American Intervention in Nicaragua (1912-1933)
After the initial depopulation, Nicaragua became a backwater of the Spanish empire. In this setting, two colonial cities, Granada and León, emerged as competing poles of power and prestige. The former derived its income from agriculture and trade with Spain via the San Juan River; the latter came to depend on commerce with the Spanish colonies of the Pacific coast. Both tiny outposts were subjected to frequent pirate attacks. Late in the 17th century, Great Britain formed an alliance with the Miskito Indians of the Caribbean coastal region, where the community of Bluefields had been established. The British settled on the Mosquito Coast, and for a time (174086) the region became a British dependency.
In 1811, inspired by struggles in Mexico and El Salvador, revolutionaries deposed the governing intendant of Nicaragua. León, however, soon returned to the royalist cause, and Granada bore the brunt of the punishment for disobedience. In 1821 León rejected and Granada approved the Guatemalan declaration of independence from Spain. Both accepted union with Mexico (182223), but they fought one another until 1826, when Nicaragua took up its role in the United Provinces of Central America. After Nicaragua seceded from the federation in 1838, the rivalry between León, identified with the Liberal Party, and Granada, the centre of the Conservative Party, continued.
After the withdrawal of Spain, relations between the "king" of the Mosquito Coast and the British government strengthened until again there were British officials in Bluefields. In 1848 they seized the small Caribbean port of San Juan del Norte, renaming it Greytown. The discovery of gold in California drew attention to the strategic position of Nicaragua for interoceanic traffic, and Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company began a steamship and carriage operation between Greytown and the Pacific. In 1856 William Walker, an American who had been invited to assist the Liberals in warfare (1855), made himself president of the country, but he was routed a year later by the efforts of the five Central American republics and the transit company.
Conservatives ruled from 1857 until 1893, bringing relative peace but little democracy to Nicaragua. As a compromise between Granada and León, Managua was made the capital in 1857. In 1860 a treaty with Great Britain provided for the nominal reincorporation of the east coast with the rest of the nation but as an autonomous reservation. Complete jurisdiction over the Miskito people was not established until the Liberal presidency (18931909) of José Santos Zelaya.
Zelaya, though a dictator, was a committed nationalist. He promoted schemes for Central American reunification and refused to grant the United States transisthmian canal-building rights on concessionary terms, thus encouraging the United States to choose Panama for the project. This, plus rumours that Zelaya planned to invite Japan to construct a canal that would have competed with the U.S. waterway, caused the United States to encourage Zelaya's Conservative opposition to stage a revolt. When two U.S. citizens who participated in the revolt were executed, the United States landed marines in Bluefields and thus blocked a Liberal victory. Although Zelaya resigned, the United States refused to recognize his successor, José Madriz (190910). Further civil war led to the presidency of a Conservative, Adolfo Díaz (191117), for whom the U.S. Marines intervened in 1912. A 100-man guard at the U.S. embassy symbolized that country's support also for Conservative presidents Emiliano Chamorro (191721) and his uncle Diego Manuel Chamorro (192123). The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, signed in 1914 and ratified in 1916, gave the United States exclusive canal privileges in Nicaragua (to prevent a competing canal from being built) and the right to establish naval bases.
The U.S. Marine guard's withdrawal in 1925 led quickly to another crisis, with Emiliano Chamorro in rebellion against a new regime. Díaz returned as a compromise president (192628), reinforced in 1927 by 2,000 U.S. Marines. The Liberal leaders Juan Bautista Sacasa, José María Moncada, and Augusto César Sandino rose in rebellion, but after six months Sacasa and Moncada made peace, and subsequent elections under U.S. auspices brought the presidency to both of them (Moncada, 192833, and Sacasa, 193336). Sandino, however, fought on as long as the Marines remained in the country.
The Marines withdrew upon the inauguration of Sacasa, and Sandino submitted to his government. A Nicaraguan National Guard (Guardia Nacional), trained by the U.S. Marines and commanded by General Anastasio Somoza García, was now responsible for maintaining order in the country. In 1934 high-ranking officers led by Somoza met and agreed to the assassination of Sandino. Somoza then deposed Sacasa with the support of factions of both Liberals and Conservatives, and in a rigged election he became president on Jan. 1, 1937.