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The Nicaraguan Revolution: The Somoza Regime & Sandinistas

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  • 0:08 Nicaraguan Revolution
  • 0:41 US Involvement
  • 1:12 Somoza Dynasty
  • 2:25 Sandinistas
  • 3:02 Tide Turns
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high History and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in Education.

This lesson will explain the events of the Nicaraguan Revolution. In doing so, it will highlight U.S. involvement as well as the brutality and violence of the Somoza regime and the Sandinista rebels.

Nicaraguan Revolution

For much of the 20th century, Central America was plagued by revolution and war. In today's lesson, we'll take a look at this era of conflict as we discuss the Nicaraguan Revolution.

As we do this, it's important to remember that much of what we're going to discuss can be a bit touchy. To this day, there are many different opinions on who the good guys were and who the bad guys were in this story. Keeping this in mind, we're going to do our best to stick to the facts of the revolution. With this little disclaimer of sorts, let's get started with the United States' role in the war.

Involvement

In 1959, the U.S. began a policy to keep any leftist regimes out of its neighborhood. In other words, the American government wanted to make sure no communist governments hatched in Latin America. For this reason, it began supporting the governments already in place there. With the strength of the U.S. backing them, many of the leaders of Latin American countries became extremely powerful. As often happens, this power made them very wealthy and formidable, while the common people of their lands became very, very poor.

Somoza Dynasty

In Nicaragua, the U.S. backed the Somoza Dynasty, a family regime that had controlled Nicaragua for decades. Interestingly, the U.S. was very influential in helping the regime come to power in the first place. To explain, in the 1930s, American forces helped Anastasio Somoza defeat Augusto Sandino, an opponent of the U.S. who wanted to rid Nicaragua of any American influence. Upon Sandino's defeat, Somoza held absolute power in the country. Of course, he had Sandino executed. However, we should keep the name Augusto Sandino in mind because it will definitely come up later.

With Sandino out of the way and with the U.S. as an ally, the Somoza regime controlled the people of Nicaragua. According to many historical accounts, this control came in the form of economic deprivation, brutality, and murder. In other words, anyone who stood against them was destroyed.

Due to this oppression, the seeds of rebellion were planted in the impoverished people of Nicaragua and Anastasio Somoza was assassinated. However, he had sons to take his place. Unfortunately, history records that their rule was also marked with oppression and brutality.

Sandinistas

As their brutality continued, the Somoza family gained a new enemy when a group of rebels with Marxist beliefs and ties to communist Cuba began an organized rebellion. Interestingly, this group named themselves Sandinistas after none other than Augusto Sandino, the man the family first executed to gain power.

Throughout the 1960s, the Sandinistas were able to gain the support of the impoverished people of Nicaragua. With this, they were able to weaken the Somoza regime. However, with allies like the U.S., the regime held on. Ironically, it was a national tragedy that would turn the tide for the Sandinista rebels.

Tide Turns

To explain, in 1972, Nicaragua was hit with a devastating earthquake. As often happens, foreign aid began coming in to help the victims. However, rather than allowing this money to make its way to the people, it's believed the Somoza regime kept it for themselves. Seeing this, more than just the poor of Nicaragua began siding with the Sandinistas. Adding to this, the Somoza family definitely lost favor in the eyes of the world.

Although this all makes the regime look rather horrible, we must mention that the Sandinistas also used violence. In fact, in the early 70s, they kidnapped a group of dignitaries and demanded ransom. Inflamed by this bold move, the Somoza regime went on the warpath, destroying any and all they felt supported the rebels. However, this brutality only served to push more people to the Sandinistas' side. It also put the U.S. in a rather difficult spot.

Unable to ignore their atrocities, President Jimmy Carter put pressure on the Somoza regime to give up power. His hopes were to have the Somoza regime dissolve before the communist-linked Sandinistas took control. This way, the U.S. may have a chance to help build a democratic government in Latin America. However, this was not to be. Instead, the regime's brutality continued and they even killed a U.S. reporter. Of course, this move further severed ties with the U.S.

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