The final stage of the process toward the overthrow of Somoza and triumph of the Sandinistas began on 10 November 1976, the date of Carlos Fonseca's death.  His death was followed by the death of another long-time leader, Carlos Agüero, in April of 1977.  National Directorate member Pedro Aráuz was killed shortly after in October.  The deaths of these men and others left a vacuum in the FSLN leadership as well as a dearth of members.  Somoza and his men had been positive that the FSLN movement would fail entirely without Fonseca, and it very nearly did. 



The movement survived, but it was severely weakened.  The factions that had existed before Fonseca's death hardened, and the leaders of each faction did not meet in the two years following Fonseca's death.[1]  Henry Ruiz was the leader of the Prolonged People's War tendency (GPP) which was involved in trying to avoid the National Guard in the deep mountains.  Victor Tirado led the Insurrectional Tendency (TI or terceristas) faction to Honduras to reorganize.  The immediate activity of the Proletariat Tendency (TP) at this point is unclear, but it did have its own student affiliate, network of Christian activists, and farm worker and peasant allies, as did the GPP.  Each tendency claimed to be followers of Fonseca, but they were all moving away from the program that had been set up in the 1960s-70s.  Each group published a manifesto of sorts, all of which were modified in some way from Fonseca's ideology, and as mentioned, they did not meet to sort out their differences for two years.



By late 1977, membership was increasing in all three tendencies in urban areas, though not as much in rural ones.  The reputation and influence of the FSLN were growing even more rapidly than their memberships.  In September 1977 Somoza lifted the state of siege that had been implemented in December of 1974, reflecting the crisis in the Somoza political regime.  New protest organizations sprang up, often with connections to the FSLN, such as the Association of Women Confronting the National Problem (AMPRAC), the national problem being universally recognized as Somoza.  In 1978 Somoza increased his repressive actions, and along with FSLN initiatives and semi-spontaneous mass actions the pace of events picked up dramatically.  The leader of the Unión Democrática de Liberación, Joaquín Chomorrow, was assassinated on 10 January 1978.  A plethora of mass protests sprang up in response to his murder, including a national protest strike, which lasted until protestors began to organize militant street actions.  A student strike closed Nicaragua's universities and eighty percent of high schools in April of 1978.  In July popular Sandinista organizations came together to form the United People's Movement (Movimiento Pueble Unido, MPU).  The National Palace in Managua was captured by tercerista guerillas on 22 August 1978 who held 3500 politicians and businessmen hostage until all of the FSLN members in prison were released by Somoza.  Uprisings occurred under FSLN initiatives in September in cities surrounding the capital.  Members of all three tendencies fought in these uprisings, beginning to blur the distinctions between the factions and prepare the way for unified action



President Jimmy Carter and the United States no longer supported the Somoza regime at this point, but did not want a revolutionary government to take power in Nicaragua.  Carter therefore formed the Commission of Friendly Cooperation and Conciliation to work with the more moderate Broad Opposition Front (Frente Amplio Opositor) which opposed Somoza but was made up of a conglomeration of dissidents within the government as well as "Los Doce", representatives of the terceristas.  The FAO and Commission came up with a plan that would remove Somoza from office but left no part in government power for the FSLN, so the Los Doce walked out in protest and joined the MPU in a new coalition, the National Patriotic Front (FPN).  The FAO lost its legitimacy in front of the people with the loss of Los Doce, and the people turned to the FSLN and FPN more than the leaders of those very organizations realized.



Pro-revolutionary sentiment had spread at an amazingly rapid rate throughout Nicaragua, and victory was much closer at hand than any of the leaders of the FSLN imagined.  After the Commission left in January of 1979, Somoza's repressive attacks escalated again, especially toward youth and activists.  Protests increased accordingly, and soon a full-scale insurrection was underway.  Tens of thousands of youth joined the FSLN and the fight against Somoza. This pushed the FSLN back toward the more radical ideology of Fonseca and towards reunification, which occurred on 7 March 1979.  Nine men, three from each tendency, formed the National Directorate which would lead the reunited FSLN.  They were: Daniel Ortega, Humberto Ortega and Víctor Tirado (TI); Tomás Borge, Bayardo Arce, and Henry Ruiz (GPP); and Jaime Wheelock, Luis Carrión and Carlos Núñez (TP). 



By mid-April 1979 youth and National Guardsmen were clashing almost daily in cities throughout the country, including Managua for the first time.  Five guerilla fronts opened under the joint command of the FSLN.  The scheme was to liberate the cities from the National Guard, but the cities actually liberated themselves and in some cases the Guard simply gave up.  On 4 June a general strike was called by the FSLN to last until Somoza fell, and a few days later an uprising was launched in Managua.  By the end of the month the FSLN controlled over twenty towns/cities in the Pacific zone, including León and Matagalpa, the two largest cities in Nicaragua after Managua.  Somoza retaliated by bombing working-class neighborhoods, obliterating them while leaving the middle class areas untouched, for the insurrections were largely made up of the proletariat.  As the two sides in the country became more and more defined into FSLN/Sandinista and Somoza/National Guard, the middle class became more sympathetic to the FSLN and was willing to negotiate a role in government for them.  On 16 June the formation of a provisionary government was announced, with three FSLN members, FAO leader Alfonso Robelo, and the widow of Chamorro.  Elections were to be held for a new legislative body to be controlled by the bourgeois.  This five-man government did take power when Somoza finally resigned 17 July before fleeing to Miami, having named Francisco Urcuyo successor.2  Urcuyo fled as well, however, along with the new head of the National Guard, Colonel Federico Mejía.  On 18 July the members of the new government arrived in León, the provisional capital, and the National Guard disintigrated.  The following day, 19 July 1979, the FSLN guerillas entered Managua to cheering crowds.  The square was decorated with large portraits of Augusto Sandino and Carlos Fonseca in honor of their contributions and sacrifices which allowed the revolution to triumph.


[1] This, and all of the information on this page unless otherwise noted, can be found from pages 205-227 in the following source:

Zimmerman, Matilde.  Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca  and the Nicaraguan Revolution.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

    2  Knut Walter, The Regime of Anastasio Somoza, 1936-1956, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), xiii.