BECK index

Nicaragua 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   Nicaragua & Walker 1850-60
   Nicaragua 1861-1908
   Nicaragua & US Intervention 1909-25 
   Nicaragua, Sandino & US Troops 1926-27
   Nicaragua, Sandino & US Troops 1928-35

Nicaragua & Walker 1850-60

Nicaragua 1838-50

      In September 1849 the United States Consul Ephraim Squier negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua that granted Cornelius Vanderbilt and the other directors of the Atlantic Pacific Ship Canal Company the exclusive right to build a canal, and on October 15 Squier signed a treaty with Honduras for the island of Tigre. The United States and Britain agreed to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty on 19 April 1950 that claimed for them the exclusive control of a canal across the American isthmus giving them “dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito Coast or any part of Central America.” The US and the British made the Webster-Crampton agreement in 1852 to claim the authority to settle the issues of Mosquita and Greytown. On 13 July 1854 the US Navy Captain George A. Hollins bombarded Greytown on the Mosquito Coast to drive out the British so that Vanderbilt could build a canal or a railroad to ease the way to California.
      The British had a protectorate over the Mosquito Coast which was known as the Mosquito Kingdom from 1655 to 1850. In 1859 the northern portion and the Bay Islands became part of Honduras, and the British in the Treaty of Managua transferred the rest of the Mosquito Coast to Nicaragua on 28 January 1860. It was the autonomous Mosquito Reserve until 1894 when it was incorporated into Nicaragua.
      José Laureano Pineda became Supreme Director of Nicaragua in 1851, and General José Trinidad Muñoz led a revolt and arrested Pineda and his ministers Francisco Castellón and F. Diaz Zapata. Honduras sent troops to assist the Nicaraguan army, and Muñoz surrendered on 10 November 1851. Pineda made Managua the permanent capital of Nicaragua on 15 February 1852. A national constituent assembly proposed a new constitution on 13 October 1852, but the legislative Assembly rejected it on 30 April 1853. Pineda believed that a canal could transform Nicaragua into a great emporium and a center of immigration. He promoted the building and improvement of schools and roads. He served as Supreme Director until 1 April 1853, and he died at the age of 51 on September 17.
      A new constituent assembly met on May 13, and on 28 February 1854 they decreed a constitution with a president as the chief executive. On April 7 they declared themselves a temporary legislature. Fruto Chamorro had been appointed the Supreme Director on 1 April 1853, and on 30 April 1854 he became the first President of Nicaragua. Yet only Granada and a few towns recognized his government. Liberals led by Francisco Castellón, Máximo Jerez, and Mariano Salazar in May tried to bring about a revolution in León, but the Managua government defeated this and banished the leaders. They gained support from Trinidad Cabañas and invaded León, Chinandega, and other towns that proclaimed Castellón provisional director which he accepted on June 11. Chamorro retreated to Granada which was then besieged for several months. After deadly battles Chamorro’s party regained Managua, Masaya, and Rivas. Chamorro died of dysentery on 12 March 1855 and was succeeded by José María Estrada, and this was temporarily ratified by only 14 members of a constituent assembly. The civil war continued as military forces in Nicaragua and from Honduras gathered. On May 17 they defeated the liberals at Tecuaname, and two weeks later Estrada’s government decreed an amnesty for soldiers.
      In August 1854 Nicaraguan Liberals began discussions with the American Byron Cole, and on December 28 he made a contract with Castellón promising that 300 American soldiers would fight under the command of William Walker with the Liberals. On 4 May 1855 Walker with 58 men sailed from San Francisco, and they landed at Realejo on June 16 and were welcomed by Lt. Col. Félix Ramírez. Walker refused to serve under General José Trinidad Muñoz at León, but he was made a colonel in Nicaragua’s army. With a hundred natives led by Lt. Col. Ramírez they went to Rivas where they were dispersed and fled; the natives went into Costa Rica. Walker and his men retreated to Realejo. He commanded another expedition with 50 foreigners, and with 120 natives led by León’s José María Valle they landed at San Juan del Sur on August 29. 376Guardiola commanded 500 men at Rivas, but after attacking Walker’s better equipped men at La Virgen on September 4 they dispersed and returned to Rivas. Two days earlier Francisco Castellón died of the cholera that infected many.
      William Walker had about 80 Americans and 250 natives when they captured Granada on October 13. President José María Estrada and his ministers fled. Walker freed about a hundred political prisoners who joined his army. On the 28th Nicaragua’s government dissolved itself. Three days later the provisional president Patricio Rivas arrived at Granada, and he appointed General Ponciano Corral minister of war and Walker chief of the army. Rivas obeyed Walker and appointed a cabinet of democrats that included Máximo Jerez. General Corral did not trust Walker and sent secret letters to Honduras.
      Walker persuaded President Patricio Rivas to revoke the charter of the Accessory Transit Company on 18 February 1856, and they seized the company’s property because of a debt of $412,489 to Nicaragua’s government. Costa Rica’s President Juan Rafael Mora declared war on Walker on the first of March, and his brother José Joaquín Mora led the Costa Rican army of 3,000 men that defeated 500 North Americans at Santa Rosa on the 20th. Then on April 10 a force led by Walker himself fought a bloody battle and then retreated. Both sides suffered from cholera afterwards. The Costa Rican army took over the transit route at Virgin Bay and Rivas, and they held it for two months. On April 20 at Matagalpa some officers led by General Fernando Chamorro recognized Estrada as the legitimate president, but Chamorro was defeated and went to Honduras. The Costa Ricans left Rivas, and Walker punished some in the town in early May. On the 20th the United States President Franklin Pierce recognized Walker’s government in Nicaragua.
      Walker moved his government to León, and on June 10 he summoned a congress. On the 25th President Rivas declared Walker a usurper and an enemy. Walker deposed Rivas, and on the 29th Walker won a rigged election for the presidency with 15,835 votes in the region of Granada, Masaya, and Rivas. On July 3 Patricio Rivas sent letters asking the Central American nations for help. On the 12th Walker read his inaugural address in English which he declared the official language. The United States Minister John H. Wheeler recognized Walker as president, but he had little Nicaraguan support. About 800 Salvadoran troops arrived in León on July 12. A few days later they were joined by more than 500 Guatemalans while 600 Hondurans were approaching. On July 18 those three nations at Guatemala City formed an alliance for independence and recognized Patricio Rivas as the head of Nicaragua’s government. On September 12 the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to unite to save Nicaragua’s independence from Walker’s adventurers. Two days later 160 Nicaraguan troops led by General Estrada defeated Walker’s 300 filibusters by San Jacinto ranch. Walker decreed slavery legal on September 22. In October the allies drove Walker’s forces out of Managua, and they retreated to Granada.
      Walker had an army of 1,200 men who were mostly Americans with the rest Europeans, and they suffered from cholera and the climate. A Costa Rican army led by General José María Cañas occupied San Juan del Sur in early November. On the 18th Walker decided to evacuate Granada, and he ordered the city burned. Six days later the allies saw the fire, and some skirmished with the enemy and were defeated. The allied armies closed in on the filibusters, and Walker with 115 men on December 13 left on one of the steamships they used on the lake. As 1857 began, Walker’s army held only the town of Rivas and from San Juan del Sur to Virgin Bay. The allies began the final siege of Rivas on 27 January 1857. The US Navy Lt. Charles H. Davis negotiated, and Walker surrendered on May 1. He was transported to the United States with about 400 of his men. Walker attempted another invasion of Nicaragua but was arrested at Punta de Castilla and sent back by the US Commodore Hiram Paulding on December 8. Walker’s last expedition landed at Trujillo on 6 August 1860. The British Navy captured him there and turned him over to Honduras where he was tried by court martial and executed by firing squad on September 12.
      Nicaragua had a provisional government led by the Liberal Máximo Jerez and the Conservative Tomás Martínez as bipartisan executives from 24 June 1857 to October 19. On that day Costa Rica declared war against Nicaragua, and Jerez and Martínez both resigned to lead the military defense. On November 8 a Constituent Assembly met in Managua, and one week later they elected Tomás Martínez the president. The treasury had less than $100, and soldiers had not been paid during the war. Nicaragua and Costa Rica made peace on 16 January 1858, and on April 15 in a treaty they agreed on their boundary. Nicaragua promulgated a new constitution on August 19 with representative government based on the United States Constitution. In 1860 Nicaragua’s population was estimated at 278,000.

