Nicaragua: history’s roller-coaster

The whole region of South and Central America has very vibrant history, filled with twists, horrible civil wars, coups and dictatorships as well as foreign intervention, notably by Spain, Portugal, Britain and USA. In case you were interested, here are few historical events that took place in Nicaragua.

Please excuse my interpretation of those horrible acts. I’m not a historian and this piece is not intended to be a serious academic piece. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I was conducting some research for my previous text and as a result of that, I’ve decided to compile some of the most bizarre historical events that took place here.

FYI, when it comes to facts, those I’ve double-checked with at least two different sources to to bullshit you, the potential reader. Let’s get on it then.

Coups, Civil Wars and invasions

If I’m counting well, since its independence of Spain in 1821, Nicaragua went through two civil wars, 4 dictatorships, a partial invasion of Britain and two invasions of the USA. Those numbers might be different, depending on where you ask. Anyway, here’s a question to illustrate this love-and-hate relationship between Nica and USA: have you known that in 1945, Nicaragua was even recognized as a charter member of the USA?

Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Anyway. Let’s start at the beginning. The name of the country comes from a local indigenous tribe Nicarao and it was coined in 1522 by one of the numerous Spanish “explorers” whom were browsing through Americas at the time. The Spanish word agua was added because the tribe lived around the present day Lake Nicaragua. A year later, another “explorer” from the same country Francisco Hernández de Córdoba conquested the territory. And the country even called it’s currency after him (:0

From Atlantic to Pacific via Nicaragua

Moving on to 1800s. Before the construction of Panama Canal (1914), there was no inter-oceanic route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, if you don’t count Tierra del Fuego‘s routes. One of the major trade routes between New York City and San Francisco therefore ran through southern Nicaragua.

Basically, back then it was possible to take the ships up the San Juan river right to Granada and Rivas on Lake Nicaragua, making the cities de facto Caribbean ports. From Rivas the transport went on using stagecoaches through the narrow stretch of land to the pacific coast.

Nicaragua’s inter-oceanic trade route. Photo:

I guess that this sufficiently illustrates how strategic this route was at the time. As a result of that importance and the money it was generating, in 1850 USA and Great Britain sign the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty granting them access to this trade route through Nicaraguan territory.

Nicaragua was then ruled by a self-imposed president/filibuster William Walker from Nashville, Tennessee. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve begun this story in my previous piece about Granada vs León when I got hooked on the twists that the greedy human nature brought upon Nicaraguan people. To pick up the events from there, let’s see how it all ended up for Mr Walker.

Basically, concerned about any possible expansions of Walker‘s influence, the armies of Nicaragua’s Central American neighbours took him out just as he was preparing to do the same to them. During the offensive, Walker and his mates managed to contaminate the water, which resulted in 10 000 deaths among Costa Rican as well as Nicaraguan people.

The final act of Walker‘s mercenaries was to burn Granada down to ashes (1856) when they were surrounded by 4,000 Costa Rican, Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan troops. Walker escaped bu he was later executed in Honduras where he attempted yet another filibustering coup.

Granada, Nicaragua

The nearest major event for Nicaragua took place in 1894, when a liberal General José Santos Zelaya López first kicked off the British of Nicaragua’s east (Mosquito) coast (they have remained a bit longer in what is Belize now) and then established dictatorship for himself. Yep – that is not a typo – that’s “liberal military dictatorship” (:0

Nevertheless his treatment of democracy, Zelaya also introduced the country to some progressive policies, such as equal rights, property guarantees, compulsory vote, the protection of arts and industry, minority representation and improvement of the public education.

Zalaya furthermore promoted the sovereignty as well as the re-unification of Central American nations, which didn’t make him very popular figure in the US. As a result of that, in 1909 US military overthrown Zalaya‘s regime, imposing the puppet government, including the installments of US military bases in Nicaragua. Later on, there was more treaties signed with the USA in exchange of cash for various puppet presidents.


The next major event is another Civil/Guerilla War between the independence rebellion led by Augusto Sandino and Mr. Mocanda, one of the puppet presidents of Nicaragua. Sandinistas have managed to expel the US military from the country in 1934.

However, at the time, there already a new figure emerging, whom was to affect Nicaragua’s future. His name was General Anastasio Somosa and he was in charge of Nicaraguan National Guard.

To cut the long story short, in 1934, Somoza managed to assassinate Sandino, whom meanwhile became local hero. Supported by the US, Somoza then commenced a dynasty that maintained absolute and brutal control over Nicaragua for 55 years.

Meeting of General Somoza and General Sandino in the presidential palace. That same night Sandino was assassinated by orders of Somoza. Foto LA PRENSA/INCA

In the coming years, Somoza and his family used the military to intervene in Costa Rica as well as Dominican Republic on the Uncle’s Sam behalf. Nicaragua was also used as a base to invade Cuba in 1966.

The regime was brutal and various assassinations of political opponents weren’t exactly off the menu. The dynasty cringed on to power until 1978, even after the devastating earthquake in Managua (1972) that killed 6000 people.

The last drop for the Somoza dynasty proved to be a murder of an anti-Somoza journalist Joaquín Chamorro. Another Civil War broke, with the anti-Somoza guerrilla forces (FSLN) launch a violent uprising against the Somoza regime, forcing its leaders to flee Nicaragua to Miami in 1979.

The political control of the country was then shifted to a junta, which ruled Nicaragua until 1985. Curios fact is that among the junta members also was Violeta Chamorro, the widow of the murdered journalist.


In 1985, FSLN with Daniel Ortega wins elections. Mr Ortega however didn’t blush much and begun his ruling period with a classic dictatorship style by declaring a state of national emergency and suspension of the civil rights pretty much straight-away.

Reagan‘s administration was already funding the Contras to undermine the Sandinista/Ortega regime. The ten-year bloody Civil War war followed at cost of 60 000 lives and nearly 200 billion dollars, not to mention its devastating effects on Nicaraguan economy and infrastructure.

Was this the reason why was Henry Kissinger awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or was it because of Chile? Argentina? Who knows?

present day Nicaragua’s iconic chicken bus

In 1988, the devastated country was hit by a Hurricane Hugo. Ortega was forced to agree to hold a round of peace talks with Contras, reaching a temporary truce, ending the Civil War as well as his dictatorship, well the latter for now.

The 1990 election was won by the moderate UNO Coalition candidate and Violeta Chamorro (yes, her again) was elected president of Nicaragua. While Chamorro improved the diplomatic relations with the USA, Ortega‘s FSLN party still kept the majority of support in Nicaragua.

We are almost at present day now. Nicaragua has democratic election process now as Ortega did not fight the 1997 election results that went 49 to 39% in favour of Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo, the Liberal Party candidate over FSLN, although he got back in power since the 2006 elections.

Moving on to 2019, Ortega is still around and last year’s protests that brought the country to a standstill did not look like he’s changed much. I guess that dictators don’t change back to revolutionaries as it often happens the other-way around. An estimated 500 people died and some just disappeared.

Will this ever end for Nicaraguans?

Daniel bloody Ortega is still around (:0

Other destinations in Nicaragua

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Published by jb

"Life is just a ride" - Bill Hicks

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