Beyond the Barricades (cover)

Beyond the Barricades

Nicaragua and the Struggle for the Sandinista Press,

by Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Ohio University Press, 2002

"A groundbreaking work ... original and probing. Jones has done an excellent job
of chronicling and analyzing the fascinating series of events that took place at
Beyond the Barricades fills a huge gap in the published scholarship on the Nicaraguan Revolution.
Global media scholars will also be able to draw heavily on this work."

- Kent Norsworthy
Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin
Author of Nicaragua: A Country Guide,
coauthor of David and Goliath: The U.S. War Against Nicaragua

The Times Literary Supplement (September 2002) says:

"Jones tells his story with verve and insight; he is neither romantic nor didactic,
and always highly readable. His eloquent and thoughtful portrait of a society contending
with the aftermath of a prolonged period of US intervention raises issues of concern to anyone
interested in international affairs." (Nicola Miller)

Relevant Subject Areas: Media and political transition, Latin American studies, Third World social revolutions


Beyond the Barricades tells the story of Barricada, born out of the Nicaraguan Revolution as the "official organ" of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). From its ramshackle beginnings in 1979, when production staff worked by the illumination of truck headlights and the paper was given away free, Barricada gradually began to cultivate an institutional identity separate from the leadership of the Sandinista Front. The story of the revolutionary era brings striking personalities to the fore. Prime among them are: Carlos Fernando Chamorro, son of ex-Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro and scion of one of Nicaragua's most influential families, who directed Barricada almost from its inception; and Sofía Montenegro, one of the most prominent feminist activists in Nicaragua, a committed but free-thinking Sandinista who spent much of the 1980s as a thorn in the side of the revolutionary regime.

In the last years of the revolutionary government, Barricada began to move towards a "de-officialized," less sectarian journalism -- a process that gathered irresistible force with the Sandinistas' election defeat in 1990. In the wake of that shocking loss, Barricada constructed a "New Editorial Profile" that ended the paper's status as FSLN official organ, and relaunched itself "in the national interest." From 1991 to 1994 Barricada practiced a dramatically different style of journalism, exhibiting the values of professionalism and a more dispassionate reporting style that had driven the autonomy project from the start.

But powerful "orthodox" factions within the Sandinista Front never reconciled themselves to Barricada's de-officialized status and their lack of direct influence over the content of the Front's newspaper. They were outraged when Carlos Fernando Chamorro and Sofía Montenegro, among others at the paper, put their signatures to a document calling for a sweeping "renovation" within the FSLN. Over time, these more orthodox factions gained control over the Front's apparatus and resources -- including Barricada, which had never ceased to be owned by the FSLN. After consolidating their power at the May 1994 party congress, the orthodox current, led by former president Daniel Ortega, staged a highly-public defenestración ("throwing out the window") of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who had directed Barricada since 1980.

Over the ensuing three weeks, extraordinary scenes took place, as the new party-designated directorship warred openly with Barricada's remaining editorial staff, nearly all of whom were vocally opposed to the ending of the paper's independence from party-political control. Interim editor Daniel Alegría described a "constant struggle" over the daily content of the newspaper. Over these weeks, some three-quarters of all editorial staff were fired or resigned from the paper.

The new directors of Barricada, led by former Minister of the Interior and Sandinista chief censor Tomás Borge, set about refashioning the newspaper in their more orthodox image. Barricada returned to being a not-very-subtle mobilizing tool for the FSLN. The character of its journalism underwent immediate and far-reaching changes: the paper sang the praises of Daniel Ortega and other Front leaders, and mobilized itself fervently behind the Front's 1996 national election campaign.

With the "re-officializing" of its role and content, Barricada came full circle as a newspaper -- but with a crashing lack of success in strictly market terms. Circulation slipped from about 12,000 in 1994 to about half that in 1996, and the Front's failure to retake power in 1996 meant the future of Barricada, along with other Sandinista institutions, became even shakier. Finally the paper was undone from within: its editorial and blue-collar workers struck for overdue back-wages, and Tomás Borge responded by closing the paper, bringing the daily's life to a close on a melancholy note in January 1998. (Note: in early 2000, Barricada was revived as a limited-distribution party weekly, but soon floundered.)

Chapter Outlines

Introduction and Acknowledgments

The introduction aims to draw the reader immediately into the Barricada story; a vivid account of the day of the "coup" against Carlos Fernando Chamorro (25 October 1994) is followed by an overview of the argument and structure of the book. The theoretical framing of the analysis in terms of "mobilizing" versus "professional" imperatives is also introduced.

Chapter One
Barricada: The Party and the Paper, 1979-1991

An examination of the origins and evolution of Barricada under the Sandinista revolutionary regime of the 1980s. The chapter pays particular attention to Barricada's ongoing attempts to construct professional "firewalls" against the mobilizing requirements of its FSLN sponsor. It includes numerous anecdotal accounts of conflicts with party leaders, and other examples of the professional quandaries of revolutionary journalism.

