Anastasio Somoza Debayle
Overview
 
Anastasio Somoza Debayle (anasˈtasjo soˈmosa ðeˈβaile) (5 December 1925  – 17 September 1980) was a Nicaraguan leader and officially the 73rd and 76th President of Nicaragua
Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

 from 1 May 1967 to 1 May 1972 and from 1 December 1974 to 17 July 1979. As head of the National Guard, he was de facto ruler of the country from 1967 to 1979. He was the last member of the Somoza family to be President, ending a dynasty that had been in power since 1936.
Encyclopedia
Anastasio Somoza Debayle (anasˈtasjo soˈmosa ðeˈβaile) (5 December 1925  – 17 September 1980) was a Nicaraguan leader and officially the 73rd and 76th President of Nicaragua
Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

 from 1 May 1967 to 1 May 1972 and from 1 December 1974 to 17 July 1979. As head of the National Guard, he was de facto ruler of the country from 1967 to 1979. He was the last member of the Somoza family to be President, ending a dynasty that had been in power since 1936. After being overthrown in an insurrection led by the FSLN, he fled Nicaragua in exile and power was ceded to the Junta of National Reconstruction
Junta of National Reconstruction
The Junta of National Reconstruction officially ruled Nicaragua from July 1979 to January 1985, though effective power was in the hands of the Sandinista National Liberation Front's National Directorate....

. He was eventually assassinated while in exile in Paraguay.

Name

As is customary in Spanish-speaking countries, he was given both his father's and mother's last names, Somoza being his father's surname and Debayle being his mother's surname. Debayle is of French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 origin.

Early years

Anastasio Somoza Debayle, nicknamed "Tachito" (Spanish: Little Tacho) by his father, was the third child of Anastasio Somoza García
Anastasio Somoza García
Anastasio Somoza García was officially the President of Nicaragua from 1 January 1937 to 1 May 1947 and from 21 May 1950 to 29 September 1956, but ruled effectively as dictator from 1936 until his assassination.-Biography:Somoza was born in San Marcos, Carazo Department in Nicaragua, the son of...

 and Salvadora Debayle. At the age of seven, he was enrolled at the Instituto Pedagogico La Salle, run by the Christian Brothers. One of his classmates was Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, who would grow up to become one of the most prominent opponents of the Somoza dynasty. From the age of ten, Tachito was educated in the United States, attending St. Leo College Prep (Florida) and La Salle Military Academy
La Salle Military Academy
La Salle Military Academy was a Catholic school with middle school/junior high school and high school divisions located in Oakdale, New York. It closed in 2001, and the school's extensive campus is now owned by St...

 (Long Island). He passed the examination for West Point, entered the United States Military Academy
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

 on July 3, 1943, and graduated on June 6, 1946. Two years after his return from West Point, he fathered an illegitimate daughter, Patricia, who was later sent to a series of schools abroad. Also after his return, he was appointed chief of staff of the National Guard
National Guard (Nicaragua)
In Nicaragua, the National Guard was a militia and a gendarmerie created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. It became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption under the regime of the Somoza family.-Creation:...

, (Nicaragua's national army), by his father, who had previously given many important posts to family members and close personal friends. As commander of the Guard, Somoza was head of the nation's armed forces, effectively the second most powerful man in Nicaragua. On 10 December 1950, he married Hope Portocarrero
Hope Portocarrero
Hope Portocarrero Somoza Baldocchi was the first lady of Nicaragua, the wife of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and mother of Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero.She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1968....

, an American citizen and his first cousin, at the Cathedral in Managua by Archbishop Jose Antonio Lezcano. Over 4,000 guests attended the ceremony. The reception was given by President Anastasio Somoza García in the luxurious and modern Palacio de Comunicaciones. They had five children:
  • Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero
    Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero
    Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero is a son of former Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Debayle and Hope Portocarrero de Somoza. Also known as El Chigüín—"daddy's kid"—Somoza Portocarrero had been the heir apparent to the Somoza dynasty prior to the ouster of his father by the...

  • Julio Somoza Portocarrero
  • Carolina Somoza Portocarrero
  • Carla Somoza Portocarrero
  • Roberto Somoza Portocarrero


Following his father's assassination on 21 September 1956, Somoza's elder brother, Luis
Luis Somoza Debayle
Luis Anastasio Somoza Debayle was the President of Nicaragua from 29 September 1956 to 1 May 1963, but was effectively dictator of the country from 1956 until his death. He was born in León.Luis was educated at LSU...

