There are months of the year that for some more or less mysterious reason, or by mere coincidence, are laden with political meaning in Latin American history.
OPINION: Sandino and the Memory of Resistance
December is one of those months, especially in Nicaragua where the fireworks powder burned in the Catholic celebrations to Mother Mary and Christmas, and the pagan festivity of the New Year often blended with the gun smoke of the struggle for national liberation. December for Nicaraguans recalls important years past.
Occupying U.S. troops disembark in Puerto Cabezas, in the Caribbean Coast. With the help of local women workers General Augusto C. Sandino recovers weapons and ammunition the enemy had tried to destroy by dumping them in the sea, enabling him to start his struggle against foreign intervention.
Troops of Sandinista General Miguel Ángel Ortez ambush a patrol of marines in Achuapa, in the department of Leon.
Along the banks of Rio Coco, in northern Nicaragua, the National Guard hunts down a guerrilla group of 45 young revolutionaries under the leadership of Carlos Fonseca, founder of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation.
Guatemala City - Five Sandinistas, among them today's president Daniel Ortega Saavedra, are arrested and tortured by Guatemalan police and later handed over to Somoza's National Guard.
The Sandinista movement Revolutionary Students' Front organized protests against Lyndon B. Johnson's visit to the country. In Estelí somebody throws a molotov cocktail against a jeep of the dictatorship’s National Guard.
Nicaragua is shaken by the news that guerrillas the dictatorship claimed had been defeated, are indeed alive: Combats are reported in La Virgen in the south and guerrilla activity is detected in Zinica in the north. In Alajuela, Costa Rica, a guerrilla squad of Sandinistas attempts to free from prison FSLN founder, Carlos Fonseca. The action fails, but the Sandinista Front wins the respect of wide sections of society.
On Dec. 23, 1972, a violent earthquake destroys the capital, Managua. Instead of helping the victims, the National Guard plunders their belongings.The FSLN reorganizes its forces and sends many militants to the capital to help people who lost their homes.
The whole month is taken by popular protests against the inhuman treatment given to political prisoners, especially the Sandinistas. University students take to the streets and occupy the churches in various cities demanding the prisoners’release. Political prisoners in the notorious El Modelo jail start a hunger strike. Their mothers join them.
Three thousand construction workers start a strike demanding unpaid salaries and Social Security registration.
On Dec. 27, the Sandinista squad 'Juan José Quezada' seizes the mansion of leading Somocista José María Castillo Quant, taking hostage almost all the diplomatic corps appointed to Managua who had been invited to a party there. The demand of the Sandinistas: Freedom for all political prisoners.
With this successful action, FSLN gains international recognition. The long period of silent strength accumulation is over and a new period of revolutionary offensive begins. Among the released prisoners: Comandante Daniel Ortega.
The regime's answer to this blow by the Sandinistas was to unleash massive repression declaring martial law. One of the victims of this repression was the recently deceased former president of the National Assembly, René Núñez Téllez, captured by the National Guard and savagely tortured.
On Dec. 9, 1976, Sandinista leader Rufo Marín is killed in Matagalpa. A month earlier the Sandinista leader Carlos Fonseca had been killed not far away, in Zinica.
A month full of combats and struggle against the dictatorship. Ambushes and attacks against the National Guard in the north and also in Managua, occupation of churches by students in the cities, and important political moves under the leadership of the Sandinistas. A broad political spectrum (the Group of the Twelve) announces that no dialogue can be productive without the Sandinista Front. The next day, the Jesuits issue a statement condemning the National Guard's repression.
Fearing an invasion by Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, Costa Rica asks the Organization of American States (OAS) to enforce the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, against the most loyal U.S. regional watchdog.
In southern Nicaragua, Radio Sandino starts clandestine broadcasts openly defying the regime's censorship. Via Radio Sandino, a Spanish priest, Gaspar García Laviana, calls for popular unity to combat the dictatorship and announces his membership in the FSLN.
Somoza lifts the martial law.But a Sandinista squad seizes the Nicaraguan-Honduran border post of Las Manos. A year after his appeal on Radio Sandino, Gaspar García Laviana is killed in combat in the southern department of Rivas. Major combats take place in the Southern Front 'Benjamín Zeledón' with the participation of important groups of Latin American internationalists. On Dec. 20, fierce combats force the closure of the border with Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, in the cities, popular struggle intensifies. The National Guard fails to evacuate a church in Managua, occupied by students and workers. The broad-based Group of Twelve call for a National Patriotic Front of all those committed to put an end to the dictatorship.
During the revolutionary decade that followed the ouster of Somoza's regime, December became synonymous with struggle and solidarity. Thousands of youth mobilized at the end of every year in order to help harvest coffee beans in farms mostly located in the war zones. Other thousands joined the reserve battalions or the military draft to fight the Contras.
All over the country, young people sent letters to their families from faraway locations where they were fulfilling revolutionary duties. Cultural brigades visited the most isolated corners of Nicaragua trying to spread joy and warmth in the middle of the war.
On Dec. 13, 1981, the CIA blows up a Boeing 727 of Nicaragua’s national airline Aeronica in Mexico City's International Airport, injuring both Nicaraguan and Mexican personnel.
In 1982, the government completes expropriation of 75,000 acres of land in Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí, Madriz and Nueva Segovia.
In 1983, the CIA’s Contra's task forces launch one of many failed attempts to seize the town of Jalapa, on the border with Honduras.
In 1986, the Sandinista Popular Army rolls back an invasion of 3,000 U.S. armed Contras from Honduras.
In December 1989, during the U.S. invasion of Panama, with possible invasion imminent, tanks of the Sandinista Army surround the U.S. embassy in Managua.
Nicaragua sues Honduras in the International Court of Justice in the Hague over a maritime border treaty signed by the neighboring country with Colombia. 13 years later, in 2012, Nicaragua will recover 90,000 square kilometers of Caribbean Sea from Colombia.
On Dec. 12, the National Assembly unseats former president Arnoldo Alemán, accused of serious fraud, as well as civil and electoral crimes.
On Dec. 10, in California, investigative journalist Gary Webb dies under mysterious circumstances. Webb disclosed how the CIA flooded black U.S. neighborhoods with drugs and laundered money from the Iran-Contra scandal so as to finance the U.S. terrorist war against Nicaragua.
This incomplete review offers a glance at why December is such an important month in Nicaragua's turbulent history. By contrast, today, December in Nicaragua is above all synonymous with Peace, Community and Solidarity. The government guarantees toys for the children. In municipal parks and other public spaces, Nicaraguan families enjoy the warm Central American evenings without fear of political repression, war or helplessness in the face of natural disasters. All of this is a revolutionary change both from the experiences of the past and from the current experience in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.