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U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua

In President Teddy Roosevelt’s addition to the Monroe Doctrine of regional dominance, he proclaimed that the United States, by virtue of its status as a “civilized nation,” had the right to stop “chronic wrongdoing” throughout the Western Hemisphere. Subsequently, the so-called Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify troop deployment to Latin America 32 times between the end of the Spanish-American War and the years of the Great Depression. President William Howard Taft provided further rationalization for aggressively dominating Latin America with his Dollar Diplomacy, an unabashed strategy to advance and protect U.S. businesses in other countries. Nicaragua, which had been host to U.S. fruit, mining, and transportation interests since the 1850s, was a frequent recipient of such foreign policy.

Flags of Nicaragua and United States. Photo © rolfik/123rf.
Flags of Nicaragua and United States. Photo © rolfik/123rf.

U.S. Marines landed at least seven times during the aforementioned period, and spent a total of 21 years occupying Nicaragua. Official reasons for these visits included “pacification of Nicaragua,” “prevention of rebellion,” and, of course, “protection of U.S. interests and property.” It would be unfair to call these visits uninvited, since nearly all were ostensibly serving the purpose of one or more Nicaraguan oligarchs, usually of the Conservative Party.

The following is a more detailed list of gringo interventions.

1853: Washington sends U.S. Navy commander George H. Hollins to Greytown to extract an apology from local British officials for having insulted U.S. diplomat Solon Borland. Those responsible were nowhere to be found, so, reports a U.S. Marine Corps historical website, “Hollins’ only alternative was to bombard the town, and this he tried to do in the most humane manner possible.” Hollins allowed 24 hours for evacuation, then commenced firing. “At 0900 on 13 July, 177 shells plowed into Greytown. That afternoon a landing party of Marines and seamen completed the destruction of the town.” Humanely, of course.

1853-1856: U.S. citizen William Walker usurps power and declares himself president of Nicaragua. He is briefly recognized by Washington before the other Central American nations briefly unite, drive him out, and eventually execute him by firing squad.

1894: The U.S. Marines under Lieutenant Franklin J. Moses have a month long occupation of Bluefields.

1896: In May, when fighting near Corinto “endangers American holdings,” 15 Marines, under First Sergeant Frederick W. M. Poppe, and 19 seamen land in Corinto and stand guard in a “show of force.”

1898: As President Zelaya extends his tenure for still another term, the local U.S. consular agent requests the U.S.S. Alert, at anchor in the harbor of Bluefields, to stand by in case of an attack on the city. On the morning of February 7, the U.S. flag on shore rises “union downward” over the consulate, signaling a force of 14 Marines and 19 seamen to land; they withdraw the following day.

1899: Another display of force lands, this time with a Colt automatic gun “to prevent both rebels and government troops from destroying American property.”

1910: Marines and Navy vessels concentrate in Nicaraguan waters and land in Bluefields and Corinto on May 19 “to guard American property.”

1912: Nicaraguan president Adolfo Díaz requests the support of U.S. forces. The United States complies when the U.S.S. Annapolis arrives in Corinto, deploying a contingent of naval officers to Managua on August 4. Three companies of marine infantry also land and are transported to Managua by train.

1927-1933: President Coolidge sends Marines to find Sandino and “gun the bandit down.” They fail.

1981-1990: The CIA runs a secret command operation directing and financing Contra forces in their attempt to topple the Sandinista government. U.S operatives carry out supply and intelligence activities, train commanders and soldiers, plant harbor mines, and sabotage Sandinista holdings.

All citations from “Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, The United States Marines in Nicaragua,” by Bernard C. Nalty, Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.