, took over the presidency. Anastasio had a large hand in the government during this time and saw to it that the presidency was held by politicians loyal to his family from 1963 to 1967.

Presidency

On 1 May 1967, shortly before the death of his brother, Anastasio Somoza was himself elected president for the first time. While Luis had ruled more gently than his father had, Anastasio was intolerant of opposition of any sort, and his regime soon resembled his father's in all significant respects.

His term in office was due to end in May 1972, due to a law which disallowed immediate re-election. However, prior to that, Somoza worked out an agreement allowing him to stand for re-election in 1974; he would be replaced as president by a three-man junta consisting of two Liberals
Constitutional Liberal Party
The Constitutionalist Liberal Party is an opposition political party in Nicaragua. At the legislative elections, held on 5 November 2006, the party won 25 of 92 seats in the National Assembly....

 and one Conservative
Conservative Party of Nicaragua
The Conservative Party is a conservative political party in Nicaragua.The party's colour is green and its emblem is a torch of freedom in a circle. Its slogan is “Dios, Orden, Justicia” , often depicted on the three sides of a triangle.-History:The conservative party is the oldest currently...

 while retaining control of the National Guard
National Guard (Nicaragua)
In Nicaragua, the National Guard was a militia and a gendarmerie created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. It became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption under the regime of the Somoza family.-Creation:...

. Somoza and his triumvirate drew up a new constitution that was ratified by the triumvirate and the cabinet on April 3, 1971. He then stepped down as president on May 1, 1972. However, as head of the National Guard, he remained the de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

ruler of the country.

On 23 December 1972, an earthquake
1972 Nicaragua earthquake
The 1972 Nicaragua earthquake was an earthquake that occurred at 12:29 a.m. local time on Saturday, December 23, 1972 near Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. It had a magnitude of 6.2 and occurred at a depth of about 5 kilometers beneath the centre of the city. Within an hour after the main...

 struck the nation's capital Managua
Managua
Managua is the capital city of Nicaragua as well as the department and municipality by the same name. It is the largest city in Nicaragua in terms of population and geographic size. Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Xolotlán or Lake Managua, the city was declared the national capital in...

, killing about 5,000 people, and virtually destroying the city. Martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

 was declared, making Somoza the country's ruler in name as well as in fact once again. He then took over effective control as head of the National Emergency Committee. He reportedly embezzled many of the funds sent from across the world to help rebuild Managua. Indeed, some parts of Managua have never been rebuilt or restored, including the National Cathedral. Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente Walker was a Puerto Rican Major League Baseball right fielder. He was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the youngest of seven children. Clemente played his entire 18-year baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates . He was awarded the National League's Most Valuable Player Award in...

, whose ill-fated trip to Managua was intended to safeguard earthquake supplies, died in a plane crash while traveling to Nicaragua.

Somoza Debayle paid an unexpected visit to the Condor Nightclub (San Francisco) in November 1973 as seven limousines pulled up before startled parking attendants. About two dozen U.S Secret Service agents accompanied the general Somoza's party of nine and guarded each door. He watched an entire show by the naked Carol Doda, whose silicone-enriched 44-inch bosom first brought fame to the North Beach strip clubs. Somoza sent to Doda a word backstage as he departed that he considered her performance "most outstanding".

Somoza was re-elected president in the 1974 election. By this time, the Catholic church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 had begun to speak against his government. (Indeed, one of his fiercest critics was Ernesto Cardenal
Ernesto Cardenal
Reverend Father Ernesto Cardenal Martínez is a Nicaraguan Catholic priest and was one of the most famous liberation theologians of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, a party he has since left. From 1979 to 1987 he served as Nicaragua's first culture minister. He is also famous as a poet...

, a leftist Nicaraguan priest who preached liberation theology
Liberation theology
Liberation theology is a Christian movement in political theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions...

 and would become the Sandinista government's Minister of Culture.) By the late 1970s, human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 groups were condemning the record of the Somoza government, while support for the Sandinistas
Sandinista National Liberation Front
The Sandinista National Liberation Front is a socialist political party in Nicaragua. Its members are called Sandinistas in both English and Spanish...

 was growing inside and outside the country.

