The American desire to dominate the Western Hemisphere through the political and economic intrusions in Latin American nations, the incessant economic stagnation, and the weak, corrupted political institutions- all led to the naissance of the strong anti-U.S. sentiment and the desire among the local people to achieve both political and economic freedom, as well as extensive civil rights.
An example set by the Cuban revolutionaries in 1959 inspired others in Latin America to free themselves from the grasp of Yankee imperialism.
Nicaragua was one of those inspired nations to stand up for her rights.
The American National Myth
The Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionary paths, despite occurring twenty years apart from each other, derived from one powerful source- the urge to free their nations from blatant American domination.
To understand the reasons behind such American foreign policy in Latin America, it is necessary to consider the symbolic history of American imperialism.
The oldest American myth claims that Puritan lawyer John Winthrop, while leading the first major immigration from England to North America in 1630, proclaimed that “they were engaged in a voyage that God Himself not only approved, but in which He participated.”
Thus, calling themselves a Chosen People in a nation created by and for God, Puritans decided that America must be a world’s moral example: “for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Brother Winthrop’s ideals are echoed throughout American history.
Loren Baritz explores the potential of the national myth, when coupled with sufficient national power, to impose one nation’s will upon the rest of the world. In fact, “American nationalism in its purest form thinks of the world as populated by frustrated or potential Americans”, and provokes dangerous solipsistic thinking, where the American self is being projected onto other countries and cultures.
The Importance of Metaphors for the American Power Projection
The Cuban independence war of 1895-98 did not seem to satisfy the American ‘view’ on Cuba’s future; the future of an independent nation, not a subject to regional domination.
This dragged Americans into the Spanish-American War of 1898 and gave rise to American “popular belief in the deployment of power as a matter of moral discharge.”
By portraying themselves as protectors of Cuban liberty and freedom- the pure American qualities- against Spanish domination, Americans justified the war- making.
Thus, the intervention in Cuba was celebrated by Woodrow Wilson as “an impulse of humane indignation and pity – because we saw at our very doors a government unmindful of justice or of mercy, contemptuous in its every practice of the principles we professed to live for.”
Through the implementation of various metaphors, Americans concealed “the contradictions often produced by the pursuit of the national interests in the guise of the practice of national ideals.”
The common metaphor of an adult-child relationship often portrayed the U.S. as a dominant figure- an adult supervisor- above the silly, uncivilized children represented by the Latin American countries.
The Spanish defeat during the Spanish- American War proved its incompetency in discharging that adult authority, thus ‘forcing’ the righteous Americans to assume the “burden of greatness” in preparing the Latin American countries for adulthood by ‘civilizing’ them through the imposition of American ideals and morals.
Like in any adult-child relationship, an adult has full moral authority to punish a misbehaving child.
Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, approved the idea of intervention into the Latin American country’s affairs in case if the latter did not act according to American interests: “if any South American State misbehaves towards any European country, let the European country spank it.”
Therefore, any Cuban or Nicaraguan national act that was not approved by the U.S., tended to disappoint the latter and justify its intervention.
The Roots Behind the Anti-U.S. Sentiments in Cuba
In Cuba, the biggest disappointment for the U.S. was the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
Its aftermath- Fidel Castro’s Marxist-Leninist political standing- was branded ‘betrayal’ by the U.S.
In an atmosphere of contentious ideological and political tensions for world domination between the communist Soviet Union, the liberal United States and their satellite states, divided by the Iron Curtain, there was a constant fear of the domino effect.
It was believed that if one country from west of the Iron Curtain fell under the influence of communism, the other countries in the region would follow its lead (similar to dominos), thus leading to the downfall of the American state and the rise of Communism in the world.
Thus, the Cuban sway to the left and its alliance with the Soviet Union has greatly undermined the American sense of security.
However, it would be fair to note that Americans themselves contributed (whether consciously or not) to the outcome they detested so much.
Cuban national sentiments were not invented by Fidel Castro, as they were already a part of an older Cuban political culture “to which Cuban leaders were heir and in which they themselves had been formed.”
Historically, Cuba had a perfect environment for sugar production, which became the country’s main source of income, and “by 1850, Cuba produced one-third of all the sugar in the world.”
