Panel Paper: How the Managua Earthquake of 1972 Shifted Nicaragua's Social Structure for a Revolution

Saturday, April 8, 2017 : 10:55 AM
Founders Hall Room 311 (George Mason University Schar School of Policy)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rosa Krewson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
How the Managua Earthquake of 1972 Shifted

Nicaragua’s Social Structure for a Revolution


The connection between disasters and politics can be useful for explaining why the political and social structures of a society can not only impede or facilitate the response and recovery to a crises, but also be a catalyst for political change (Kreps, 1998; Birkland, 1998; Bommer, 1985).  Particularly, the occurrence of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes (which had previously been viewed as beyond human control) are now intricately related to the realm of politics at both the national and international level (Dodds, 2015; Smith, 2006; Bommer, 1985).  Yet, not all disasters (natural or otherwise) result in political changes as in the case of Nicaragua. Although the Managua earthquake of 1972 has been connected to the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua by many scholars using a variety of theoretical frameworks, this research proposal seeks to take a multidisciplinary approach by bringing together theories of revolutions with historical network research and analysis to the disaster literature.  This research will demonstrate how the response and recovery actions of the Somoza government to the December 23, 1972, earthquake created a fissure among the elite class which then enabled a fragmented society to build a multiclass coalition that eventually led to a political revolution. 

An overview of the political history and social structure of Nicaraguan society prior the earthquake will be presented followed by a more detailed examination of the timeline of events from the date of the earthquake leading up to Somoza’s departure from Nicaragua on July 17, 1979.  This paper will use historical network research to show how the earthquake changed Nicaragua’s social structure and explain why the shift in social relationships made a multiclass mobilization possible (Gould, 1991; 2003).  This paper also offers a method for examining the role of the elite class in Nicaragua as described by theories of revolutions through structural analysis which maps the complex set of network ties into interpretable models, revealing the patterns of change in the social structures before and after the earthquake. These models are useful evidence for supporting the following research hypotheses:

H1: The earthquake served as a catalyst that transformed a fragmented society into a multiclass coalition and consolidated efforts to challenge the political power of the Somoza dictatorship.

H2: The relationship between Somoza and the elite class was ruined because the recovery process did not allow elite businesses to benefit from the corruption and mismanagement of international relief funds.

Rather than attempt to speculate whether the Sandinista Revolution would have succeeded had it not been for the earthquake, this paper examines the ways in which the government's response to the earthquake contributed to the revolution.  From this perspective, this research can clarify the causal relationship between disasters and political change in the case of Nicaragua, but also provide broader insights to the international community who wish to respond to disasters by taking into consideration the political and social structures of the country in need.