Nicaragua 1861-1908

      The Conservative Tomás Martínez was President of Nicaragua from November 1857 to March 1867. Nicaragua and Guatemala made a treaty on 20 September 1862 and were allies in the war against El Salvador and Honduras. President Martínez was re-elected on 1 March 1863, and Congress declined his offer to resign. He declared revolutionaries traitors. Yet amnesty was granted to all but the leaders on 20 April 1864.
      The Conservative Party presidents managed to accommodate their liberal adversaries with capital investments, and the economy was modernized. Coffee cultivation began, and Nicaragua increased exports. Fernando Guzmán Solórzano served from March 1867 to March 1871. His policy was conciliatory, and he granted amnesty to all citizens accused or convicted of political offenses. After being criticized in the Senate, he resigned on 19 March 1869; but Congress refused to accept that.
      On 26 June 1869 some liberals led by the radical Máximo Jerez and the conservative ex-president Martínez took over the barracks at León, and they set up a provision government under Jerez. They levied a tax that raised $62,000 and then occupied the port of Realejo. President Guzmán at Managua declared martial law and by force got a loan of $100,000. They arrested suspects and seized property. Commissioners from Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica offered to mediate but became divided by conflicts. Insurgents led by General Urtecho claimed some victories on July 28 and August 30. President Guzmán took command and let Senator Pedro Joaquin Chamorro govern. On October 13 the insurgents were defeated at Matagalpa and retreated to León. The next day they suffered heavier losses at Niquinohomo. They fled, were pursued, and dispersed.
      The United States Minister, General Charles N. Riotte, offered to mediate, and the convention agreed upon by Guzman and the insurgent chief Francisco Zamora granted full amnesty. A constituent congress was to meet; insurgents had to surrender arms to Guzman, and free elections were to be held. Guzman resumed the presidency at Granada on November 25. On December 17 he decreed that the constitution would be re-established on 1 January 1870. The National Congress was installed on January 20.
      José Vicente Cuadra was elected and became President on 1 March 1871. He was from a wealthy and powerful family gained from banking, agriculture, and mining. In a special message on March 30 he announced that the Treasury was exhausted, and the Congress authorized him to get loans. That was difficult, and revenues continued to decrease. President Cuadra applied ethics and was known for his honesty. He instituted checks and balances, and his frugality helped replenish the treasury. He had worked on the Constitution of 1858, and he promoted education and judicial and scientific reforms.
      Guatemala expelled Jesuits, and seventy came to Realejo in 1871. In December rumors of an impending revolution spread. In early 1872 moderates from five states that included clergy and Jesuits were cooperating in León. President Medina of Honduras encouraged them. During the October elections there were local disturbances. Liberal conservatives gained a majority in the Congress. Peace allowed trade and agriculture to improve the economy. On 12 February 1873 it was decided that the Jesuit priests could stay in Nicaragua. The Congress passed some helpful laws before adjourning on March 20. They were criticized for bestowing lavish pensions and for giving pardons and favors to criminals. In the 1870s and 1880s coffee fields were cultivated in the southwestern uplands from Managua to Carazo and Granada.
      Congress was called to meet on 16 September 1873, and President Cuadro explained that Costa Rica’s President Guardia was working with Nicaraguans to overthrow the government. A reactionary party had raised some armed men in Honduras. Guatemala and El Salvador informed Nicaragua that the Hondurans were working with Costa Rica, and they proposed an alliance against Costa Rica. On August 26 the three nations agreed on a defensive alliance. The allied countries also wanted to settle the boundary dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and they hoped to reorganize Central America under one government. Congress adjourned on October 15 after learning that Tinoco was leading an expedition of Nicaraguans from Costa Rica on the ship Tigre. They landed in San Bernardo, Honduras, and a Nicaraguan force marched into Honduras and forced Tinoco to surrender.
      The elections in the fall of 1874 were peaceful, and the Conservative Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Alfaro was elected president. He had been mayor of Granada and had supported the effort to expel Walker and the filibusters. Pedro Chamorro became President on 1 March 1875. He faced sedition and issued an unconditional pardon for the past. The plotting continued, and on November 17 he decreed expulsions and banishments. Dissidents found refuge in Costa Rica which suspended diplomatic and commercial relations with Nicaragua. When threats increased, President Chamorro declared martial law and took command of the army. The danger eventually passed, and he repealed martial law on 15 November 1876. Although he was a Conservative, during peace in his last two years he promoted trade as well as many extensive liberal programs and improvements.
      General Joaquín Zavala Solís was elected, and he was also a Conservative President 1879-83. He canceled foreign loans and reduced the domestic debt by half to $800,000. He is remembered for having refused to let the poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916) leave the country to go to Europe. Jesuits were accused of instigating an Indian insurrection on 30 March 1881, and twenty Jesuits were arrested and taken to Granada. President Zavala brutally suppressed the revolt by killing thousands of peasants. A another revolt occurred in León, the nation’s largest city, after a lecture by the Spanish professor J. Leónard made the Jesuits angry. They warned people against free thinkers, and Bishop Ulloa y Larios declined to intervene. Free use of rum led to the rabble resisting the troops trying to keep order. They killed about nine and wounded many more. The mob retreated and remained defiant. The leaders Bermudez and Duvon were imprisoned at Managua.
      The Conservative President Adán Cárdenas (1883-87) was a medical doctor who became a politician. He pardoned those involved in the revolts at Matagalpa and León in 1881 and 1882. In March 1885 news arrived that Guatemala’s Assembly had resolved to reconstruct Central America by force, and they made their President J. Rufino Barrios general-in-chief of the Central American army. Nicaragua formed an alliance with El Salvador and Costa Rica, and President Cárdenas commanded the Nicaraguan forces. On March 13 he had Pedro Joaquín Chamorro fill in as president. Nicaragua sent 500 men to help El Salvador and raised about 550 more. On April 2 in the battle of Chalchuapa about 5,000 Salvadorans defeated 14,500 Guatemalans, killing 1,500 including President Barrios.
      Pedro Chamorro was followed by the Conservative Evaristo Carazo Aranda. He had fought against William Walker in 1856. He was President for 2 years and 5 months before he died on 1 August 1889. United Fruit and other banana companies began moving into Nicaragua in the late 1880s. The Maritime Canal Company began work on a canal from the Atlantic side in 1889. They paid 2,000 laborers well, and they imported food and expensive machinery. They could not attract capital, and the 1893 financial crisis in the United States soon brought on their bankruptcy. Dissident conservatives criticized Roberto Sacasa Sarria. He undermined the principles of a long peace and regional balance. Sacasa was President of Nicaragua most of the time from 5 August 1889 until 11 July 1893 when a rebellion led by ex-president Joaquín Zavala Solis made him an Acting President for nine days. In 1891 the papal encyclical Rerum novarum criticized the excesses of capitalism and advised social reforms.
      The Liberal Jose Santos Zelaya on 4 July 1893 promised a liberal constitution, and he was elected President of Nicaragua, marking the beginning of a new era as his presidency extended from 25 July 1893 to 21 December 1909. In January 1894 Zelaya sent troops to fight the invasion from Honduras at Bluefields, and he used them to regain Nicaragua’s sovereignty over the Mosquito Coast. American businessmen had worked with the British there, and they resented the efforts he made to collect customs duties and export taxes. The British sent marines, and US forces occupied Bluefields from July 6 to August 7 to protect their “interests.” In November the United States supported a convention of all the indigenous tribes in the Bluefields, and the convention renamed this area “Zelaya.” The US citizen Sam Weill, who had been manager of the Bluefields Banana Company, became the Mayor of Bluefields. Rigoberto Cabezas became the Inspector General of Mosquitia on October 23, and President Zelaya incorporated the territory into Nicaragua on November 20. On the Atlantic coast the schools were forbidden to teach in English or Miskito.
      In the 1890s coffee fields were extended into the north-central region of Matagalpa, and by the 1900s coffee was providing half of Nicaragua’s export revenues. The Zelaya administration in 1900 and 1901 negotiated with the United States about a possible canal treaty, and in May 1902 President Zelaya signed a treaty giving the US perpetual ownership of a canal in Nicaragua with police authority over a six-mile-wide canal zone. In 1907 Honduran troops chased rebels into Nicaragua and killed some Nicaraguan soldiers on their way back. President Zelaya reacted by sending troops to Honduras. Salvadorans and exiled Nicaraguans joined the Honduran forces, and the war escalated. The Nicaraguan conservative Emiliano Chamorro became commander of those fighting against Zelaya. His forces supported Salvadoran liberals who were opposing the conservatives. When Salvadoran and Guatemalan armies mobilized, Zelaya’s army retreated. Zelaya then agreed to mediation by the United States and Mexico. At a Central American peace conference in Washington several treaties called for mutual guarantees and non-intervention and for not recognizing governments formed by revolutions. In 1907 they established the Central American Court of Justice, and they located it in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua & US Intervention 1909-25

