Courtesy Reuters

The Revolution in Nicaragua: Another Cuba?

For two decades, the hemispheric policy of the United States has been haunted by the specter of "another Cuba." The fear that Cuba's revolutionary upheaval might be repeated elsewhere energized the Alliance for Progress and, when progress gave way to order, that same fear justified providing counterinsurgency assistance to a continent increasingly dominated by military dictatorships. Lyndon Johnson sent a force of 20,000 men to the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent "another Cuba," and Henry Kissinger unleashed the CIA on Chile for the same reason.

The collapse of the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua has made this fear more palpable than ever. The United States labored mightily over the past year to prevent the accession of a Sandinista government in Nicaragua, but in the end was reduced to reluctantly arranging the terms of transition from Somoza to a provisional government appointed by the guerrillas. Preoccupied with isolating the Sandinistas, Washington policymakers consistently under-estimated their strength and exaggerated that of Somoza. Now that he is gone, the Cuba specter still hovers, threatening to obscure U.S. understanding of the dynamics of post-Somoza politics just as it obscured the dynamics of his collapse.

Nicaragua's future course will be determined fundamentally by internal forces-how the revolutionary coalition breaks down into contending political camps, the relative strengths of those camps, and the issues around which the political battles of the future are fought. No external actor will be able to control this process, but the United States can have an impact on it by affecting the alignments of the political contenders and the issues which divide them. Whether Nicaragua becomes "another Cuba" will depend in no small measure on whether the United States reenacts the mistakes it made 20 years ago in its relations with the first Cuba.

II

Nicaragua, like Cuba, was victimized early in the century by the new "Manifest Destiny" which guided U.S. hemispheric policy during those years.1 It became a virtual protectorate of the United States in 1912 when the Marines were dispatched, ostensibly

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