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(The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s – continued)

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The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s (5 of 6)

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Intervention in Nicaragua

Nicaragua was another Central American nation that had frequent civil wars between so-called Liberals and Conservatives. In 1912 the United States responded to an invitation from the Conservative president, Adolfo Díaz, and sent in a small contingent of Marines – a hundred men – to protect the property of US citizens and the lives of people not Nicaraguan. The Marines became involved in combating rebel forces, and to help maintain peace and stability the Marines stayed in Nicaragua into the 1920s.

An election in 1924 brought to power a coalition that had been engineered by the United States, and with some hope of peace in the country the Marines – except for the embassy guard – returned home. Nicaragua's new president, Carlos Solórzano, was a Conservative, while the new vice president, Juan B. Sacasa, was a member of the Liberal Party. Soon this coalition broke apart, largely the result of Solórzano's brother-in-law letting his soldiers shoot up a Liberal Party reception and arrest the guests. Civil war erupted again. A conservative military general, Emiliano Chamorro, took power. The United States stood by its policy of not recognizing the power of men who came to power by coup. It refused to recognize Chamorro's regime. And the war between the Conservatives and the Liberals intensified.

The former vice president, Sacasa, remained as the leader of the Liberal forces, and he found support in Mexico's President, Plutarco Calles, Mexico giving Sacasa military supplies and recognizing him as the leader of Nicaragua's constituted government. The United States was hostile to Mexico's move, and it backed its old friend, the Conservative Adolfo Díaz, as president – although Díaz was one of the more hated men in Nicaragua. The United States promised Díaz loans, and Díaz described Mexico's aid to Sacasa as a "worldwide Bolshevik plot." The administration of Calvin Coolidge landed Marines and sailors, and his Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, announced that the US was doing so merely to establish places where no fighting was to be allowed.

Opposition to the US intervention was expressed in the conservative Argentinean newspaper La Nación, and protest meetings were staged from Buenos Aires to Paris and from southern Chile to the Rio Grande. Costa Rica's congress threatened to hold up banana contracts with the United Fruit Company (which had holdings there as well as in Honduras and Guatemala). Some spoke of Nicaragua as the "Little Belgium of our Hemisphere." And Kellogg retaliated by lashing out at Mexico's "Bolshevistic activities."

In Nicaragua, forces supporting the Liberals took the town of Chinandega after days of bloody fighting. Then they were driven off by bombardment from airplanes flown by US mercenaries – followed by reports of the bombing leaving hundreds of civilians lying mutilated in the streets and half of the town destroyed. More Marines and a large supply of arms were rushed to Nicaragua. And, in a move friendly to US policy, the British sent a cruiser into the waters off Nicaragua.

By April 1927 the United States was advocating discussions between the warring sides in Nicaragua, and the US promised that for the sake of a peaceful settlement it would manage Nicaragua's elections for 1928, and the US stated that disarmament would be forced on those unwilling to lay down their arms. A conference between the Liberals and Conservatives produced a settlement in May 1927, and the fighting ended.

The election in 1928 gave an overwhelming victory to the Liberals, and a former general of the Liberal forces, José Moncada, became president. The US-backed Conservatives had lost, but in keeping with its traditional respect for honest elections, the US abided by the results. And, content that the civil war had ended, the US began to withdraw its Marines – whose place they understood was to be taken by a Nicaraguan national guard. Meanwhile, still in Nicaragua's jungle was a recalcitrant general, Augusto Sandino, who had fought on the side of the Liberals in the civil war and refused to lay down his weapons.

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.