The National Literacy Crusade, whose official name was “Héroes y Mártires por la Liberación de Nicaragua” (CNA); was the action by the revolutionary government of Nicaragua promoted with international support which reduced the illiteracy rate from over 50% to a scarce 13%. This task was recognized by UNESCO in 1981.
The first territory to be declared “illiteracy free” was Nandasmo, in the department of Masaya. The National Literacy Campaign officially ended on August 23, 1980; however, on September 30th it began teaching literacy in Creole English, Miskito and Sumo, with the aim of teaching literacy to 16,500 Nicaraguans on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan Government emerged from the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution on July 19, 1979. They saw an urgent priority to eradicate illiteracy. At that time, the illiteracy rate in the country was over 50%, one of the largest in the Americas. The Government Board in charge of The National Reconstruction, included in its government program, the eradication of illiteracy as one of the priorities of its action plan in the education sector.
This program said:
“A National Literacy Crusade will start. We will mobilize all the country’s resources to achieve the total eradication of illiteracy.“
In addition, the fundamental statute on the rights and guarantees of Nicaraguans, promulgated on August 21, 1979, declared literacy a social interest and noted that “it is a responsibility of all Nicaraguans.” It was inspired by one of the founders of the FSLN, Carlos Fonseca Amador, who told all guerrilla instructors in northern Nicaragua: “… And also teach them how to read”
The action was recognized by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with the award of the distinction of Memories of Humanity in 2007. He had previously been recognized by UNESCO in 1981 with the honor of the Nadezhda Krupskaya Medal.
On March 23rd, 1980, thousands of people of all types and classes, but with the common goal of literacy to those who could not read and write, departed from Managua. They expanding throughout the territory of Nicaragua, reaching the remotest places and winning the minds of all those who for some reason or another, were retracted to acquire knowledge that would allow, as the album title that supported the campaign says, “turning darkness into light.” The reasons for not having education and not having the mood for learning were for different factors, from the fear of the unknown or “not being able to learn” to the ingrained belief that it was only for “the gentlemen”. The National Literacy Crusade was a great mass movement, where Nicaraguans of all kinds and thousands of teachers sent by Cuba and thousands of international cooperators were added. The estimated participants were over 60,000. In one year the illiteracy rate was reduced to less than 13%. In the neighborhoods, villages and towns Nicaraguans waved flags indicating that the territory was free of illiteracy.
The Revolution generated its own pedagogy with its own didactic material and philosophy. This is why they had a discussion on the content of educational materials (leaflets reading, manuals, texts, etc.) creating emerging accusations by some sectors to ” politicize” literacy learning. These accusations are debatable even today.
The human cost
The mass movement of the revolutionary values of the “New Nicaragua” was soon targeted by counter-revolutionary forces and those who were organized and financed by –CIA and the government of Ronald Reagan-.
The normal causes of death associated with this movement were the attacks of the counter-revolutionaries against the literacy brigades that officially resulted in nine deaths. The first was on May 18, 1980 with the murder of Georgino Andrade, and various “accidents” of 50 more brigadiers.
In recognition of these people, they received the name: “Heroes and Martyrs by the Liberation of Nicaragua“.