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  • Nicaragua's ChoiceReclaiming the Revolution
  • Pablo Antonio Cuadra (bio)

Jorges Luis Borges once said that "centuries are arbitrary divisions" and that the twentieth century, for example, really started in 1914 with the beginning of the First World War. That event marked the fiery baptism of a century as short as it was violent, coming to an abrupt close in 1968—that irrevocable divide between youth and the past. The great youth upheavals of that year may at first glance have seemed like nothing more than a blip on a screen, just a handful out of the multitude of failed protests or rebellions without a cause that history has witnessed. But the troubles of 1968 really opened a kind of seismic fault that separates one age from another. What moved the young people of Paris, and later of the world, was only the visible tip of an enormous mass of dissatisfaction, of a giant iceberg that divides the century in two. It was the sum of a variety of events touching on and altering all the rules and all the levels of life and thought in this, our century. Any list of these events would have to include the Second Vatican Council and the Latin American bishops' conference at Medellín; the war in Vietnam; China's Cultural Revolution; the Prague Spring; Ché Guevara's death in Bolivia; the assassination of Martin Luther King; and the spread of rock music and protest songs, the drug culture, long hair, and unisex clothing.

All these came together in an explosive cocktail that made 1968 the myth that shattered the myths of the century. There was the attitude of negativity (the utopia of "No"), the desire for change expressed in a [End Page 39] series of catchy slogans that even their authors did not always fully understand: "Nothing is forbidden," "Power to the imagination," "Make love, not war," and so on. These were nothing other than the cornerstones of the twenty-first century, signs of the imaginative and utopian exhilaration that each new historical era needs in order to break free of the past and start off on its own course.

The Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 cannot be understood except as the fruit, albeit soon withered, of the spirit of 1968. Their struggle to the death against a genocidal tyrant had put the hearts of Nicaragua's youth in touch with the currents of a universal restlessness. The Nicaraguan Revolution was born as a twenty-first century revolution, one whose ideals and basic reactions sprang from and were nourished by the spirit of 1968.

But nine comandantes, schooled in elementary Marxism-Leninism (with its perennial fear of heresies and "revisionism") and skilled in duplicity and deception, pushed the Nicaraguan Revolution backward. They transformed and deformed it into just one more twentieth-century revolution, bogged down in its own dogmatism and sadly confirming Octavio Paz's lament that "the worst casualty of twentieth-century wars and revolutions has been the future."

Those who came of age politically in the 1950s will recall the powerful antidictatorial movement that swept the Western Hemisphere from south to north, destroying the autocratic regimes in its path. During those same years—as Edward Crawley has observed—a mythic belief persisted that "a dictator is immortal. He cannot be overthrown or even die a natural death. There may be carefully engineered plots against him, public opinion may go into paroxysms of indignation, peaceful or violent demonstrations can break out, people can lose control, armed insurgencies can become ever more frequent, but the Dictator will survive." It was a sort of mythical wall, a huge barrier similar to the irrational belief that only yesterday Marxists took as their motto: "The revolution is irreversible."

Yet the dictators did begin to fall, one after another: Perón in Argentina, Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and the elder Somoza. The Andean earthquake that erupted out of the deepest geological recesses of the Latin American political tradition sent shock waves as far as Cuba, where it brought down Batista, and went no further. At first, Castro seemed to be the sort of prophetic and charismatic...