- Nicaragua and the Politics of Utopia. Development and Culture in the Modern State by Daniel Chávez
Daniel Chavez's Nicaragua and the Politics of Utopia. Development and Culture in the Modern State seeks to analyze the last eight decades of Nicaraguan history (from the 1930's to the present). Chávez explores this time span that includes Somocismo, the Sandinista revolution, and the neoliberal era through the lens of Utopian discourses. According to Chávez, regardless of the violence, corruption, and social injustice experienced during these periods, behind them "there is always an envisioned horizon for justice, effective political participation, and material abundance" (1) and, therefore, in any of the three major epochs in recent Nicaraguan history, "there was a specific brand of utopian thought" (1). To develop this hypothesis Chávez addresses a wide variety of sources such as public speeches, poetry, novels, testimonios, and film, among others.
The first three chapters offer a comprehensive analysis of the Somocismo (1937-1979) and address the utopian discourses in the "three Somozas" (Anastasio Somoza [Sr.], Luis Somoza, and Anastasio Somoza [Jr.]). Although the three dictators shared, according to Chávez, a "conservative utopian" view, the book demonstrates the differences among them such as the use of the "majestic us" in Luis Somoza instead of the personal "I" of his father and brother, the "Panamericanism" perspective of Anastasio Somoza (Sr.), and the will to inscribe Nicaragua in the world market during Anastasio Somoza (Jr.) administration, among others. However, although the book intends to focus on utopian discourses, these chapters also tackle non-utopian works of literature from the Generation of 1940 (Ernesto Mejías Sánchez, Carlos Ernesto Martínez Rivas, and Ernesto Cardenal), Sergio Ramírez, and Lizandro Chávez. While the inclusion of these authors in the second and third chapters may be seen as contradictory to the book's aim, it results in an important counterpoint to the three Somozas' utopian view that enables the reader to have a better understanding of the intellectual debates during this period.
Chapters 4 through 6 focus on the mythical construction of Sandinismo after the triumph of the revolution in 1979. In chapter 4, Chávez engages with contemporary criticism arguing that, contrary to critics like Ileana Rodríguez, the Sandinista revolution did defy Nicaraguan patriarchal society by reconstructing the relationship among men, nature, and women in a more horizontal manner. According to Chávez, without this will of challenging traditional gender roles, the revolution would not have had the popular support from both men and women it actually had. To support his argument, Chávez reads Omar Cabezas Lacayo's La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde and Gioconda Belli's poetry. In the following two chapters (5 and 6) the author pays attention to Sandinismo's cultural politics. While chapter 5 focuses on the educational reform and the political and intellectual discussion on art and literature, chapter 6 analyzes the production and distribution of films during the 1980's. The latter is a very thought-provoking chapter that explores how the Sandinistas tried to build a new "spectatorship" through the production and [End Page 205] exhibition of politically engaged films. However, at the same time, it shows how Sandinismo had to negotiate with the international film industry in order to allow the exhibition of non-revolutionary movies, mostly Americans, as a way to prove their commitment against censorship.
Ultimately, chapter 7 evaluates the 1990-2002 period, which includes Violeta Chamorro's and Arnoldo Alemán's administrations. Chávez closely observes their Inaugural Address (1990 and 1996 respectively) to identify some of their most representative ideas. The common thread, according to Chávez, is the establishment of a technocratic utopia based on neoliberalism. However, Chamorro's discourse was strongly oriented toward national reconciliation and profoundly marked by a constant negotiation with Sandinismo. Alemán, on the contrary, put a definitive end to Sandinistas' policies emphasizing the need of efficiency over ideology and politics. This...