Banana Wars

Banana Wars

The Sandinista’s seized control over Nicaragua in the summer of 1979 with the ousting of the Somoza government. The removal of the Somoza government ended more than 4 decades of his family ruling in Nicaragua. The shift in power would not bring initial peace and prosperity. Civil war erupted not long after the Sandinista’s control of the country and for the following decade, violence and destruction would be the norm for Nicaraguan society. History would eerily repeat itself throughout the Nicaraguan countryside, with a conflict reminiscent of the Banana Wars of the early 20th century as the United States propelled itself into the civil war.MAR_Q211_CL_Haiti-636x332

In 1894, much like the Sandinista revolution of 1978-79, a liberal government was formulated and controlled the small Central American country. The government of Jose Santos Zelaya found itself in the cross hairs of the United States, when two American’s were executed by the Zelaya government for supporting militant operations against the state. In response to the execution the United States declared that it would intervene on behalf of the safety and well-being of the American citizens residing in Nicaragua. The threat of intervention resulted in Zelaya stepping down, and his successor Jose Madriz lasted only a short while before resigning because of the growing insurgency of conservative forces. The conservative party seized control of the government again, but the divisions between the conservative and liberal sections of the nation could not unite and conflict erupted. Fearing another shift in power as well as the loss of American interests to the nation should the conservative government fall, American Marines were deployed in force in August 1912.


American intervention in Nicaragua, as well as other Caribbean and Central American nations sparked what became known as the Banana Wars. As political interest in the region shifted away from American influence and business ventures, American forces were deployed to support US-friendly regimes and protect American business ventures. One famous Marine that served in the Banana Wars was Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. During his service in the Banana Wars, Butler earned two Congressional Medal of Honors, a feat only 19 American servicemen have ever achieved.

SandinoflagusmcWhen the US withdrew the bulk of its forces in the 1930’s, the Somoza family became prominent members of Nicaraguan politics. In 1936, Anastasio Somoza Garcia seized power and took control of the presidency. The Somoza family allied itself closely with the United States, and for the 4 decades of Somoza family rule American military hardware flowed in to the Nicaraguan armed forces and American business ventures prospered. With the ousting of the Somoza regime in 1979 the United States began funding and supporting anti-Sandinista forces, known as the Contras. The clandestine American involvement in Nicaragua would plague the presidency of Ronald Reagan and would bring about the infamous Iran-Contra Deal and subsequent political scandal and investigation.

Look for more information regarding the Nicaraguan Revolution in the upcoming Modern War issue #20 with the article “War in Nicaragua: Sandinistas, Somocistas & Contras” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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