Claudia Rueda’s book Students of Revolution: Youth, Protest, and Coalition-Building in Somoza-Era Nicaragua
(University of Texas Press, 2019) is a history of student organizing against dictatorship in twentieth-century Nicaragua.
By mobilizing in support of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional
and other anti-Somoza forces, students helped to build what Rueda calls “a culture of insurrection” that made armed revolutionary struggle seem imaginable and needed to Nicaraguans from many backgrounds.
What made students such an effective political force in Nicaragua was that as valuable future professionals and idealized youth, students enjoyed great latitude to express dissent and counted upon widespread public sympathy when they faced state repression.
Drawing from oral histories and rich archives of student movements, Rueda documents how student activism against authoritarianism developed from the 1930s to 1979 as university enrollment grew and diversified. Student tactics and ideological commitments shifted during these decades in response to events at home (brief, limited democratic openings and harsh crackdowns on student dissidence) and abroad (the Cuban Revolution). By the 1960s, student organizations included moderate as well as leftist groups who were ultimately able to make common cause against the last Somoza dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
Joining a growing body of scholarship on student politics in Latin America during the Cold War, Rueda’s book illustrates the profound impact of student activism in a small country which did not see major uprisings in 1968. Nevertheless, as dissident, organized, and well-connected youth, Nicaraguan students were instrumental in laying the groundwork for a successful revolution over a decade later, when the Sandinistas brought down Somoza in 1979.
is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Rachel Grace Newman is Lecturer in the History of the Global South at Smith College. She has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, and she writes about youth, higher education, transnationalism, and social class in twentieth-century Mexico. She is also the author of a book on a binational program for Mexican migrant children. She is on Twitter @rachelgnew