Today in the Americas: The Other Zelaya

nicaragua zelaya

The world is focused on the events in Honduras between the usurpation of power by the golpista Roberto Micheletti of elected president Miguel Zelaya on June 28. But the Americas has a parallel Zelaya – in Nicaragua, who took power today in 1893 (116 years ago).

Nicaragua was not immune to the fluctuations of liberalism/conservativism that define(d) Américan politics. The 1890s brought about a second surge of liberalism (today’s “neoliberalism” is its predecessors continued tradition, in all its forms) across Central America. Nicaragua, and Jose Zelaya, were the pinnacle.

Always the liberal dream, Zelaya dreamed of the reunification of Central America. This, of course, frightened the United States (rather ridiculously) of its exalted position in the hemisphere. Caudillos were nothing new in Central America. They were no threat to the security of the United States. Zelaya was a classic caudillo – he cultivated himself into a brand devoid, for the most part, of political title; he recruited his own military to take Nicaragua; he ruled for a long time, nearly twenty years.

Through questionable elections, presidents serving beside Zelaya in 1902 and 1906 in absentia, and the ever present risk of US intervention, the world of Nicaragua’s longest ruling leader began to crumble. For the people of Nicaragua – the Zelaya dictatorship operated from the top-down and paternalistically sought to rectify institutional challenges by building roads, harbors and advancing “free trade,” something the United States did not approve of. For the United States, Zelaya created, with the help of repressive agents, stability in Central America. For years the US had been supplying aid and arms to those in opposition to Zelaya, but was unable to get countries like neighboring Costa Rica to invade. So the US did it themselves.

In 1909, the US landed Marines in Nicaragua. On December 17, 1909, Zelaya gave power to José Madriz and fled for Mexico. Madriz wished to continue the fight – but the US worked through the power channels before selecting José Dolores Estrada, who would gain the presidency in August of 1910.

Zelaya would die in 1919 in New York City.

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~ by Daniel on July 25, 2009.

One Response to “Today in the Americas: The Other Zelaya”

  1. […] José Zelaya took power in Nicaragua on July 25, 1893, and held on to it until December 17, 1909. It was also his dream to […]

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