Unit 1 Destination Discussion - Nicaragua

Advance Preparation

Members of the group should read Chapter Two, “Early History,” of Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle.

Discussion: This chapter records such episodes as the 19th century “filibustering” of Nicaragua by the American adventurer William Walker, and the multiple occupations of Nicaragua by the U.S. military in the 20th century. Before reading this chapter, were you aware of the long history of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, stretching back far into the 1850s and earlier?

  • What if anything surprised you about this history?
  • What feelings come up for you when you read about it?

When you read about these episodes, what if anything strikes you as out of step with the way the United States conducts its foreign relations now?

  • What (if anything) is familiar from patterns that still manifest in U.S. foreign policy today?

Revisit for a moment pp. 22-23, which describe the creation of the Nicaraguan National Guard and the empowerment of the Guard’s first commander, Anastasio Somoza Garcia.

Because of this background, the co-authors trace “the germination of the Somoza dictatorship” to the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua. (p. 20)

  • What feelings come up for you in considering the charge that the United States played a role in first bringing the Somozas to power?

The co-authors write that in its occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and ‘30s, the United States “used tactics that would become familiar during the Vietnam War [including] the aerial bombardment of ‘hostile’ towns and hamlets, the creation of what amounted to ‘free fire zones’ in rural areas, and the forced resettlement of peasants[.]” (21-22.)

The term “free fire zone” refers to the practice used by the U.S. military in its wars in Southeast Asia of designating every person within a particular proscribed area as a military target, regardless of whether or not they were actually civilians.

  • If you are old enough to have lived through the era of the Vietnam War, what were some of your feelings about that conflict at the time?
  • What feelings come up for you now in considering the idea that some of the policies implemented by the U.S. military in Vietnam were in use much earlier in other U.S. conflicts, and may have amounted to war crimes?
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