The first decades of the 20th century saw the transformation of Nicaragua into one of the so-called banana republics of Central America; though it was not so much banana companies who took charge of the country’s political and economic destiny, as United States wood and mining interests. As the mining labour force expanded, these companies found themselves faced with a proletariat that was extremely rebellious by Central American standards, launching no less than ten armed insurrections against the US companies and their puppet governments between 1914 and 1925, in union with sections of the peasantry and national bourgeoisie, as well as a large number of major strikes.

The response of the Nicaraguan government was to call in the US Marines, in 1912, and for the next sixteen years the presidential office was generally occupied by an accountant for one of the US mining companies, or else by one of his subordinates. When in 1927 this government was no longer able, despite repeated US military support, to resist a rebel army composed of sections of the liberal national bourgeoisie together with workers and peasants, the United States managed to purchase an armistice and peace agreement with the bourgeois commanders of the rebel army. In the most literal sense of the term, the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie sold out and ended their war.

The workers’ and peasants’ section of the rebel force, however, did not go along with this deal. Under the leadership of Augusto Cesar Sandino, a former plantation worker, oil-field worker and petrol salesman, they retreated into the mountains and there began an almost six-year guerrilla. This broadened out into a people’s war, aiming to bring about the withdrawal of the US Marines and establish true national sovereignty. After heavy losses by the Marines, and growing opposition in the usa itself against this military presence, the Marines built up a local professional army, the Guardia Nacional, and withdrew from the country in 1932. In the elections held in November of that year, the Liberal politician Sacasa was elected president.

Sandino, whose army was by now the preponderant military force in Nicaragua, and could not have been successfully resisted, saw his goal as attained. He recognized the Sacasa government and signed a peace treaty in February 1933, disarming his soldiers and dissolving his force.

In the course of the war Sandino’s national revolutionaries had developed into social revolutionaries, in a spontaneous fashion conditioned by their class origin and without much theoretical consciousness of their own development. In the districts which they controlled, they began to reorganize agriculture along collective lines. After the war was over, they continued working to build a comprehensive cooperative movement. Their ideas on agricultural collectivization undermined the private economy and they came to be regarded as heroes by the workers and peasants.

In February 1934, accordingly, the National Guard (now the only armed force in the country) seized Sandino and his former commanders and shot them on the spot, beginning a merciless hunt for the disarmed and scattered Sandino supporters. They broke up the cooperatives, killing hundreds of families in the process, and finally, in 1936–37, their American-appointed commander-in-chief overthrew the government and took over the presidency. His name: Anastasio ‘Tacho’ Somoza.

Once in power, Somoza, and after his assassination in 1956 his two sons Luis and Anastasio ‘Tachito’ Somoza (the recent president) used their positions as head of state (Luis) and commander-in-chief of the National Guard (Anastasio) to fill all important posts either with members of their own family or business friends, or else with officers of the National Guard.