Cilia Teresa grew up in Bluefields, a coastal city in Nicaragua. She was Cilia Fleming
then, the daughter of the port's British consul. Her mother is Nicaraguan. The oldest
of six daughters, she was 16 when her father died and she was sent to the United
States to live with relatives. Her mother still lives in Nicaragua.
Teresa is 49 years old now and for as long as she can remember, a Somoza has been
president of Nicaragua. The father of Anastasio Somoza, the recently deposed leader,
came to power in the early 1930's. He was assassinated in office. A son succeeded him
and when he died his younger brother, Anastasio, took power. Twenty-seven year old
Major Tachito Somoza was the heir apparent to the Somoza dynasty before his father's
recent fall from power.
"Power corrupts, " Teresa says. "In Nicaragua people say each generation of Somo-
zas was more ruthless than the last.
"There is so much hatred for Somoza that the people do not want to claim him as
Nicaraguan. The Sandinistas called him "the last U.S. Marine in Nicaragua." This refers to the presence of U. S. Marines in Nicaragua during political shifts of government
in the 20's and early 30's. Guerillas fought against the U. S. occupation. Somoza's
father came to power pledging he would take care of the rebel leader, Cesar Augusto
Sandino. Somoza brought the exiled leader back from Mexico, pretended to honor
him and soon after Sandino was assassinated.
The marines left the country, but "the Somozas have retained the power and established an empire through the power of the United States," Teresa says. Somoza was
"militarily trained" in the United States (at West Point) and the people saw his loyalties more to this country than to Nicaragua.
When they got rid of him, they felt they would also be rid of foreign occupation.
Hence "the last marine. "
Anastasio Somoza Debayle, "the last U.S.
Marine in Nicaragua," finally left that
country on Tuesday, July 17, 1979. In
his private jet with an entourage of 45
people, he landed at Homestead Air
Force Base near Miami. His motorcade
was then escorted by the Florida highway
patrol to his estate on Sunset Island.
As I watched the news reports on television, I thought: this man is being welcomed as a hero, he is using U. S. tax-
supported facilities such as the air force
base and the highway patrol, and even
perhaps the three jets which transported
his party to Florida. And then I thought:
he will probably become a much respected resident of the state of Florida.
Somoza left Nicaragua bankrupt and
with a huge national debt—over $1.3 billion. I watched on TV the aerial views of
his American landholdings and saw the
exclusive network interviews with him in
the luxury of his island estate, and I wondered whether Somoza is not regarded by
Americans as a western movie hero—the
bad guy in the black hat who takes all.
People seem to admire Somoza for the
power he had to do all this—and get away
How different it is for those Mexicans,
Nicaraguans, and other Central Americans
who cross the border to come to the United States. But, then of course, they do
not come with a fortune ($500 million, a
conservative estimate) and they are not
dictators who have plundered a country
for some 40 odd years. All they are doing
is crossing the border to seek employment.
But then, of course, they come empty-
by cilia teresa
handed. They probably have little schooling. They are certainly not West Point
graduates. They are humble, unpretentious refugees. If you ask them why do
you come here, they say simply buscamos
trabajo. No one welcomes them.
As I write this, it hurts to think of the
pain of the Nicaraguan people. It is hard
to imagine until pain becomes part of
one's own experience. What I feel as I
watch Nicaraguans suffering is a deep
The neighborhoods that suffered the
most were the poor ones. That is where
the Sandinistas drew their strong support.
The lower strata had nothing to lose. The
revolution started with them and with the
students, artists and intellectuals.
During the guerilla war people were
forced to stay close to home. They were
afraid they'd be killed. And with martial
law imposed, everyone walking down the
street was suspect. They ran the risk of
being questioned and arrested with no
right to trial. People were terrorized.
My mother lived in Leon. During the
September 1978 seige on that city my sisters and I lost all contact with her. We
tried to reach her through the Red Cross.
Finally, a relative who worked in Managua (50 miles away) found her. She had
gone into hiding at the home of friends.
They lived on staples, mainly rice and
barley, for over a week.
We brought her to the states for her
safety. My mother wanted to return
home before the second outbreak of fighting in May. This time the Sandinistas declared they were fighting to the end. And
Somoza insisted he would not step down.
She is still waiting to return to Nicaragua. It has been so difficult for her.
Whenever I call her she is very sad. One
day last June she said, "I feel like Nicaragua is going to disappear and that nobody
It has been difficult for me and my sisters, living around the country, to find
out what was really going on in Nicaragua
over the past 18 months. We felt helpless.
We could not get any real news over the
phone from Managua; our relatives were
always worried that someone was listening. Most of our family left Nicaragua for
other central American countries or the
Because first-person accounts were so
difficult to come by, we had to depend
heavily on the media for news. The media
never pursued it until the fighting escalated. When Iran was in the news there was
nothing on Nicaragua. Iran was the big
event. After Iran, Nicaragua was in the
news. I don't understand the mentality of
the news media.
I still do not know if it is true, but
someone told us that the University of
Leon was destroyed by Somoza's troops.
They say he drove tanks and demolished
the buildings because his national guard
believed the Sandinistas had strong backing from the University element.
The university is the pride of Leon. It
is a jewel of Moorish architecture. I am
afraid to return and see that the reports
are true. I ask myself how could a Nicaraguan himself destroy a center of learning?
It wasn't a foreign invader. It was a Nicaraguan. It is like an act of punishment
against the people—because they wouldn't