Tag Archives: esteli

A foot on Tío Sam

Everywhere I went in Nicaragua, I saw this guy and his trademark hat:

Augusto César Sandino was a leader of the resistance to the US military occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s.  He was assassinated in 1934 by the US-supported Guardia Nacional, the national police force of the Somoza dictatorship.

The Sandinistas took his name in the 1960s.  At that time, the US government was still backing the Somoza dictatorship and, later, the US supplied the Contras (the counter-revolutionary forces composed mostly of the Guardia Nacional).  Sandino’s image became a symbol of the Sandinista movement and, as such, was banned during the later Somoza years.

The mural above is in Estelí, and it’s my favorite Sandino image.  Here he is again flanking the entrance to a fire station in León:

In the first image, Sandino is stepping on Anastasio Somoza.  In the second, he has a foot on Tío Sam.  I came across a photo that was taken of this mural shortly after it was created in 1983.  In that picture the banner in the second image says “No Pasarán” (They shall not pass).  The mural was restored in 1993, and the banner currently reads “Sandino Vive” (Sandino lives).

I just found out today that this piece was created by a US muralist, Mike Alewitz.  He describes himself as a Marxist agitprop artist, and his work focuses primarily on labor issues.  I am surprised and totally fascinated that the Sandinista government commissioned a US artist to create this mural.  I’m going to do some more research to find out more about Alewitz and his connection to Nicaragua.



I visited a friend in Nicaragua earlier this year and took the opportunity to travel to Estelí, a town known for its murals.   But seeing the murals did not come easy.  I took a 6 hour detour (by chicken bus), got robbed, got un-robbed, and repeatedly got lost in Estelí’s unmarked streets.  Fortunately I stumbled across a good number of murals, and they totally lived up to their press.

Estelí is a Sandinista stronghold in the northwest of the country.  The city saw heavy combat in the 1970s as the Sandinista rebels fought to overthrow the hereditary Somoza dictatorship that had ruled Nicaragua since 1936.  Many of the murals depict scenes from the revolution:

Women played a key role in the revolution, as celebrated in this mural:

I had read about the Nicaraguan revolution, but viewing these murals really brought the history to life for me.  It was a little eerie to realize that the same (relatively) quiet streets I was walking had been the scene of so much fighting and loss of life.