Dictators Struggle for Power
After ordering Sandino's assassination, Gen.
Anastasio Somoza García was dictator from 1936 until his own
assassination in 1956. He was succeeded by his son Luis, who alternated
with trusted family friends in the presidency until his death in 1967. He
was succeeded by his brother, Maj. Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The
Somozas ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist, reducing its dependence on
banana exports, exiling political foes, and amassing a family fortune.
Sandinista guerrillas, leftists who took their
name from Sandino, launched an offensive in 1979. After seven weeks of
fighting, Somoza fled the country on July 17, 1979. The Sandinistas
assumed power two days later. On Jan. 23, 1981, the Reagan administration
suspended U.S. aid, charging that Nicaragua, with the aid of Cuba and the
Soviet Union, was supplying arms to rebels in El Salvador. The Sandinistas
denied the charges. Later that year, Nicaraguan guerrillas known as
“Contras” began a war to overthrow the Sandinistas. Elections
were finally held on Nov. 4, 1984, with Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista
junta coordinator, winning the presidency. The war intensified in
1986–1987. Negotiations sponsored by the Contadora (neutral Latin
American) nations foundered, but Costa Rican president Oscar Arias
promoted a treaty signed by Central American leaders in Aug. 1987.