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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the support of the U.S. gone, the rulers of the regime realized their time was up. In July of 1979, the last Somoza ruler fled Nicaragua and was assassinated a year later. With this, the Sandinistas were free to grab control of Nicaraguan lands.
In the 1930s, Anastasio Somoza defeated Augusto Sandino, an opponent of the U.S. With the U.S. as his backer, this win gave Somoza ultimate power over Nicaragua. This began the Somoza Dynasty, which controlled Nicaragua for decades.
As a regime, the Somoza used violence and poverty to control their people. This oppression led to revolution. Soon the Sandinistas, a group of rebels with Marxist beliefs and ties to communist Cuba, began an organized rebellion. This group was named after Augusto Sandino. Although the Sandinistas gained the support of the poor, the Somoza's wealth and their ties to the U.S. allowed them to keep control.
However, when the regime abused funds sent as financial aid after an earthquake, and as they continued their brutality, the Sandinista rebels gained in popularity and power. When the Somoza regime was found responsible for killing an American reporter, the U.S. withdrew its support, and President Carter called for the regime to step down. Many assert the U.S. government hoped this would give them a chance to put a democratic government in its place.
With the Sandinistas gaining on them, and with the U.S. support lost, the last ruler of the Somoza regime finally fled the country in the year 1979. With this, the Sandinistas took control of the country.
After this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Summarize how the Somoza Dynasty came to power in Nicaragua
- Explain the United States' role in the Somoza Dynasty's rise to power
- Identify the event that turned people away from the Somoza regime and towards the Sandinistas
- Describe the fall of the Somoza regime