To those who overthrew Anastasio Somoza in a civil war last year, he was "the last Marine" to leave Nicaragua, and the end of a dynasty that spanned nearly five decades from the time U.S. occupation forces withdrew from the Central American nation and left his father and namesake in charge.

In his own country, it was said that "Tacho" Somoza was more American than Nicaraguan. He was educated in the United States, a graduate of West Point. Somoza never spoke Spanish when English would do, and his speech was peppered with American slang of the early 1950s.

Like his father and brother who ruled before him, Somoza was a staunch U.S. ally, who boasted to friends about his understanding of "the way things work" in Washington. But in the end, it was Somoza's failure to understand that times had changed, both in the United States and in Nicaragua, that brought his downfall.

Somoza's assassination yesterday, at age 54 in Asuncion, Paraguay, was almost an anticlimax to a life that ended politically on July 17, 1979, the day he resigned the presidency of Nicaragua and fled into exile.

At that point, his National Guard forces had been engaged in civil war for nearly two months with Sandinista National Liberation Front guerrillas and, while Somoza was not winning, he was not a man to run from a fight. Neither was he much bothered by international denunciation of his regime and calls for his resignation.

It was only when the United States -- in recognition of the fact that he was no longer viable as a leader or an ally -- told him to leave that Somoza gave up the battle.

For a few feisty days in exile in Miami, he continued to call the shots from afar in the country where his family had maintained absolute control for so many years. But he soon left the United States, fearing that the Carter administration would look favorably on requests for his extradition from the new Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Somoza rented a yacht and sailed around the Caribbean, crossing paths with another international wanderer without a home, the ex-shah of Iran. Eventually, he traveled to Paraguay, where right-wing dictator Alfredo Stroesser welcomed him on the condition that he would remain a private citizen and refrain from public comment or involvement in international affairs.

For Somoza, it was tantamount to imprisonment. He still had his fortune, hundreds of millions of dollars amassed from the years his family controlled Nicragua's economy as well as its government. But he had lost his valued power and the world spotlight.

Tall and fighting a weight problem most of his life, Somoza had been known to his friends as a gracious host, a man with a weakness for food, drink and attractive women and a shrewd businessman who was often as generous as he could be pennypinching.

In the last months of his life, however, the gossip in Latin America was that Somoza had grown fat and personally careless and spent his days depressed and drinking too much. The biggest news he had made involved an alleged affair with a well-known Paraguayan beauty that turned into a local scandal.

But the shock waves that Somoza's resignation and exile sent through the hemisphere continue, as right-wing dictatorships have dug in their heels and those opposing them have grown bolder.

Anastasio Somoza Jr. was born Dec. 5, 1925, at his father's farm in Leon, Nicaragua's second city. The father had recently returned from a long residence in the United States and his command of English soon elevated the young Army officer to a position as translator and aide to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson.

Stimson was trying to negotiate the end of a U.S. Marine occupation that began in 1912. One condition was to be installation of a depoliticized National Guard that would be above the internecine battles of rival political forces that had brought the Marines in the first place.

When the Marines finally pulled out in 1933, it was with the assurance that the new National Guard was firmly in control, and that Anastasio Somoza Sr. a man the United States knew and trusted, was in charge.

Within four years, the father had arranged the assassination of his principal opponent, guerrilla leader Augusto Sandino, ousted the country's civilian executive and had himself installed as president. The dynasty had begun.

By that time, Anastasio Jr. was 12 years old and a student at LaSalle Military Academy in New York. Groomed to head the Nicaraguan military, he graduated from West Point in 1946 and returned to Nicaragua to begin his career in the National Guard.

In 1950, he married Hope Portocarrero, a Nicaraguan born in Tampa, Fla., who was related to him on his mother's side. They had five children -- Anastasio, Julio, Carolina, Carla, Ana and Roberto Eduardo.

When the founder of the dynasty was assassinated in 1956, Somoza's elder brother Luis became president. Anastasio, then barely 30, took over as director of the National Guard, a job he never relinquished even after becoming president himself.

The relationships Somoza built in the Nicaraguan military, like the friendships he made at West Point with future U.S. leaders, were to stand him in good stead in the future.