      In January 1909 President Jose Santos Zelaya was negotiating for a large loan from a London syndicate, and United States officials turned against him. US businessmen objected to his annulling of unfair concessions. On October 10 Conservatives and anti-Zelaya Liberals revolted against the dictatorial Zelaya, and they were led by Juan José Estrada, the new governor on the Mosquito Coast, and the conservatives Emiliano Chamorro and Adolfo Díaz. US businesses and Guatemala’s President Estrada Cabrera financed the rebellion. After Zelaya’s troops executed two US citizens for fighting with the rebels, the United States began supporting the revolt. On December 1 the US Secretary of State Philander Knox notified Nicaragua that diplomatic relations were broken, and a thousand US Marines were sent to Nicaragua. President Zelaya resigned on December 21, and José Madriz Rodríguez became Acting President. The United States refused to recognize the Madriz government. Madriz could not get support from the British either, and he resigned on 20 August 1910 and went to Mexico. On August 30 Juan José Estrada became Acting President until 9 May 1911.
      The US Major General Smedley Butler claimed he “helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.”1 In October 1910 the United States Minister to Panama Thomas G. Dawson met with five Nicaraguan conservative leaders on a US warship, and they discussed who would be the next president of Nicaragua. In January 1911 the United States recognized President Juan José Estrada. Dawson had made five requirements for US recognition including a loan negotiated from US bankers. Other demands included Díaz as Vice President, a new constitution that abolished concessions Zelaya had granted to “non-North Americans,” a mixed commission of claims, punishing those who had executed Cannon and Groce, and having no Zelaya partisans in the administration. When liberals leaked these “Dawson Accords,” many Nicaraguans became angry.
      The New Minister of War, General Luis Mena, challenged Estrada and refused to accept US interference. Elliot Northcott, the US Minister to Nicaragua, advised US Secretary of State Philander Knox of the distrust of US motives. In February 1911 Managua’s main arsenal exploded and destroyed two million cartridges and 10,000 rifles. President Estrada suspected a Zelaya plot and declared martial law. On May 8 the liberal General Moncada persuaded the drunken Estrada to dismiss his War Minister Mena who was then arrested. Estrada lacked support from the Nicaraguan people, and he resigned on May 9 making Vice President Adolfo Díaz the President. On June 6 the Knox-Castrillo Treaty promised Nicaragua a $15 million loan from the United States; but the US Senate rejected it three times, and Nicaragua only got an interim loan of $1.5 million.
      Emiliano Chamorro wanted to make Catholicism the state religion, and it was incorporated into a new constitution in April 1911. General Luis Mena opposed this, and in December the Assembly nullified the article.
      Díaz had worked as an accountant for the La Luz and Los Angeles Mining Company on the Atlantic coast, and Knox had a financial interest in that company. Díaz claimed that he loaned $63,000 to help conservatives take power. He reclaimed the loan and said he would pay $400,000 to US citizens and business to compensate them, thousands to conservatives, and more than $500,000 to the Chamorros. These payments would come from the US loan of $1.5 million that the National Assembly approved on October 9. Díaz had been secretly printing much paper money to pay those who had backed the anti-Zelaya revolt. From 1910 to 1912 about 34 million paper pesos were issued in the circulation of 49 million.
      Nicaragua was using silver-based currency between 1900 to 1912, and the value of its peso fell from being worth 48 US cents to 6 cents. US experts advised issuing the córdoba as a new currency backed by gold to make it equal in value to the US dollar. In March 1912 the US bankers Brown Brothers and Seligman paid for the cost of the revaluation, but the National Assembly opposed this. US banks gave Nicaragua a second loan of $750,000 in exchange for 51% of the National Railway stocks. US Secretary of State Knox supported the US banks that took over Nicaraguan customs houses and hired the former US army officer Clifford W. Ham as chief customs collector. Brown Brothers and Seligman controlled all the stock in the National Bank as collateral for the loan. North American bankers would get 1.5% of all revenues.
      US President Taft’s “dollar diplomacy” also allowed New York bankers to own the Compañia Mercantil de Ultramar which controlled Nicaragua’s credit, prices, and the market for coffee, its main export. At this time Nicaragua’s railroad was turned over to the Management Corporation of Baltimore, and no progress was made on construction while they were paid $15,000 a year. Half the railroad’s gross receipts were paid out in dividends, and operating expenses were increased to $350,000 in gold.
      A drought from March to July 1912 reduced the supply of food, and rural families moved to the cities. In 1912 Nicaragua’s Army had only 1,600 men. Former Minister of War General Mena revolted against Díaz. On July 29 he attacked the La Loma garrison with 150 men, but they could not overcome the machine guns. Mena set up an alternative government in Masaya. President Díaz asked for the US military to intervene on August 3. The US Minister in Nicaragua George Weitzel called for the US Marines, and 100 arrived on August 4. General Smedley Butler landed in Corinto on the 14th with 412 Marines and 3,000 Army men and eight Navy ships. US forces took over Managua and Masaya. Rebels controlled much of Nicaragua by late August. By September 4 Admiral William Southerland had landed 2,300 marines and sailors at Corinto. President Díaz was so frustrated by Southerland’s “strict neutrality” policy that he threatened to resign on September 23. The next day General Butler’s troops entered Granada, and the commander of the revolutionary army, General Mena, surrendered to the 350 Marines led by Butler. Mena commented on how the revolutionary terror was becoming barbarous. He was forced to promise never to return to Nicaragua, and he left on a US ship going to Panama.
