My research traces the organizational dynamics of Latin America’s most successful Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), which took power in the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution. Drawing on field interviews and archival research conducted at the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (IHNCA) in Managua, Nicaragua, I constructed an original network dataset of FSLN militants, containing biographical information and data on each individual’s links to each other and to familial, civic, and mass organizations. I present these data in the network graph above. The FSLN splintered into three factions in 1975-6, the Tendencia Guerra Popular Prolongada (GPP), the Tendencia Proletaria (Prole), and the Tendencia Insurreccional (Tercerista); the militants are color-coded by the splinter faction to which each belonged.
Typically, rebel group internal structures are opaque to researchers: to prevent infiltration by regime agents and damage when collaborators defect, guerrilla warfare requires compartmentalization of information about chains of command. Nor can clandestine rebel networks be easily reconstructed after conflict. As the modal rebel group fails to take power and surviving combatants may face state retaliation during the post-war period, former rebels often lack the resources or motivation to divulge wartime command structures in detail. As a result, conflict researchers have largely relied on interviews with combatants, selected via non-representative snowball sampling, to gather partial data on rebel networks.
The Nicaraguan case allows for a more rigorous approach. Built using meticulous historical records compiled by the Sandinista government after the FSLN’s victorious revolutionary campaign, my dataset depicts the FSLN’s internal structure at far greater levels of detail than is typically possible in conflict research. The result is a uniquely comprehensive and systematic network dataset of a sizeable guerrilla organization. I employed dozens of primary and secondary sources to construct the dataset, relying on, inter alia, a large collection of biographies of FSLN commanders compiled to provide reading material for a 1980 literacy campaign, 27 memoirs of former combatants, almost all of whom were commanders or political leaders across all three FSLN internal factions, and 12 collections of combatant interviews.
Image: FSLN rally in Managua, Nicaragua; photo by Eric Mosinger