Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution


Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 18 photographs, 2 maps Published: January 2001

General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, History > Latin American History, Politics > Political Science

“A must-read for anyone interested in Nicaragua—or in the overall issue of social change.”—Margaret Randall, author of SANDINO'S DAUGHTERS and SANDINO'S DAUGHTERS REVISITED 

Sandinista is the first English-language biography of Carlos Fonseca Amador, the legendary leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua (the FSLN) and the most important and influential figure of the post–1959 revolutionary generation in Latin America. Fonseca, killed in battle in 1976, was the undisputed intellectual and strategic leader of the FSLN. In a groundbreaking and fast-paced narrative that draws on a rich archive of previously unpublished Fonseca writings, Matilde Zimmermann sheds new light on central themes in his ideology as well as on internal disputes, ideological shifts, and personalities of the FSLN.
The first researcher ever to be allowed access to Fonseca’s unpublished writings (collected by the Institute for the Study of Sandinism in the early 1980s and now in the hands of the Nicaraguan Army), Zimmermann also obtained personal interviews with Fonseca’s friends, family members, fellow combatants, and political enemies. Unlike previous scholars, Zimmermann sees the Cuban revolution as the crucial turning point in Fonseca’s political evolution. Furthermore, while others have argued that he rejected Marxism in favor of a more pragmatic nationalism, Zimmermann shows how Fonseca’s political writings remained committed to both socialist revolution and national liberation from U.S. imperialism and followed the ideas of both Che Guevara and the earlier Nicaraguan leader Augusto César Sandino. She further argues that his philosophy embracing the experiences of the nation’s workers and peasants was central to the FSLN’s initial platform and charismatic appeal.


“[Sandinista] sheds new light on central themes in his ideology as well as on internal disputes, ideological shifts, and personalities of the FSLN.” — Hispanic Outlook In Higher Education

“[A] fine biography of Carlos Fonseca Amador. . . . [A] fresh analysis of the Nicaraguan experience. . . . [S]he tells a life story that is, like the larger story of the revolutionary Left itself, as compelling and admirable as it is melancholy and pathetic.” — Steven Palmer , The Americas

“[A] well-researched biography [that] sympathetically analyzes Fonseca’s intellectual development and the history of the FSLN.” — Edward S. Mihalkanin , Perspectives on Political Science

“[T]he book is based on careful research of all extant publications and previously unknown writings of Fonseca and interviews with living contemporaries. Zimmermann seeks to answer the intriguing question of who Carlos Fonseca was and how his ideas impacted Nicaraguan history. . . . Extremely well written, researched, and analyzed, Zimmermann extends and engages the analyses of Black, Booth, Walker, Vanden, and Provost, and Nolan. There is much here to capture the attention of the general reader as well as the country specialist. . . . Highly recommended to all readers.” — W. Q. Morales , Choice

“Matilde Zimmerman’s masterful political biography, Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Sandinista Revolution, goes a long way toward satisfying our need to know about the life and ideas of this twentieth-century Latin American revolutionary and about his decisive impact on the FSLN. . . . [Zimmermann] successfully relates Fonseca’s life to the larger unfolding of the revolutionary process. . . . [A] convincing portrait of Fonseca as an individual and as a revolutionary thinker and actor. . . . This is a fine biography of an important revolutionary thinker and actor.” — Jeffrey L. Gould , Hispanic American Historical Review

“The mind and ascetic personality of a revolutionary figure like Carlos Fonseca make for fascinating reading, and Matilde Zimmermann makes the most of them.” — Charles L. Stansifer , History: Reviews of New Books

"[A]n important contribution to understanding the thinking and approach of the central leaders of the Nicaraguan Sandinista movement during its formative period. . . . The book’s strength and beauty stand on Zimmermann’s capacity to deal with such weighty historical issues through a dynamic interplay of rich biographical storytelling and deft unearthing of abundant documentary evidence. . . . Beyond creating a valuable historical labour of love, this North American historian has crafted a weapon for present and future defense of the democratic and social rights of Nicaragua’s dispossessed and exploited sectors."
— Phillip Stuart Courneyeur , Canadian Dimension

