We have been in Leon for a week now. Leon is a city very much alive and it’s been wonderful to be a part of the everyday action. On Friday we finally visited the Museo de la Revolucion, located in what used to be city hall and still littered with blood spatter and bullet holes. Despite the rough appearance of today, the grandeur and extravagance of the original building is clear. The museum cost 100 Cordobas (about $3) to enter and included in that is a guide who participated in the revolution. The guides have the history of Nicaragua written on their faces and even though it was difficult to understand as it was all in Spanish, I enjoyed conversing with and questioning our guide, Carlos.
The museum is filled with old photographs and articles that make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The museum follows a clear path, starting with the life of Augusto Cesar Sandinista. Sandinista is still revered in Nicaragua, his name on t-shirts and street art. He is also the namesake of the revolution and the current ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front).
Sandinista made his mark on Nicaragua in the late 1920s, early 1930s when he waged a war to force US Marine presence out of Nicaragua. He was betrayed and murdered in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza Garcia. The Somoza family would go on to rule Nicaragua as fierce dictators until the revolution in 1979.
The year 1962 saw the birth of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional – FSLN). The party was founded by Carlos Fonseca and a following of intellectuals, students and volunteers. Although the group was defeated in the 1960s by the Somoza regime, the movement and ideology behind it did not die; it simply moved into another phase: a nonviolent phase of gathering and sustaining support among the local people.
In 1972, Anastasio’s second son by the same name, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was ruling the country when a massive earthquake destroyed the capital city of Managua. Somoza filtered international aid money away from the people and into his family’s pocket. This was only one incident that helped fuel the growth of the FSLN by creating more desperate people in unfathomable situations.
In 1974, the FSLN began fighting again, with well-organized public attacks and strategic executions and kidnappings. More and more people joined the FSLN’s cause and began fighting against the Somoza regime. In 1979, battles were organized across the country to liberate Nicaraguan cities from the Somoza regime, beginning with Managua in June. After a month of harsh combat, Somoza and his cronies left Nicaragua on July 17, 1979.
July 19 is still celebrated as the complete fall of the Somoza dynasty and on that day in 1979, huge crowds gathered in Managua’s Plaza de la Republica to exalt the revolutionaries and their successes.
With the country securely in their hands, the Sandinistas set off to improve the quality of life for all Nicaraguans, including programs to increase literacy rates and nationalizing banks and healthcare. The United States was not happy to have a socialist neighbor to their immediate south and instituted an economic blockade upon Nicaragua in 1981. This embargo hurt Nicaragua tremendously however the United States was not satisfied. They began supplying Somoza supporters in Honduras and Costa Rica with arms to initiate la Contrarrevolución Nacional (The Counterrevolution or The Contra Wars). In 1985 the United States dictated a full-on trade embargo with Nicaragua, further inhibiting the country’s growth and success.
After four more years of turmoil, the Sandinistas were defeated in a national election in 1989. Nicaragua has been violence free and on the mend ever since. It remains one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Daniel Ortega once again took over the presidency in 2007, marking a return of the FSLN to a leadership status. He remains the president of Nicaragua today, having won his third election in 2016.
You can read more about the revolution here. If you find yourself in Leon, Nicaragua, the Revolution Museum is an interesting and informative way to spend an afternoon.