Leon, Nicaragua

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We kept hearing about the Nicaragua “crisis” over and over, and each time, our fears loomed larger. Should we really be traveling there right now? Is it safe enough for tourists? We questioned our guide about the crisis, and he gave a great synopsis of the recent happenings in the country since that fateful April day in 2018. But it all goes back a bit farther. This is my attempt at a meager timeline of the last century’s history in Nicaragua.

Starting in the 1930’s and for many decades after, Anastasio Somoza Garcia and his family formed a dictatorship. The first Somoza was assassinated in 1956 in Leon, in an attempt to disrupt the oppressive regime. Unfortunately, the dictatorship continued with his heirs. A few years later, a few students who were in Honduras to meet with Che Guevara were imprisoned. Because the government refused to intercede on their behalf, students in Leon led a large protest in 1959. With the recent assassination, the dictatorship was quick to squash any uprising. National Guard soldiers swooped in and killed four students. Street art depicting the massacre are prevalent in Leon. Later, in opposition of the Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was created in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The FSLN governed Nicaragua between 1979 and 1990, but the United States intervened starting in 1981 by backing the Contras who opposed the FSLN. The “fight against communism” including supplying weapons to the Contras, weapons that were paid for by money made selling cocaine to the United States. Ironically enough, Ronald Reagan and the CIA were supplying cocaine to the United States, while Nancy Reagan made her platform “Just Say No” to drugs.

Skip ahead to Ortega, the recent president. With criticism mounting over his governing, forest fires in Nicaragua, and the planned social security reform which would diminish elderly’s pension, students in Leon again protested starting in April 2018. Eighteen people were killed during the Mother’s Day March alone, with over 400 killed since the protests started. The violence and economic collapse killed any hopes for tourism. As peace has spread again throughout Nicaragua, it is now safe to travel.

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The blue and white flags lining the street below signify where the massacre of 1959 occurred.

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The Church of the Recollection was built in 1786. Although it is not the famous Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the largest cathedral in Central America, I found this cathedral incredibly beautiful.

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The famous Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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The original city of Leon was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, the same person who founded Granada the same year. He is honored with the national currency, the Cordobas. The original city was abandoned in 1610 after earthquakes and a volcanic eruption. A different volcano, Cerro Negro, is close to Leon as well. Cerro Negro is where we went volcano boarding. We hiked to the top of the crater and sand boarded down about 500 meters. Per usual, I went the absolute slowest possible by digging both heels and my hand into the gravel to slow down. Whit flew down in a whirl of dust. Classic.

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