      General Benjamin Zeledón had represented Nicaragua at the Central American Court of Justice and was Zelaya’s War Minister. He led liberals and fought US and government forces and took back Masaya on September 19. Mena surrendered on September 23 and was deported to Panama. Zeledón replaced Mena as commander of the revolution, and they captured Jintepe and León. United States President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Navy to attack Zeledón, and on October 4 Butler’s Marines killed him at El Arroyo. According to US reports the captors “put to death” Zeledón. US forces withdrew from Nicaragua in November. About 2,000 to 5,000 or more people died in the 1912 civil war, and there was widespread destruction. The Mixed Claims Commission was to pay for damages, but they rejected claims by those who had suffered because of government or US troops while approving those caused by insurgents. Governing elites applied for less than 10% of the 7,911 claims and received about 55% of the $1 million paid, and 27% of the money paid went to 66 US plaintiffs. The United States Senate decided to use treaty funds to cancel Nicaragua’s debts to US bankers, and only $335,000 went to the commission. The United States paid only a little over $2 million to Nicaragua out of the $15 million they had promised in the 1911 loan treaty.
      President Díaz was the only major candidate for president in the elections on 2 November 1912. He got 91% of the votes, and only 25,739 men voted. Emiliano Chamorro was sent to the United States as ambassador and was promised he would be the next president. About 100 US Marines stayed in Nicaragua as a “legation guard.” Another US loan took more collateral from the National Bank and the railroads, and six of their directors were chosen by US bankers, one by the US Government, and two by Nicaraguans. Half the $2 million loan went to Nicaragua, and the rest paid US coupon holders and other debts. Nicaragua’s economy became chaotic. Teachers’ pay was months behind; postal workers received stamps; and unpaid public employees were evicted. Public services collapsed. The US Senate did not ratify the treaty until February 1916. Late in 1914 government workers threatened to take over the capital. In December paper money was printed to pay government workers, and inflation rose to 30%.
      Emiliano Chamorro and US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on 5 August 1914 had signed a canal treaty that allowed the US to block anyone from building a canal in Nicaragua, and it gave the US territory for military bases and $3 million in debt payments.
      In 1915 the Central American Court ruled that the Nicaragua could not sign a treaty with the United States because it violated the rights of the other Central American nations. In 1916 and 1917 the Central American Court decided in favor of Costa Rica and El Salvador, and the United States and Nicaragua rejected the decisions. On 17 September 1916 the US Minister to Nicaragua Benjamin Jefferson informed the liberal candidate Julian Irias of the conditions the Nicaraguan President must accept that were US policies. Emiliano Chamorro was not opposed in the elections because the US Embassy and arriving battle ships persuaded Carlos Cuadra not to be a candidate. US Marines guarded the polls in the election that President Wilson considered “free and fair.” Chamorro won, and he approved the Lansing Plan named for the US Secretary of State which put all of Nicaragua’s finances under a High Commission of two US nominees and one Nicaraguan. Martial law had been in effect since 1913, and it would not be lifted until 1924.
      In 1920 Diego Manuel Chamorro was elected President. He was the son of President Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (1875-79). Many considered his presidency illegitimate because of the electoral fraud and US interference. On 1 January 1921 he was inaugurated and continued the policies of his nephew Emiliano Chamorro Vargas (1917-20). Rebels from Honduras invaded Nicaragua and were crushed by military forces. Nicaragua agreed to the Peace and Friendship Treaty of the Central American nations. In the depression of 1920-21 the National Bank of Nicaragua gave very few loans, and many could not make their payments. In 1920 the liberal lawyer Juan Manuel Mendoza published his novel Historia de Diriamba about a cattle town that is transformed when it becomes a center of coffee production.
      Diego Chamorro died on 12 October 1923. Vice President Bartolomé Martínez became President when he returned to the capital on October 27 until the end of the term on 1 January 1925. He commissioned an economic survey in 1923. His national government included liberals, and he managed to recover the Customs Office, National Bank, and the Pacific Railroad from the US bankers Brown and Seligman. In 1924 Nicaragua’s Army had only 37 officers and 329 enlisted men while there were 934 men in the national police. Nicaragua bought back its National Bank and the National Railway, but both maintained boards of directors in the United States. President Martínez supported a national unity election alliance called a “Transaction” party, and in an unusually honest election voters chose the moderate Conservative Carlos José Solórzano as President and the Liberal Juan Bautista Sacasa as Vice President. On 3 August 1925 the last of the US Marines left Nicaragua.
      On August 25 at a party in Managua’s International Club the General Alfredo Rivas arrived with a small force and said that they came to free President Solórzano of liberals, and they arrested War Minister Moncada, Finance Minister Victor Román y Reyes, and other liberals. Rivas demanded that Solórzano dismiss all liberals in his cabinet. US Major Calvin Carter urged the President to crush the revolt, and he offered to shoot Rivas. Instead Solórzano accepted their demands. Financial conflicts between his government and the United States caused Emiliano Chamorro and his conservative forces to take over the La Loma fortress in Managua on October 25.