Despite remaining a Spanish colony, Cuba became overly dependent on trade with the United States: “seventy percent of Cuba’s trade was with its neighbor to the north, and three-fourths of that was in sugar.” The economy was stagnating due to the four-month sugar harvest, leaving the majority of the population unemployed for the rest of the year.
Besides the Cuban monoculture export economy that was extremely dependent on the U.S. markets, “the favored status of the American manufactured goods in the Cuban market limited the possibilities for Cuba’s economic diversification and development.”
Overall, Americans owned eighty percent of the country’s assets, forty percent of the sugar industry, while in 1958 American investments in Cuba reached one billion dollars.
Being exploited under two masters, Cuba appeared vulnerable and oppressed.
Jose Marti led the Cuban struggle for liberation from both Spanish colonization and American economic domination. He was
killed while fighting for Cuban independence on May 19, 1895, and subsequently seen as a national hero. However, his dream of a politically and economically free Cuba was abandoned when, in 1898, the United States intervened in the Spanish-American War, since its “economic and geopolitical interests dictated constant oversight and close political control over the island.”
In exchange for the American pledge to not annex Cuba in 1901, the Platt Amendment was added to the Cuban constitution. Under that legislation, the U.S. had “the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, [and] the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty”, thus making Cuba an American protectorate.
The subsequent grassroots mobilizations such as radical student movements and urban revolts led to the abrogation of the Platt Amendment in 1934 as part of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ aimed at the creation of new economic opportunities through trade agreements.
However, this policy did not appease Cubans towards the U.S., since after the U.S.- staged assassination of the constitutional president Ramon Grau San Martin in 1933, the U.S. government placed the highly unpopular anti-communist Fulgencio Batista to power.
Batista’s base of support was rooted in the army, thus, he could not have cared less about public opinion and Cubans who despised him for his multiple human rights abuses and nullification of key civil liberties.
The United States, however, continued to provide Batista with financial, military, and logistical support, which, naturally, further engendered hatred towards the American domination of Cuba.
The situation was clearly blowing out of proportions.
The Roots Behind the Anti-U.S. Sentiments in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua, the anti-U.S. sentiment has largely contributed to the spark of radical nationalistic sentiments.
Unlike the sugar-abundant Cuba, Nicaragua had few natural resources and its “rough terrain meant that only 10 percent of the land was arable.”
In 1856, the U.S. traveler William Walker settled and, subsequently, took over the country as President. His abusive policies, such as the reestablishment of slavery, vagrancy law and English as the only official language prompted Nicaraguans to force him out of the country.
Despite the fact that Walker was not financed by the U.S. government, Nicaraguans remember him as a symbol of the first American attempt to control their country.
Walker’s negative reputation and his association with liberals resulted in a conservative-dominated politics for the next thirty years.
In 1893, liberals finally won the election with Jose Santos Zelaya, who opposed the extensive American economic control
and aimed to extend Nicaraguan sovereignty over the British-controlled Atlantic coast.
Naturally, like with Martin in Cuba, Americans were dissatisfied with Zelaya’s political views, and in 1909 intervened in order to remove him from power. Zelaya was substituted by conservative pro-American Adolfo Diaz, who in 1911 invited the U.S. Marines to Nicaragua in order to prevent Zelaya’s return and to guarantee American economic and geopolitical interests.
This led to a long occupational period of Nicaragua by the U.S. Marines (1911-1933).
The Liberals, in return, initiated a revolution against the Diaz regime. Fearing a long-term military entanglement, the U.S. sent a special emissary Henry Stimson to Nicaragua to sign the Espino Negro Pact of 1927, which made the U.S. supervise the first fraud-free elections, allowing the Liberals to win.
One Liberal general, Augusto Cesar Sandino, who was not satisfied with the U.S. encroachment, demanded “the complete withdrawal of the marines, respect for Nicaragua’s national sovereignty, and a government that represented the interests of the majority.”
He formed a guerrilla army and waged a five-year campaign against the U.S. Marines and the Nicaraguan National Guard. The Sandinistas provided schools, agricultural assistance, and, unlike the American Marines, established close connections with the local populations on the Atlantic Coast.
The popular support helped the Sandinistas to withdraw the Marines, which were then replaced by the U.S.-trained National Guard, headed by Anastasio Somoza Garcia. Somoza, like Batista, was pro-American and spoke English fluently.
