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A Tale of Two Cities: Nicaragua's Divided History
Silhouette of Sandino Bloodshed from the Government Crackdown A Final Breakthrough from the Oppression A Happy, Hopeful Future

Think fire and ice, think night and day, or (if you're history-minded) think Athens and Sparta, the two ancient Greek cities famous for their competition and distinct cultural differences. Similarly, the colonial cities Leon and Granada have been in constant rivalry - a rivalry that illustrates the division that has split Nicaragua through the centuries - ever since the Spanish first established them in 1524.

Granada's town square still has a cannon from the days of war with
Granada was an important trading center to Europe because of its ideal location on the shores of Lake Nicaragua with direct river access through to the Caribbean Sea. Home to many wealthy businessmen, Granada quickly became the center to the Conservative Party. This wealthy upper class saw their interests best protected by keeping traditional Spanish values of monarchy and Catholicism.

Leon, on the other hand, became the center for the radicals and intellectuals who formed the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party supported reforms based on those of the French and American revolutions.
<I>leon</I> (lion) guarding the tomb of Nicaragua's famous poet, Rubén
Darío.  There is an inscription: Nicaragua is created of vigor and
glory, Nicaragua is made for freedom.

The Spanish established Leon as the capital, but Granada always maintained the upper hand in wealth. The two cities were at war until the capital was finally moved to neutral Managua in 1857. The physical warring may have stopped, but Granada and Leon still remain ideologically opposed to this day.

Nicaraguans seem to split in two distinct groups. No longer referred to as the Liberals and the Conservatives, a more accurate description today would be pro-Sandinista and anti-Sandinista. Pretty much everyone I met in Granada was anti-Sandinista. As could be guessed by all the pro-Sandinista murals around Leon, that city is sticking to its radical liberal traditions.

The Sandinistas were the radical liberals who lead the popular revolution that finally overthrew the oppressive Somoza dictatorship in 1979. During the fourty-five year dictatorship, the Somoza family acquired most of Nicaragua's wealth and land leaving the people with nothing. When the Sandinistas took over the country, they inherited an incredibly impoverished country in which homelessness, illiteracy and disease were widespread.

"The Sandinistas helped the people to be in control of their lives," said Jorge Gonzalez who was proud to explain a revolutionary mural I was admiring in Leon. "They took the land back from Samoza and distributed it to the people and taught them how to use it."

In 1990, Nicaraguans voted for what they thought would bring peace
to their country
In the mid-1980's, the U.S. government was doing all it could to get the Sandinistas out of power. We pumped millions of dollars into funding the counter-revolutionary Contras that forced the Sandinistas to spend millions on increasing their military in defense. In 1985, we imposed an economic embargo on Nicaragua and imposed other countries to do the same. For five years, Nicaragua's economy was completely strangled, and people were poorer than ever before. The 1990 presidential elections shocked the world as Nicaraguans, tired of living in poverty, voted against the Sandinistas and the opposing UNO party won. The embargo ended, and U.S. aid began to pour in.

Our wonderful mountain guide up the volcano on Ometepe Island, Bernon, grew up in Granada and shares its anti-Sandinista sentiment. "The years of the Sandinistas were as bad as the Somoza years. It was just like a dictatorship. I was forced to join the army like everyone else. We had no choice," he explains. "Yes, it was good they overthrew Somoza. He owned 75% of our country. But then they didn't know how to rule our country."

Jorge Castillo in liberal Leon has a different outlook. "The people of Nicaragua don't understand. Yes, the years the Sandinistas were in power were difficult years - the people were poor and there was not much food. But that wasn't the Sandinista's fault, it was because of the powers that be. The U.S. embargo and the Contra war left us with no money. The people were poor, but so was the government. Now the government is receiving money but the people are still poor."


Abeja - Inside the Heart of a Volcano!
Abeja - Eye of a Hurricane: Honduras After Mitch
Kavitha - Oh Say Can't You See? - Bill Clinton's Too-Brief Visit to Nicaragua
Abeja - It's a Bird… It's a Plane… No! It's a Gigantic Doll!!!
Monica - Lemonade with a Nobel Laureate

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