Nicaragua, Sandino & US Troops 1926-27

      Augusto Calderón Sandino was born on 18 May 1895. His father was a wealthy landowner who was not married to Augusto’s indigenous mother. She raised him until he was nine. Then he lived with his father who had him educated. In July 1912 he observed US Marines fighting Nicaraguans. In 1921 after trying to kill a man who had dishonored his mother, Augusto went to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. There during the revolution he worked at a Standard Oil refinery at Tampico. While in Mexico for three years he was influenced by Freemasonry, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, theosophy, spiritual teachers, and radical revolutionaries. On 14 May 1926 Sandino resigned after managing gasoline sales for the Hausteca Petroleum Company in Cerro Azul, and he returned to Nicaragua on June 1.
      President Solórzano heard the advice of Adolfo Díaz and the US Minister. He resigned on 14 March 1926 and accepted Emiliano Chamorro as the new President instead of Vice President Sacasa who was involved with a leftist government in Mexico opposing US oil interests. Sacasa fled to Mexico. Chamorro’s unconstitutional government lost US support. A liberal uprising began on May 2 when exiles seized Bluefields. The Liberal General José Moncada joined them to fight for the exiled Vice President Sacasa. Chamorro had increased his army to over 5,000 men, and he had 200 members in the National Guard which the US Minister noted in March had become “a politically controlled machine of the present regime.” Major Calvin Carter and 400 soldiers supported Chamorro against the insurrection.
      The uprising in the Atlantic coast region threatened a civil war. On August 20 the young liberal Anastasio Somoza García with some peasants took over his hometown of San Marcos; but they fled when government troops arrived. President Chamorro gave Somoza $300 and persuaded him to flee to Costa Rica. On August 27 the US Marines landed at Bluefields to protect US citizens. US officers arranged a truce on October 1, and on the 15th a peace conference met on the USS Denver in Corinto harbor. The US chargé d’affaires Lawrence Dennis presided. They agreed that Emiliano Chamorro must leave, but they were divided on his successor. The conference ended on October 24 without ending the war.
      Sandino had $300 and bought guns from Hondurans, and by October he had raised a band of 29 men. On November 2 they attacked 200 soldiers at the Jícaro garrison and some defenders before withdrawing. Some of his men were discouraged and left.
      On November 11 Emiliano Chamorro resigned, and Adolfo Díaz became President again on the 14th. Three days later the United States recognized his government. President Díaz sent Chamorro off to be Minister to France, Britain, Spain, Italy, and the Vatican.
      Sandino went to Puerto Cabazas and asked for aid from the government on December 2. The Constitutional President Sacasa and War Minister Moncada did not trust him because he sounded like a Communist. Sandino wanted an independent command. US naval forces landed on December 23 and declared the port a neutral zone, and Sacasa’s forces had to leave. Sandino and six followers got some arms and ammunition that had been left behind. The Americans dumped the remaining weapons in the harbor.
      Juan Bautista Sacasa returned to Nicaragua and proclaimed himself the “Constitutional President,” and he set up a provisional government in Puerto Cabezas. US forces evicted him in December and let him move to the buildings of a US lumber company while his forces dispersed. The US Admiral Julian L. Latimer declared neutral zones, and he ordered Sacasa to throw his 700 tons of weapons into the sea. Young Augusto C. Sandino endeavored to salvage some of them and the national honor from Sacasa’s “disorganized circle.”
      In late December the US President Calvin Coolidge ordered a full-scale military invasion of Nicaragua by 3,000 troops to prevent a rebel victory. He claimed it was for economic reasons. Yet US investment in Nicaragua was the lowest of any Latin American country.
      On 2 January 1927 US Under-Secretary of State Robert Olds explained United States foreign policy in a memorandum:

We do control the destinies of Central America
and we do so for the simple reason that
the national interest absolutely dictates such a course.
   There is no room for any outside influence
other than ours in this region.
We could not tolerate such a thing
without incurring grave risks.2

United States Marines landed on the west coast at Corinto on January 6, and later that month they were moved by railroad to Managua. On January 22 La Nación of Buenos Aires wrote,

Never in modern international history has there been heard
such a strenuous and unanimous booing
as that being received by the United States
because of her intervention in Nicaragua.3

      The Liberal General Francisco Parajón had rails destroyed at Chinandega. Government forces with two airplanes defeated Parajón’s men in a bloody battle at Chinandega, and his army retreated into the central mountains. On March 7 US Brigadier General Logan Feland arrived at Corinto and took command of the 2,000 Marines in Nicaragua. In 1927 the US landed more forces at Puerto Cabeza, Prinzapolka, Río Grande, Bluefields, and Corinto, and by March they had over 2,000 in duty.
      Sandino became a constitutionalist general and commanded a column in Moncada’s army. Early in March on Mount Yucapuca their 100 men for seven hours fought 400 conservatives who fled and left behind weapons. Sandino moved to San Rafael del Norte and set up headquarters in Pablo Arauz. On March 28 they attacked Jinotega with 200 men, and they took over the city. When he saw his men plundering, he took them back to San Rafael for more training. They returned to Jinotega and stayed there nine days in April. Parajón’s forces combined with those led by López Irías, and they joined Sandino’s column.
      Matagalpa was declared a neutral zone on April 17, and that month six Marines led by Major M. S. Berry visited Sandino’s camp. The United States helped President Díaz borrow $1,300,000. in April President Coolidge sent Henry L. Stimson to resolve conflicts, and he recognized that about three-quarters of Nicaraguans were descended from native Americans. Three emissaries from Sacasa on April 29 met with Stimson on the USS Preston at Corinto.
      General Moncada met with the US emissaries at Tipitapa on May 4. Stimson’s peace terms included amnesty, inclusion of liberals, disarmament on both sides, retaining Marines until the National Guard can replace them under US officers, and US supervision of 1928 elections.
      On May 10 US Admiral Latimer announced a plan to disarm both sides, and to pay $10 for each working rifle and machine gun. Stimson also promised that the Americans would supervise impartially the 1928 elections. On May 12 the United States founded Nicaragua’s National Guard (Guardia Nacional), and on that day Moncada and the other generals except Sandino accepted the peace agreement. A total of 11,600 rifles, and 303 machine guns were turned in. Sandino refused to do that, and he went into the mountains with 200 men. The Constitutionalist army disarmed, and Sacasa went into exile in Costa Rica. On May 19 Sandino issued his Circular to the Authorities of the Segovias, writing:

   I have now given orders to the forces in Jinotega
and elsewhere not to enter into action
against the North American forces
if they should invade those towns,
and to regroup themselves in the place where I am,
which is San Rafael, so that
the civil authorities may hear of the Yankee pretensions.4

On May 20 General Moncada and President Díaz agreed to a truce and to let Díaz complete his term and supervise the 1928 elections. The United States promised to work with Nicaragua’s government and to organize a neutral police force. Sandino withdrew to the fortress in Nuevo Segovia. On May 23 US Marines occupied Jinotega, and General Moncada arrived that night. The next day Sandino refused to lay down his arms.
      On 31 May 1927 about 50 US Marines led by Major Harold Clifton Pierce left Managua, and they reached San Rafael on June 5. They besieged Ocotal, and 168 Nicaraguan Conservatives surrendered. Major Pierce left Captain Hatfield and ten Marines there and left for Telpaneca and then went to Matagalpa on June 16. Sandino communicated by wire with Hatfield about where he was arming Conservatives.
      On June 30 Sandino’s Defending Army of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua captured the San Albino gold mine owned by a US company. He had worked there as an accountant, and he used the gold to pay the workers their back wages. His secretaries were Alfonso Alexander from Colombia and the Salvadoran Communist Augustin Farabundo Martí who disagreed with Sandino on Communism. Sandino did not want to get involved with Communists in Mexico. Conservative newspapers in Managua and Granada endorsed Sandino’s demand that United States troops leave Nicaragua. Although Sandino used force to fight imperialism, he also supported the peaceful methods of the socialist Labor Party that protested the US occupation. On July 1 Sandino issued his first “Manifesto To the Nicaraguans, to the Central Americans, to the Indo-Hispanic Race:” writing,

   I am a Nicaraguan and I am proud because
in my veins flows above all the blood of the Indian race,
which by some atavism encompasses
the mystery of being patriotic, loyal, and sincere….
   I am a mechanic, but my idealism is based upon
a broad horizon of internationalism, which represents
the right to be free and to establish justice,
even though to achieve this it may be necessary
to establish it upon a foundation of blood….
   I hope to convince my compatriots,
the Central Americans, and the Indo-Hispanic race
that in the mountains of the Andean Cordillera
there exists a group of patriots who will know
how to die like men, in open battle,
in defense of their national honor.5

      In July the US organized 75 Marines and 150 Nicaraguan volunteers to disarm Sandino. On July 16 US Marines and five De Havilland biplanes dropped 20 bombs in the battle at Ocotal, and about 400 Sandinistas were killed. On September 2 Sandino and hundreds of his supporters signed the “Articles of Incorporation of the Defending Army of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua.” They did not recognize the “traitorous interventionist government of Nicaragua” nor the Yankee invaders.
      On September 19 Sandino’s army fought US Marines and the National Guard at Telpaneca. On October 10 two planes used machine guns against a Sandinista pack train. One plane crashed, and two Marines were captured, court-martialed, and executed. Many peasants supported him, and the US Marines began terrorizing the Segovians. On November 23 Marine airplanes began bombing the Sandinistas in the wooded camp at Chipote, and they would respond by killing captured National Guards and collaborators. American Quakers and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in New York sent a delegation to Nicaragua in December. The peacemakers were not able to meet with Sandino, though two men talked with his wife Blanca at San Rafael on the 27th. Sandino would not lay down his arms unless the Marines left Nicaragua first. On December 30 Sandinistas ambushed 114 Marines by the Jícaro River.