Somoza ran the National Guard like a stern but loving father, making virtually every decision that affected it from high-level promotions to handling out leaves and loans for the personal problems of its foot soldiers. He infused the military with his own ardent anticommunism and built into it a fierce loyalty to him and his family.

Luis, meanwhile, had broken with tradition and allowed the presidency to be taken over by an elected executive, who died in office. So in 1966, Somoza began his own campaign for Nicaragua's highest office.

He became president on May 1, 1967. Although he stepped down briefly for an interim government in 1972, Somoza was reelected in 1974.

As active head of both the government and its military, Somoza wielded enormous power in Nicaragua.But his hold over the country, which opponents said ran like a personal hacienda, was solidified by his economic endeavors.

From the small coffee farm his father owned in the late 1920s, the family fortune had grown to touch virtually every productive sector for the country. Somoza owned cattle ranches and controlled Nicaragua's lucrative beef export industry. He owned coffee and cotton plantations, some even in neighboring Central American countries.

A popular joke in the region following the 1976 Guatemalan earthquake had Somoza calling former Guatemalan president Carlos Arana, another powerful and wealthy landowner.

Somoza asked Arana how Guatemala had come through the disaster.

"Terrible," Arana is supposed to have replied. "Half the country has been destroyed."

"Which half?" Somoza asked. "Yours or mine?"

In addition to agriculture holdings, Somoza and his family had interests in shipping and textiles. Somoza owned his own newspaper, run by his cousin Louis Debayle along with his other duties as president of the Nicaraguan Senate. Somoza was an active trader on U.S. stock markets. He owned the cement factory that produced the bricks that paved many of Managua's streets.

Although his personal fortune was estimated by outsiders at approximately $500 million in the years immediately before his ouster, Somoza himself put the figure at "more like $100 million." The family owed its financial success, he said in a 1978 interview, to the fact that they were "good businessmen."

But Somoza's lifelong passion, almost like a religion to his family, was anticommunism. In 1954, his father's government helped the CIA overthrow a leftist government in Guatemala, and the Somozas opposed Cuban leader Fidel Castro even before he came to power.

Nicaragua was the base from which CIA-trained Cuban exiles launched the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Even after president Johnson ordered an end to exile raids against Cuba from American territory, Nicaragua continued to aid the exiles.

Somoza was friendly with many of them, making them business partners and attending their political meetings. In 1976, Castro accused Somoza of aiding Cuban exiles who, Castro said, had placed a bomb in a Cuban airliner that killed all 76 persons aboard.

Somoza responded with the charge that Cuba was supporting leftist Nicaraguan guerrillas with arms and training.

But the Sandinista guerrillas, named after the man Somoza's father had ordered killed 40 years earlier, were little threat to him at that point. In December 1974, they had raided a Managua reception for then-U.S. ambassador Turner Shelton, demanded that several compatriots be released from jail, and gotten away unscathed.

In retaliation, Somoza had declared a state of siege, clamping down on political activity and press freedom and launching a campaign of harsh military repression against peasants he believed were harboring guerrillas.

Thus, when President Carter came into office in early 1977, Somoza's Nicaragua was a prime candidate on which to test the new administration's pledge to bring strong U.S. pressure on governments that violated human rights.

For more than two years, as the Carter administration criticized Somoza with little letup, the Sandinistas grew in strength and international legitimacy. Soon, Nicaraguan businessman found the growing revolutionary movement was an outlet for their own resentment of Somoza's economic stranglehold over the country.

The 1978 assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a respected Nicaraguan published and longtime Somoza opponent, sparked the country into violence. Somoza found that neither repression nor cries of an impending communist takeover were enough to stem the tide of national revolt.

Open and cordial with the international press -- even when he blamed the U.S. media for telling lies about his government and contributing to its demise -- Somoza granted an interview 10 days before his flight from Nicaragua.

His manner was subdued, almost listless. "I am like a tied donkey fighting with a tiger," Somoza said. "I have no future [and] I'm ready" to go.

Asked how he would spend the rest of his life, Somoza said he "might find a job someplace." Still, he asked, "what can a retired general, a retired president, do?"