An ex-president of Nicaragua, or ex-dictator — depending on whom you ask — is buried in Miami. Not in Nicaragua or in Paraguay, where he was assassinated, but in Miami, home of the largest Nicaraguan population in the nation, according to the 2010 Census.
Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Nicaragua’s de-facto ruler from 1967-1979, is buried alongside his wife in a private mausoleum in Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Park North Cemetery and Mausoleum in Little Havana.
Many Nicaraguan residents of Sweetwater, also known as Little Managua, are unaware that the man who is responsible for them fleeing their homeland rests about 7 miles away.
“As a first generation American, this feels like an insult, because I cannot believe the U.S. would allow that man to seek refuge in his death here,” said Samantha Ortiz, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua and Cuba.
Edwin Ramirez, a 24-year old Nicaraguan-American was shocked when told about Somoza’s burial here. His father was forced to serve in the Sandinistas, and his uncles on his mother’s side fled when they were called on to serve in the military at the height of the country’s civil war in the 1970s.
“Why is he here?” he said. “This man is the reason why my parents fled Nicaragua.”
Nicaragua, nicknamed “the land of lakes and volcanoes” for its beauty, has suffered a shaky history since the control of the Spaniards in the 16th century. However, the country began a dramatic economic and political change when the Somoza family seized power in the 1930s.
Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the family patriarch, rose through the ranks of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), a private army organized by the U.S. Marines. After a military coup, he took the presidency, beginning a 40-year family reign.
In 1961, a student-led group at the University of Leon formed La Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN; The Sandinista National Liberation Front). The group, named after Augusto Sandino, a rebel assassinated by Somoza Garcia, gained traction with Nicaraguans when the Somoza’s embezzled funds meant to provide relief after the 1972 earthquake in the country’s capital, Managua.
In 1979, the FSLN overthrew Somoza Debayle and sent him into exile. Daniel Ortega, a member of the group, assumed the presidency until 1990 and later again in 2006.
While being forced out of the country, Somoza Debayle warned Nicaraguans the FSLN would be worse for the country than his family was.
Today, it could be argued that Somoza Debayle’s statement was correct.
“I knew Daniel Ortega when he was younger,” Francisco Rivas said in Spanish. Like many Nicaraguans, Rivas fled to Miami in the 1980s, escaped through the mountains, crossed neighboring countries and was granted political asylum by the United States during Reagan’s administration.
“Even when [Ortega] was younger, he was just as power hungry as he is now,” he said.
Somoza Debayle was assassinated in Paraguay a year after his exile. His wife, Hope Portocarrero, who was born in Tampa, remarried after his death. How his body came to be buried in Miami, next to her despite her remarriage, remains a mystery.
When told about it, Rivas was stone-faced.
“Only in death is that man allowed to touch American soil,” he said.
A Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Park North Cemetery and Mausoleum spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Today, almost 40 years later, the FSLN still has control of the country. Recent events perpetuated by Ortega has created unrest in Nicaragua and have been escalating. Another war seems imminent.