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Nicaragua, 1961-1990, Volume 1

Nicaragua, 1961-1990, Volume 1 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review July 2019 Title Nicaragua, 1961-1990, Volume 1
Author David Francois Publisher Helion
Published 2019 ISBN 9781911628217
Format 72 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $29.95


Nicaragua remained a Cold War flash point in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now David Francois launches the first of a two-part study of the fighting in Nicaragua, 1961-1990, Volume 1: The Downfall of the Somoza Dictatorship – tenth in Helion’s terrific “Latin America@War” series.

Contents span 72 pages across five informative chapters.

Francois’ admirably annotated account succinctly surveys – and deftly distills – factors and forces that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

Factions. Personalities. Ideologies. Training. Weapons. Combat. International events. And more.

Founded and largely trained by the United States, Nicaragua’s National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN) evolved into an efficient and brutal Praetorian guard for Somoza and his family. Author Francois calls it “the most effective military force in Central America”.

Senior GN personnel shared in Somoza’s spoils system – helping forge and fuse their loyalty. But corruption and brutality ultimately undermined the force’s popular support – and alienated even moderate and conservative Nicaraguans.

After disastrous clashes with the well equipped GN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN) ultimately proved victorious.

One of many opposition groups across Nicaragua’s political spectrum, FSLN insurgents pursued a Marxist “protracted people’s war” that eventually morphed into both rural and urban operations.

Somoza’s forces viciously suppressed all hints of rebellion. And as GN abuses grew, FSLN power, prestige, and personnel rose.

Beginning in late August 1978, insurgent operations “increased the myth of FSLN invincibility among the masses, demonstrating great pragmatism, political sense[,] and military tenacity that surrounded the Sandinistas with a kind of heroic aura”.

Sandinista ranks swelled from “about 100 combatants” in early 1975 to 30,000 by 20 July 1979. Facing “a rapidly spreading insurgency”, the GN, by contrast, found itself dispersed, distended, and demoralized. And Somoza himself grew progressively isolated – domestically and internationally – before finally abdicating 17 July 1979.

Francois’s lavishly illustrated effort sports dozens of photos. Maps help chart actions. Twenty-one color profiles – five military vehicles by David Bocquelet and 16 aircraft by Tom Cooper – offer plenty of model-project possibilities. And explanatory captions accompany illustrations.

Surprises also abound.

In the 1970s, for instance, Somoza’s GN Armor Battalion equipment included a Fiat-Ansaldo CV-33 tankette – a pre-WWII gift from Benito Mussolini. Both sides employed WWII-vintage German MG 42 machine guns. And Sandinistas converted a number of civilian aircraft into makeshift bombers.

But not all endnote citations appear in the book’s selected bibliography. Might “faction” better convey “tendency” to English ears? And a glossary of insurgent factions would have definitely helped.

Finally, how does Francois distinguish “light weapons” from “guns”? And what is a “‘push and pull’ jet”?

Nitpicks notwithstanding, “The Downfall of the Somoza Dictatorship” superbly summarizes its subject. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now line-up behind me for Volume 2!

My sincere thanks to Casemate Publishing for this review sample!