Nicaragua: My Father, Somoza, and The Revolution



The other day I asked my father why he decided to join the National Guard within a year of the Sandinista overthrow of Anastasio Somoza‘s government.

I’ve always been curious about that particular decision, yet have never found the right moment to broach the subject with him.

The very act, a conspicuous statement in support of Somoza, if any, led to a number of repercussions for our family, among them, an exile from Nicaragua which began during the summer of 1979, right before the culmination of the Sandinista Revolution.

As you can imagine, it’s a sensitive subject.

But my father is now of an age where he will entertain just about any question I throw at him and seems happy to share his experiences.

On a recent and lengthy drive, I asked about his joining of Somoza’s army, to which he responded that by enlisting he was able to receive an ID card, which then allowed him to freely pass all of the military checkpoints in and around Managua without any fear of being harassed.

I understood it as a convenience. Is that it?

Part of me, let’s say 80%, thinks there’s more to it, and only time will tell if he’ll elaborate again on that particular episode of his life, but perhaps it is as straightforward as he explained.

My father loves nothing more than to stay busy and keep moving. The “freedom” that card gave him might have allowed him to enjoy some normalcy in a country on the brink of chaos.

Yet I remain curious. There are more questions to be asked. A clarification is in order.

I might have found a potential answer, inadvertently, in Charles William Doubleday’s nineteenth-century book “Reminiscences of the ‘filibuster’ war in Nicaragua.”

Among the officers were men of education and refinement, usually soldiers of experience rather than of inclination; for, in the fierce partisan wars that so frequently devastate the Spanish-American republics, a man can often safeguard more certainly both property and person by joining the army than by staying home. A neutral is usually considered legitimate prey by each party in the strife.

War makes many, often extraordinary, demands. Either you pick a side, or you get run over by each.

[N.B. This is not an official Department of State website or blog. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.]

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