From the beginning of his rule, Anastasio Somoza was an unapologetic sycophant as far as Nicaragua’s relationship with the United States was concerned (Whisnant). According to historian Aynn Setright, Somoza ruled with what he openly professed as his “3 Ps” policy: plata (silver), plomo (lead), and palo (stick): money for his supporters (silver), bullets for his enemies (lead), and a stick for the undecided-a threat that they must be loyal.
Florence Babb succinctly describes the Somoza regime: “Corrupt and prone to using force, the Somozas and the National Guard grew wealthy and powerful at the country’s expense and were widely feared and hated.”
Somoza’s leadership style and his favor with the U.S. government, despite his repression of the Nicaraguan people, prompted U.S. President Harry Truman to acknowledge: “Yeah, he’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch” (Fogarty).
While Somoza generally allied himself with local elites, he also feigned interest in the culture of Nicaragua’s working class, and “perennially, he steeped himself in (and shaped himself in accordance with) the popular culture of the Colossus of the North” (Whisnant). At the time of his assassination in late 1956, Anastasio Somoza personally owned 15% of Nicaragua (Fogarty).
Somoza was succeeded by his two sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr, respectively. His sons continued their father’s ties with the U.S., where both had been schooled.
The FSLN: Somoza Resistance
Meanwhile, in 1961, galvanized by the successful revolution in Cuba, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was formed by a group of university students and peasants and named after the fallen Sandino as a symbol of their anti-imperialist ideology. In 1972 a massive earthquake struck the capital city of Managua, and Anastasio Jr’s pocketing of foreign aid money cast the regime in an unfavorable international light and fomented Nicaraguan resistance against the leadership. The regime responded with increased brutality which ultimately proved counterproductive in that it alienated Somoza’s last bastion of support: the middle and upper classes. Led by the FSLN, an insurrection successfully toppled the Somoza regime in July 1979.