"[S]pirited and compelling. . . . Zimmermann's eminently readable study, based on intensive archival research and extensive interviews with Fonseca's family, friends and contemporaries, is a welcome corrective to ossified interpretations of Fonseca and the FSLN's development." — Justin Wolfe , Science & Society

"[T]his book represents some of the best scholarship produced on the Nicaraguan Revolution in the past decade. Zimmermann’s ability to transcend existing standards of research and analysis has raised the bar for future historians interested in understanding pivotal event in modern Central American history. Similarly, Zimmermann’s aptitude in dissecting Fonseca himself marks the book as a standard for historical biography as well."

— Michael D. Gambone , American Historical Review

"Matilde Zimmerman's clear-eyed examination of that lonely period in the development of the Sandinista Front for National Liberations (FSLN) in the 1960s and early 1970s makes a valuable contribution to understanding the history of the Nicaraguan revolution. The only English-language biography of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca, Sandinista, joins a select group of ground-breaking works that are essential reading on the intellectual and social context in which the Sandinista movement emerged." — Richard Stahler-Sholk , Left History

"Matilde Zimmermann's Sandinista provides not just a thorough study of the FSLN's ideological and military leader Carlos Fonseca, but also (as all good biographies do) offers insight into the country's social and political history during her subject's lifetime." — David Carey Jr., Latin American Research Review

"Those who remain committed to the study of Central America generally and Nicaragua specifically will be delighted by the contribution of Dr. Zimmermann. . . . [I]mpressive. . . ." — Michael J. Pisar , The Latin Americanist

“Good English language historical studies of modern Nicaragua can be counted on one hand. Joining this elite group, Zimmermann’s well-researched, -organized, and -written book focuses on the most important (yet oft-misunderstood) figure in the FSLN insurgency of the 1960s and 1970s, Carlos Fonseca. As such, it is welcome, indeed.” — Thomas W. Walker, Ohio University

“In this century we have had to look hard not only at the great struggles for justice but at the lives of the men who led those struggles. In this well-researched biography of Carlos Fonseca, founder and indisputable leader of the FSLN until his death in battle two years before Somoza’s defeat, Matilde Zimmermann gives us a compelling portrait of someone obsessed with detail, puritanical but caring, brilliant and determined. Zimmermann asks the difficult questions and her answers are sometimes surprising. A must read for anyone interested in Nicaragua—or in the overall issue of social change.” — Margaret Randall, author of Sandino's Daughters

“Zimmermann does an excellent job explaining the real content of the FSLN’s internal differences, going a long way beyond the very schematic and surface readings that have appeared thus far. It is a pioneering effort and our understanding of the Sandinista revolution is substantially enriched by this study.” — Barry Carr, LaTrobe University


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Matilde Zimmermann was a Nicaragua-based journalist in the years immediately following the 1979 revolution and worked with the Sandinista regional government in the northern Atlantic Coast in the late 1980s. She is currently Professor of History at Sarah Lawrence College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Matagalpa: The Early Years, 1939-1950 12

2. A Rebellious Student, 1950-1958 28

3. The Cuban Revolution, 1958-1961 50

4. Founding the FSLN, 1960-1964 69

5. The Evolution of a Strategy, 1964-1968 88

6. Underground and Prison Life, 1968-1970 111

7. The Sandino Writings, 1970-1974 143

8. A Fractured Movement, 1972-1975 162

9. The Montana and the Death of Fonseca, 1975-1976 185

10. The Revolution of 1979 205

Epilogue 222

Notes 229

Glossary of Organization 257

Bibliography 259

Index 271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, NECLAS Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2595-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2581-9
Publicity material