Tue Jun 18, 2024
June 18, 2024

Castroism and the Central American Revolution

In the debates on the current Cuban situation, a majority sector of the left (defenders of the current Castro regime and its policies) claims that the main problem is the country’s “isolation”. This is partially true with regard to the commercial and financial U.S. imperialist blockade. However, they hide the fact that it was Fidel Castro’s own policy towards revolutionary processes in Central America, beginning in Nicaragua in 1979, which provoked a more consequential political isolation.

By Alejandro Iturbe  –  July 31, 2021
Several articles published in this site refer to the history of how the leadership under Fidel Castro (the 26th of July Movement – M26J) led the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and, after taking power, surpassed its original democratic program and began the construction of the first Latin American workers’ state in the very “backyard” of U.S. imperialism, transforming its leaders into heroes for millions of fighters all over the world[1]. We have previously stated that the Cuban revolution brought major victories for the Cuban workers and masses, especially in the education, health and the fight against hunger.
While we praise these great achievements of the revolution, it is important to also note that the Cuban leadership built a bureaucratic workers’ state, without real democracy for the workers and the masses, in accordance with the Stalinist model. The Cuban workers never controlled the Cuban government, rather its the Cuban Communist Party bureaucracy (successor of the M26J).
Moreover, the Castro leadership always believed that it was possible to build “socialism in one country”, as promoted by Stalinism since the late 1920s, as opposed to building the international socialist revolution proposed by Marxism since its inception. Consistent with this attitude, in the 1960s Castroism was integrated into the international Stalinist apparatus, centralized by the bureaucracy of the then USSR, and began to defend the essence of its political positions.
In the early years, however, it did so in a contradictory way, since it promoted the “export” of the revolution through the training of cadres and material support to numerous Latin American guerrilla organizations that were emerging in those years, inspired by the Cuban revolution. That line was not shared by the Moscow bureaucracy and, for that reason, in several countries there were ruptures in the CP or the emergence of organizations independent of them to promote the guerrilla struggle. For example, this was the case of El Salvador, where its general secretary, Cayetano Carpio, broke with the party to found the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces) in 1970. Che Guevara himself went to directly promote a “guerrilla focus” in Bolivia and was assassinated in 1967.
Throughout several decades, our current has debated against the strategy of applying guerilla foco theory to the entirety of Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, regardless of the economic conditions, geographic, and social characteristics of each country[2].
However, beyond these debates and our criticisms, these were years in which the Cuban leadership was still trying (albeit with a mistaken methodology) to promote the expansion of  revolutionary processes, especially in Latin America.
The Nicaraguan revolution  
However, this distance between the Cuban leadership and the central Stalinist apparatus was closing and, throughout the 1970s, Castroism fully accepted the policy of peaceful coexistence with imperialism promoted by Moscow. This policy would come at a great cost when a major revolutionary process broke out in Central America in 1979.
In Nicaragua, the struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza followed a course very similar to that of Cuba 20 years earlier. There was a political-military organization, the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) which had been fighting against the Somoza regime for several years. Popular insurrections (with the youth as the vanguard) began to break out in various cities of the country. The Sandinista forces, increasingly strengthened by the incorporation of these new fighters, took several of these cities and advanced on the capital, Managua. On July 19 they entered the city, definitively defeated the National Guard, overthrew Somoza and took power.
The Morenoist current, grouped internationally in those years in the Bolshevik Faction, fervently supported that revolution. It did not limit itself to statements and revived the forgotten principled and internationalist tradition: from the Colombian PST, it promoted the formation of the Simon Bolivar Brigade (BSB), which went to fight in Nicaragua as part of the FSLN. This participation in the struggle was recognized by the Nicaraguan people and by the FSLN itself when the BSB forces entered Managua[3].
Nicaragua didn’t become a “new Cuba”
As we have said, the situation in Nicaragua was very similar to that of Cuba in 1959: after destroying the National Guard, the FSLN was faced with the possibility of following the “Cuban route”, to expropriate the whole of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie and advance in the construction of a new workers’ state, or to follow the path followed by the Algerian FLN in 1962, and rebuild the bourgeois state.
The Sandinista leadership traveled to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro (whom it recognized as its leader) and consult him on which road it should follow. Fidel’s answer was very clear: “Nicaragua should not become a new Cuba”[4].
That is to say, “do not do what we did, stay on the terrain of capitalism and rebuild the bourgeois state”.
