Category Archives: International Dimensions of the Nicaraguan Revolution

Somoza’s Mad Men

At the end of the Second World War governments from around the world turned to U.S. public relations firms to improve their image abroad and help curry favor with foreign officials, particularly those of the United States. Amongst those foreign governments employing U.S. PR firms were the former Axis power nations if Italy, Japan, and West Germany, as well as many of Latin America’s more autocratic regimes, including that of Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua.

Somoza Garcia employed the services of Max Rogel Inc., a “Madison Avenue” – they claimed in their advertisements that their offices were on Madison Avenue but they actually operated out of Newark, New Jersey – firm that serviced both domestic and international clients. In its relationship with the Somoza regime, Max Rogel Inc. acted as the dictator’s voice to the broader world, churning out news articles about Nicaragua and sending them to major U.S. newspapers. These articles largely painted Somoza in a flattering light, but they also provided publicity for foreign governments ignored by the mainstream U.S. media. In this regard, Max Rangel Inc. acted as both publicist and propagandist of the Somoza regime, but that does not mean that the firm was entirely loyal to the dictator.

In selling its services to the Somoza regime, Max Rangel Inc. was not above over promoting or lying to the dictator. The firm claimed that it had “a comprehensive news service that makes it possible to flash a story or photograph to every major newspaper in the United States” and that it was a service extended to them by the Associated Press or United Press International, the two major news services of the post-war era. In fact, what the firm was referring to was the PR Newswire that only operated in New York City and had no affiliation with either the Associated Press or United Press International. Although the politics of Max Rogel are unclear, they clearly had no scruples against working for a murderous dictator, or ripping him off.

On a completely unrelated note, I found a 1954 Wall Street Journal article detailing how the Federal Trade Commission told a subsidiary of Max Rogel Inc., The Charm Institute, to stop making phoney claims. The FTC accused the Charm Institute of making false claims about its “gold medal,” which was an award given to a product that was apparently “judged by famous stage and screen stars to be superior.” However, the FTC found that “famous people neither participated in any judging nor in the companies activities.” In both its domestic and international dealings, the truth was obviously a malleable thing for Max Rogel Inc.


Douglass Cater, Power in Washington: A Critical Look at Today’s Struggle to Govern in the Nation’s Capital (New York: Random House, 1964), 214-216.

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Duel Across the Border: Somoza’s Challenge to Figueres

On January 11, 1955 a group of roughly five hundred Costa Rican expatriates entered Costa Rica with the intent of ousting the then president Jose Figueres. For two weeks the insurgents fought government troops in northern Costa Rica until the Organization of American States intervened and put an end to the violence. Although he denied it, the insurrectionist force had received substantial support from the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia. The previous spring the dictator had survived an assassination attempt and the Guardia Nacional – the Nicaraguan security forces loyal to Somoza – had defeated a small insurrection of Nicaraguan exiles that originated in Costa Rica. Somoza had also just aided in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz, so seeking revenge and emboldened by his recent success in Guatemala the Nicaraguan dictator sought to remove another of his regional rivals, Figueres. Not only did Somoza supply the Costa Rican insurgents, he also provided use of his air force, which strafed and bombed targets in northern Costa Rica. Knowing that Somoza was the principal benefactor of the attacking forces, Figueres lambasted the Nicaraguan dictator in the press calling his relatives a “family of gangsters.” Somoza, who spoke fluent English and was known for his love of English curse words, responded by calling Figueres a “damn liar”and challenged Figueres to a duel at the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border.

Figueres declined the invitation to duel, stating that Somoza was “crazier than a goat in the midsummer sun.”

Ultimately the crisis was defused by the intervention of the United States. Hoping to improve its image after the Guatemalan coup, the United States quickly stepped in and negotiated an end to the crisis, however tensions between the two countries remained high even after the assassination of Somoza the next year.

Although Somoza was the main aggressor against Costa Rica and Figueres, he was aided by the other dictatorial regimes of the Caribbean. Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican, Castillo Armas of Guatemala, and Marcos Perez Jiménez of Venezuela also provided resources or support to the 1955 insurgency. Along with Somoza, they represented a regional alliance bent on securing their own regimes and sniffing out any form of opposition be it democratic or communist. In 1957 Trujillo hatched a plot to assassinate Figueres and bring down one of the regions strongest voices for democracy. The plot failed but extraterritorial violence of the Caribbean dictators continued for decades to come.


Charles D. Ameringer, The Democratic Left in Exile: The Antidictatorial Struggle in the Caribbean, 1945-1959 (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1974).

