new internationalist 130 December 1983
1855 Tennessee adventurer William Walker enters Nicaragua at the head of a private band of US filibusterers - the ‘American Phalanx of Immortals’. Invited by the Liberal faction to aid them in a war against Conservatives, he swiftly has himself named president and recognised by the United States. Walker reintroduces slavery, thus winning the support of the US slave states; seizes Nicaraguan land and hands it to US citizens; makes English the official language; and uses Nicaraguan territory as collateral for international loans. He is’ eventually routed in 1857 by a coalition of Central American states.
1909 Four hundred US marines land at the Nicaraguan port of Bluefields. in support of a Conservative revolt against the government of Jose Santos Zelaya. The pretext is stopping the execution of two US-born saboteurs. But the real reason is that Zelaya has violated the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ by seeking close relations with foreign powers and has investigated building a potential rival to the Panama Canal. The marines stay on to force the resignation of Zelaya’s successor, Jose Madriz, and the US then instals the pliant Conservative Adolfo Diaz.
1954 Left-leaning civilian government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala is overthrown in CIA-backed invasion. Col. Castillo Armas’ invasion force was trained and equipped by the USA and the ClAflew bombing raids in US-supplied warplanes to ensure its victory. The Arbenz government had incurred Washington’s wrath by expropriating unused land belonging to the US-owned United Fruit Company and offering compensation in line with the company’s own tax declarations. ‘We had to get rid of a Communist government which had taken over’, said US-President Eisenhower nine years later. (The Communist Party held four out of 56 seats in the legislature). The country has been ruled by the army ever since.
1966-68 Height of the counter-terror campaign in Guatemala - a two-year period in which roughly 8,000 civilians died at the hands of security forces and associated death squads. Guerrilla forces never numbered more than a few hundred. The counter-insurgency campaign was devised and led by the United States, which put around 1,000 ‘green berets’ (special forces) into the field and supplied sophisticated weaponry (including napalm) along with training to the Guatemalan military. According to Time magazine, the death squads were the brainchild of US military attache Col. John Webber.
1972 A devastating earthquake hits Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, killing some 20,000 and reducing the city to a chaotic ruin. Only the prompt arrival of 600 US troops, together with forces from other Central American countries, allows the Somoza dictatorship to retain control of public order. The dictator’s private army, the National Guard, goes on a looting spree.
This article is from
the December 1983 issue
of New Internationalist.
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