The United States Involvement in Nicaragua

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In the years prior to the First World War

The United States and Mexican governments competed for political presence and influence in Latin and Central America. Consequently, the government of the United States intervened more directly in the affairs of Nicaragua in two separate, but related occurrences in 1911 and 1912 (Grossman, 2009). Their main objective was to ensure the rule of a government friendly to U.S. politics and commercial interests while ensuring political stability in Central America. While officials within the administration of President William H. Taft maintained that the intervention only served to ensure good government, many Nicaraguans viewed intervention of the U.S. in the domestic politics only served their expansionist goals. Nicaraguans saw this as a foreign takeover of their banking, political, and railroad systems.

United States Occupation of Nicaragua

For the duration of conflict between the United States and various Central and Latin American countries that came to be referred to as the Banana Wars, the U.S. invaded and occupied Nicaragua in 1912, even other operations had been carried out preceding this. The U.S. troops only withdrew from the country in 1933 following the start of the Great Depression and the activities of the guerilla army under the leadership of Augusto Cesar Sandino who viewed the actions of the U.S. as part of their wider scheme toward U.S. imperialism. There was no military presence in Nicaragua, but during this period, President Jose Santos Zelaya was putting down a rebellion under the leadership of Juan Jose Estrada. Following the execution of two American mercenaries by the men of Zelaya, the U.S started getting involved (Diederich, 2010). The U.S. found a chance to help Estrada oust Zelaya in pretence of helping restore order in Nicaragua. With the U.S. navy patrolling the Bluefields, this basically implied that they were supporting uprising of Estrada. By 1909, about two hundred and fifty marines had taken control of Nicaragua cost under the command of Corps Major Smedley Butler (Gobat, 2007).

The developing political pressure forced Zelaya to flee the country

He was succeeded by Jose Madriz. With increasing rebellious forces from the horizon, Madriz was forced to resign, allowing Juan Estrada ascending to power in 1910. Financial relationship between the two nations began to flourish, and this continued even under the presidency of Adolf Diaz. Unluckily, these relations begun to put pressure on local support Diaz had, forcing him to request for support from the United States. Since the railway from Granada to Corinto was of interest to the United States, hundreds of Marines arrived in Nicaragua to promote the interest of the U.S.

The U.S. government capitalized on the continued rivalry and unrest within Nicaraguan politics

enabling them to easily exert control throughout the region through financial influence and military presence, preventing the construction of a Nicaragua Canal and ensuring access for Central American resources to U.S. companies. However, history would take a drastic and remarkable turn in 1927 after Augusto Sandino, son of an affluent landlord and his female servant joined the struggle for sovereignty of the nation (Langley, 2002). Experience gained by Sandino while in exile in Mexico cultivated anti-imperialist, nationalist ideas in him. Later while working as a miner in the mountains northern of Nicaragua, he noticed similar struggles and decided to join arms with Liberal Generals who fought for what they regarded as supporters of U.S. government. Sandino quickly turned into both Nicaraguan hero and international icon of anti-imperialist struggle following his eloquent national liberation ideas and brilliant hit and run guerilla tactics.

Major military wars preceded against opposing rebels groups

and with the help of Nicaraguan forces they able to hold the rebel forces. Diaz successfully remained in power as the president of Nicaragua enabling the United States to withdraw their forces, but some remained to enforce peace in the country for another fifteen years. In addition to doing so, the U.S. were able to protect their interest in the country, including political and economic influence in the country. Once again, Augusto Cesar Sandino assembled an army to challenge the Diaz government, and in the 1932 election, Juan Bautista Sacasa became the new president of Nicaragua. Sandino promised to enter into a peace talk with Sacasa only if the United States withdrew their troops from the country, which he surely did after the last troops left Nicaragua in January 1933 (Gobat, 2007).

Even though Sandino did not have trust in the U.S-trained National Guard

he recognized the election of Sacasa, a former deposed Liberal vice-president. In 1933, Sandino was successfully assassinated by National Guard Forces, under the command of General Anastasio “Tacho” Samoza Garcia on his way back from talks with the president. The Samoza family was able to rule the country for 43 years, by either winning the presidential elections through intimidation, or by sponsoring candidates who would rule in the interest of the family and further interest of the United States in Nicaragua through the support of the United States and complete control of the National Guard (Gobat, 2007). Indeed, Sandino was right when he maintained the U.S. intervention in the domestic politics of Nicaragua only served their expansionist goals. The U.S. was able to control almost all aspects of Nicaragua, including it army.

Luiz Samoza Debayle succeeded his father

who was a patriarch dictator who was president until 1963, but ruled the country until he passed on of a serious heart attack in 1967 (Grossman, 2009). Around the same period in the year 1961, a group of young Nicaraguans revolutionaries recollected and organized another resistant group against the regime and adopted the name of Augusto C. Sandino. This led to the formation of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which became an effective rebel military force in the early seventies against the feared National Guard. The U.S. maintained their presence in Nicaragua even after they had claimed to have removed their forces from the country.