In 1934, Sandino, as the only person with adequate popular support able to prevent Somoza’s grasp on power, was assassinated.
In 1936, Somoza took over the government and manipulated the constitution to establish “his personal empire as a family dynasty”, making him and his two sons to serve as presidents for 43 years in total. The political repressions, nullification of civil rights and massacres were their presidencies’ common attributes.
Moreover, like Batista, Somoza was fully submissive to American wishes, allowing, amongst many other things, “the U.S. military to use Nicaragua as a base for attacks on Jacobo Arbenz’s government in Guatemala in 1954 and for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.”
It seemed that as long as American imperial interests were served, U.S. governments were willing to cooperate with authoritarian leaders. Therefore, American commercial and geopolitical interests and, with the advent of the Cold War, the incessant fear of the communist takeover by fidelista fighters inspired by the Cuban Revolution of 1959, fed the American preference to ‘assign’ dictators instead of the democratic leaders in the Latin American countries.
The Rise of National Resistance in Cuba
The constant repressions, discrimination and the human rights abuses inflicted by those dictators led to the rise of national oppositions.
Fidel Castro’s failed foco attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, Cuba on July 26, 1953, which, he believed, would produce the shock waves sufficient enough for the popular insurrection against the Batista regime, brought him before the court.
His 1953 courtroom defense speech, famously known as History Will Absolve Me, proclaimed the ‘five revolutionary laws’, such as:
- the reinstatement of the Cuban Constitution,
- land rights to those “who hold parcels of five or less ‘caballerias’ of land”,
- the right of industrial workers to 30% share of all large enterprises,
- the right of all planters to 55% share of sugar production,
- and the confiscation of all possessions acquired through frauds under previous regimes.
Castro successfully turned his defeat into a call for revolution, proclaiming that “the problems of the Republic can be solved only if we dedicate ourselves to fight for that Republic with the same energy, honesty and patriotism our liberators had when they created it.”
While serving his prison sentence, Castro was inspired by Marti’s desire to achieve both political and economic independence.
Castro was released from prison in 1955 and exiled to Mexico, where he founded the 26th of July Movement (M-26) organization and started preparations for an armed rebellion.
In December 1956, the yacht Granma with Castro and 82 revolutionists returned to Cuba. However, due to the rough sea, the yacht’s arrival did not coincide with the urban underground resistance led by Frank Pais.
Thus, Pais’ uprising and Castro’s guerrilla force, which landed a couple of days later, were firmly crushed by Batista’s troops, leaving only eighteen fighters alive.
Here, the importance of the local grassroots mobilizations and support by students, peasants and urban dwellers should not be overlooked.
It is likely that the M-26 would never have gained strength again after the Granma attack, would it not have been for the local peasants who joined the struggle. By the same token, the urban underground shifted Batista’s attention toward the students and middle- class residents and away from the rural guerrillas, thus allowing Castro to prepare his village fighters for future victorious attacks, which led to Batista’s escape from Cuba on January 1, 1959.
Fidelismo vs. Communism
The successful Cuban Revolution of 1959 gave birth to fidelismo– a new social-political movement in Latin American countries, which was named after its leader Fidel Castro.
Fidelismo brought the dramatic intensification of political situations to other Latin American countries, since it created the attitude that revolution should be pursued immediately.
This contradicted the famous communist notion that the country had to achieve a certain level of capitalist economic development for a socialist revolution to occur.
The communists contended that economically backward Cuba would not succeed against the Batista regime and they did not (at first) support the revolution.
It proves that despite following the Marxist teachings, Castro’s Cuba was not a ‘U.S.S.R.-style’ communist, in spite of what the official American foreign policy proclaimed.
Castro’s reply was the First Declaration of Havana, 1960, in which he denied the Soviet or Chinese intent to “use Cuba’s political and social situation… to break the continental unity and endanger the unity of the hemisphere.” He also proclaimed that the revolution was “Cuba’s firm reply to the crimes and wrongs perpetrated by the imperialism in America”, thus China and the Soviet Union could not be blamed.
The Rise of National Resistance in Nicaragua
The successful Cuban insurrection “engendered a mystique about guerrilla warfare”, making it a popular undertaking, and highlighted the importance of the extensive social and political reforms, such as the famous First Declaration of Havana’s ten point program, which included, among many other things, national sovereignty, social justice, and education.
