Friday, January 2, 2009
Today in History
On January 2, 1933, the 5th Marine Regiment, United States Marines Corps, withdrew from Nicaragua. It trained and left behind a powerful National Guard in a country beset by struggle between liberal and conservative forces centered respectively in the cities of León and Granada.
Founded by the Spanish in the early 1550s, the two cities became competing poles of power. Their militant rivalry often left Nicaragua subject to outside interests even after the country gained independence from Spain in the early 1800s.
British and U.S. interests in Nicaragua grew during the mid-1800s because of its strategic importance as a transit route across the Central American isthmus. With the advent of the California gold rush, Nicaragua proved a popular interoceanic shortcut. Cornelius Vanderbilt's steamship company transported supplies and prospectors from the Atlantic, along Nicaragua's San Juan River, then across Lake Nicaragua to the Pacific.
John M. Letts wrote of his 1849 travels through Nicaragua:
…arrived at Lake Leon. The appearance of this lake as it opened to our view was peculiarly striking. It is shut in by lofty mountains, which tower up in innumerable peaks of volcanic origin…the smoke curls gracefully out, commingling with the clouds…
We passed along down to Mat[e]ares, a small town situated on an eminence overlooking the lake, and inhabited by descendants of the African race. We breakfasted on chickens, frijoles, tortillos[sic], eggs…and after an hour's detention started for Managua. We passed through a delightful region of country, the soil, in many places, highly cultivated, bearing the impress of thrift and industry, I had not before seen in the country. Fruits grow in abundance, cattle had an unlimited range, and were the finest I ever saw; the country was broken, the mountains towering up to the clouds, and some covered with perpetual snow; but at their base were vales watered by mountain rivulets, and shaded by groves of orange and fig, seeming a retreat fit for the angels.
John M. Letts