Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nicaragua canal

At the meeting of defense ministers in Managua, Nicaraguan President Bolanos pitched the idea of a Nicaraguan canal, which would cost $18 billion. It’s hard to see this happening, but it immediately called to mind the era when Nicaragua almost became the canal site. I talk about this in my U.S.-Latin American relations class, especially since you can draw lines from those events to the Sandinista government of the 1980s.

At the turn of the last century, the U.S. government was trying to decide on a canal site, and was taking a good look at Nicaragua. In 1901, under the guidance of a government appointed commission, the U.S. purchased exclusive rights to build (for $5 million). A French company in Panama wanted to sell its rights, so lobbied hard to switch that recommendation to Panama (surely greasing the wheels as they did).

More problematic was that the Nicaraguan president, José Santos Zelaya, resisted U.S. demands for things like full judicial control over the canal zone. Ultimately, Theodore Roosevelt was set on Panama. The U.S. would not forget Zelaya’s intransigence, and were further angered when he arrested and executed two U.S. citizens plotting against his government. Through pressure from the U.S., Zelaya was forced out of office, and soon U.S. marines would arrive to occupy the country off and on until 1933, at which time they would help install Somoza as head of the National Guard. Those marines were also the source of nationalist resentment, the symbol of which was Augusto Sandino, whose name would be used by the guerrillas who would overthrow the younger Somoza in 1979.


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