Students of revolution : youth and protest in Somoza-era Nicaragua, 1937-1979
My dissertation, “Students of Revolution: Youth and Protest in Somoza-era Nicaragua, 1937-1979,” examines how teenagers and young adults became political power players in twentieth-century Nicaragua. Students played a critical role in the Sandinista struggle that toppled the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979, one of only two successful social revolutions in Cold War Latin America. I argue that students were instrumental in fostering a culture of insurrection—one in which society, from elite housewives to rural laborers, came to perceive the idea of armed revolution as not only legitimate but necessary. Drawing on student archives, state and university records, and oral histories, I uncover the political conditions, demographic shifts, and confrontations with the state that politicized university students during the Somoza era. By tracing the ebb and flow of student participation in national politics, I illuminate how young activists asserted political legitimacy under an increasingly authoritarian regime and analyze why their claims to moral authority resonated within the wider society. Individual chapters uncover the changing ways in which these young men and women deftly deployed their age, class and gender to craft a heroic student identity that justified their political action. During a dictatorship that sharply curtailed democratic expression, these students’ status as future national leaders lent them an aura of symbolic significance that sanctified their right to protest and helped generate widespread outrage when they endured the regime’s repression. In this way, students carved out a space for sustained and aggressive dissent that pushed them to the vanguard of the opposition and later the revolution.