Somoza Debayle, Anastasio (1925–1980)

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Somoza Debayle, Anastasio (1925–1980)

Anastasio Somoza Debayle (b. 5 December 1925; d. 17 September 1980), president and dictator of Nicaragua (1967–1979). "Tachito" Somoza was the younger son of Anastasio Somoza García. Unlike his older brother, Luis, Tachito rose to power through the Nicaraguan military. A graduate of West Point (1948), he returned to Nicaragua to take on a number of high-ranking positions in the National Guard. His father, while president, made him commander of the Guard. Like his father, Tachito believed the National Guard was the only reliable constituency of support for the Somoza family. While Luis, as president, implemented liberal policies and moderate social reform, Anastasio provided the muscle to maintain control over Nicaraguan society. He used the National Guard to quell minor outbreaks of social unrest. During his brother's presidency (1956–1963), Tachito increasingly came into conflict with Luis on the issue of his own presidential ambitions. His brother's death in 1967 removed a restraining influence over Tachito, who engineered his temporary resignation from the National Guard to be eligible constitutionally to run for president. In 1967, the third Somoza was "elected" to the presidency of Nicaragua.

Tachito proved to be much more his father's son than did his older brother. He has been characterized as greedy, cruel, repressive, and inhuman. He continued his father's methods in maintaining Conservative compliance by raising the party's congressional seat allocation to 40 percent. He continued the pro-U.S. policy of his father and brother (his father had allowed the CIA to use the Managua airport in 1954 for bombing raids against the Arbenz government in Guatemala) and even offered Nicaraguan troops for Vietnam. Strict and repressive control kept him in power, and the stable economy initially kept discontent in check. The middle sectors of Nicaraguan society were weak and divided, and Somoza still represented order in a country where a small guerrilla group, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), was beginning to cause political concern.

On 23 December 1972 a massive earthquake hit Managua and Somoza reclaimed the presidency under the auspices of a state of emergency. The corruption that characterized this period included the diversion of international relief funds and the private access to relief supplies of Somoza, his cronies, and the National Guard. Such behavior alienated the Nicaraguan upper classes and resulted in the formation of a broad opposition front, which was formed to challenge Somoza in the 1974 elections and led by La Prensa editor Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal. Increasing numbers of young Nicaraguans from all classes were joining the FSLN in its struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. As the success of FSLN attacks increased, Somoza used the National Guard to repress violently any form of perceived opposition. The human-rights abuses caused U.S. President Jimmy Carter to cool relations with the once favorite son.

In 1977 Somoza suffered a heart attack but did not relinquish power. In 1978 Chamorro was assassinated. Somoza and the guard were blamed, and Somoza's violent repression of the ensuing demonstrations solidified opposition forces on the left and the right. Washington attempted to negotiate, offering "Somocismo without Somoza," but with Somoza's own intransigence and the opposition's strength, the mediation was rejected. An Organization of American States resolution demanded his resignation, and Tachito was forced to leave Nicaragua on 17 July 1979.

On the invitation of President General Alfredo Stroessner, Somoza ultimately went into exile to Paraguay. On 17 September 1980 he was killed in Asunción when a bomb exploded in the car he was driving. An Argentine guerrilla organization was initially held responsible, but subsequently the FSLN military was connected to the assassination.

See alsoChamorro Cardenal, Pedro Joaquín; Nicaragua; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Somoza Debayle, Luis; Somoza García, Anastasio.


Richard Millet, Guardians of the Dynasty (1977).

Eduardo Crawley, Dictators Never Die (1979).

Anastasio Somoza Debayle and Jack Cox, Nicaragua Betrayed (1980).

Bernard Diedrich, Somoza and the Legacy of U.S. Involvement in Central America (1981) and Somoza (1982).

Thomas Walker, Nicaragua: The Land of Sandino (1986).

David Close, Nicaragua: Politics, Economics, and Society (1988).

Dennis Gilbert, Sandinistas (1988).

Anthony Lake, Somoza Falling (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Everingham, Mark. Revolution and the Multiclass Coalition in Nicaragua. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.

Morley, Morris H. Washington, Somoza, and the Sandinistas: State and Regime in U.S. Policy toward Nicaragua, 1969–1981. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Solaún, Mauricio. U.S. Intervention and Regime Change in Nicaragua. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

                                    Heather K. Thiessen