Fall

In 1975 Somoza Debayle launched a campaign to crush the Sandinistas; individuals suspected of supporting the Front were targeted. The Front, named after Augusto César Sandino
Augusto César Sandino
Augusto Nicolás Calderón Sandino was a Nicaraguan revolutionary and leader of a rebellion against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933...

 (a Nicaraguan rebel leader in the 1920s), began its guerrilla war against the Somozas in 1963 and was funded by Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 under Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party's foundation in 1961 until 2011...

 and the Soviet Union. Support for the Sandinistas ballooned after the earthquake, especially when U.S President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 withdrew American support for the regime for human rights reasons.

At this point, the opposition to the Somozas included not only Sandinistas, but other prominent figures such as Pedro Chamorro (assassinated on January 10, 1978). Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 was the last supplier of weapons to the Somoza regime, because during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, Somoza's father provided substantial financial support for Israel. Carter forced the Israeli government to call back a ship carrying weapons vital to the survival of the Somoza regime.

Because of his status, most of his family members were forced to flee into Honduras
Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

, Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, and the United States, it is uncertain where the remaining Somozas live given the fact that they changed their names to protect their own lives.

In July 1979, Somoza resigned the presidency and fled to Miami in a converted Curtiss C-46
C-46 Commando
The Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando was a transport aircraft originally derived from a commercial high-altitude airliner design. It was instead used as a military transport during World War II by the United States Army Air Forces as well as the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps under the designation R5C...

. He was denied entry to the U.S. by President Carter. He later took refuge in Paraguay
Paraguay
Paraguay , officially the Republic of Paraguay , is a landlocked country in South America. It is bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest. Paraguay lies on both banks of the Paraguay River, which runs through the center of the...

, then under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner
Alfredo Stroessner
Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda, whose name is also spelled Strössner or Strößner , was a Paraguayan military officer and dictator from 1954 to 1989...

. He bought a ranch and a gated house at Avenida de España no. 433 in Asunción
Asunción
Asunción is the capital and largest city of Paraguay.The "Ciudad de Asunción" is an autonomous capital district not part of any department. The metropolitan area, called Gran Asunción, includes the cities of San Lorenzo, Fernando de la Mora, Lambaré, Luque, Mariano Roque Alonso, Ñemby, San...

. Somoza's regime only survived him by a day, when the Sandinistas captured Managua.

Assassination

Somoza was assassinated near his exile home on September 17, 1980. He was 54 years old. Somoza Debayle was ambushed by a seven-person Sandinista commando team
Commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

 (four men and three women). This was known as "Operation Reptile".

The Sandinista team had two Soviet-made machine guns, two AK-47 assault rifles, two automatic pistols, and an RPG-7
RPG-7
The RPG-7 is a widely-produced, portable, unguided, shoulder-launched, anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Originally the RPG-7 and its predecessor, the RPG-2, were designed by the Soviet Union, and now manufactured by the Bazalt company...

 rocket launcher with four anti-tank grenades and two rockets. The leader was Argentinian
Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

 Marxist revolutionary Enrique Gorriarán Merlo
Enrique Gorriarán Merlo
Enrique Haroldo Gorriarán Merlo was an Argentine guerrilla insurgency leader, born in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, Buenos Aires Province....

 (code named "Ramon"), an ex-Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo
People's Revolutionary Army (Argentina)
The Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo was the military branch of the communist Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores in Argentina...

 member. One of the team members said: "We cannot tolerate the existence of millionaire playboys whilst thousands of Latin Americans are dying of hunger. We are perfectly willing to give up our lives for this cause."
For over six months the Sandinista assassins researched and planned their assault. The team meticulously studied Somoza's movements with a team member who was staked out at a newspaper kiosk near the estate. They waited in ambush for Somoza in Avenida España. Somoza was often driven about the city in a presumed unarmored Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Mercedes-Benz W116
The Mercedes-Benz W116 was a series of flagship vehicles produced from September 1972 through 1979. The W116 automobiles were the first Mercedes-Benz models to be officially called S-Class, although earlier sedan models had already unofficially been designated with the letter 'S' - for...

 sedan. Team member Oswaldo, disguised as a paper boy, watched Somoza exit the estate and signaled when he was leaving at 10:10 A.M.

