After crossing the border into Nicaragua I headed to Managua where I discovered it was going to be Revolution Day the next day.
Why Managua First
I chose to go to Managua fist thing because it is the capital of Nicaragua and I really didn’t know that much about the rest of Nicaragua. Although I did have a number of places circled that I wanted to go to. But my time in Managua was to plan out my travels in Nicaragua. And I figured being the capital, Managua, must be a good place to visit.
As I walked around Managua I discovered it just doesn’t have the charm of many other latin american cities. It is more about big streets and lots of traffic. Luckily, I was staying in the embassy district at La Posada del Arcangel so things were more quiet there.
Fortunately for me, it was Revolution Day in Nicaragua on the 19th. That meant the big streets of Managua were filled with displays, music and booths. More on that later.
My Memories about Nicaragua
Most of my knowledge of Nicaragua comes from my memories of the Iran Contra affair with Lt. Col. Oliver North under President Ronald Reagan in the mid 1980s. In the Affair, government official hatched a plan to sell arms to Iran and use the money to finance and train Contra militants based in Honduras who were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua. This was in violation of the Boland Amendment. Of course it was a lot more involved than that and the Tower Commission was formed to get to the bottom of it. The result was that a number of government officials were indicted and convicted.
I vividly remember watching the hearing and the testimony of Lt. Col. Oliver North. I even bought his book after.
So before entering Nicaragua I was aware of the Sandinistas.
History of Revolution Day or Liberation Day in Nicaragua
What I was not aware of is the celebration of Revolution Day on July 19. The following is a history I copied from http://www.nicaragua-community.com/nicaragua-liberation-day-july-19/.
In 1927 the Nicaraguan guerrilla leader General Cesar Augusto Sandino replied to a letter from a US marine captain who threatened to hunt him down if he refused to lay down his arms. “I will not surrender,” said Sandino, “and I await you here. I desire a free homeland or death.” US-Nicaraguan tension was by then historically established: the United States had invaded Nicaragua several times, first in 1854-6, and Britain had also tried to take control of its Atlantic coast. The US and UK saw Nicaragua as key to their plans to build a canal between the Caribbean and the Pacific, realized in Panama in 1914.
The US Secretary of State Philander C Knox sent troops into Nicaragua in September 1909, under the pretext of easing political and military tension between liberals and conservatives. They stayed until 1925. In 1926 more than 5,000 US Marines landed, and did not leave until 1933: they were supposed to be guarding against “agents of Bolshevik Mexico” who wanted to take over the nation.
Sandino (1895-1934) was one of those “agents”. Although he considered himself a liberal, he began to fight in 1927 against the occupying US Marines and against Nicaragua’s liberal-conservative elite, which he saw as oppressive, exploitative, racist and prepared to sell national independence. “Sandino adopted the ideas, and the black and red flag, of the Mexican anarcho-syndicalist movement, and the class analysis of the Salvadorian Farabundo Martì”, explains the sociologist Orlando Nuñez. “He wrote about the need for Latin-American integration, which was the dream of Simon Bolivar, and also the need for indigenous people to be integrated into the political struggle, and for alliances to be forged with nationalist businesses, to confront US imperialism.”
Harassed by Sandino’s small band of guerrillas, the US forces withdrew in 1933. They were considered too expensive during the Great Depression. They left behind a National Guard under the leadership of a soldier trained in the US : Anastasio Somoza. Sandino agreed to negotiate with the national government but on 21 February 1934 he was assassinated as he left a meeting with President Juan Batista. A few years later, Somoza stated that the order to kill had come from the US ambassador, Arthur Bliss Lane.
The dynasty of Somoza dictators settled in for four decades, under Washington’s supervision: Anastasio (1936-56), Luis (1956-63), Anastasio Jr (1967-79). Yet the struggles of the past had not been in vain. In 1960, inspired by the Cuban revolution and guided by the ideas of Sandino, Carlos Fonseca Amador, Tomas Borge and other intellectuals formed the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) guerrilla movement.
