August C. Sandino (pictured below) is a legend in Nicaragua for standing up to US political and military involvement in Nicaragua, and fighting for the rights and freedom of the poor. Sandino’s guerillas – Sandinistas – fought the US-trained Guardia Nacional led by Anastasio Somoza Garcia (a nasty piece of work).
Sandino was brutally murdered by Somoza having been invited to dinner for a peace conference in February 1934. The US and CIA supported Somoza’s regime in Nicaragua, a regime that achieved very little except make the Somoza family incredibly rich and the rest of the country very poor, until, in 1979,the revolution finally succeeded when the Sandinistas marched into Managua victorious.
The rest is history, the US had a tantrum, illegally sold weapons to Iran & ploughed the proceeds into the ‘Contras’ (Somoza’s ex Guardia Nacional now in exile) resulting in the infamous Iran-Contra Affair.
You don’t have to spend long in Nicaragua to understand that Sandino’s spirit very much lives on…
[This photo was taken at the Sandino Lives exhibition in Managua, Nicaragua]
I was ‘fortunate’ enough to be trapped in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, whilst I decided what to do for Christmas. Managua is spread along the southern shore of Lago de Managua, and rose from obscurity in the mid 19th century as a ‘compromise capital’ due to the intense rivalry between Granada and León.
Since then, Managua has been far from lucky. In 1931 the colonial centre was destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt, but burned down five years later. In 1972 the city was pretty much leveled by a huge earthquake, and following this, when geologists realized that the entire original centre was riddled with underground fault lines, the government decided to not rebuild and to ‘de-centralise’ the capital.
I was staying around the Tica bus station, in the Barrio Martha Quezada. This area didn’t feel entirely safe even during daylight hours, and following several warnings from the guest house manageress in Hospedaje El EnsueÃ±o along the lines of "You can go one block that way, but don’t walk more than one block that way it is very, very dangerous", I stuck close to home except for a taxi sight-seeing tour of the city by day.
So what is there to do in Managua? Not much, except marvel at its dereliction. I had no idea there were capital cities that looked and felt like this. I felt quite sad to drive around and see a city in such a state of decay, so much so that the taxi driver didn’t even know quite where to suggest going next – because there really wasn’t much to see.
The one thing worth mentioning was our trip to the top of the Loma de Tiscapa hill with great views over the Tiscapa crater lake. On the other side of the same hill Lake Managua can be seen in the background, complete with what I initially thought was a beautiful smoking volcano crater. It later turned out to be the city’s rubbish dump ‘recycling’ rubbish into the atmosphere. We also visited the Sandino Lives Exhibition on this hill – a rather minimal but nonetheless interesting tribute to Augusto C Sandino, the heroic Liberal leader who resisted the US supported tyrant Somoza.
Managua’s worth a visit but don’t go out after dark looking like a tourist.