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Ernesto Cardenal and Venezuelan Solidarity

The Following images are from the April/May 1977 issue of Gaceta Sandinista, which was published by the Venezuelan Committee in Solidarity with the People of Nicaragua. The group was composed primarily of students and members of leftist political parties, as evinced by the imagery of Karl Marx. The issue from which these images were taken chronicled a visit to Venezuela by Father Ernesto Cardenal, a Nicaraguan poet and religious leader who opposed the Somoza regime and clandestinely worked with the Sandinistas. Prior to the success of the Sandinista Revolution Cardenal traveled the globe as a member of “the Twelve,” a group of twelve Nicaraguan exiles who traveled the globe speaking out against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and garnering support for the revolutionary cause. The actions of Cardenal and other members of “the Twelve” helped raise awareness about the plight of Nicaraguans under the dictatorship and placed pressure on the Carter administration to withdraw for Somoza Debayle.

Sandino and Cardenal
The above image is the front cover of Gaceta Sandinista, which depicts Cardenal standing with Augusto Sandino. Cardenal and the Sandinistas were the heirs to Sandino’s revolutionary movement against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933.

Cardenal 2

Cardenal and monster
As these cartoons accurately depict, Catholicism and leftist political ideals formed the two main pillars of the Nicaraguan Revolution. The Nicaraguan Revolution utilized both Liberation Theology and Marxist thought in their struggle against Somoza Debayle.


Cardenal and Marx

Cardenal and Marx 2
These cartoons were drawn by the well-known Venezuelan cartoonist Abilio Padron, who created pieces sympathetic to national liberation struggles. Before producing these cartoons for Venezuelan Committee in Solidarity with the People of Nicaragua, Abilio had created pieces protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

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Nebraskans in Solidarity with Nicaragua

Sorry for the long absence between posts but I was a little distracted by finishing a chapter of my dissertation. Yesterday I came across this letter in the Witness for Peace newsletter, and being a Nebraskan I couldn’t help but post it.

Witness for Peace - December January 1986-870000

Witness for Peace is a Christian relief organization whose originated in the early 1980s in opposition to U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. Witness for Peace spoke out against U.S. covert and overt aggression towards Nicaragua, holding demonstration and rallies in cities across the United States. They also sent thousands of volunteers to villages along the Nicaraguan/Honduran border in order to deter Contra attacks. They recognized that villages with U.S. volunteers in them would not be attacked because the Contras feared that the death of a U.S. citizen would spark public outcry in the United States and lead to a reduction in support from the U.S. government. The efforts of Witness for Peace and organizations like it did much to hamper the Reagan administration’s efforts to escalate the war in Nicaragua.

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Grants to Nicaragua, July 1979 – July 1986

Screenshot 2014-03-05 at 4.25.08 PM

I created the above map using Palladio and it represents the movement of over $450 million dollars (in 1986 dollars) in state grants to Nicaragua from 1979 to 1986. The data comes from the  Nicaraguan Ministry of External Cooperation, which I found in a volume entitled Aid that Counts: the Western Contribution to Development and Survival in Nicaragua, published by Transnational Institute (TNI). Founded in 1974 and committed to the struggle of social movements internationally, TNI issued Aid that Counts at the height of the Contra War in an attempt to stop the trend of diminishing aid to Nicaragua.

I am still trying to figure out how to demonstrate changes in the amount of grant money over time. I hope to be able to show how aid to Nicaragua dried up after the United States began pressuring European and Latin American states to take a harder line with the Sandinistas. At the same time I would like to depict the changing flow of Soviet aid to Nicaragua, which was due to a myriad of complex issues. Hopefully, given more time to mess around with the tool I will be able to sort these things out.

Visualizing the Revolution


Yesterday I began working with a data visualization tool called Palladio that allows you to easily create maps, graphs, and other visualizations in your browser. Using Palladio is as simple as cutting and pasting data from your spreadsheet into the tool. I modified a spreadsheet that I had created for Gephi, made another with the locations of a few cities that are important to my research, cut and pasted them into the tool, and voila! I had the above visualization. It is a far more intuitive tool than Gephi and I would argue that the finished product is visually more appealing.

I look forward to working with Palladio more and am excited about the prospect of mapping the ebb and flow of relations between the Nicaraguan Revolution and various states and organizations. Ultimately this work will constitute a digital component of my dissertation. More immediately I will be working more with Palladio in the coming weeks and present on its application to my work at the Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) conference in April.

