Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Nora Astorga
Part I of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series
“The great advantage in representing Nicaragua is that this is a revolution with principles and it bases its foreign policy on its principles” – Nora Astorga
Nora Astorga was born in 1949, to a wealthy Nicaraguan family, who supported the Somoza dictatorship. In her youth, Astorga attended Catholic school under the instruction of St. Theresa of Avila, in Managua, where she was first introduced to the complex realities of the world that surrounded her. During the time of her schooling Nicaragua was plagued with a corrupt government, social unrest, and pervasive violence. Upon completion of high school, her parents sent her to Catholic University, in Washington, DC, to escape the harsh realities Nicaragua faced.
Astorga was in DC when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. From this moment Astorga recounts, “…a political consciousness was born in me”, and returned to Nicaragua to partake in the struggle to overthrow Somoza. Upon her return, she enrolled in Central American University to study law. There, she was introduced to the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] by a fellow student, and shortly thereafter joined the Front in 1996, to partake in the fight to end the political corruption and inequality perpetuated by the Somoza dictatorship. Initially, Astorga’s role consisted of operating safe houses for the leaders of the FSLN.
In her late 20s, Astorga became a cooperate lawyer for a Nicaraguan construction company. While there, she saw an opportunity to further her involvement in FSLN. Through her position she met General Reynaldo Pérez Vega, nicknamed ‘El Perro’, a high up member of the National Guard under Somoza known to rape, torture, and kill political prisoners, as well as a notorious womanizer. Astorga used her wit and charm to lure El Perro to her house, on March 8, 1978. The plan was for her FSLN comrades to hide in her house and kidnap the general to exchange him for political prisoners; however, there was a struggle resulting in the killing of El Perro.
After Astorga was implicated in the death of El Perro she fled to the mountains to become a guerilla fighter. In an interview, Astorga recounts, “I finally understood that armed struggle was the only solution, that a rifle cannot be met with a flower… For me it was a moment of conviction: either I took up arms or I wasn’t going to change anything”. While fighting, Astorga acted as the political leader for four squads as well as studied the political reality of Nicaragua to further understand the in-country conditions.
Following the overthrow of Somoza in 1976, Astorga’s legal background provided her with the qualifications to become the Chief Special Persecutor in special war tribunals for Somoza war criminals. Upon completion of trying 7,500 members of Somoza’s National Guard, Astorga was appointed Nicaragua’s Deputy Foreign Mister for four years, and then became Nicaragua’s Ambassador to the United Nations. While at the U.N. Astorga was one of four women to act as representatives of their countries. In the male dominated U.N. Astorga worked tirelessly to challenge the United States’ policies of supporting the Contras, blockading trade and cutting off international organizations’ assistance to the Sandinista government. While speaking to U.N. delegates she stated, “the United States treats undeveloped countries like little children… Their attitude is, ‘If you behave, I’ll give you some candy. If not, I’ll spank you.’ ’”. Astorga was recognized by colleagues for the strength of her diplomatic efforts, including her work to encourage Security Council recognition of the landmark World Court case that declared U.S. efforts to topple the Sandinista government illegal.
Astorga’s work continues to have importance and impact today. There is a continued need to promote and include non-Western voices within the international community in order to inform as well as guide policies affecting non-Western countries. The United States, and many other Western countries, continues to enter inter-governmental spaces promoting their own agenda, without regard of the potentially detrimental impact on the countries they view as ‘lesser’, such as developing countries. This can be seen through the policies and tactics Nikki Haley utilizes at the U.N., which include the deployment of threats to force other countries to support American ill-informed global policies. The inclusion of non-Western voices in inter-governmental diplomacy will allow for the creation well informed policy based on moral and democratic ground, rather than the self-interests of the strong and wealthy countries.
Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Wangari Maathai, coming March 9th