After our 24 day trip to Nicaragua in October, we have lots of things to share with you about our experiences. So, for a while, our newsletters will include a section of info, videos, stories, and photos about Nicaragua. Hope you enjoy learning more about our neighboring country to the north.
First off, some basic facts about Nicaragua, from Wikipedia:
Nicaragua is the least densely populated nation in Central America, with a demographic similar in size to its smaller neighbors. It is located about midway between Mexico and Colombia, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. Nicaragua ranges from the Caribbean Sea on the nation’s east coast, and the Pacific Ocean bordering the west. Nicaragua also possesses a series of islands and cays located in the Caribbean Sea.
Nicaragua’s name is derived from Nicarao, the name of the Nahuatl-speaking tribe which inhabited the shores of Lake Nicaragua before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and the Spanish word ‘Agua’, meaning water, due to the presence of the large Lake Cocibolca (or Lake Nicaragua) and Lake Managua (or Lake Xolotlán), as well as lagoons and rivers in the region.”
We spent most of our time in Nicaragua in the northern highlands towns of Matagalpa and Estelí. We were in Estelí, Nicaragua for two weeks to study at Spanish School Nicaragua. As we explored the city by bus, taxi, and on foot, we saw beautiful murals, most painted, others done in mosaics, and some which added recycled items like soda bottle caps and beer can tabs.
We’ve put together the following video of the murals we saw on our trip – I’m sure there are many more that we missed. You may want to watch it through once, then again, pausing it to look more closely at individual murals. If you look closely at the murals, you can learn a lot about the people of Nicaragua – their values, culture, and especially their attitudes about war and peace.
Estelí was a Sandinista stronghold during the war, so it’s natural that many of the murals depict scenes of the revolution, including images of their heroes: Gen. César Augusto Sandino, Carlos Fonseca, founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the early 1960s, and even Che Guevara who provided inspiration. Paul and I knew very little about Nicaragua’s history and revolution before our visit, so we thought we’d provide some of the history here for those of you who are interested.
1912-25 – US establishes military bases.
1927-33 – Guerrillas led by Augusto Cesar Sandino campaign against US military presence.
1934 – Sandino assassinated on the orders of the National Guard commander, General Anastasio Somoza Garcia.
In the second decade of the twentieth century U.S. Marines were intervening in Nicaragua. They were sent by the government of the United States to intimidate and control the local political parties – involved in a civil war at that time – in order to ensure that the presidential seat would be occupied by a submissive Nicaraguan leader who would cooperate with the voracious exploitation of Nicaragua by the United States. This strategy worked well for the U.S., the strongest country in the world, until a general – small in physical size but gigantic when it came to patriotic conscience – started to fight back. With the support of an army of peasants this general showed the world that he was not permitting the exploitation of his free, sovereign country. This general was Augusto C. Sandino, general of the free men, hero of Las Segovias.”
Sandino and his “small and crazy army”, as the Chilean writer Gabriela Mistral called it, fought US marines in the mountains of the Segovias, the northern part of the country. His tactics where so effective that even though they were outnumbered and even though the Marines were technologically superior, Sandinos army was never eliminated by foreign soldiers. The Marines finally left the country, leaving behind a Nicaraguan army that was then known as the National Guard (“Guardia Nacional”), led by a national military man trained in the United States: Anastacio Somoza García, known as “Tacho”.
After the marines retreated, Sandino wanted to negotiate peace and let the life of his soldiers turn back to normal. He was called by the president José María Moncada and by Somoza to negotiate. Sadly, Sandino was betrayed, captured and executed. Even nowadays, the place where the body of this hero is buried remains unknown.”
1937 – General Somoza elected president, heralding the start of a 44-year-long dictatorship by his family.
1956 – General Somoza assassinated, but is succeeded as president by his son, Luis Somoza Debayle.
1961 – Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founded.
1967 – Luis Somoza dies and is succeeded as president by his brother, Anastasio Somoza.
Even though his father had acquired various real estate properties, businesses and industries that then became his and his family’s patrimony, Somoza Debayle continued to indiscriminately collect more and more wealth. At the end of 1972, when a devastated earthquake hit Managua, a big part of foreign aid brought to Nicaragua was deviated to the dictator’s warehouse. This aid was commercialized and auctions put in place for the reconstruction of the city (paid by public money and international aid) were won by Somoza’s businesses and their allies.
The social distress was increasing, but the National Guard could strongly submit any public declaration by torturing and executing political opponents and people from the general population…
The strong subjection of Nicaragua and its population to the wishes of Somoza and his private army resulted in the creation of a military movement in 1962 that intended to defeat the dictatorship. The movement was named after Sandino and this is how the “Sandinista National Liberation Front” (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional –FSLN) was born, founded by a group of intellectuals and volunteers led by the young Carlos Fonseca.
1972 – Managua is devastated by an earthquake that kills between 5,000 and 10,000 people.
1978 – Assassination of the leader of the opposition Democratic Liberation Union, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, triggers general strike and brings together moderates and the FSLN in a united front to oust Somoza.
1979 – Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) military offensive ends with the ouster of Somoza.
1980 – Somoza assassinated in Paraguay; FSLN government led by Daniel Ortega nationalises and turns into cooperatives lands held by the Somoza family.
1982 – US-sponsored attacks by Contra rebels based in Honduras begin; state of emergency declared. US-backed Contra rebels fought 10-year rebellion against Sandinistas.
1984 – Daniel Ortega elected president; US mines Nicaraguan harbours and is condemned by the World Court for doing so.
1987-88 – Nicaraguan leadership signs peace agreement and subsequently holds talks with Contra; hurricane leaves 180,000 people homeless.
On a lighter note, we really enjoyed getting to know the town of Estelí. It’s largely rural once you get out of the downtown area. And you never know what you’ll see along the road. Here’s a short little video shot from our taxi that will make you smile!
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