“Red and Black”
A common theme that fills the history books of developing countries is the role of outsiders in influencing policies, mostly political, but also economical. In the past, European countries – France, Belgium, Spain, England, Portugal, Germany – played a major role in determining how countries in the Americas, Africa, and Asia ruled themselves. When many of these European colonizers began returning power to their colonies in the 19th and 20th centuries, a new power filled the void: the United States of America (USA, US, or so-called “America”). The role of the US in other countries is very evident in the history of Nicaragua. For centuries, the US has tried to either influence or outright control the lives of Nicaraguans. The fact that is most interesting about US-Nicaraguan relations is that the United States has repeatedly been defeated!
Nicaragua – now made up of 8 million people – has time after time won the long game against the US – a country of over 300 million and defended by the world’s largest military. In every instance, one would have to give the better odds to the US, but sometimes things can’t be predicted. While in Nicaragua, you can spot two very different flags being flown. This first one is the official national flag. Made up of two blue bars on the the top and bottom – representing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that Nicaragua borders – with a white stripe in the center. There is also a triangle in the center with its own symbolic meaning.
But this is not the flag that I wish to highlight.
The one I find more interesting is the party flag of the FSLN. The party flag of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional or FSLN (in English: Sandinista National Liberation Front) is a very simple design. It’s top half is red (rojo) and bottom half is black (negro), with the middle spelling out the four-letter acronym “FSLN”. It’s not exactly the flag that’s interesting, but rather, what it stands for.
During the 20th century, Nicaraguans have had to mobilize and fight for their freedom on three separate occasions. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Augusto César Sandino led a national rebellion against US occupation. Unfortunately, Sandino was assassinated by the police forces of the Somoza family and they would rule (with American support) for over 40 years.
In the 1970’s, building upon Sandino’s legacy, the FSLN and its Sandinista membership started a revolution against the American-backed President Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Wanting an end to the corruption of Somoza and a more socialist set of policies, the Sandinista fought many battles in a civil war of urban warfare, eventually winning in 1979 and overthrowing Somoza.
But, with the election of American President Ronald Reagan came a new chapter in the USA’s presumed need to determine Nicaragua’s future. The year 1981 saw the start of the Contra War. Now that the USA could not manipulate a puppet leader, they used their own form of guerrilla warfare to try and destroy the presumed threat of a small, leftist government in Central America.
The Contras were made up of remnants of Somoza’s National Guard and were secretly financed and trained by the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Much of the actions taken by the Contras were later determined to be illegal, such as bombing schools and health centers. Terror was the main tool of change that the US tried to use on the Nicaragua peoples.
It is inspirational to hear stories of everyday people standing up to determine their own future. At the same time, it’s sad that Nicaragua has had to shed so much blood for such a simple goal: freedom.
Today you’ll find FSLN flags and colors on every street and every town. But rather than focus on the violence of the past, Nicaragua is joyous and celebratory of the peace (paz) that fills the country now. Bullet holes can still be seen in historic buildings. But you can also spot people working tirelessly to earn an income and educate their children. It is a country that welcomes outsiders (like myself) and it proud to celebrate its national heroes.
My hope is that Nicaragua can remain independent and fulfill their dreams and those of their ancestors in their long battle towards freedom.