For many years its success was limited by its lack of connection with the rural population. But the political landscape was changing: the concentration of power in the hands of the Somoza family, which remained totally subordinate to US interests, and the abuses of the regime, began to stir discontent among even the middle class. They saw that an alliance with the FSLN would allow them to get rid of Somoza and reclaim the power he had denied them. The FSLN believed such a partnership would help it achieve its objectives. The FSLN’s spectacular military victories in 1978, against a background of worsening repression by the Somozas, won it sympathy around the world. Even the administration of US president Jimmy Carter (1977-81) could no longer support Somoza. The revolution triumphed on 19 July 1979.
On that day, the Sandinista troops led by the nine commanders of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) entered the capital city of Managua where they were greeted by hundreds of thousands of jubilant Nicaraguans. The triumphant guerrillas found a country in ruins. The previous ruler of the country, dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, had bombed the cities during the final offensive. When he fled the country two days earlier, he took not only the caskets containing his parents’ remains, but all the money in the national treasury as well. The Sandinistas were left with no money and a $1.9 billion international debt.
Despite these handicaps, the Sandinistas set up a nine member National Directorate and five member Junta de Reconstrucciónas, the executive branch, and a Council of State which included political parties and popular organizations as the legislature. They launched an ambitious and revolutionary political program. Their Literacy Crusade reduced literacy by 37 percent and was given an award by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its triumphant success. The Sandinistas also provided citizens with free health care. The successful “Revolution of Poets,” many of the country’s poets were revolutionaries and politicians, made Nicaraguans proud and the social advances made them hopeful for the future.
As Carlos Fonseca junior, the son of the FSLN’s founder, remembers: “The revolution was so exciting and inspiring that it marked the lives of all the Nicaraguans who were just entering adolescence. We could be optimistic and dream.”
Liberation Day in Nicaragua is taken very seriously and is celebrated enthusiastically by the citizens, most of whom had witnessed the rise to power of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The day is celebrated like Independence Day in any other country- with parades, speeches, singing of the national anthem, hoisting of the national flag and even fireworks.
Sooooooo … as I walked around the city I saw everyone celebrating. Loud music was everywhere. And most every store and restaurant was closed. Here are pictures of what I saw.
I thought it was strange to see the huge picture of Hugo Chavez. He has this roundabout named after him.
Augusto César Sandino
A silhouetted figure you see everywhere is this man wearing a big hat.
This is Augusto César Sandino.
According to Wikipedia, he was a Nicaraguan revolutionary and leader of a rebellion between 1927 and 1933 against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua. He was referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government; his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to United States’ domination. He drew units of the United States Marine Corps into an undeclared guerrilla war. The United States troops withdrew from the country in 1933 after overseeing the election and inauguration of President Juan Bautista Sacasa, who had returned from exile. The re-call of the Marines was largely due to the Great Depression.
Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by National Guard forces of Gen. Anastasio Somoza García, who went on to seize power in a coup d’état two years later. After being elected by an overwhelming vote as president in 1936, Somoza García resumed control of the National Guard and established a dictatorship and family dynasty that would rule Nicaragua for more than 40 years. Sandino’s political legacy was claimed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which finally overthrew the Somoza government in 1979.
Sandino is revered in Nicaragua, and in 2010 was unanimously named a “national hero” by the nation’s congress. Sandino’s political descendants, along with the icons of his wide-brimmed hat and boots, and influence of his writings from the years of warfare against the U.S. Marines, continue to help shape the national identity of Nicaragua.
I didn’t stay in Managua long so my impressions could be wrong. But I didn’t find it to a great place to visit. Like I said before it lacked charm to me. It was just a big city. But it even lacked the amenities of of big city. Good thing for Revolution Day to make it a worthwhile trip though. I would have liked to walk the malecon, but it was closed due to Revolution Day. So I was glad to be moving on to Leon.