Nicaragua, Sandino & US Troops 1928-35

      In January 1928 Sandino sent to Senator William E. Borah who received in February the following message:

The only way to bring an end to the present struggle is
to withdraw the United States Marines from our territory,
replace the current president by some Nicaraguan citizen
who is not a candidate for the presidency,
and have the coming elections supervised
by ministers of the governments of Latin America,
and not by the United States.
   In the name of the Nicaraguan people, I protest against
the prolonged barbarism of your forces in my country, which
has culminated in the recent total destruction of Quilalí.
I will never recognize a government
that has been imposed upon us by a foreign power.
I demand the immediate withdrawal of the invasion forces;
otherwise, from this date forward I will not be responsible
for the life of any North American public official
who resides in Nicaraguan territory.
   Patria y Libertad
   A. C. Sandino6

      While marines were climbing the mountain to El Chipote in January 1928, the Sandinistas were marching to San Rafael del Norte which they occupied in February. On January 14 an airplane dropped a 50-pound bomb on Sandinistas at El Chipote killing about 45 people. On the 26th when the US Marines reached the summit of El Chipote, they found no one there and destroyed the food. The Sandinistas occupied San Rafael in February. Carleton Beals visited Sandino and published a series of articles in The Nation writing, “He is a man utterly without vices, with an unequivocal sense of justice, a keen eye for the welfare of the humblest soldier.”7
      On March 21 the US State Department asked President Díaz to transfer control over the National Guard to the US General Frank R. McCoy, and Díaz complied. Sandino’s army on April 12 took over La Luz and the Los Angeles gold mines. Sandino had them destroyed and wrote to the La Luz manager on April 29 advising, “The losses you have had in the mine you may collect from the Government of the United States.”8 On May 9 US Marines occupied the La Luz mine. In the summer about 1,600 Sandinistas surrendered and were granted amnesty. Sandino and his General Altamirano boycotted the elections in November.
      The United States military monitored Nicaragua’s elections in 1928, 1930, and 1932 using about 50 officers and about 700 men from the Army, Navy, and Marines. Each of about 500 local electoral boards had a Conservative and a Liberal Nicaraguan under a US officer as chairman who could nullify any decision. They excluded third-party candidates because they wanted to avoid political instability. In 1928 the US General Frank R. McCoy did not allow the nomination of the Conservative Emiliano Charmorro for president. The Liberal Moncada was elected with 76,676 votes to 56,987 for the Conservative Martín Benárd. Although Liberals won 17 seats to 8 for the Conservatives in the Chamber, the Conservatives still controlled the Chamber 24-19. The Liberals gained a seat in the Senate making it equal at 24-24. President Moncada wanted to deploy the National Army, but the United States President Herbert Hoover insisted that instead he use the National Guard which was under US command.
      By April 1929 the National Guard had 2,090 men and was taking over the battle against Sandino. In 1930 they went after Sandino’s army, and Moncada used that threat to replace elected municipal officials. Sandino had gone to visit Mexico in May 1929. The Sandinista chiefs elected General Altamirano commander of the revolution, and he continued the struggle. The world depression severely damaged the coffee business, and many of the poor and unemployed joined the Sandinistas. Sandino met with Mexico’s former President Calles and President Portes Gil in January 1930, and he came back in May. Sandino and Altamirano planned to attacked Jinotega, and six planes attacked their guerrilla forces at El Saraguazca on June 19. Sandino was wounded, and after that he never engaged in combat. He worked on organization and the philosophy of the movement.
      Sandinistas ambushed a Guard patrol at Las Cruces on July 27. In September the National Guard had 220 officers, and only 15 were Nicaraguans. Miguel Angel Ortez commanded the Defending Army of Nicaraguan Autonomy, and on December 31 they attacked 10 US Marines, killing eight and wounding two. In 1930 Nicaragua had about 680,000 people.
      In January 1931 the National Guard was increased to 2,350 men. On February 13 US Secretary of State Stimson announced that 1,000 of the 1,500 Marines in Nicaragua would be withdrawn, and the rest would depart after the 1932 elections. On February 15 A. C. Sandino wrote his Manifesto “Light and Truth” that begins,

A divine impulse has animated and protected our army
from the start, and thus it will be until the end.
That same impulse asks in the name of Justice
that all our brothers, members of this army, begin to learn,
within their own Light and Truth,
the laws that rule the universe.
   Now then, brothers: All of you display a force
superior to yourselves and to all the forces of the universe.
That invisible force has many names,
but to us it is known by the name of God.
Surely among you there are many who have hoped to find
an opportunity for someone
to explain to you these things that are so beautiful.
   Now then, brothers: What existed in the universe
before the things that can be seen or touched was ether,
as the only and first substance of Nature (material).
But before ether, which fills up all the universe,
there existed a great will; that is, a great desire To Be
on the part of that which was not,
and which is known to us by the name of Love.
By what has so far been explained, it can be seen that
the beginning of all things is Love; that is, God,
who may also be called the Father Creator of the Universe.
The only daughter of Love is Divine Justice.
   Injustice does not have any reason to exist
in the Universe, and it was born of the envy and antagonism
of men, before there was any understanding of their spirit.
But men’s lack of understanding is only a transition
in universal life; when the majority of humanity understand
that they live through the Spirit, injustice will end forever
and only Divine Justice can rule,
the only daughter of Love.9

