Leon and Nicaraguan politics, and one lazy turtle

From the border we drove to Leon, stopping on the way only to eat at Esteli, which wasn’t inviting enough for us to want to stay there..
Leon is a very nice colonial city. It was founded by Spanish conquistador Cordoba (that’s also the name of the Nicaraguan currency) in 1524, although it was originally 32 km from where it is now; it was re-built in its current location after being destroyed by a volcanic eruption. It is located at the Los Maribios volcanic chain, and volcanoes can be seen all around it.
Leon is and has always been very dominant – it was the capital until 1852, its cathedral is the largest in Central America, and it is now the major “university town” in Nicaragua. Walking around the center we saw monuments from the revolution (there was much fighting in Leon) and many political murals in favor of the Sandinista regime and the anti-US hero Sandino, and outspokenly against the old Somoza regime of before the revolution (and the CIA..).
We couldn’t help but feel that it was somewhat of a pale version of Antigua in Guatemala or San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, Leon is very nice and interesting, but I think we’ve been traveling so long and have seen so much, that it feel a little redundant by now…

Nicaraguan politics are super-complicated but from the little we know we could better understand all the political murals in Leon.
This Somoza guy that’s always mentioned (negatively, of course) – he’s the hated, US-supported tyrant the Sandinistas fought against. But “Somoza” is not a person, rather a dynasty. The “original” president Somoza was assassinated by a poet in Leon in 1956, but his sons continued to rule practically continuously until the 1979 revolution and they are all generally regarded as “Somoza”.
The Sandinistas (see their FSLN black and red logos in the pics from the demonstration at the border) were the major opposition force to the Somozas which started in the 1950’s (inspired by Fidel Castro; they’re also totally fascinated by Che Guevara here, of course). Sandino, the leader of this opposition, was assassinated back in 1934 (you’d never think that from the way they talk about him here as “the hero of the revolution”, when the revolution was in 1979!), but the movement was named after him and supposedly based on his ideas. But it seems that his image is just being used as a hero and a martyr to rally the people around; from what we gather, he was an eccentric and quite violent, and not even a communist, although he was presented as one by the FSLN.
The Sandinistas did much nationalizing and practically abolished the super-high illiteracy rates in the country, but when democratic elections were forced on the country in the mid-1990’s, the Sandinistas were kicked out by the people. However, by the early 2000’s they’d been voted back into office and are now in power again, although we only hear criticism of Ortega and his government.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America; we’ve heard from many people that this is much because of its failed leadership. However, Avi (our friend from Granada, to be introduced a little later), claims that Ortega, the current president, is quietly trying to do precisely what Zelaya in Honduras got kicked out for – to find a way around the ‘single-presidential-term’ in order to stay in power. No wonder he’s so outspokenly supportive of Zelaya, as so many other Latin American leaders.

In Leon we found a super-nice hostel to stay at and we really made the most of it, hanging out there a lot. It’s called Tortuga Booluda – the lazy turtle – and it was muy tranquilo, which was just what we needed. Defenitely recommended..

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