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Nicaragua - History

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 1400s and early 1500s. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon, located west of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua's political history since independence was characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which frequently led to civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his "Filibusterers" seized the presidency in 1856. Walker’s troops and Nicaraguan troops fought a historic battle at San Jacinto hacienda on September 14, 1856, which is now celebrated as a national holiday. In 1857, the Liberals and Conservatives united to drive Walker out of office. Three decades of Conservative rule followed. In 1893, Jose Santos Zelaya took advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks and led a Liberal revolt that carried him to power. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Caribbean coast in 1894, and formally reincorporated that region into Nicaragua, establishing Nicaragua’s present-day boundaries.

By 1909, political differences and rivalries again emerged over plans for a trans-isthmian canal and concessions granted to American investors in Nicaragua. In 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in an effort to capture rebel forces led by Augusto Sandino, a Liberal general who had rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the conflict between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops in 1933, National Guard Commander Anastasio Somoza Garcia outmaneuvered his political opponents--including Sandino, who was assassinated by National Guard officers--and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza and his two sons who succeeded him sought to maintain close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty, beset by corruption, ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had conducted a low-scale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime since the early 1960s.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2016 19:58:02 ZULU