The United States and Nicaragua: What a Volunteer Should Know

Nicaraguan Flag The point of presenting a brief account of this history is not to discourage the volunteer, but rather to prepare him or her for what will inevitably become evident while in Nicaragua. As Dr. Timothy Fogarty writes,"Most North Americans who come to Nicaragua are surprised to learn of 150 years of domination by the U.S., including half a dozen invasions by U.S. armed forces."

The good news is that Nicaraguans understand that people are not governments, and they possess a warmth and enthusiasm for their foreign friends who are eager to walk in solidarity with them. The video below provides a glimpse of the Nicaraguan spirit.

A Controversial History

The U.S. government's involvement in Nicaragua has been a long and controversial one. While the U.S. certainly played a role in Nicaragua in the 19th century, it was the U.S. Marine occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and '30s that sparked the rebellion, in 1927, of Augusto Cesar Sandino his "crazy little army," who eluded the Marines and successfully negotiated a peace treaty with then-Nicaraguan president Juan B. Sacasa. In 1934 Sandino was assassinated by the head of the U.S.-trained National Guard, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, subsequently causing Sandino to become a national hero and the namesake of the Sandinista Party.

The Somoza Regime: "Our Son of a Bitch"

In 1936 Anastasio Somoza Garcia overthrew his uncle, Juan B. Sacasa, and the Somoza regime ruled from 1936-1979, beginning with Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who was then followed by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle, respectively. The Somoza regime managed to curry favor with the U.S. government, despite its repression of the Nicaraguan people, prompting U.S. President Harry Truman to acknowledge: "Yeah, he's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

1979 and The Revolution

In 1979 the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) seized control of the National Palace in Managua, ousting the Somoza regime and embarking on an agrarian reform and literacy campain, among other social services. Meanwhile, the U.S. Reagan Administration viewed the FSLN victory as a communist threat "in our backyard" and funded the Contra War, which raged throughout the 1980s. Although the overthrow occurred in 1979, the entire period throughout the '80s is referred to in Nicaragua as "the Revolution."

According to the Center for Development in Central America, "when Nicaraguan revolutionary singer-songwriter Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy was in Costa Rica during the insurrection against Somoza, one of the guerillas fighting the Southern Front told him, 'Agarra la guitara jodido! Que la guitarra tambien dispara!' ("Pick up your guitar dammit! A guitar's a weapon too!").

Below, Mejia Godoy performs the song "Son Tus Perjumenes Mujer." The song is still ubiquitous throughout Nicaragua, and it captures the charm, strength, and smug cleverness of Nicaragua. Enjoy!

The Music of Nicaragua

Nicaragua Today

In 1990 the neoliberal goverment of Violeta Chamorro took control, with the United States government's blessing, and privatization ensued. While many NGOs left Nicaragua at the end of the revolution, the country remains the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. As of 1996, over a quarter of Nicaragua's national GDP was generated by NGOs.