Palladio is currently being developed by the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford University. A special thanks to my friend Jason Heppler for helping create this tool and spreading the word about it.

French Feminist Solidarity

Last week I received a package in the mail from Toulouse, France, which contained a booklet from a feminist Nicaraguan-solidarity organization in Paris. I had originally found a copy of this booklet in the Gabi Guttwald collection at the Archiv Grünes Gedächtnis, but while looking into the organization I found a copy online. I have not found many sources from French solidarity groups, this booklet being my only piece so far.

“Nicaragua Women”


Printed shortly after the fall of Somoza in July 1979, this booklet contains accounts of events in Nicaragua and Nicaraguan women’s efforts in helping to oust the Somoza regime. Early in its history the FSLN adopted a policy of gender equality within its ranks, allowing women the same rights and opportunities within the organization as its male members. During the revolution women served in support as well as front line positions. After the revolution women remained in significant roles in the organization and by the mid-1980s one quarter to one third of the leadership positions in the FSLN government and party were held by women.

I was not able to track down this Sandino quote and I do not know French well enough to give it a proper translation, or at least one that makes sense.

“Women and Armed Struggle”

“The Women’s Struggle After Victory”

Karen Kampwirth, Women and Guerrilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003)

Victoria Gonzalez and Karen Kampwirth, Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)

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Israel, Palestine, and Nicaragua

The above video is a talk given by Dr. Les Field, a professor of anthropology at the Univeristy of New Mexico. In the video he discusses connections between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel, and Nicaragua that he gave at the American University of Beirut in 2012.  He makes the point that PLO weaponry captured by the Israelis during their 1982 invasion of Lebanon were given to the Contras. Although I have found similar claims made by those on the left (I have examined many of the sames sources cited by Dr. Field), I have not found any concrete evidence to suggest that the Israelis provided captured weaponry to the Contras. However, if Dr. Field’s claims are true it would prove that the Israelis were arming the Contras prior to the Iran-Contra scandal, significantly altering the our perception of the event.

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Green Aid to the FSLN


The image to the left is of an article from La Prensa Grafica, a Salvadoran newspaper, dated October 27, 1989. The article discusses the efforts of the German Greens to raise funds for the FSLN. The article states that the Greens raised 300,000 marks for Daniel Ortega‘s presidential campaign against Violeta Chamorro. By the late 1980s European support for the FSLN had significantly dwindled in the face of U.S. political and economic pressure as well as growing relations between the Sandinistas and the Soviet Union. Although state support was on the decline, grassroots solidarity groups on the far-left of European politics continued to support the FSLN. A number of the factions that made up the Greens espoused solidarity with Nicaragua in its struggle with U.S. aggression, providing material and moral support. These groups channeled some aid, such as that mentioned in the article, through umbrella organizations like the Greens, while others used their own organizational apparatus to support the FSLN. This resulted in extremely complicated transnational networks with grassroots groups in Germany pursuing an individual program of support while simultaneously coordinating with other groups under the aegis of broad coalitions.

Solon Lovett Barraclough, Aid That Counts: The Western Contribution to Development and Survival in Nicaragua (Washington D.C.: Transnational Institute, 1988).

Eusebio Mujal-León. “European Socialism and the Crisis in Central America.” Rift and Revolution: The Central American Imbroglio (Washington D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1984).

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Reagan the Bozo


Above is another image from the Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign’s collection of Roger Sanchez’s cartoons, however this cartoon was drawn by British cartoonist Steve Bell. Since 1981 Bell has been the editorial cartoonist for The Guardian newspaper and is best known for his political cartoons. The above cartoon is a satirical depiction of Ronald Reagan, which Bell adequately explains.

Apart from depicting Bell’s attitudes, the image is an excellent representation of broader Western European sentiments towards Ronald Reagan. Because of his antagonistic rhetoric and actions towards the Soviet Union, many Europeans viewed Reagan as a threat to the Cold War status quo on the continent. Those opposed to Reagan’s policies saw the Nicaraguan Revolution as an opportunity to challenge U.S. hegemony. Although although many Europeans held idealistic concerns about human rights abuses in Nicaragua, it also presented a pragmatic opportunity to hamstring U.S. policy.

I’m going to make an effort to cite some relevant works so I’m not just blowing smoke with my blog posts.

Eusebio Mujal-León. “European Socialism and the Crisis in Central America.” Rift and Revolution: The Central American Imbroglio (Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984)

Wolf Grabendorff, Heinrich-W. Krumwiede, Jorg Todt. Political Change in Central America: Internal and External Dimensions (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984).

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