Nicaragua has been the focus of U.S. foreign policy more than most Americans realize.
In the 1850’s, the country was invaded and briefly ruled by a U.S. lawyer-doctor-journalist named William Walker.
At the turn of the 20th century, the country was the proposed site of the canal connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific, until Congress opted for Panama.
During the 1920’s and ’30’s, the U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua making it “safe for democracy” (i.e., “business interests”).
But the United States’ most enduring impact on Nicaragua (outside of Mickey Mouse and Coca-Cola) may have been the support of the Somoza dynasty which ruled the country either directly or indirectly from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.
The final Somoza was President Anastasio Sonoza Debayle, whose mishandling of Nicaraguan finances in the 1970’s, and particularly after the 1972 earthquake, infuriated the Nicaraguan public. The socialist Sandinista Liberation Front (named for Augusto César Sandino) gained popularity as a militant opposition movement against Somoza’s government.
The revolution killed approximately 50,000 Nicaraguans and climaxed in 1979, by which time Somoza had lost U.S. support and the Sandinistas had gained control of most of the country outside of the capital Managua. Somoza fled to Miami on July 17, which is celebrated in Nicaragua as “Día de la Alegría”.
Two days later the Sandinistas took power.
On July 19, 2009 the country celebrates the 30th anniversary of that takeover, alternately known as Liberation Day and Sandinista Day.
Ironically, the celebrations come as the opposition accuses Sandinista leader Ortega – who lost power in 1990 but returned 17 years later – of promoting “a new family dictatorship” in Nicaragua, currently the second-poorest country in Latin America…
For writer Sergio Ramirez… “[Ortega] wasted the opportunity that history put in his hands, to use his leadership to transform Nicaragua socially and to provide it with better democratic institutions… What there is now is a populist government with a conduct that is confusing in many aspects, that has a demagogic left-wing discourse and a right-wing behaviour in economic policy…”
As Valdivia, another revolutionary, put it…
“We were idealistic people. We were in love with the revolution… But we don’t see now that it was worth it. … The cost in human life, in destruction of property, was a lot higher than the benefit.”
Quoted by Matt O’Brien, Revolutionaries Live With Pride and Regret
But for the most part, Nicaraguans celebrate Liberation Day with parades, fireworks, and official ceremonies. Many still remember—or were victims themselves—of the violence, censorship and corruption that characterized much of the 20th century.