Central American Resistance: Nicaragua


William Walker

Nicaragua: Early Resistance

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Subtiava tribe fought the Spaniards.  In 1811-1812 indigenous insurrections arose in Leon, Masaya, Granada, and Rivas, the people armed with only sticks and machetes.  The 1820s and 1840s were periods of renewed rebellion. 

In 1856 a U.S. citizen named William Walker came to Nicaragua, proclaimed himself president, made English the official language, and reinstituted slavery. He confiscated Nicaraguans’ land to give to U.S. citizens and received backing from the slave states and immediate diplomatic recognition by the U.S. government.  Uprisings ousted Walker and chased him from Nicaragua.


santos zelaya

Jose Santos Zelaya

When the Panama Canal was built in 1903, Nicaraguan president Jose Santos Zelaya investigated the possibility of a second canal through Nicaragua.  That suggestion, along with his willingness to trade with Britain and Japan, infuriated the United States, whose government believed it should have sole control over Central America.

In 1908 Zelaya contracted for a loan from a British firm to build a railway in Nicaragua.  The United States accused him of breaking the Monroe Doctrine by having such close relations with outside countries.  When two U.S. citizens were caught sabotaging Nicaraguan ships and were tried and executed, the U.S. government had the pretext it needed to intervene.  Four hundred Marines arrived to “protect U.S. lives and property.”  The assault was financed by a contribution of one million dollars by U.S. businessmen.  After the overthrow of Zelaya’s presidency, the United States finally installed its man, Adolfo Diaz, as president.  Diaz eventually modified the Nicaraguan constitution to allow for U.S. intervention and U.S. bankers rapidly assumed control of the country’s finances.

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In 1912, in response to the rise to power of the U.S.-backed Conservative Party, General Benjamin “El Indio” Zeledon began a popularly based resistance movement.  After the rebels won several important victories, the U.S. troops were called in.  They stormed Zeledon’s position, killing him and more than six hundred of his followers.

The twenty-seven hundred U.S. Marines, their job finished, left, but very soon they were called in again.  In 1927 the United States feared intervention from Mexico.  Asserting that only the United States could intervene in other countries, the government sent four thousand Marines and soldiers to Nicaragua.

At the time two Nicaraguan factions were fighting each other.  The United States imposed a ceasefire and required all arms to be handed over to the Marines.  Jose Maria Moncada, leader of one of the factions, surrounded.  In his army was a man named Agusto Ceasar Sandino.

Sandino, with only a few men at first, refused to surrender.  He said that the real problem in Nicaragua was U.S. intervention and called for a Nicaragua free from outside domination.  His fight against U.S. imperialism inspired a new wave of Nicaraguan insurrection that would last decades.

-George Black, Triumph of the People

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