The Vanguard's Vanguard
The FSLN and Barricada: Norming the Material Relationship
Norming the Political Relationship
Professionalism and the "Moral Economy of Journalism"

Chapter Two
Beyond the Barricades: A New Journalism for Nicaragua, 1990-94

A detailed exploration of the philosophy and strategy underlying Barricada's autonomy experiment of the early 1990s. Again the emphasis is on the balancing of professional versus mobilizing imperatives, as the newspaper sought to increase its institutional independence and implement a model of journalism "in the national interest."

(Prefatory Comments)
1990: The Earthquake
A Revolutionary Liberalism?
Beyond the Barricades: 1991-94
Material Crisis, Institutional Response
The Politics of Barricada, I: The Challenge of Opposition
The Politics of Barricada, II: Sandinismo and Self-Censorship

- The Internal Politics of the FSLN
- The "Piñata"
- The Other Ortega
- Human Rights

A Sectarian Affiliation?
The Autonomy Experiment: Summary and Evaluation

Chapter Three
Chronicle of a Coup Foretold

The heart of the book: a detailed account of the intra-party struggle of the early 1990s; the growing power of Daniel Ortega (and the origins of his longstanding animosity towards Barricada); the increasing tenuousness of Barricada's autonomy experiment; and finally the extraordinary events of October-November 1994, which witnessed the defenestración of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a protracted battle in Barricada's own pages for control over editorial content, and (in the end) the departure of 80-90 percent of the newspaper's staff.

Barricada and the Struggle for Sandinismo
The Ortega Factor
Endgame: 1993-94
Coup and Interregnum
The "Negotiated Exit"

Chapter Four
Back to the Barricades: An Official Press Reborn?

Examines the project instituted by Barricada's new ortodoxo directorate and staff (led by Comandante Tomás Borge), and the slow disintegration of that project.

(Prefatory comments)
"A Relative Objectivity Such As Decency Demands": Mobilizing and Professional Imperatives, 1994-1998
Periodismo Amarillo
Barricada's New Comandante: An Interview with Tomás Borge
Two Who Stayed: Juan Ramón Huerta and Alfonso Malespín

Chapter Five
The Death of Barricada

The coda to the Barricada drama, analyzing the circumstances surrounding the daily's death in January 1998.

Conclusion: Barricada in Comparative Perspective

Relationship to the Literature

Beyond the Barricades is a groundbreaking work. It is the first full-length analysis of any Nicaraguan media institution in either English or Spanish. The story it relates -- of the evolving autonomy project at a key Sandinista institution, the conflicts this engendered with the party hierarchy, the dramatic dénouement of October 1994, and the subsequent attempts to re-establish an essentially propagandistic vision of the newspaper -- has likewise never been told in any language. Based on in-depth interviews with figures on all sides of the struggle for control of Barricada, it offers a vivid and intimate portrait of a revolutionary institution in transition. Its relevance to the literature is worth considering from a number of angles:

i) The book represents an important contribution to the study of post-revolutionary Nicaragua, a subject about which little of note has appeared since the Sandinistas fell from power in 1990. The defenestración of 1994 was a defining moment in Nicaraguan politics, and was widely perceived as such by domestic and international observers;

ii) Beyond the Barricades offers an unprecedented glimpse of a Latin American press institution in transition, based on in-depth archival research and interviews with most of the main players;

iii) Lastly, the events described in the book constitute a powerful human drama, conveyed in a clear and accessible style designed to capture the widest possible readership.

It is difficult to situate the work further in the literature, since only the most scant literature exists on these subjects. In this sense, the book seeks to fill a void in the scholarship on Nicaraguan and Central American politics and Latin American media in the 1990s.

Intended Market

The book will be of interest and relevance to scholars and students of transitional and Latin American media; the press and democracy; revolutionary and post-revolutionary Nicaraguan politics; Central and Latin American politics in the post-Cold War era; and the future of the political left, both regionally and globally. The work has cross-disciplinary relevance in the fields of political science and political theory, journalism and media studies, history, and comparative sociology.

As noted, the book's accessible style aims to secure for it a wide audience among scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, journalists, and perhaps political activists, as well as interested laypersons.

About the Author

The author is a longtime student of Latin American politics, and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is currently professor of International Studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. The present work is the result of a decade of research into Barricada and the Nicaraguan transition more generally, including three separate stints of fieldwork in Nicaragua (1991, 1996, 1998). He has published widely on the transitional media and other subjects in scholarly journals, including Review of International Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Journal of Genocide Research, and Journal of Southern African Studies. The book version of his Ph.D. dissertation, The Press in Transition: A Comparative Study of Nicaragua, South Africa, Jordan, and Russia, will be published in late 2001 by the Deutsches Übersee-Institut in Hamburg, Germany.

Link here to the ordering page for Beyond the Barricades.