The arrival of the Nahuatl began around 1200 AD. Related to the Aztecs, they migrated to the south when their Nahua empire was destroyed by another tribe, the Chichimecas. Nicaragua takes its name from the indigenous tribal Chief Nicarao, who lived around Lake Nicaragua in the late 1400s.
In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba, Spanish conquistador, founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua’s principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon, located west of Lake Managua.
The Spanish conquistadors tried to impose their religion, customs, and culture on the indigenous ethnic groups. For the most part, they were successful. Today, Nicaragua is predominately Hispanic. Spanish became the language of the people, and Catholicism became the almost universal religion.
Walker’s troops and Nicaraguan troops fought a historic battle at San Jacinto hacienda on September 14, 1856, which is now celebrated as a national holiday. In 1857, the Liberals and Conservatives united to drive Walker out of office. He returned to the USA, and after several attempts to return to Central America, he sailed from Mobile in August 1860 and landed in Honduras. Here he was taken prisoner by Captain Salmon, of the British navy, and was surrendered to the Honduran authorities, by whom he was tried and condemned to be shot. He was executed on the 12th of September 1860.
The shadow is that of Augusto C. Sandino, a Nicaraguan general small in statue, but gigantic when it came to patriotic conscience. On January 6, 1927, North American troops entered Nicaragua, arguing that lives and property of U.S. citizens had to be protected. With the support of an army of peasants Sandino showed the world that he was not permitting the exploitation of his free, sovereign country. He was declared hero of the dignity of Latin America, battling against North American imperialists.
A truce was declared in 1933, but unfortunately in 1932, the National Guard was headed for the first time in history by a Nicaraguan military: Anastasio Somoza García. When the U.S. military departed, their parting gift was to set up the National Guard. Somoza was a long-time friend of the U.S. and became heavily involved in assisting the U.S. in developing the National Guard.
The next year, General Somoza, started an evident persecution of old Sandinista soldiers, illegally arresting, hurting, and even killing these men. Sandino complained to the puppet President Sarcasa. Sandino was invited to a gala by the president and the same Somoza. After arranging a compromise of ceasefire, Sandino accepted the offer. On the road, in Managua, the car of Sandino was intercepted by soldiers of the National Guard. The soldiers then escorted Sandino and two of his generals to a place where the hero and his men were brutally shot to death. And sadly, all Sandino wanted was a free country!
Rigoberto López Pérez was known for the assassination of Anastasio Somoza García, the long-time dictator in Nicaragua, who controlled several puppet presidents. Born in Leon, he was a poet and composer. On September 21, 1956, he infiltrated a party in which Somoza attended, and shot him in the chest. Lopéz was killed instantly in a hail of bullets, and Somoza died a few days later in Panama.
Anastasio Somoza’s son, Luis Somoza Debayle, assumed the presidency after his father was assassinated. He was educated in the U.S. and ruled from 1957 to 1967. Luis and his younger brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, shared NO brotherly love. Luis made Anastasio head of the National Guard because of a family obligation, however; Luis wanted no part of his younger brother becoming president. Unfortunately, Luis died of a heart attack a few months before a rigged “election” in which Anastasio Somoza Debayle assumed the presidency.
Anastasio ruled with the power of his beloved National Guard crushing any and all rebellions. By 1970, the general population of Nicaraguans had no love for their leader. After the devastating earthquake of 1972, Anastasio ripped off all the international funds Nicaragua received to rebuild…and all hell broke loose with the Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels, led by Carlos Fonseca.
Carlos was a Nicaraguan teacher and librarian, who founded the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1963. Known for his poor eyesight, notice the dark framed glasses in the mural. In his earlier years, he became enamored with politics and idolized Sandino. Between 1959 and 1963, Fonseca and his motley crew of revolutionaries experimented with a variety of organizational forms. He had hoped to model the revolution in Nicaragua after the Cuban revolution. Fonseca fought hard, but died in an ambush in the Nicaraguan mountains in 1976, three years before the FSLN took power.
In 1977, when Jimmy Carter was President of the U.S., he began to press Somoza to change his image, clean up the National Guard, and stop terrorizing the people of his country or face losing U.S. support. On January 10, 1978, Pedro Chamorro, editor of La Prenza and a very vocal opponent of Somoza, was assassinated on his way to work. Resistance and violence to the Somoza regime continued. In May, 1979 the U.S. feared that if Somoza came down, a Communist regime would take its place, and they were prepared to do almost anything to prevent that from happening. So, the U.S. approved an IFM loan of $66 million to the Somoza regime. However, even that wasn’t enough to stop the uprising. By June, 1979, after a televised execution of Bill Stewart, an ABC newsman, by Somoza’s National Guard, the sympathies of the U.S. people had turned to the Sandinista rebels. The U.S. government tried to compromise with the Sandinista rebels, but the FSLN wanted only complete and total surrender.
July 17,1979, Somoza flew to Miami, and the FSLN took control of Nicaragua. Somoza eventually moved to Paraguay, where he was assassinated in 1980 by a Nicaraguan rebel.
From the beginning, Nicaragua has been under attack. Its autonomy and sovereignty are repeatedly impeded. When the Sandinista forces entered Managua on July 20, 1979 hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans celebrated a short-lived ideological freedom. Since the 1850’s, the U.S. government has intervened in Nicaragua…and once again, in the 1980’s the U.S. reared its bullied head.
As the Nicaraguans worked toward self-sufficiency, President Ronald Reagan, fearing a socialist take-over in Nicaragua, secretly and without approval of Congress, funded the Contra War to undermine the Sandinista government. This disastrous ten-year war cost 60,000 lives, and destroyed the country’s economy and infrastructure with estimated losses of $178 billion dollars.
Still, the Nicaraguans continued to fight for their freedom and their right to self-rule. In 1984, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Nicaragua against the United States and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. The ICJ ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting the Contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaraguan harbors. But, the U.S. blocked enforcement of the judgment, and prevented Nicaragua from actually receiving any monetary compensation.
Old statues of Somoza were destroyed. Today, the Nicaraguan people are organizing to help one another survive. The U.S. continues to intervene, but the Nicaraguans continue to push forward with their passion and devotion for sovereignty and autonomy.
It looks as if my simple account of the history of Nicaragua, as interpreted through this famous mural in Leon, has bored the poor Nicaraguan to death. So, with that, I close my turbulent account and end with a poem:
The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naïve America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.
You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).
You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.
The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: ‘The stars are yours.’
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising..) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.
But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl;
which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love–
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtémoc said:
‘I am not in a bed of roses’–our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God’s own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.
And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing: