#1: The museum building, seen here behind the tourist bus, has a dark past of its own - it served as the headquarters for Somoza’s National Guard during the civil war. Many Sandinista guerrillas were imprisoned and tortured here during the years of fighting.
#2: Former Sandinista guerilla fighters take turns to guide visitors through the rooms of the former palace and explain the displays in each one. They all have a personal story to tell about their involvement in the fighting, many of them not much more than teenagers at the time. The museum’s entrance fee goes towards their medicine and pensions. Behind the men you can see a mural commemorating the fallen leaders of the FSLN. All except one (Tomás Borges) were murdered in their hideout by Somoza’s forces, and so they never lived to see the final FSLN victory.
#3: To understand how the 1978-79 Nicaraguan civil war started, our guide showed us old photos and newspaper articles to help explain the events leading up to this point. A young man named Augusto César Sandino features prominently in the displays. He was the leader of a rebellion against the US military’s occupation of Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933, and was assassinated by the National Guard forces when he went to negotiate a peaceful cease-fire with them. He was only 39 years old. He is Nicaragua's martyr and hero, and has become a symbol of resistance and national identity. The man who had him assassinated, General Somoza, went on to seize power from the US in a coup d'etat two years later. He was elected as president in 1936, and thus began a dictatorship that passed to his son, and his brother, and lasted 43 years.
#4: In each room of the museum, there are large photo portraits of the martyrs of the FSLN who inspired many students and farm laborers to join the uprising against Somoza’s government. The woman in the middle photo is Arlen Siu, a Chinese Nicaraguan who became one of the first female martyrs of the revolution. She was killed in 1975 in an ambush near León by the National Guard. She was 20 years old.
#5: One of the Sandinista heroes of the 1978-79 civil war was the young Daniel Ortega. Ortega was the Sandinista guerrilla commander who led the government junta that successfully overthrew the Somoza regime. He would go on to be elected in 2006 as President of Nicaragua, and continues to remain in power. The doors at the entrance to the Revolution Museum are papered with posters promoting the images of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario.
#6: “Hugo, Daniel and Fidel. All of León is with you”. This message is stenciled on the outside wall of the Revolution Museum, a souvenir left over from Hugo Chavez’s visit to León. Chavez became the president of Venezuela in 1999, but before that he founded the clandestine Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement-200 in the early 1980s. This is a leftist socialist movement which has now spread throughout much of Latin America. Daniel is Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, and Fidel refers to Fidel Castro, ex-president of Cuba. All three men are socialist figureheads and revolutionaries. Similar political graffiti and murals can still be seen all over León.
#7: On June 16 1979 León was the first city in Nicaragua to fall to the FSLN - a full month before their final victory in Managua. They seized the municipal palace, head quarters of the National Guard, and released all the Sandinista prisoners. Somoza responded with aerial bombardment, famously ordering the air force to "bomb everything that moves until it stops moving.” (wikipedia.org) This is one of the upstairs windows in the municipal palace, looking out at the Cathedral, which the guerrillas used to shoot from. The letters FSLN can still be seen painted on the window panes.
#8: As our guide described it: “The final struggle against the National Guard was in the streets, on the corners, man to man. Everyone hid inside until the municipal palace was won and then all the people of León came out onto the streets and celebrated”. The photos in the exhibition are a graphic reminder of how terrifying this daily street fighting must have been.
#9: From the roof of the Revolution Museum our guide pointed out the indigenous town of Telica, 10 kilometres away, which suffered bombings and attacks by the National Guard on a daily basis during the final uprising. The Sandinistas took control of León, then immediately raced to Telica to lay siege on El Fortín (the Fort of Acosasco), which they took after two days of fighting. “El Fortín was a torture center, impenetrable due to its excellent geographic and topographical position from a military point of view. There, hundreds of Sandinista prisoners were tortured, interrogated and executed by the National Guard”. (http://www.resumenlatinoamericano.org)
- Gonzalez, M. n.d.. The Nicaraguan Revolution: classes, masses and the Sandinista state. Available: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/gonzalez/1982/xx/nicaragua.html [October 29, 2017].
- Sandinista National Liberation Front. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandinista_National_Liberation_Front [October 31, 2017].
- A Brief History of Nicaragua. 2013. Available: http://thegivinglens.com/a-brief-history-of-nicaragua/ [October 15, 2017].
- Nicaragua. Histora y Revolución: Así fue la toma del Fortín de Acosasco en la insurrección el 7 de julio de 1979 en León, Capital de la Revolución Sandinista. n.d. Available: http://www.resumenlatinoamericano.org/2017/04/24/nicaragua-historia-y-revolucion-asi-fue-la-toma-del-fortin-de-acosasco-en-la-insurreccion-el-7-de-julio-de-1979-en-leon-capital-de-la-revolucion-sandinista/ [October 24, 2017].