In This Review

Myths of Modernity: Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua
Myths of Modernity: Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua
By Elizabeth Dore
Duke University Press, 2006, 316 pp

A Marxist, feminist historian reopens the debate over why the Sandinistas lost power in Nicaragua. Dore, who worked in Sandinista agrarian reform programs in the early 1980s, takes aim at agrarian reform minister Jaime Wheelock for insisting that the Nicaraguan peasants were a rural proletariat in search of higher wages, failing to recognize their small-farmer mentality and hunger for private plots. Disillusioned with the Sandinistas, many peasants fought with the U.S.-backed contras and voted to oust the comandantes in 1990. A skilled researcher and potent polemicist, Dore is at her best when she combines archival digging with colorful interviews to prove beyond doubt that political power and patronage, not market forces or the rule of law, have long determined who holds land in Nicaragua. But in one lapse of her otherwise clear-eyed and relentless unmasking of hypocrisy and self-interest, Dore attributes the Sandinistas' preference for state farms to their myth-driven misreading of history and socialist ideology, not to their interest in power or eventual personal enrichment. In the end, many state farms and cooperatives passed into the hands of individual Sandinistas; Wheelock himself is now an international real estate developer.