Political History of Nicaragua
A mural on the wall of the Daniel Ortega residence.

In the early seventies murals began to erupt as a form of protest and as a celebration of authentic Nicaraguan voices. According to Dora Mar’a Tellez, Minster of Healh, they were the first insurrectional expression of the Nicaraguan people against the Somoza dictatorship.

From the beginning Nicaragua, as a Nation-State has been under attack. Its autonomy and sovereignty are repeatedly impeded. After independence from Spain, Walker, an American mercenary, assumes power and becomes the first president of Nicaragua. As president he seeks US annexation (wants Nicaragua to become part of the US) and his first decree is to sanction slavery. After Walker, a puppet government is lead by JosŽ Santos Zelaya. Next, Gen. JosŽ Moncada, who had originally fought against U.S. intervention, enters into negotiations with Henry L. Stimson, personal envoy of President Coolidge. In reaction to this Augusto CŽsar Sandino, Commander of the Army to Defend the National Sovereignty, launches a guerrilla war against U.S. forces in Nicaragua. In 1934, The U.S. withdraws, leaving Nicaraguan military officer, Anastasio Somoza as Commander of the National Guard. A brutal dictatorship begins, fueled by U.S. funds, which is passed from father to son to brother for over 43 years. Anastasio Somoza is assassinated and succeeded by his son, Luis Somoza Debayle. It is not until 1978 that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) leads anti-Somoza guerrilla forces into a violent uprising against the military. Nicaragua is plunged into civil war. On July 17th, 1979, the last Somoza resigns and flees to Miami, exiling to Paraguay. On July 20th, Sandinista forces enter Managua, and hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans celebrate their triumph. A period of ideological freedom and national self-definition follows. The new ideology is tightly knit with an explosion of artistic production and firmly rooted in an intrinsically popular movement. Among the most significant and earliest sources of this movement is poet Ernesto Cardenal's project on the Island of Solentiname.

  Mexican Alfonso Villanueva, with Genaro Lugo, Orlando Sobalvarro ande Xavier Orozco Figure with raised fist flanked by rifles.

For a brief period the Island of Solentiname provided Nicaragua a communal space for an artistic and spiritual experiment. In Solentiname, a priest and now-famous poet, Ernesto Cardenal established a religious community from 1965-1966. The community was solidly based on liberation theology, a theory of Christianity where social justice and communal sharing are seen as vital parts of biblical interpretation. Cardenal developed his ideas for Solentiname through conversations with the late Thomas Merton, a famous North American priest. One thousand campesinos took part in an analysis of their living conditions and dialogue about social equality. Roger Perez de la Rocha, a well-respected painter from Managua, was invited to expose people to painting techniques, while encouraging the preservation of individual style and thought. This gave rise to an artistic interest in Solentiname by the general population, at which time entire families started to paint in a style that is currently termed "primitivist." The art was infused with imagery of popular Central American traditions such as indigenous weavings and painted gourds that date back to the Chorotega and Nahuatl Indians. El Evangelio de Solentiname, the books titled The Gospel According to Solentiname, evolved from a series of conversations that the campesinos had reflecting upon the life of Jesus Christ and how the prophet would have acted during Nicaraguan contemporary times.

  Soldier protects mural on the Ortega residency.

With the Nicaraguan revolution, in 1979, Daniel Ortega encouraged popular participation in art making and the creation of art without formulas. Ernesto Cardenal and Sergio Ram’rez made significant contributions in the dialogue about art and culture in Nicaragua. Theoretical advances and historical changes came hand in hand. A critique of refined European art coupled with an analytical look at indigenous folk art traditions enabled the popular class to express itself artistically and make their way through an art world controlled by the dominant elite. Out of these ideas evolved three cutting edge groups: Praxis, a visual art cooperative, Gradas, a group of artists and musicians, and MECATE, a campesino movement of art and theater. A popular form of theater in Nicaragua has traditionally been the GŸegŸense Theater, a theater were indigenous folks satirize Spanish conquistadors. Many artists were lavished with fellowships and were able to travel nationally and internationally. Campesinos, schooled painters and children alike had the opportunity to attend poetry workshops, to create plays and to paint murals throughout the county. Raœl Quintanilla explainsˇ

Beginning in 1979 we embarked on the making of a new visual language within the framework of a popular-based revolutionˇOur new identity required us to look critically at both our past and our present situation. The revolution of 1979 gave us the right to freedom of expression, experimentation, and recovery of the heritage taken from us throughout five hundred years of colonialism and neocolonialism.

  This mural is part of the series on the Ortega walls.

Raul Quintanilla speaks about a visual language that embraces many dialectics through a continuous dialogue. The issue of dialogue brings up the issue of language and literacy. The revolution of Nicaragua involved the country as a whole and made its education the priority. The mechanism for the implementation of this education of the masses was the Literacy Crusade. With the Literacy Crusade Paulo Freire, a world-famous teacher of teachers, created El Amanecer del Pueblo, The Dawn of the People, thereby creating the primer that would teach half a million people to read. Literacy went from 58% to 88%, at the time one of the highest literacy levels in Latin America. Based on Freire's learning theories people were able to become better critical thinkers. Soon ordinary people were writing poetry about their lives and their hardships.

Nevertheless, this new art necessitated political autonomy and economic independence to be sustained and eventually was systematically censored and muted. As Margaret Randall (author on women and revolution) explains memory is identity.