Somoza: Not Your Average Dictator

Posted by Vladimir Penaloza – MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU


Anastasio Somoza has been portrayed as a wily politician who was able to appeal to both liberals and conservatives. He was also successful in gaining recognition and support from the United States. According to Knut Walter, who wrote a seminal book on Somoza entitled The Regime of Anastasio Somoza: 1936-1956, Somoza’s regime was an “outwardly personalistic dictatorship” (xviii). 

While conducting research at the Archivo Nacional, located in the National Palace in Managua, Nicaragua, there was a collection of letters from people of all social standing, who wrote to Somoza. People wrote to Anastasio Somoza Garcia requesting, and sometimes begging, for his help. These letters contained requests as varied as the people sending them, for example, there were request for jobs, money, and even soliciting Somoza to buy their property. It is obvious that to a lot of people Somoza was much more than just a politician, General and dictator – he was a line of last resort, one could even say savior. One case in particular affected me the most: that of Iris Proudfoot who was living in San José, Costa Rica at the time she wrote to Somoza on July 21, 1954. In her letter, she requests that Somoza call her husband, Evener Arévalo Ortega, to his [Somoza’s] office. She has been trying to divorce him, but her husband is refusing to grant the divorce. In the letter she goes on to list her motives to ask for a divorce: 

• Physical abuse, including when she was pregnant with their child;

• Constant infidelity;

• Lack of financial support to provide for their child.

Ms. Proudfoot’s request, which reads more like a supplication, highlights the fervor and belief that people had for Somoza. She even writes, “Esto usted lo puede hacer en cuestión de minutos y le quedará la inmensa satisfacción de saber que ayudo a una mujer indefensa frente a un cobarde….” (Iris Proudfoot, 1954). 

I’m still going through more archives, and hope to find more information about the people’s perceptions regarding Somoza as well as insight into what happened to those ‘enemy aliens’ that were detained by the Somoza regime during World War II. I hope to find about the outcomes of the hundreds of letters of request to Somoza, including if the the divorce was granted in the case of Mrs. Iris Proudfoot.

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