The World

Last tango in Managua

September 4 1978
The World

Last tango in Managua

September 4 1978

Last tango in Managua

NICARAGUA_

It’s been a bad year for President Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua. And the three military planes that lifted off from Managua airport in late August, with their load of guerrillas and freed political prisoners, left behind a tacit guarantee that worse was to come.

From beginning to end, the 25 gunmen of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF) showed a cool efficiency that gave weight to the pledge they have repeated for the last 16 years: Somoza’s regime will fall. Their surprise attack on the Central American dictatorship’s National Palace on August 22 succeeded because they were disguised as members of the National Guard—Nicaragua’s army. The government was forced to heed their orders because they captured more than 1,500 hostages—including top officials and relatives of Somoza—in the palace.

Somoza managed to whittle down the guerrillas’ initial demand for a $ 10-million ransom. But the stakes were too high for further parlaying, and 59 political prisoners and their rescuers—cheered on their way by jubilant crowds shouting “Somoza to the gallows” and “Viva Sandinistas”

flew off to asylum in Panama City.

But if the escapees’ future seemed rosy, prospects back home for Somoza looked grim. The SNLF is not the only group to protest what it calls Somoza’s police-state tyranny. More than 300 people have died so far this year in almost daily clashes between anti-government demonstrators and national guardsmen.

The Front was quick to cash in on the successful hostage-taking, calling for a general strike; while Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez wondered out loud whether it was not time for a “cordial intervention” by members of the Organization of American States.

That left Somoza, with his 7,500 strong army and Liberal Party, pondering some very tall odds. Somoza has vowed to stay until his current six-year term ends in May, 1981, but the swift march of events showed that it may no longer be up to him.