We left Granada in the morning for León. After watch proved to be an intense, crazy hot, and somewhat trying city, I was not sure what to expect when arriving in León. After setting down our bags in our hostel we took off for a walk around town. We made our way to the city center and immediately felt far more relaxed. León does not have the same intense chaos that Granada does. The city is cleaner, friendlier, the people seem more relaxed. A University town, it is considered the intellectual hub of Nicaragua. There does not seem to be an intense interest in tourism, rather it seems to be an afterthought, though there is plenty on offer.
While I did not know much about León before coming, I had read up a little to find out it was the center of the resistance against the Somoza dictators in Nicaragua. We headed to a museum on the center plaza, Museo de la Revolución. It is somewhat necessary to go with a tour guide, as the seemingly random old photographs lain about do not provide much context. You also will want to, as all of the tour guides are locals who participated in the revolution and have their own personal story to tell. Our guide showed us his picture in one of the photographs we passed.
The Somoza dynasty ruled Nicaragua for over 40 years, and during that time it was reign of cruelty. They were overthrown in July of 1979 by the National Sandinista Movement, comprised of people from all sectors joining forces for a brutal and deadly revolution. The movement’s name and precedent came from General Augusto C. Sandino, a national hero who fought against the armed intervention of the United States in Nicaragua, done under the pretext of ensuring peace and democracy in the country. After Sandino’s execution, Somoza took power in Nicaragua, being his family’s 40 year reign. But in September 1956 Rigoberto López Pérez, a poet from León, assassinated Somoza. Unfortunately Somoza’s son then took reign and thus began a time of extreme repression in León, with many being murdered if considered to be a political enemy. From this political period came, in 1962, the “Sandinista National Liberation Front,” in Spanish “Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional”(FSLN), inspired by the revolutionary Sandista. You can still see FSLN graffitied or on official buildings all over the country. After years of struggle, the National Guard finally surrendered, and 1979 marked the downfall of the Somoza dynasty and a move in the country towards leftist leadership.
Most people in León either themselves can remember or knows someone close to them who remembers the violent events of the country’s struggle. The city center, where the museum is located, was a center of violence during this time, the site of massacres of youth and students going against the oppressive regime. Take a tour through the museum and your guide may show you his war wounds from his time in the FSLN. Walk down the streets and see the colorful graffiti all over the city memorializing Sandino, FSLN, and the fallen people of their country. The memories have not faded far into the past, and color the streets and faces of it’s strong and loyal people. León is a place of true revolution and an important history, where anyone making their way to Central America ought to pass through.