Following Fidel’s orientation, the FSLN formed the National Reconstruction Government (GRN) with the sectors of the non-Somocista bourgeoisie (such as Violeta Chamorro and Alfonso Robelo) and the Government Junta had as one of its priorities the respect for the private property of the “non-Somocista” bourgeoisie. In this way, the FSLN, under the guidance of Fidel Castro, renounced the possibility of liberating the Nicaraguan people from poverty, hunger and exploitation, as had happened in Cuba.
The BSB maintained its commitment to the program of socialist revolution: it raised the demand that the FSLN break with the bourgeoisie, apply a program of transition to socialism and extend the revolution to all of Central America. Along with this, the BSB participated in and promoted the objective process that the masses were developing in reality: the land expropriation of the non-Somocista bourgeoisie (not only of the Somocista bourgeoisie) and the formation of unions in the cities. Because of this policy, the FSLN and the GRN arrested the members of the BSB, expelled them from Nicaragua, and handed them over to the Panamanian police, who tortured them.
The policy of maintaining capitalism had an immediate consequence: when U.S. imperialism promoted an armed struggle against the Sandinista government, through the so-called “contras”, these found a social base in peasant and indigenous sectors to whom Sandinismo denied land access because it defended the property of the non-Somocista bourgeoisie.
Finally, after several years of negotiations, during the 1980s the Sandinista government ended up signing the Esquipulas accords, in which it made important concessions, among them “normal” bourgeois elections. In this framework, it was electorally defeated in 1990 by Violeta Chamorro. In 2007 it returned to power through elections, already as a “normal” bourgeois party.
Since then, with the presidency of Daniel Ortega, it has transformed the political regime into a capitalist dictatorship that harshly represses the struggles and popular demands against hunger, misery and a lack of democracy, as happened in 2018[5].
The reality of the Sandinista regime is so repugnant that not only have many of those who supported the 1979 revolution broken with it, but even fervent defenders of Castroism refuse to defend it.
Another betrayal: El Salvador
In 1979, the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua prompted a great revolutionary upsurge throughout Central America, with a strong impact in El Salvador, especially in its capital. The response of the Salvadoran bourgeoisie and imperialism was extremely violent. In 1980, a coup installed a series of civilian-military government juntas and the “death squads” attacks increased sharply. With the fascist gangs dominating the capital, thousands of people escaped from the city and joined the armed organizations operating in the countryside (the strongest were Cayetano Carpio’s FPL)[6]. It was the beginning of the Salvadoran civil war.
In this context, in October 1980 the FMLN (Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional) was formed, bringing together these armed organizations. The civil war was spreading with offensives and counter-offensives on both sides, but the FMLN forces not only maintained their capacity but increasingly threatened the regime.
But the Cuban Castro leadership and the Nicaraguan Sandinista leadership were moving in a different direction. We have already seen that they had defined that “Nicaragua was not going to be a new Cuba”. To this policy they added that “El Salvador would not be a new Nicaragua”. That is to say, their intervention in the armed struggle was not aimed at overthrowing the regime but at reaching an agreement with the government at the bargaining table. With this objective in mind, they used both their political influence and the weight of the material and territorial aid they gave to the FMLN (their commanders traveled permanently to Managua) to impose their positions and win leaders and cadres for them.
Consistent with this orientation, in 1984 the FMLN changed its program: the objective became a “provisional government with broad participation of political and social forces”, where “private property and foreign investment would not oppose social interest”. This program went so far as to propose the creation of a new armed forces, which would emerge from the unification of the guerrilla forces with the genocidal apparatus of the regime[7].
The consequences of this policy were the surrender of the heroic struggle of the Salvadoran people in the “peace negotiations”, carried out until 1992. Let us be clear: it was not the result of a military defeat. That defeat was the result of the capitulation of the FMLN leadership to the policies imposed on it by Castroism and Sandinismo.
Salvador Cayetano Carpio (Comandante Marcial), one of the most prestigious leaders of the FMLN, was an opponent of this turn, especially the “bargaining table strategy”. On the criticism of the “bargaining table” strategy, Carpio correctly expressed that negotiations should be an “auxiliary” tool at the service of the [military] “struggle”. In that framework, he called for not accepting the condition that the FMLN surrender its weapons and proposed not to declare any “truce”. It was the most progressive position within the FMLN.
This opposition unleashed a fierce campaign of political attacks against him (disguised as “sectarian” or “fanatic”), and his increasing isolation within the FMLN and the FPL itself. The campaign took a leap in 1983, after the assassination of Mélida Anaya Montes (FPL’s “Comandante Ana María”) in Managua on April 6. On April 9, Carpio traveled to Managua to participate in Ana Maria’s funeral. There, in fact, he was “detained” by the Sandinistas, who put him before the option of “admitting his responsibility” in the crime or “declaring him innocent” so that he would “travel to another country” and leave El Salvador and his position as leader of the FPL and the FMLN[8].
