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History, The Intervention Era, 1909-1933

Anastasio Somoza Garcia, Augusto Cesar Sandino, Sandinistas, worldwide depression, Sandino

In 1909 the United States encouraged a revolt against Zelaya, then used naval forces to prevent him from crushing the uprising. Zelaya resigned, but U.S. pressures continued until his successor turned over power to a coalition government. This proved unstable, and in 1912 U.S. Marines landed and imposed order, defeating a Liberal force and ensuring that Conservative Adolfo Diaz remained president. A small Marine unit stayed in Nicaragua until 1925, making it clear that revolutions would not be tolerated. This enabled the Conservatives, a minority party, to rig elections without fear of being overthrown.

Allied with the Conservatives, the United States and its interests soon dominated Nicaragua. Conservative leader General Emiliano Chamorro signed the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, which gave the United States exclusive rights to build a canal across Nicaragua in exchange for $3 million, and became president in 1916. The United States never planned to build a canal but wanted the treaty to ensure that no other nation would be able to do so. For Nicaraguan nationalists, this became a symbol of U.S. exploitation of Nicaragua. United States officials and businesses also came to dominate much of Nicaragua’s economy and banking system.

In the early 1920s the United States sought to promote political stability in the country so that the Marines would not be needed to prevent revolts. The United States tried to create a professional Nicaraguan military that could maintain order and tried to reform corrupt election practices. After elections brought a weak Liberal-Conservative coalition to power in 1925, the Marines left. Civil war immediately erupted as Chamorro, the defeated Conservative candidate, ousted the Liberals from government and took over the presidency himself.

This created a conflict for the United States: It feared that the Liberals might win the war, especially when they seemed to be getting support from a revolutionary government in Mexico, but it also wanted a stable government in Nicaragua and to prevent coups, such as Chamorro’s. Therefore U.S. officials worked to force Chamorro from power, and former president Diaz again took office. The Liberals continued to win the civil conflict, however, and in 1926 and 1927 the United States again landed thousands of Marines in Nicaragua to support the Conservative government. Former U.S. secretary of war Henry Stimson then negotiated a peace agreement, under which Liberals were given some government posts; the United States agreed to supervise the 1928 elections; and troops of both sides were disarmed. They were to be replaced by a new, U.S.-created and U.S.-trained force that combined police and military, known as the National Guard.

One Liberal general, Augusto Cesar Sandino, refused to accept this agreement. He formed a rebel army and carried on a guerrilla campaign against the U.S. presence until 1933. This made him a symbol of nationalism to many Nicaraguans and others who opposed U.S. intervention.

In 1928 U.S.-supervised elections brought Liberal general Jose Maria Moncada to power. Because of concerns about Sandino and the time needed to train the National Guard, the Marines remained in Nicaragua until January 1933. Plans to improve the economy fell victim to the worldwide depression of the 1930s and to a massive earthquake that destroyed Managua in 1931. The United States also supervised the 1932 presidential elections, which were won by Liberal leader Juan Bautista Sacasa. The Marines then withdrew, giving command of the National Guard to a Liberal politician, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who was married to Sacasa’s niece.

Sandino quickly negotiated a truce with the Sacasa government, ending his rebellion. Tensions between the National Guard and Sandino mounted steadily, however, and in 1934 Sandino was murdered by Guard officers. He became a hero to many Nicaraguans, and his name was adopted more than 40 years later by revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government and change Nicaraguan society, the Sandinistas.

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