Some might say that Nicaragua has been merely a pawn in the US battle against Soviet-Cuban Communist control in Latin America. Relationships between the US and Nicaragua go back to the Gold Rush and Cornelius Vanderbilts attempts to expedite the travel between the two coasts of the US. Vanderbilt bought the rights to shuttle fortune-seekers across Nicaragua to avoid their having to cross the width of the United States or travel around Cape Horn. Eventually, controversy among the Nicaraguan people led to a civil war in 1853. The US was further drawn into the conflict when the left-wing army hired an American, William Walker, to fight for them. Walker and his mercenaries quickly conquered Grenada, the stronghold of the Conservative parties and found themselves in charge of the army. Walker, however, had his eyes on the presidency, which he eventually took.
Walker was not the end of US intervention in Nicaragua. The government had aligning aspirations with Cornelius Vanderbilt and decided to build their canal through Nicaragua, which was less disease ravaged than the other contender, Panama. However, due to previous treaty agreements, the US would have to share control of any canal built through Nicaragua with Great Britain, and so the plan was abandoned. Instead, the US built an exclusively controlled canal through Panama.
From 1893 1909, a general by the name of Zelaya had exclusive control of the Nicaraguan government. However, in 1909, with US support, this government was overthrown and a pro-US government was established. Throughout the early 1900s, US Marines helped quell minor rebellions throughout Nicaragua and occupy much of the country. Finally, in 1933, the marines leave under the premise of peace with the guerilla leader Gen. Sandino. A man named Anastasio Somoza is put in charge of the National Guard, and therefore controls the country with an iron fist. Until 1979, the Somoza family serves as the totalitarian government in Nicaragua, fixing the elections so power remains in the family. Throughout this 40 year period, several minor insurrections are staged by the newly founded Sandinista National Liberation Front. These are easily put down by the military regime, until 1979.
Throughout this period of relative peace in Nicaragua, many dominos are being set up around them throughout Central America. In 1959, Castro controls Cuba and the US begins to worry about the communist influence in Latin America.
In 1972, corruption really starts to eat away at the Somoza regime and it is clear a power struggle is looming. Without US intervention, the Sandinistas launch their major offensive in 1979 and force Somoza into exile. Shortly thereafter, Ronald Reagan is elected in the US and he puts fighting communism a the top of his priority list. Reagan uses this motive to launch covert anti-Sandinista operations in Nicaragua as well as plant seeds of revolution in other communist countries throughout Latin America. In 1983, the US officially invaded Grenada and the US began restoring a government they deemed fit to rule the country.
Since that time, the US has been deeply involved in the Nicaraguan political processes to ensure a capitalistic society is maintained. The American government claims its assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors. Other goals are stated as improving human rights conditions, the development of a free market economy and ensuring civilian control over defense and security as well as reforming the judicial system. In the last few years, some semblance of order has been restored to the democratic process. In the 1996 election, a former Sandinista general ran and appeared to lead an aboveground campaign promising a peaceful future.
1. Serrill, Michael S.. Improbable Comeback. TIME International Magazine 14 Oct. 1996. 06 Sep. 2000. .
2. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Background Notes: Nicaragua. . Sept. 2000. US State Dept.. 25 Sept. 2000. .
3. Jenkins, Tony. Nicaragua and the United States; Years of Conflict. New York: Watts, 1989.
4. Burns, E Bradford. At War in Nicaragua; the Reagan Doctrine and the Politics of Nostalgia. New York, Harper & Row, 1987.