Once in position, Hugo Irarzun (El Capitán Santiago) readied the RPG-7. He tried to fire an anti-tank rocket at the car, but the RPG-7 misfired. Ramon then gunned down the chauffeur while Irarzun quickly reloaded the RPG with a new rocket. The second rocket made a direct hit on the sedan. Accounts mentioned that the Mercedes' engine kept on running even after the rocket explosion. Previously the commando team had considered the possibility that Somoza's vehicle might indeed be equipped with forward-paneled armor. This would most likely deflect the rocket projectile upwards if hit from a frontal stance. The Sandinista team decided to engage with a lateral attack which would rule out any projectile deflection. Somoza was killed instantly and charred with the other two passengers in the car, his financial advisor Jou Baittiner and his new driver César Gallardo. Later media reports in Paraguay stated that Somoza's body was so unrecognizable that forensics had to identify him through his feet.

Of the seven assassins, six escaped. Irarzun was later captured because of his blond beard and was executed.

Somoza was buried in Miami at Woodlawn Park Cemetery and Mausoleum. A few months before Somoza's death, his memoirs, Nicaragua Betrayed
Nicaragua Betrayed
Nicaragua Betrayed, published in 1980, is the memoir of former Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Debayle , who had been toppled the previous year by the Sandinista insurgency...

, were published. In them he blamed the Carter Administration for his downfall. His son, Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero
Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero
Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero is a son of former Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Debayle and Hope Portocarrero de Somoza. Also known as El Chigüín—"daddy's kid"—Somoza Portocarrero had been the heir apparent to the Somoza dynasty prior to the ouster of his father by the...

, went into exile in Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

.

Former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America and Cuba expert Professor Brian Latell argues in his book After Fidel, that the plan to assassinate Somoza was devised in Havana with direct input from Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party's foundation in 1961 until 2011...

. According to him, the Sandinistas had won power in July 1979 with the assistance of massive, covert Cuban military aid. Along with his brother Raúl Castro
Raúl Castro
Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz is a Cuban politician and revolutionary who has been President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba since 2008; he previously exercised presidential powers in an acting capacity from 2006 to 2008...

, the two masterminded a complex multinational covert action to provide the Sandinistas with huge quantities of modern armaments. Cuban intelligence and paramilitary advisors poured into Nicaragua along with the equipment. Latell states that the evidence indicated that the assassination operation was similar to other assassination operations Cuban intelligence had been involved in, and that Somoza was a long-time nemesis of Castro after he provided critical support to the U.S. in preparing for the Bay of Pigs Invasion
Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, less than three months...

 of Cuba in April 1961.

His funeral became an occasion for wealthy Nicaraguan and Cuban exiles in South Florida to gather and protest the left-wing governments of Nicaragua under the FSLN and Cuba under Castro. However, other accounts note that this group in Miami was also relieved at Somoza's death because the newly-founded Contra
Contras
The contras is a label given to the various rebel groups opposing Nicaragua's FSLN Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle's dictatorship...

 army, which consisted of many ex-members of Somoza's National Guard, would have to give the impression of having no relation to the old Somoza regime, for purposes of public relations and world opinion.

In popular culture

Somoza was the subject of the 1983 film Last Plane Out
Last Plane Out
Last Plane Out is a 1983 film directed by David Nelson, son of Ozzie and Harriet. It was based on journalist Jack Cox's experience in Nicaragua when it was ruled by dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle and his battle against insurgents.-Plot:American journalist Jack Cox covers the civil war in...

where he was portrayed by actor Lloyd Battista. The film chronicles journalist Jack Cox's journey to Nicaragua when Somoza was battling insurgents. He also appeared in another 1983 film, the Hollywood production Under Fire
Under Fire (film)
Under Fire is a 1983 political film set during the last days of the Somoza regime in 1979 Nicaragua. It stars Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. The story is fictional, but was inspired by actual events, namely the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart by Somoza forces...

set during the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution
Nicaraguan Revolution
The Nicaraguan Revolution encompasses the rising opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, the campaign led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front which led to the violent ousting of that dictatorship in 1979, and the...

, this time being portrayed by actor René Henriquez.

See also

  • National Guard (Nicaragua)
    National Guard (Nicaragua)
    In Nicaragua, the National Guard was a militia and a gendarmerie created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. It became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption under the regime of the Somoza family.-Creation:...

  • Nicaraguan Revolution
    Nicaraguan Revolution
    The Nicaraguan Revolution encompasses the rising opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, the campaign led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front which led to the violent ousting of that dictatorship in 1979, and the...

  • Somoza Family
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