Nicaragua Liberation Day – July 19

Liberation Day is a major public holiday in Nicaragua and is observed on July 19th. The day commemorates the overthrow of the Somoza family dynasty in Nicaragua on this day in 1979.

As a rule, I try to stay away from controversial themes such as politics since there are so many different opinions. History is written by the victors. Many people get confused on the various independence days that Nicaragua observes so I thought it worthwhile to explain the significance of Liberation Day since it means so much to the majority of the Nicaraguan people. I will try to just state the facts to explain the historical reasons for Liberation Day.

Nicaragua Liberation Day History 

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.

Credits to Luis Rivas, Chuck Kaufman and Hernando Calvo Ospina

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: We’re Safely in Managua | Global Glimpse

  2. Horst schwanz

    July 20, 2016 at 12:33 am

    when did the US under Reagon came in the picture