© Cathleen White 2014
The years 1920-1927 were a transitional period in United States-Nicaraguan relations during which the course of the next sixty years was shaped. The events of this eight-year period marked the rise of the U.S. as a global power in a world that emerged from World War I with new alliances, leaders, and political and economic movements. A convenient laboratory for the U.S. to experiment with its new authority existed in Latin America, where Washington continued and expanded its dominance. The United States based much of its response to Latin America on the desire to control events in the Western Hemisphere. The transfer of political power in Nicaragua from the long-dominant Conservative Party to the rival Liberal Party became an object of much U.S. interest. Henry Lewis Stimson, a U.S. diplomat, paid a brief visit to Nicaragua in 1927 as the personal representative of President Calvin Coolidge. While in Nicaragua, he met with those whose days in power were ending, such as Conservative party leaders Emiliano Chamorro and Adolfo Díaz. Stimson also encountered members of the new Nicaraguan political elite, including Juan Sacasa and José Moncada. The United States chose to back an ambitious young Liberal, Anastasio Somoza, in his quest for power largely because of Stimson’s glowing recommendations. Subsequently, Somoza, his family, and followers ruled Nicaragua for nearly forty years. Stimson dismissed Somoza’s military rival, Augusto Sandino, as an insupportable bandit with little following.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this period in the relations between the two countries is that, despite a great amount of diplomatic maneuvering, Nicaragua’s internal atmosphere actually changed very little. Political rivals continued to use violence against each other and the United States maintained its position as the real power behind the government. Moreover, the living conditions of most people remained unchanged.
The focus here will be on the diplomatic and political aspects of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations. The role of the U.S. in the Nicaraguan presidential elections of 1924 and their aftermath is investigated to determine the nature and background of U.S. involvement. Henry Stimson’s mission is examined both as an attempt at mediation and as a method whereby the U.S. influenced the election of 1928, and, subsequently, the course of Nicaraguan history.
The military and economic aspects of Washington’s involvement in Nicaragua are adjunct to this paper. The history of military engagements between the two countries is closely related to their diplomatic contacts. The primary use of the military has been the enforcement of U.S. policy or the safeguarding of its interests. The economic impact of the U.S. on Nicaragua, both as a foreign policy issue and as a matter of private investment, was a constant during the period as Nicaragua depended heavily on the U.S. for its financial survival. The United States invested heavily in Nicaragua, using both private and public funds. The net effect of the investments was to give Washington virtual and, at times, real control over the government of Nicaragua. Only the amount of money involved changed, not its use or profound impact on the Nicaraguan economy.