Beginning in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt framed a “Big Stick” policy to advance U.S. interests and to restrict European influence in the Americas.
With the advent of the California gold rush, Nicaragua proved a popular interoceanic shortcut. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s steamship company transported supplies and prospectors from the Atlantic, along Nicaragua’s San Juan River, then across Lake Nicaragua to the Pacific.
In 1855, at the invitation of Nicaraguan liberals, a Tennessee adventurer named William Walker invaded Nicaragua with a small armed force in the hope of extending the Southern U.S. slave culture.
Though Walker enjoyed initial success, when he presumed to establish himself as president of Nicaragua he was routed by the joint efforts of Nicaragua’s opposing political factions, Vanderbilt’s steamship company, the British government and other Central American republics.
Walker narrowly escaped capture, only to surrender to the U.S. Navy in 1857.
In 1909, pursuant to Roosevelt’s Big Stick policy, the United States supported conservative-led forces rebelling against President José Santos Zelaya. American policy was driven by differences over control of the proposed cross-isthmus canal, and Zelaya’s efforts to regulate foreign access to Nicaraguan natural resources. On Nov. 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area after 500 revolutionaries (including two Americans) were executed under Zelaya’s orders. The U.S. also landed 400 Marines. Zelaya subsequently resigned.
In a 1912 effort to retain power, conservative elements within the government requested more aid; in response, the U.S. landed 2,700 more Marines.
In 1914, under the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty, the United States gained control over the proposed canal, as well as leases for potential canal defenses. Following a brief evacuation of the Marines, another violent conflict between liberals and conservatives broke out in 1926, which resulted in the Marines’ return.
From 1927 until 1933, rebel general Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war, first against the conservative regime and subsequently against the Marines, whom he fought for more than five years.
In the wake of the rebellion, the United States maintained a near-continuous presence in Nicaragua until this day in 1933, when in the closing months of President Herbert Hoover’s administration the U.S. 5th Marine Regiment withdrew from Nicaragua.
Before the Americans left, the regiment set up the Guardia Nacional — a powerful combined military and police force trained and equipped by the departing Americans and designed to remain loyal to U.S. interests.
Nevertheless, Nicaragua continued to be beset by a struggle between liberal and conservative forces, centered around the cities of León and Granada.
Founded by the Spanish in the early 1550s, the two cities became competing power centers.
Their rivalry often left Nicaragua vulnerable to outside interests even after the country gained independence from Spain in 1821.
SOURCE: U.S. Library of Congress
Article by By Andrew Glass first appeared at Politico.com