Carlos Fonseca Amador

Carlos Fonseca Amador
Carlos Fonseca Amador

The intellectual guiding light of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN) from its founding in 1961–62 until his death in battle in 1976, Carlos Fonseca Amador ranks among the most influential figures in modern Nicaraguan history, and one of the era’s most prominent Latin American revolutionaries.

As an adult who was tall, slender, severely nearsighted, and self-abnegating, he was born out of wedlock as Carlos Alberto Fonseca on June 23, 1936, in the provincial city of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, to seamstress and laundress Augustina Fonseca Ubeda. His biological father, Fausto Amador Alemán, was one of the region’s wealthiest and most prominent coffee growers and businessmen.

Growing up in the abject poverty characteristic of the city’s working class, at age 14 Carlos entered Matagalpa’s only public secondary school, the only one among five maternal siblings to go beyond primary school. A gifted student, he read voraciously, and at age 18 became active in the local branch of the banned Nicaraguan Communist Party (PSN).

In the same year he copublished a cultural journal, Segovia, in which he developed many of the themes that would later play a major role in his political thought. Graduating from high school in 1955, he was honored for finishing all five years as first in his class.

Moving to Managua, he worked in the library of the prestigious Instituto Ramírez Goyena high school before settling in León and enrolling in the National University of Nicaragua (UNAN) as a law student, where he became involved in radical student politics. Arrested by the regime of Luis Somoza following the assassination of Somoza’s father, Anastasio Somoza, in September 1956, Fonseca was jailed for seven weeks.

In 1957 he embarked on a PSN-sponsored trip to Moscow as the Nicaraguan delegate to the Sixth World Congress of Students and Youth for Peace and Friendship. The next year he published Un Nicaragüense en Moscú (A Nicaraguan in Moscow) and became one of UNAN’s top student leaders.

With the triumph of the Cuban revolution in January 1959, he traveled to Cuba, along with many other Nicaraguan dissidents. Upon his return, in April he was arrested and deported to Guatemala. From there he joined a newly formed guerrilla group training in Honduras. On June 24, 1959, he was severely wounded in a firefight with the Honduran military and Nicaraguan National Guard at El Chapparal.

The event was a turning point. He broke with the PSN and, determined to forge an independent revolutionary movement modeled on Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, he returned to Cuba and began a serious study of Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto C. Sandino.

In 1961–62 Fonseca and several comrades formed the FSLN, though the idea of using Sandino’s name and image was Fonseca’s. He interpreted Sandino as a kind of “path” that, through the FSLN vanguard, would combine Marxist theories of class struggle with Nicaragua’s unique history and culture of popular resistance. Henceforth Fonseca was the group’s undisputed leader.

Organizing relentlessly and writing prolifically, for the next 15 years Fonseca guided the group through many hardships and phases. He was killed in a National Guard ambush on November 7, 1976, in the mountains northeast of Matagalpa, nearly three years before FSLN overthrew Somoza.