Faced with this terrible option, Carpio opted to commit suicide on April 12, 1983. Prior to this, he wrote a last letter to the Central Command of the FPL, defending himself against these accusations. After his death, the Sandinista justice system ruled his innocence[9].
Some sectors of the FPL deny that Carpio committed suicide. Instead they affirm that Carpio was murdered while detained by the Sandinistas in Managua. It is not possible for us to know the truth unless the Sandinistas’ secret archives are opened. However two issues are undisputable. Firstly, the Sandinista leadership (backed by Castroist leadership) bears the political and moral responsibility for Carpio’s death. Secondly, Carpio’s death meant the removal an obstacle to the concessions carried out by the majority of the FMLN leadership together with the Sandinista and Castroist leaderships in the bargaining table over the guerrilla struggle  of the Salvadoran people.
The FMLN abandoned the struggle to become a “normal” bourgeois party, and there was no change in the economic-social structure of the country. After several electoral defeats against the traditional bourgeois right, it won the 2009 elections with Mauricio Funes. He governed with and for the bourgeoisie according to IMF guidelines[10].
Deeply worn out, in the 2019 presidential elections the FMLN obtained only 14.4% of the votes.
Some conclusions
As we have seen, the Fidel Castro’s interventions in the Central American revolutions had disastrous consequences: it prevented Nicaragua from being a “new Cuba” (that is, a new workers’ state in Latin America), which ended in a dramatic degeneration of the FSLN into the current capitalist dictatorship. It prevented El Salvador from being a “new Nicaragua” and the FMLN ended up as a normal institutional party, deeply in crisis after having been used by the bourgeoisie.
Moreover, Castro’s political decisions meant that the revolutionary processes of struggle against Latin American dictatorships of the 1980s (as well as those that developed in Argentina, Brazil and Chile) had no reference point for how to build a democratic workers’ state. This helped the national bourgeoisies and imperialism to contain those processes and keep them within the framework of the bourgeois electoral system (with Castro’s blessing).
A revolutionary process in Central America (even more so in Latin America as a whole) with a socialist perspective would have been plunged like a knife into the very guts of imperialism, through the tens of millions of Latinos living in the United States. U.S. imperialism thus received invaluable help that allowed it to weather the storm.
The Cuban workers’ state itself suffered the consequences of  Castroism’s criminal policies: when capitalism was restored in the former Soviet Union, it suffered a profound isolation in the absence of other workers’ states in Latin America with which it could have associated. It was then that the Castro regime sealed the restoration of capitalism in Cuba, a fact that we have examined in numerous articles published on this site.
Therefore, when we speak of the “isolation” of Cuba, in addition to the U.S. blockade, which we must condemn and combat, it is necessary to take into account that it was Fidel Castro’s own policy towards the process of the Central American revolution, initiated in Nicaragua in 1979, which provoked a political isolation with much more serious consequences.
[1] Among other article, check: https://litci.org/es/la-cuba-de-fidel-de-la-revolucion-a-la-restauracion/
[2] On this issue, read: Tesis sobre el guerrillerismo by Nahuel Moreno, Eugenio Greco and Alberto Franceschi, Buenos Aires (1986) in http://www.nahuelmoreno.org/tesis-sobre-el-guerrillerismo-1986.html
[3] Among other articles, read: https://litci.org/es/una-leccion-de-internacionalismo-revolucionario-40-anos-de-la-revolucion-nicaraguense-y-la-brigada-simon-bolivar/
[4] http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1979/esp/f260779e.html
[5] Among other articles we posted: https://litci.org/es/nicaragua-40-anos-la-revolucion-la-nueva-dictadura-se-aferra-al-poder/  and  https://litci.org/es/sandinismo-ayer-hoy/
[6] See ÁLVAREZ, Alberto Martín. De guerrilla a partido político: el Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) in: file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/Alberto_Mart%C3%ADn_Alvarez_HyP25.pdf
[7] https://elperiodicoes.wordpress.com/tag/el-cambio-de-programa-del-fmln-a-inicios-de-1984-tras-la-muerte-de-marcial/
[8] Interview with FPL leaders with Marta Harnecker mentioned in “El suicidio de Marcial, ¿un asunto concluido?”. El Salvador: ECA, Año XLIX No 549, July, 1994.
[9] Over these events, read “La lucha de El Salvador y la traición de la dirección del FMLN” in Correo Internacional Tercera Época No 20, octubre 2018.
[10] https://litci.org/es/8-anos-del-fmln-acuerdos-con-la-burguesia-opresion-para-los-trabajadores/

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