Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza DeBayle; 5 December 1925 – 17 September 1980) was a Nicaraguan dictator and officially the President of Nicaragua from 1 May 1967 to 1 May 1972 and from 1 December 1974 to 17 July 1979. As head of the National Guard, he was de facto ruler of the country from 1967 to 1979. He was the last member of the Somoza family to be President, ending a dynasty that had been in power since 1936. After being overthrown in an insurrection led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Spanish: Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional; FSLN), he fled Nicaragua and power was ceded to the Junta of National Reconstruction. He was eventually assassinated while in exile in Paraguay.
On 1 May 1967, shortly before the death of his brother, Anastasio Somoza was sworn into office following his election on 5 February. While Luis had ruled more gently than his father had, Anastasio would not tolerate opposition of any sort, and his regime soon resembled his father’s in all significant respects.
With regard to educating the workforce, Somoza replied, “I don’t want an educated population; I want oxen.”
His term in office was due to end in May 1972, due to a law which disallowed immediate re-election. However, prior to that, Somoza worked out an agreement allowing him to stand for re-election in 1974; he would be replaced as president by a three-man junta consisting of two Liberals and one Conservative while he retained control of the National Guard. Somoza and his triumvirate drew up a new constitution that was ratified by the triumvirate and the cabinet on April 3, 1971. He then stepped down as president on May 1, 1972. However, as head of the National Guard, he remained the de facto ruler of the country.
Anastasio Somoza and his son were both part owners of Plasmaferesis. The company collected blood plasma from up to 1,000 of Nicaragua’s poorest every day for sale in the United States and Europe. According to El Diario Nuevo and La Prensa, “Every morning the homeless, drunks, and poor people went to sell half a liter of blood for 35 (Nicaraguan) cordobas.”
On 23 December 1972, an earthquake struck the nation’s capital, Managua, killing about 5,000 people and virtually destroying the city. Martial law was declared, making Somoza the country’s ruler in name as well as in fact once again. He then took over effective control as head of the National Emergency Committee. He reportedly embezzled many of the funds sent from across the world to help rebuild Managua. Some parts of Managua have still never been rebuilt or restored, including the National Cathedral. Somoza also allegedly exported freshly imported emergency blood plasma abroad, at the time of the earthquake, when most medical supplies in Nicaragua were desperately in short supply.
Somoza was re-elected president in the 1974 election. By this time, the Catholic Church had begun to speak against his government (indeed, one of his fiercest critics was Ernesto Cardenal, a leftist Nicaraguan priest who preached liberation theology and would become the Sandinista government’s Minister of Culture). By the late 1970s, human rights groups were condemning the record of the Somoza government, while support for the Sandinistas was growing inside and outside the country.
In July 1977, Somoza had a heart attack, and went to the US to recuperate.
This interview on NBC’s Meet The Press with Anastasio Somoza took place just before his inauguration as President on April 16, 1967.