. Class, political, and ethnic conflicts seemed to intensify with further economic decline and the trauma of a system shift. The most immediate postelection tasks were military demobilization and disarmament. The Sandinista forces, already reduced dramatically from ninety thousand to twenty-eight thousand in 1990, had to be further cut and the twenty thousand Contras disarmed. All those demobilized had to be economically reintegrated. In the initial stage, the UN disarmed fourteen thousand Contras and destroyed their weapons. By March 1992, seventy-four hundred recontras and recompas had also been disarmed through a weapons buy-back plan.

Equally difficult was the problem of civilian disarmament. In the last years of the Contra war, anticipating a U.S. invasion, the Sandinistas had distributed weapons to Sandinista defense committees around the nation. After military demobilization, an estimated one hundred twenty thousand weapons remained in civilian hands.

The Nicaraguans have experimented with different approaches to weapons collection. In 1990, thirty thousand weapons were seized through unannounced vehicle searches and destroyed in a public ceremony. Such a scheme works only once. In 1991, a plan to buy back weapons was devised with funding by the U.S. government. A national commission on disarmament was created with the disarmament plan jointly supervised by a CIAV-OAS team. Nicaragua continues to rely on external third parties for disarmament monitoring. Buy-back prices range from fifty dollars for a handgun to three thousand dollars for an antiaircraft missile-substantial hard currency incentives in a depressed economy. Those who "snitch" on others get police protection, and those who lead the government to arms caches receive 50 percent of their total value.26

Yet another foray into uncharted territory was concertaci6n. UNO and the Sandinista opposition sought agreement on such issues as rights to confiscated and redistributed property, with Chamorro as insider-partial mediator. In the immediate postelection period, there developed a restructuring of political relations in which the two political forces struggled for dominance within the National Assembly and local governments. Their conflicts were and in 1993 continue to be mediated by the presidency. Each side has de facto control of part of the state-the Sandinistas the security forces and their opponents the administrative machinery.

The Sandinistas, as the political opposition, have used nonviolent sanctions to apply their power. Through strikes they have resisted government moves to dismantle the Sandinista social welfare system and to privatize state firms without worker consent. Marches and mass rallies are also frequently used. The civic strike, a total withdrawal of cooperation from a despotic regime, has often been used in Latin America, though contemporary Nicaragua does not present conditions for such an action.27

Will Nicaraguans use more or less violence as they continue to struggle over widely disparate justice goals and equity conceptions? Our prognosis is a mixed one. The distributive justice structures developed during the Sandinista period have been severely weakened. Economic life for the average Nicaraguan has deteriorated. Yet, citizen-government relations continue to be mediated through organizations that facilitate grievance expression. The depoliticization of the armed forces permits a milieu congenial for the use of nonviolent sanctions by aggrieved constituencies. The churches continue to work for justice and reconciliation. There has been some real progress made in weapons reduction.

The Esquipulas process and Nicaragua's global solidarity network, although they have declined in influence, continue as moderating factors. Political restructuring had, by 1993, produced a left-center-right balance and has made a conflict management forum of the National Assembly. An unrestrained press encourages creative release of tension in a political system. Add to all of this the conflict management experience accumulated in Nicaragua, and there remains potential for achieving justice without violence there. A failing economy, a high birth rate, a resurgence of class interests, and personal political rivalries, however, appear to make that increasingly difficult.



We have said that antagonists in Nicaragua's justice struggles learned from painful experience to shift from threat-heavy power strategies to more balanced ones. A conflict-moderating context facilitated those shifts. We have considered the power strategies of threat, exchange, and integration not as mutually exclusive but as complementary elements in an opponent's overall strategy. In theory there may be pure threat, exchange, and integrative strategies. But in practice, a mix of them operates in any relationship.

