US Imperialism in Nicaragua and the making of Sandino


Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Augusto C. Sandino in 1928 PHOTO/Wikipedia

Nicaragua’s twentieth-century history cannot be told without placing the United States government as the main antagonist. It is their active interventions that have shaped the Central American country’s political, economic and social systems, but it is also the opposing forces to this imperialist aggression that has served as a counterbalance to writing the story of the Nicaraguan people. 

From military invasions to economic blockades, the U.S. has set to extinguish every attempt to a left-wing alternative against the imposed ‘Banana Republic’ model, that U.S. transnational interests have exerted in the country ever since the 19th century.

Yet it is out of U.S. imperialism, that a figure rose in Nicaragua to become a symbol of rebellion and hope for past, current and future generations. Know as the ‘General of Free Men’, Augusto Cesar Sandino’s life and murder on Feb. 21, 1934, would shape the Central American republic.

But to understand the emergence and death of Sandino one must see that U.S. imperialism is at the heart of Nicaragua’s composition as a nation.

US’ “Good Men” in Nicaragua

By the nineteenth century, the U.S. was prepping itself to become the new dominant empire in the world. A newfound power that was especially felt in Latin America, a region the North Americans consider theirs by belief in the manifest destiny, which in turn was materialized in the Monroe Doctrine (1823). This way the U.S. assumed their role of self-declared caretakers of the American continent. But it wasn’t until President Theodore Roosevelt (1901 – 1909) that the reach of U.S. imperialism, in Central America specifically, would take its most modern configuration. 

With the new imperialist sense, the U.S. reaffirmed its foreign policy through Roosevelt’s 1904 Corollary, which was was an addition and interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine presented after the European naval blockade to Venezuela in 1902–1903. The corollary states that the U.S. will intervene in Latin American if the rights or property of U.S. citizens or businesses are threatened or endangered.

“Chronic wrongdoing . . . may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation,” Roosevelt said in his 1904 state of the union, adding that “in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”

Consistent with Roosevelt’s foreign policy it legitimized the use of force as a means to defend the interests – in the broadest sense – of the U.S. The result was the so-called ‘Banana Wars’, a series of U.S. military interventions in several Latin American countries from 1898 to 1934 of which Nicaragua was one of the main victims, as the U.S. wanted to “teach” the country how to choose “good men” as leaders.

A Nation Under US Tutelage

Under the liberal government of Jose Santos Zelaya (1893 – 1909), Nicaragua would transition into a modern state. As part of his modernization program, the country made concessions to Germany and Japan for a transisthmian canal across Nicaragua. Since the U.S. had its plans set in Panama, a competing venture financed by foreign interests, was not of their liking. 

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