Somoza Debayle, Luis (1922–1967)

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Somoza Debayle, Luis (1922–1967)

Luis Somoza Debayle (b. 18 November 1922; d. 13 April 1967), president of Nicaragua (1956–1963). Son of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García, Luis Somoza was the elder and more liberal brother of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. He attended a number of universities in the United States and returned to Nicaragua to sit as a member of the Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN) in Congress while his father was president. Although Luis had an officer's commission in the National Guard, he chose the path of politics and became the president of the PLN, the president of Congress, and the first designate to the Nicaraguan presidency. Upon his father's assassination, Luis assumed the presidency. He served out his father's term and then was elected to the presidency in his own right.

Luis Somoza is best known for relaxing the political repression that characterized his father's time in power. Social reforms of his term included housing development, social-security legislation, limited land reform, and university autonomy. He allowed some measure of freedom of the press and released political detainees, measures that were aimed at improving the regime's image. His liberal social policy notwithstanding, four out of his seven years in office were conducted under martial law, and a number of abortive uprisings were repressed. His goal in liberalizing Nicaragua's political environment was the removal of the Somoza family from obvious political power, making them less vulnerable to attack and opposition. It has been suggested that Luis Somoza envisioned a role for the PLN based on the corporate political model of Mexico. Moreover, he sought a way for his family to exercise "discreet control" through the PLN, a plan that brought him into direct conflict with his younger brother, Anastasio ("Tachito"), who had assumed control of the National Guard under their father's last term in office. Luis's moderate approach was rejected by Tachito, who, like his father, felt control could be maintained only through the National Guard and a hard-line military style. Luis restored the constitutional articles banning the immediate reelection or succession to the presidency by any relative of the incumbent or by the incumbent himself. He reinforced this legislation by stepping down at the end of his term. Luis did not intend to remove the Somozas from power, however, and engineered the selection and election of PLN candidate René Schick Gutiérrez, a close Somoza associate, in 1963.

During his time in office, Luis attempted to reestablish friendly relations with Nicaragua's neighbors and supported the establishment of the Central American Common Market (CACM). Despite the variance in political style, Luis maintained the strong pro-United States stance of his father, allowing the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion to be launched from Nicaragua's eastern coast. His last years were spent in conflict with his younger brother over the latter's aspirations to the presidency. Luis's death from a heart attack in 1967 removed a moderating influence from the Somoza family.

See alsoCentral American Common Market (CACM); Nicaragua; Schick Gutiérrez, René; Somoza Debayle, Anastasio; Somoza García, Anastasio.


Richard Millet, Guardians of the Dynasty (1977).

Eduardo Crawley, Dictators Never Die (1979).

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).

Anthony Lake, Somoza Falling (1989).

Dennis Gilbert, Sandinistas (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Gambone, Michael D. Eisenhower, Somoza, and the Cold War in Nicaragua, 1953–1961. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

                                  Heather K. Thiessen