Both of the challenge movements initially responded to Sandinista policies with threat-heavy strategies that were ineffective for their pursuit of justice. By 1984 the leaders of the Atlantic Coast resistance were in exile with their forces scattered as refugees. By 1988 the Contras were essentially defeated, a fact increasingly clear as the U.S. government withdraws its support. Pure threat had been costly and ineffective for both groups.

As the element of exchange increased, and extreme threats were mod-erated and reconciliation first appeared, the altered strategic mix encouraged the emergence of peace and justice. On the Atlantic Coast the autonomy agreement was constructed. A Sandinista-Contra cease-fire was followed by agreement on new elections, demobilization, and reintegration. In each conflict, one side or both decided to change their strategic mix with positive consequences for peace.

It is in the exchange process that threat reduction and conciliation enhancement are actively pursued. As opponents communicate, clarify positions and interests, and trade concessions, threat is reduced. Mere civility may give way to genuine mutual respect.

We have suggested there may be certain conditions necessary for the right threat/exchange/conciliation mix to emerge. In the Nicaraguan case, we identified institutional, normative, and experiential factors in the national context encouraging such strategic mixes conducive to settlement. External intervenors from Esquipulas, the international solidarity community, the United Nations, and the OAS all reinforced internal factors.

Can we extract a "power mix" model for nonviolent justice attainment from the Nicaraguan experience? Could not societies and their governments learn to consciously structure their challenges and responses to reduce armed force in the threat component, perhaps replacing it with disciplined nonviolent sanctions? Could they not learn to enhance the role of love in the integrative element, through religious values, national solidarity, and other integrative forces? Could they not increase the exchange capacity of their nation, using both indigenous and foreign conflict resolution techniques.

It might be argued that challenge groups must initially use threat to attract attention, to define issues, to build unity, and to force negotiation. Were not the Sandinistas brought to the Esquipulas and autonomy bargaining tables by the military threats of their adversaries, one might ask? Evidence does not support that argument. The Contra and Yatama military threats had been largely neutralized when the Sandinistas began conciliatory moves. What the evidence does suggest is that exchangeheavy power mixes and contexts encouraging them are important elements in nonviolent justice attainment.

What does our analysis imply for justice struggles in developing societies? First, rapid resort to violence within a threat strategy seems counterproductive for both governments and challengers. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, the indigenous peoples, and the Contras all paid heavy costs in their civil wars. Such wars usually become "proxy wars," with major states using the resources of client states for their own political advantage. In Nicaragua, the Atlantic Coast resistance was somewhat successful in avoiding U.S. control. The Contras, by contrast, were not. And the Sandinistas became militarily dependent on the socialist bloc. Militarization of such conflicts, as developing nations have sadly learned, is the shortest route to external control.

In summary, what appears most important is for justice opponents to be flexible and diligent in using available conflict-moderating resources and to create them where they do not exist. The Nicaraguans used institutional constraints, normative inclinations toward conciliation, and conflict management, learning all in a timely fashion. They were quick to use Esquipulas, U.S.-Soviet detente, and international mediators to moderate their conflicts. They effectively adjusted their power strategy mixes to context-transforming events such as the Sandinista electoral defeat. While

Nicaraguan conditions will hardly be reproduced elsewhere, much of it conflict-moderating experience we think may have general applicability.


1. Sollis, "The Atlantic Coast."

2. Freeland, "Nationalist Revolution and Ethnic Rights."

3. Gomariz, Balance de una esperanza.

4. That policy and strategy were clearly laid out in the report of the Com-mission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, Discriminate Deterrence, pp. 16-17.

5. See "An Arms Deal" and Cuadra.

6. Boulding, Three Faces of Power.

7. Sandinista agricultural cooperatives are analyzed in some detail in Ortega,

"La gestion de los traba . adores."

8. Berryman, "Base Christian Communities."

9. For an examination of conflict functions and limiting mechanisms see

Coser, The Functions of Social Conflict. For a study of how such mechanisms worked for Polish Solidarity, see Wehr, "Conflict and Restraint."