While the dictatorship of Samoza was brutal, corrupt and quite disliked international

it enjoyed unwavering support of the U.S. because it was regarded as an anti-communist stronghold that always served interest of the United States. During the Second World War, the U.S. impounded large amounts of land belonging to Nicaragua and property owned by German citizens and sold it to Samoza family at an unreasonably lower price. In return for the favor, the Samozas used their position and power to natural resources of Nicaragua with huge concessions to American corporations, allowed CIA-trained Cuban dissenters to use ports belonging to Nicaragua during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (Langley, 2002).

The liberal president of Nicaragua Zelaya was overthrown

by a conservative government through the support of the U.S. government in 1909. The major issue was that Zelaya was viewed as a too radical and a Nicaraguan nationalist. He had previously threatened to cancel or crack down on concessions to U.S. business in Nicaragua. He went ahead to negotiate a large loan with London to Nicaragua, which undermined the U.S. “dollar diplomacy” that advocated for United States control throughout Central and Latin America (Diederich, 2010). Zelaya also refused to the U.S. to construct a canal across Nicaragua, but instead was rumored to have had negotiations with Japan and Germany to construct such canals. The main interests of U.S. companies during that period were timber, mining of gold and agriculture. The U.S. control almost all strategic sectors of that wholly backward economy, such that the oligarchic Conservative faction that resumed power in 1910 nothing more than intermediary of American occupation (Langley, 2002).

Sandino had two major goals to achieve

which included ending U.S. occupation of Nicaragua and establishment of a constitutional that is free from domination by foreigners. Guerilla movement under Sandino began its operations in 1927. This coincided with the time Mao Zedong started his long struggle that culminated to the success of Chinese Revolution in 1949. The roving guerilla horsemen came to an end in 1927 owing to the use of machine gun and airplane. The guerilla movement led by Sandino moved about in small groups and they did not fight in the open, but instead maneuvered in the forests and mountains (Grossman, 2009). Sandino learned the critical importance of the locale and used the locals to support his troop with food and information. Fidel Castrol and Che Guevara learned much from his tactics, including the tactics needed to destroy opposing military forces. Failure of Sandino to destroy the army of opposing forces cost him his life in 1934 (Langley, 2002).

While claiming to restoring democracy in Nicaragua

the U.S. marines instead established a dictatorship. They left the country as if they had done nothing wrong. However, Americans treat their past with unreasonable carelessness, and failures are forgotten especially too quickly. Consequently, half a century ago, memories of Nicaragua had been thrown to the dust-filled corners of archives and attics. The dynasty that Sandino had fought finally came down in 1979 in the hands of young Marxist revolutionaries who called themselves Sandinistas. Although the Sandinistas have reversed majority of the neoliberal measured that the U.S imposed during the prior 16 years if Liberal government, they were no longer militant. After resuming power, the long term leader of FSLN, and the once again current president, informed the world that private investment would continue to prevail and thrive in the country. Rather than returning to revolutionary rhetoric, the Sandinistas resolved to re-shape themselves into a government of national reconciliation, and held a meeting with the IMF, World Bank and the Central American Free Trade Agreement to deliberate and negotiate on favorable trade terms.

Following the earthquake in 1972 that leveled Managua

corruption under the presidency of Samoza extended to exploitation and obvious theft of public aid (Gobat, 2007). His rule became so corrupt and inhumane, forcing the U.S. government to respond to undeniable evidence of violations of human rights by ultimately withdrawing all support from the regime. The widespread corruption and brutality of the regime worked to the advantage of the Sandinistas by increasing their support, making them become more sophisticated with their guerilla tactics. On July 18, 1979, the FSLN managed to eject the last remnants of Samoza dynasty out of Nicaragua, and celebrated the triumph of the Sandinistas Popular Revolution the following day (Grossman, 2009). The United States denied Anastasio Samoza Debayle asylum, forcing him to flee to Paraguay, which under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, where a group of Argentinean revolutionaries attacked and assassinated him.


While the U.S. has since desisted from direct intervention, it has not stopped its efforts to shape the Nicaraguan political landscape by financing NGOs, political parties, and Civil Society groups with the aim of discrediting the government and creating an illusion of a dictatorship in need of a humanitarian, generous U.S. invasion. Nevertheless, away from their days of guerilla-warfare, revolutionary days, the FSLN has perfected to play the game of Western-style representative democracy, provided the government continues to support itself economically. Even though transnational companies continue to access the cheap national resources in the country as they give a few chips to Nicaraguan people, it is keeping the neoliberal brand of capitalism from brutality of oppressing the citizens. It would prove too ambitious too shake off all the interventions for good, but if it is to happen someday, then it will require massive movement of international solidarity in defiance of imperialism, wherever it happens to be.



Diederich, B., 2010. Somoza and the legacy of U.S. involvement in Central America, Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener.

Gobat, M., 2007. Confronting the American dream: Nicaragua under U.S. imperial rule, Durham: Duke University Press.

Grossman, R., 2009. Solidarity with Sandino. Latin American Perspectives, 36(6), pp.67–79.

Langley, L.D., 2002. The banana wars: United States intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources.

November 24, 2023

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