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Leon

Written on: Monday September 14th, 2009

A journal entry from: Cycle Mexico - Panama

September 6th - 11th

We have now spent a few days in Leon, very pleased to have stayed in a clean and well-run hotel (Austrian owned). Leon is an old colonial town, founded in 1524, and was for a long time the capital of Nicaragua. The city was important during the revolution, and has traditionally been the most politically progressive in the country. It is also an important centre for art, literature and religion. The most famous author from Nicaragua, Ruben Dario (1867 - 1916), lived here in Leon. Many of the walls around the city centre are deocorated with bright murals depicting scenes from the country´s history, especially the revolution. 

We went to the museum "Galeria de Heroes y Martires" which is a museum about the recent history of Nicaragua, and particularly the Somoza dictatorship and Contra - Sandinista war. The museum was very interesting and we had an enthusiastic guide who also told us about his own experiences from the war. There were pictures of some of his friends in the museum and he showed us his own wounds. Overall the museum was quite different to a museum in Europe, with mostly newspaper cuttings and photographs covering the walls. They were mainly in a chronological order beginning in the 1930s up until the present day. Unfortunately our understanding was quite limited as our Spanish isn´t much to hang on the Christmas tree....

A brief synopsis of what we learned: Nicaragua was a key country in Central America as it was the main rival to Panama for the site of a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Therefore the US had a great interest and influence in controlling the political situation in the country and determining who was in charge. US military forces left the country in 1933, leaving behind a US trained Guardia National who aimed to put down guerilla resistance led by the famous rebel Augusto Sandino (after whom the Sandinistas take thier name). The Guardia National was led by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who after a peace conference in 1937 murdered Sandino and seised full control of the country. From this point on three generations of Somozas ruled Nicaragua for four decades under a miltary dictatorship.

The FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional) was created in 1961 as an opposition to the Somoza regime. After years of oppressive and corrupt dictatorship the FSLN deposed Somoza in 1979 with broad public support. However the country they inherited was in a terrible state, but US President Carter gave monetary support to the Sandinista government. This stopped when Regan came into power in 1981. A US sponsored counter revolutiuon began, the soldiers were known as Contras and many were ex Somosa Guardia National. On the Sandinista side Soviet and Cuban military aid poured in. There were trade embargoes, the Iran-Contra affair and many failed peace initiatives. A peace accord was eventually signed in 1987, though it was difficult to implement. 

Elections through the 90´s were rife with accusations of fraud and bribery. US embargoes were lifted and the Contras publically turned in their weapons when a US backed candidate won the 1990 election. In the last election in 2006 the FSLN leader and ex-president of the country (who also won the election in 1985) Daniel Ortega won. Ortega is an ex-guerilla who seems to polarise the people and has recieved mixed reviews on his latest government.