Somoza Debayle, Anastasio (1925-1980)
Nicaraguan dictator and president (1967-1972, 1974-1979). Born in León on 5 December 1925, Anastasio Somoza Debayle was the second son of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza García (1936-1956). Often referred to as “Tachito,” Somoza Debayle graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point, in 1946 before heading Nicaragua's National Guard beginning in 1947. As commander of the National Guard, he helped his family maintain its hold on political power after his father's 1956 assassination. During his brother Luis Somoza Debayle's presidency (1956-1967), Anastasio Somoza brutally suppressed protests, crushed potential rivals, and developed important political and business contacts.
The death of his brother in 1967 allowed Somoza to seize power. In contrast to his brother's reliance on political parties and rigged elections, Anastasio Somoza established a thoroughly authoritarian rule. Throughout the years, violent repression of opposition groups, rigid press censorship, and challenges to businesses that rivaled the growing interests of the Somoza dynasty mounted. At the same time, Somoza maintained close relations with the United States and was viewed as a bulwark against communist subversion in Central America.
In 1972, Somoza was constitutionally forbidden from serving another presidential term, although he continued to be the de facto head of state. In December 1972 a massive earthquake virtually leveled Managua, and Somoza used the ensuing chaos to declare martial law, making him—as head of the National Guard—the ruler of the state. The earthquake resulted in Page 1852 | Top of Articleconsiderable international aid to Nicaragua, but revelations that Somoza had embezzled much of the aid led to his political isolation. Nevertheless, he was reelected president in 1974. Soon thereafter, the leftist National Liberation Front (FSLN, Sandinistas) launched a guerrilla war against the Somoza dictatorship. When the government lashed out at its enemies, popular support for the FSLN grew.
In response to the situation in Nicaragua, U.S. President Jimmy Carter sharply reduced financial and military aid to the Somoza regime. By 1978, the military situation in Nicaragua had turned against the dictatorship. In July 1979, facing condemnation at home and abroad, Somoza fled the country for Miami, Florida. He was assassinated in Asunción, Paraguay, on 17 September 1980.
Crawley, Eduardo. Dictators Never Die: A Portrait of Nicaragua and the Somoza Dynasty. New York: St. Martin's, 1979.
Lake, Anthony. Somoza Falling. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Millett, Richard. Guardians of the Dynasty. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1977.