Anastasio Somoza Debayle

5 Dec 1925
17 Sep 1980
Politics
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Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza DeBayle (5 December 1925 – 17 September 1980) was a Nicaraguan politician and officially the 73rd and 76th President of Nicaragua 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 and power was ceded to the Junta of National Reconstruction. He was eventually assassinated while in exile in Paraguay.

As is customary in most Spanish-speaking countries, he was given both his parents’ last names, Somoza being his father’s last name and DeBayle being his mother’s last name. DeBayle is of French origin.

Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, nicknamed “Tachito” (Spanish: Little Tacho) by his father, was the third child of Anastasio Somoza García and Salvadora DeBayle. At the age of seven, he was enrolled at the Instituto Pedagógico La Salle, run by the Christian Brothers.

One of his classmates was Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal,[1] 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. He and older brother Luis Somoza Debayle, both attended St. Leo College Prep (Florida) and La Salle Military Academy (Long Island).

He passed the examination for West Point, entered the United States Military Academy on July 3, 1943, and graduated on June 6, 1946. Two years after his return from West Point, he fathered a 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, (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 and Hope Portocarrero, an American citizen and his first cousin, were married 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
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, 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.

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.

An illustration for his contempt for the poor was his often quoted comment, “Since the Nicaraguan people are no more than oxen, they don’t need schools. What they need is hard work, not education.”

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 and one Conservative while he retained control of the National Guard.

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 ruler of the country.

On 23 December 1972, an earthquake struck the nation’s capital, Managua, killing about 5,000 people and virtually destroying the city.

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

Somoza also allegedly was selling Nicaraguan blood plasma abroad, at the time of the earthquake, when medical supplies, including blood products, were desperately in short supply.

Somoza was re-elected president in the 1974 election. By this time, the Catholic Church had begun to speak against his government. (Indeed, one of his fiercest critics was Ernesto Cardenal, a leftist Nicaraguan priest who preached liberation theology and would become the Sandinista government’s Minister of Culture.) By the late 1970s, human rights groups were condemning the record of the Somoza government, while support for the Sandinistas was growing inside and outside the country.

In July 1977, Somoza had a heart attack, and went to the US to recuperate.

His assassination was reported by the famous tabloid headline “Somoza slain by bazooka”. Somoza was the subject of the 1983 film Last Plane Out 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 was depicted in another 1983 film, the Hollywood production Under Fire, set during the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution, this time being portrayed by actor René Enriquez.

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