As the Pan-American Highway curves into Estelí, a silhouette of Sandino welcomes visitors and natives alike. The signature cowboy hat sits atop the shadowed outline. Augusto César Sandino was the only revolutionary leader to refuse surrender to the United States Military occupation in the 1920s and 30s. The same day he finally signed a peace treaty with the National Guard, Somoza’s (chief of the National Guard and soon to be dictator of Nicaragua) men took him the airport and shot both him and his brother dead. Sandino, from whom the Sandinista revolutionaries took their name, has become a greater symbol of the revolution than Carlos Fonseca, the most famous founder of the revolution. Thus it is fitting that it is Sandino who greets the masses into Estelí.
Estelí, the city “tres veces heroica” (three times heroic) for the three insurrections the Sandinistas fought there against the National Guard, was a revolutionary valley amongst the mountains of guerilla warfare. Somoza’s stronghold during the war, Estelí took some of the most brutal destruction and was therefore one of the last cities to fall to the Sandinistas. Somoza’s air attacks bombed much of the city to rubble; the buildings that remained stood pockmarked with bullet-holes. Estelí celebrates its “Liberation day” this Friday, only three days before the national triumph of the Sandinistas.
Today, Estelí is still a valley among the mountains, but now the mountains tout organic farming communities and tourist adventures. Though only one house remains bullet-ridden, the city has not forgotten the revolution. President Daniel Ortega’s pink posters proclaim “Viva la Revolución”, reminding that the city approaches 31 years since the Sandinista Triumph. Murals of the revolution cover walls throughout the city: faces of Carlos Fonseca, Jose Benito Escobar, Francisco Luiz Espinoza, and even Ernesto “Ché” Guevara. Stripped of the titles they held under Somoza, the streets are now named after fallen Sandinistas. Each barrio has a plaque remembering those who died in the revolution. Even the music in the streets is from the FSLN, the Sandinista political party. Once Somoza’s Stronghold, Estelí is now the city of Sandinistas.