The Sandanista government has taken another step toward putting a label on its political ideology: socialist. But questions remain about the brand of socialims the Sandinistas have established. News analysis.
For one thing, Nicaragua maintains a mixed economy rather than a completely socialist one, with some market forces continuing to operate.
The latest Sandinista statement on ideology came during a ceremony last week marking the ninth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. President Daniel Ortega told the crowd that Nicaragua had been a socialist state since 1979.
Previously, government leaders described themselves simply as Sandinistas after Augusto Cesar Sandino, who fought a U.S. Marine intervention in the country in the late 1920s.
"Sandinismo is the Nicaraguan application of three great currents of universal thought: Marxism, Christianity and nationalism," Bayardo Arce, one of the ruling party's hard-liners, once said in an interview with the Sandinista newspaper Barricada.
Interior Minister Tomas Borge and Vice President Sergio Ramirez also have said that Marxism is one ingredient of the Sandinista philosophy.
In his speech, Ortega said socialism in Nicaragua means defense of workers, farmers and producers. He said it means a mixed economy, political pluralism and a non-aligned foreign policy.
"Our socialism is to protect all Nicaraguan producers that really have the desire to produce, to be efficient and share the riches with all," he said. "This is all we ask and insist."
Socialism, in its purest form, is public ownership of the means of production, with all members of the community sharing in what is produced. Aspects of socialist economics are present in many systems, ranging from those in Sweden and Britain to Cuba and the Soviet Union. Such systems vary greatly, however, in the degree of social welfare they provide and the freedom of expression and political activity they permit.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front maintains the ability to control almost all facets of life, but keeps some trappings of an open society.
The Sandinistas permit public political opposition, for instance, while maintaining control of the seven-party National Assembly. Eleven other parties exist, most of them small and ranging from the ultra-left to the right. The government points to the fractured opposition as proof of political pluralism.
But the Sandinistas clearly define the limits on opposition activity.
The government controls permits for marches, issues permits for buses or trucks to transport demonstrators, distributes paper for newspapers and bulletins, and licenses media.
In the economy, the Sandinistas in June withdrew strict wage and price controls, saying a free-market system would encourage production. The government owns the banks, however, meaning it has control of credit, loans, distribution of scarce foreign exchange and regulation of all imports and exports.
The Sandinistas recently nationalized the nation's largest and oldest private enterprise, the San Antonio sugar refinery. They said the measure was economic rather than political. The refinery's board of directors said the government didn't allow the owners to buy sufficient dollars needed to keep the company going.
Shortly after the Sandinistas came to power in a 1978-79 revolution, they confiscated land as part of their agrarian reform program to give plots to the peasants.
According to government figures, 48 percent of the nation's land was owned by private individuals in 1978. By 1986, that figure had dropped to 29.2 percent.
Some Sandinista leaders have looked to Cuba as an example of socialism, but not necessarily as a model that should be immediately copied. The 30-year-old Cuban government tolerates no other political parties, no opposition media, no private enterprise and virtually no criticism.
The Sandinistas, however, have copied Cuba's Revolutionary Defense Committees, watchdog groups that monitor anti-government activity, almost to the letter. In Nicaragua, the organizations are called Sandinista Defense Committees.
Nicaragua, unlike Cuba, has faced a civil war since 1981. Nor does Nicaragua receive the heavy amounts of Soviet-bloc aid that Cuba enjoys. The Soviet Union is estimated to give Cuba the equivalent of about $4 billion a year, while Nicaragua receives about $500 million annually, not including military materiel.
The United States, citing Nicaragua's links to the Soviet bloc, cut off economic aid to Nicaragua in 1981 and imposed an economic boycott in 1985.