      In March and April 1931 Sandinista guerrillas made several raids in the east, and by April 15 the Standard Fruit Company’s radio station was no longer functioning. On April 16 Stimson wired the US Embassy advising Americans to leave Nicaragua. A force that had landed at Bluefields reembarked on April 29. Guerrillas led by Ortez and the Honduran Col. Juan Pablo Umanzor attacked the National Guard barracks at Palacaguina on May 14 and the town the next morning. In the summer Sandinistas raided every department north of Managua. On October 25 more than 6,000 Nicaraguans marched in Managua’s streets to protest the government’s failure to solve the economic crisis and the US occupation. Sandinistas in November raided north of León.
      The United States warned that if a constitutional convention was elected in 1932, then they would not supervise the elections. Admiral Woodward rejected Moncada’s effort to impose his choice for the Liberals. On November 6 out of 154,720 registered 130,114 voted. The Liberal Juan Bautista Sacasa was elected president with 59% of the votes over the 41% for the Conservative Adolfo Díaz. Liberals also obtained a 29-14 advantage in the Chamber and 15-8 in the Senate. Sandino abstained during the 1932 election, and he announced his peace terms on November 12. Three days later Moncada made his Foreign Minister, Anastasio Somoza, the chief director of the National Guard.
      On 1 January 1933 at Sacasa’s inauguration the US General Calvin B. Matthews transferred the command of the National Guard to Somoza and left. The Congress appropriated $120,000 for the public works projects that Sacasa had promised, and the President sent the Patriotic Group’s leader Sanfonías Salvatierra to San Rafael del Norte in order to collect weapons from Sandino. On February 2 Sandino flew into Managua to meet President Sacasa and sign the peace treaty. Most of his troops gave up their arms, and Sandino said, “This revolution that I am going to make is not with rifles nor with arms; it is going to be a political revolution.”10 On March 13 Sandino issued his “Manifesto to the Nations of the Earth and Especially to Nicaragua,” he declared,

I will not leave the country, because it is my intention to
give moral support to Dr. Sacasa during his administration.
I will use this time to organize agricultural cooperatives
in these beautiful regions that for centuries
have been abandoned by men of state.11

Sandino returned to the capital on May 19 to meet with Conservative leaders. He canceled the meeting because he realized that if he were ever president of Nicaragua, he would become a dictator. As a guerrillero he felt he could guide the “revolutionary spirit” of workers and artisans toward his political revolution. On June 7 he proclaimed that he was a “rationalist communist.” He had said that he was a communist in the way Jesus Christ was. When he was in Mexico he had joined the Magnetic-Spiritual School of the Universal Commune which had been founded in Argentina by Joaquín Trincado Mateo in 1911. He also believed that souls reincarnate.
      On 26 January 1934 Sandino wrote to President Sacasa, and he pledged his support against the “unconstitutional” National Guard. He returned to Managua again in February 1934 to negotiate a resolution to conflicts between Somoza and Sacasa who was worried about the Guard. Somoza demanded that Sandino disarm the hundred men guarding his agricultural commune. Sandino offered to protect President Sacasa who declined that offer but agreed to reform the unconstitutional guard. That upset Somoza. On February 21 Sandino attended a presidential dinner. After Sandino and his favorite generals Estrada and Umanzor left the dinner, National Guards abducted them along with Sandino’s brother Sócrates, and at an air field they were shot down by a machine gun. The next day the National Guard attacked Sandino’s community in the Segovia mountains and killed more than 300 men, women, and children. On March 10 the Guard announced that secret documents revealed that Sandino had planned a Communist revolution.
      Anastasio Somoza’s wife was the niece of President Juan Bautista Sacasa (1933-36) who had difficulty solving the problems of the depression in coffee and other businesses. On 14 November 1933 the followers of Somoza signed a blood pact in which they declared, “We consider ourselves to be friends to whomever may be his friends and enemies to whomever may be his enemies.”12 Somoza was Chief of the National Guard, and he used them to suppress strikes and manipulate hiring and firing. He subsidized the newspaper La Nueva Prensa that criticized President Sacasa’s government. In May 1934 a bill in Congress granting amnesty for those involved in the murder of the Sandinos was passed, vetoed, and then passed again as Somoza had predicted. He praised the killings and even admitted they were done by his orders. The United States Minister Arthur B. Lane complained, and Somoza stopped claiming that except when he was drunk.
      In July the Guard Captain Gabriel Castillo and military academy graduates plotted to kill Somoza. The commanding Col. Rigoberto Reyes in Jinotega learned of this and advised Somoza to arrest Castillo. A secret court martial sentenced him to 20 years in prison. After the investigation twenty others resigned. Following the arsenal explosion at Campo de Marte on September 12 Somoza had armed troops protect him whenever he went out. President Sacasa’s wife and most of the cabinet urged Sacasa to remove Somoza for corruption, illegal campaigning and using the Guards for illegal arrests and murders. The US Minister Lane was concerned that removing Somoza would cause a civil war and ruin. Sacasa began traveling with armed guards. While he was in León, free liquor and money gathered a crowd of 2,000 to honor Somoza. Speakers compared him to Hitler and Mussolini. Somoza worked on gaining support in Congress and the Liberal Party.
      Lt. Abelardo Cuadra was involved in the Castillo plot, and he planned a revolt to start as he entered Campe de Marte on 18 April 1935. Somoza was warned and placed machine guns there. Cuadro and 20 enlisted men were arrested. Cuadro was sentenced to death, and Somoza approved; but President Sacasa did not because the Constitution banned the death penalty. US Minister Lane persuaded Somoza to accept a prison sentence as a compromise. On September 14 Somoza announced his candidacy for president despite a presidential decree against that eight months before an election. Mrs. Sacasa secretly worked against Somoza and demanded his resignation.


1. Nicaragua: Self-determination and Survival by Hazel Smith, p. 81.
2. Guardians of the Dynasty by Richard Millett, p. 52.
3. The Sandino Affair by Neill Macaulay, p. 31.
4. Sandino: The Testimony of a Nicaraguan Patriot 1921-1934 ed. Sergio Ramirez, tr. Robert Edgar Conrad, p. 69.
5. Ibid., p. 74-75.
6. The Sandino Affair by Neill Macaulay, p. 106.
7. Ibid., p. 119.
8. Sandino: The Testimony of a Nicaraguan Patriot 1921-1934 ed. Sergio Ramirez, tr. Robert Edgar Conrad, p. 463.
9. Sandino: The Testimony of a Nicaraguan Patriot 1921-1934 ed. Sergio Ramirez, tr. Robert Edgar Conrad, p. 184.
10. Ibid., p. 361.
11. Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua Under U.S. Imperial Rule by Michel Gobat, p. 235.
12. Armies Without Nations: Public Violence and State Formation in Central America, 1821-1960 by Robert H. Holden, p. 80.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

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Latin America & Canada to 1850

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Chronology of Latin America to 1935
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