Thus, fidelismo inspired other Latin Americans to attempt to achieve social and political changes within their societies through a wide variety of ways.
Nicaragua was not an exception.
Convinced that they too could establish a guerrilla movement to topple the Somoza’s regime and replace it with a socialist government, Carlos Fonseca Amador and Tomas Borge Martinez formed the Sandinista National Front (FSLN) in 1961.
The Nicaraguan Socialist Party, much as Cuban communists who criticized Castro’s M-26 movement, denounced the FSLN as premature and too idealistic, opting to wait for the appropriate economic conditions for a socialist takeover.
However, after visiting Cuba in July 1959, Fonseca realized that the economic backwardness of the country was not a deterrent for revolutionary action.
Similar to Castro’s foco tactic, the FSLN believed that a small guerrilla army could spark a broad revolution.
However, in 1967, the Sandinistas ran into the police, which slaughtered all but fifteen fighters. Again, the Sandinistas, like the fidelista fighters, could regroup only due to their close collaboration with local peasants and workers, which made them reassess the validity of the foco approach and instead aim at building peasant and urban connections.
The Historic Program of the FSLN, 1969 outlined a thirteen-point program, including land to the peasants, labor legislation, emancipation of women, end of discrimination against ethnic minorities, and proliferation of education, which taught “new generations [the] eternal gratitude and reverence for those who have fallen in the struggle to make Nicaragua a free homeland.” Sandinistas also enjoyed a high degree of support from the Indigenous neighborhoods such as Miskitu, since they both drew on their actions as part of the historical resistance to colonial domination.
However, unlike the fidelista fighters in Cuba, the Sandinistas did not necessarily aim to achieve Marxist revolution, but “one firmly grounded in their own historical reality and experience.” For this reason, Augusto Cesar Sandino was represented everywhere as a national hero and a symbol of Revolution (his name (the letter S) was also added to the FLN).
Moreover, the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 became one of the first to openly accept the role and contributions of the Church in toppling the dictatorial regime. Instead of seeing religion as false consciousness, as Marxists in Cuba did, “the Sandinistas believed that religion could be used to heighten people’s revolutionary awareness.”
The liberation theology, unlike traditional Christian theology, gave hopes to the oppressed and led people to realize that they must take responsibility for their destiny, thus representing “a historic turning point in the attitude of the Catholic Church toward popular movements for social justice.”
Nowadays, unfortunately, many equate the Nicaraguan Revolution with repression, as that struggle against the Somoza dynasty has only brought a new, equally authoritarian, group of people in control of power, who have slowly reinstituted everything the nation has fought against.
Moises Hassan, an ex-Mayor of Managua and a former Sandinista fighter, believes that the current Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, has done even worse things than Somoza.
He recalls that under Somoza administrations children were not as indoctrinated about the gloriousness of the regime as they are now, since “from nearly the first moment of the 1979 triumph, the cult of the Sandinista Front was already being implanted. Portraits everywhere. Propaganda in the school notebooks. Now they give the children the Sandinista flags and send them out to parade in activities that Ortega organizes.”
Most importantly, per Hassan, unlike the current administration’s total invalidation of the opposition and alternation in power, which includes the recent imprisonment of 26 civic and political leaders (including six potential presidential candidates), the Somoza’s government permitted some criticism and opposition of its ministers and policies. He also mentions that, unlike the Ortega government, the Somoza administration would never have gone after the opposition leader’s family, as well as he “knew exactly who was stealing and how much they were stealing”– that is, corruption was more controlled.
Hassan thus concludes that “the Ortega regime is an updated edition of Somoza, corrected and improved, with much more weaponry, much less respect for human rights and a greater degree of corruption.”
American imperialism, rooted in the traditional myth of the City upon the Hill, granted Americans the moral validity to extend their power and influence throughout the world.
The adult-child metaphor allowed Americans, under the guise of the high morality of ‘parental responsibility’ for the ‘uncivilized’ nations of the South, to pursue their imperialist economic and geopolitical desires and, eventually, to dominate the world.
American support for the pro-American dictatorial regimes in the Latin American countries before the Cold War allowed Americans to dominate their economies and easily extract their resources.
During the Cold War’s incessant clashes between the U.S.S.R., the U.S. and their satellites, Americans developed a new fear of communist takeover. Dreaded by the domino effect in the western side of the Iron Curtain, they supported the dictatorial regimes which were seen as more durable against the communist threat.