10. The Esquipulas agreement in its entirety is to be found in Arias Sanchez, El camino de la paz, pp. 411-426.


11. Wehr and Lederach, "Mediating Conflict."

12. This unusual third-party role is discussed in Wehr and Lederach, "Third-Party Intervention." See also Everett, Bearing Witness.

13. See Girardi, Faith and Revolution.

14. Randall, Christians in the Revolution.

15. Berryman, "Base Christian Communities," p. 38.

16. McManus and Schlabach, Relentless Persistence, p. 169.

17. Ibid., p. 159.

18. The social defense team's evaluation is presented in Muller and Boubault,


19. McManus and Schlabach, Relentless Persistence, p. 166.

20. Griffin-Nolan, Witness for Peace.

21. Gottschalk, "The Nicaraguan Election."

22. For an elaboration of the insider-partial concept see Wehr and Lederach,

"Mediating Conflict."

23. Christian, Nicaragua, p4 212.

24. Flakoll Alegria, "Cesar Legislates Instability."

25. Simmel, Conflict and the Web, p. 1 1 0.

26. Selser, "Plan to Disarm Civilians."

For a competent treatment of the civic strike see Parkman, Nonviolent



Arias Sanchez, 0. El camino de la paz (San Jos6, Costa Rica: Editorial Costa Rica, 1989).

"An Arms Deal." Barricada Internacional 11 (347) (March 1992): 6-8. Berryman, P. "Base Christian Communities and the Future of Latin America."

Monthly Review 36 (3) (1984): 27-39.

Boulding, K. Three Faces of Power (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989). Christian, S. Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family (New York: Random House,


Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, Discriminate Deterrence (Washington: USGPO, 1988).

Coser, L. The Functions of Social Conflict (New York: Free Press, 1956).

Cuadra, S. "Shaky Peace." Barricada Internacional 12 (348) (April 1992): 19-21. Everett, M. Bearing Witness, Building Bridges: Interviews with North Americans Living and Working in Nicaragua (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1986).

Flakoll Alegria, D. "Cesar Legislates Instability." Barricada Internacional 1 1

(341) (September 1991): 4-6.

Freeland, J. "Nationalist Revolution and Ethnic Rights: The Miskito Indians of

Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast." Third World Quarterly 10 (4) (1989): 166-190. Girardi, G. Faith and Revolution in Nicaragua (MaTyknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989).

Gomariz, E. Balance de una esperanza: Esquipulas II un ano despues (San Jos6,

Costa Rica: FLACSO, 1988).

Gottschalk, J. "The Nicaraguan Election: An Observer's Reflections." Network: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby (Washington, D.C.) (May/June 1990): 7.

Griffin-Nolan, E. Witness for Peace: A Story of Resistance (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1991).

McManus, P., and G. Schiabach. Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in

Latin America (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1991).

Muller, J-M, and G. Boubault, "Nicaragua: Dialogue avec les sandinistes." NonViolence Actualiti 19 (November 1988).

Ortega, M. "La gestion de los trabajadores en ]as empresas de la Reforma Agraria." Ciencias Sociales 40/41 (1988): 25-37.

Parkman, P. Nonviolent Insurrection in El Salvador (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988).

Randall, M. Christians in the Nicaraguan Revolution (Vancouver: New Star, 1983).

Selser, G. "Plan to Disarm Civilians." Barricada Internacional 11 (341) (September 1991): 9-1 1.

Simmel, G. Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1955).

Sollis, P. "The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua: Development and Autonomy." Journal of Latin American Studies 21 (3) (October 1989): 481-520.

Wehr, P. "Conflict and Restraint: Poland, 1980-1982," in P. Wallensteen, J. Galtung, and C. Portales (eds.), Global Militarization (Boulder, CO: Westview

Press, 1985).

Wehr, P., and J. P. Lederach, "Third-Party Intervention in Nicaragua." Unpub-lished monograph, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1989.

______. "Mediating Conflict in Central America." Journal of Peace Research 28

(1) (1991): 85-98.