The Life of Anastasio Somoza III: The Last Ruler of the Somoza Family

Anastasio Somoza Debayle
Born: December 5, 1925
(Leon, Nicaragua)
Died: September 17, 1980
(Asuncion, Paraguay)

Early Life

Anastasio Somoza Debayle was the second son of the dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia. He was nicknamed “Tachito,” after his father’s nickname “Tacho” (short for Anastasio). Anastasio spent his younger years studying in the United States at various military academies. After his graduation in 1948, he traveled back to Nicaragua and became an officer of the National Guard, which at the point of his father’s rule, was effectively a private mafia. In the year 1955, his father promoted him to commander of the National Guard, a position he held for ten years. His father was assassinated in 1956. After his father’s death, his older brother, Luis, took over as President of Nicaragua.

Dictator Debayle and the Managua Earthquake

In 1966, Anastasio resigned from his position as Commander, and threw his hat in the ring for the upcoming presidential election. He was elected in ‘67, carrying 70.8% of the vote.1 Two months later, his brother died of a heart attack. As president, Anastasio held absolute control over the Nicaraguan political system and military. He was also much more violent and corrupt than either his father or brother before him. He was “willing to kill people and bomb his own cities all for the sake of power.”2 His authoritarian tendencies came to their peak in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

In 1972, Anastasio’s presidential term had come to a close, but that all changed on December 23, 1972, when the capital city of Managua was destroyed in an earthquake. Anastasio took over the National Emergency Committee and extended his presidency. He then exploited the international aid that had come pouring in to further strengthen his power. He used his influence to cheaply purchase land and sell it back to the country for relief camps at inflated prices. He sold emergency items on the Black Market.3 The Nicaraguan people suffered even as he grew in wealth and power.

The “War of Liberation” and the Fall of the Somazas

Anastasio Samoza’s corruption and brutality helped foster opposition in the form of the Sandinistas Liberation Front, or the FSLN (often referred to simply as Sandinistas). At the beginning of his brother’s rule, the Sandinistas were little organized threat, but after the earthquake, they grew to be able to undertake successful guerrilla operations. In 1974, they took over two dozen government officials hostage, forcing the government to free political prisoners. Such actions made the Sandanistas popular with those Nicaraguans who had suffered under the Samosas. Anastasio carried on as if they were no threat to him, but the people thought otherwise. In 1978, it was revealed that the Somoza regime was linked to the assassination of an editor of a popular opposition newspaper. Protests resulted, and soon grew into a wider rebellion. That same year, the Sandinistas stormed the national palace and took thousands of hostages. Anastasio was forced to pay $500,000 dollars as ransom. The civil war raged on, and 18 months after the revolution began, a Sandinista-led triumph allowed them to take over the country and boot Anastasio out.

Exile and Assasination

At the beginning of his reign, Anastasio aimed to keep relations strong with the U.S, as his father had done. But as time went on and his regime’s human rights violations began to add up, the U.S. began to pull back on their support. This became a problem for Anastasio in 1979, when he attempted to flee to Miami after the revolution. Jimmy Carter denied him political asylum and he was forced to flee to Paraguay instead. He was there for less than a year before members of the Revolutionary Workers Party of Argentina killed him by planting a bomb in his car. It was a violent end for a violent ruler.


Camacho-Gingerich, Alina. Encyclopedia of Modern Dictators Switzerland: Peter Lang

Copyright AG. 2006, 283-286

Evans, George. “The Deaths of Somoza.” World Literature Today, no. 81 (May-June 2007):

36-43. University of Oklahoma

1 Camacho-Gingerich, Modern Dictators, 284

2 Evans, “Deaths,” 41

3 Evans, “Deaths,” 42