Introduction
u.s. intervention has marked few nations as profoundly as Nicara-
gua. The most recent incursion was the Reagan administration’s undeclared
war against the Sandinista Revolution of 1979–90. Yet U.S. e√orts to domi-
nate Central America’s largest country have a much deeper history, for the
United States long believed that its global aspirations depended on control-
ling Nicaragua’s transisthmian passage. As early as 1788 Thomas Je√erson
proclaimed his country’s interest in using the San Juan River and Lake Nic-
aragua to build a canal that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.∞ Not
until the following century, however, did the United States actually seek to
construct such a canal. Although U.S. expeditions accomplished little beyond
surveying the projected route, they enjoyed strong local support, since many
Nicaraguans valorized the canal as their gateway to the ‘‘civilized’’ world. In
June 1902, the United States shocked Nicaraguans when it suddenly decided
to build the interoceanic canal in Panama. The abrupt decision did not end
U.S. e√orts to dominate Nicaragua, however. On the contrary, the United
States meddled even more deeply in Nicaraguan a√airs, as it sought to pre-
vent other foreign powers from constructing a rival canal. These e√orts
culminated in the U.S. occupation of 1912–33. In the end, the canal project
brought Nicaragua not the expected riches but U.S. intervention. Few better
foresaw this tragic outcome than the Nicaraguan journalist who warned his
compatriots in 1845,‘‘The waterway across the Isthmus of Nicaragua is the
apple in our Eden. It will be our curse.’’≤
This book examines the history of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua from the
heyday of U.S. Manifest Destiny in the mid-nineteenth century through the
U.S. occupation of 1912–33. Covering the two main phases of U.S. expansion-
ism into Latin America, it considers the e√orts of diverse U.S. actors to
reshape Nicaragua in their own image and according to their own interests.
First and foremost, however, it explores how Nicaraguans experienced and
confronted U.S. intervention. Time and again, the United States has pro-
jected not just its power but its institutions and values—the ‘‘American
dream’’—onto other nations.≥ More often than not, such impositions have
triggered fierce nationalist opposition around the world. In Nicaragua, U.S.
intervention engendered what may be Latin America’s most celebrated anti-
U.S. insurgency: the Sandino Rebellion of 1927–33.
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