The democratic nominees, who could be easily subverted by the socialist guerrilla fighters, were usually removed from office or assassinated through the U.S.-sponsored actions.
The ultimate anti-U.S. sentiment, the dependence on sugar agriculture, which created huge unemployment for eight months of the year, and the corrupted political system- all stimulated the growth of the first small guerrilla forces which aimed to bring justice back to Cuba.
Through their programs for social change, they were able to receive support from all the societal groups, including peasants, the urban middle-class and even some elite.
The successes of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its fidelismo movement inspired people in other countries such as Nicaragua to fight for their rights (whether or not it led to desirable outcomes).
- Baritz, Loren. “God’s Country and American Know-How.” In Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did, 19-54. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986.
- Becker, Marc. Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions. Lanham; Boulder; New York; London: Rowman et Littlefield, 2017.
- Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me. Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968.
- Fidel Castro, The Declaration of Havana. n.p.: 26th of July Movement in the United States, 1960.
- Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, Programa historico del FSLN. Managua, Nicaragua: Departmento de Propaganda y Educacion Politica del FSLN, 1984; trans. by Marc Becker.
- Hale, Charles R. “Nation Building, Resistance, and Hegemony: Historical Roots of Ethnic Conflict, 1894-1960.” In Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987, 37-59. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.
- Ramirez, Hans Lawrence. “Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime Is an Updated Version of Somoza.” Havana Times, July 25, 2021. https://havanatimes.org/interviews/moises-hassan-the-ortega-regime-is-an-updated-version-of-somoza/.
- Rojas, Rafael. “Nicaragua: Where Revolution Is Equated with Repression.” Havana Times, July 21, 2021. https://havanatimes.org/opinion/nicaragua-where-revolution-is-equated-with-repression/.
- Roosevelt, Theodore to Herman Speck von Sternberg, July 12, 1901. In The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt. Cambridge, Mass., 1954.
- Perez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
- The Platt Amendment, 1903.
- Wright, Thomas C. Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution: Revised Edition. Praeger Publishers, 2001.
 Loren Baritz, “God’s Country and American Know-How,” In Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986), 26
 Baritz, Ibid, 26
 Baritz, Ibid, 31
 Louis A. Perez, Jr., Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos (Chapel Hill, 2008: University of North Carolina Press), 5
 Perez, Ibid, 8
 Perez, Ibid, 258
 Perez, Ibid, 258
 Theodore Roosevelt to Herman Speck von Sternberg, July 12, 1901, in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, Mass., 1951-54)
 Perez, Ibid, 274
 Marc Becker, Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions (Lanham; Boulder; New York; London: Rowman et Littlefield, 2017), 108
 Becker, Ibid, 109
 Wright, Ibid, 5
 Becker, Ibid, 110
 Thomas C. Wright, Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution: Revised Edition (Praeger Publishers, 2001),4
 The Platt Amendment, 1903
 Becker, Ibid, 161
 Charles R. Hale, “Nation Building, Resistance, and Hegemony: Historical Roots of Ethnic Conflict, 1894-1960,” In Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 53
 Becker, Ibid, 162
 Becker, Ibid, 163
 Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968), 39
 Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (Bungay, U.K.: Richard Clay [The Chaucer Press], 1968), 40
 Fidel Castro, The Declaration of Havana (n.p.: 26th of July Movement in the United States, 1960), 2
 Castro, Ibid, 2
 Wright, Ibid, 1
 Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, Programa historico del FSLN (Managua, Nicaragua: Departmento de Propaganda y Educacion Politica del FSLN, 1984; trans. by Marc Becker), 4
 Becker, Ibid, 170
 Becker, Ibid, 173
 Becker, Ibid, 174
 Hans Lawrence Ramirez , “Moises Hassan: The Ortega Regime Is an Updated Version of Somoza,” Havana Times, July 25, 2021, https://havanatimes.org/interviews/moises-hassan-the-ortega-regime-is-an-updated-version-of-somoza/.
 Rafael Rojas, “Nicaragua: Where Revolution Is Equated with Repression,” Havana Times, July 21, 2021, https://havanatimes.org/opinion/nicaragua-where-revolution-is-equated-with-repression/.
 Ramirez, Ibid.