People who lived through the Cold War will also remember the war in Nicaragua in which the Americans backed the Contra guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government.
But many people who are aware of that war, aren’t aware that we have fought our own wars in the country’s territory as well.
Nicaragua lies on the wide bit of the Central American isthmus, with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. If you’ve been reading this book in alphabetical order you’ll probably already have worked out by now that lying in a tempting, handy-for-the-ocean, not-far-from-the-Caribbean-and-South-America location like this, and having been controlled by the Spanish for a long time, the country is extremely unlikely to have escaped the attention of British pirates and, of course, it didn’t.
Granada, on Lake Nicaragua, was a major target because it was a wealthy town and control of it and of Lake Nicaragua pretty much gave control across the isthmus from Pacific to Caribbean. Granada is one of those slightly confusing names, because there seem to be a lot of Granadas and/or Grenadas. This Granada is not to be confused with the Caribbean Island, the place in Spain, the TV company, or the car made by a well-known company.
In 1665, pirates including Henry Morgan ventured up the San Juan river to Lake Nicaragua and proceeded to sack Granada. To protect the San Juan River, the Spanish built the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception. This didn’t stop William Dampier in 1685 landing on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast and burning down the colony on 8 September. As the years wore on, we formed an alliance with the local indigenous Miskito Kingdom and with a society that developed in the coastal regions of Nicaragua and Honduras that involved both Miskitos and ex-slaves. Together Brits and their local allies would raid the Spanish-held areas.
In 1740, we concluded a Formal Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Miskito Kingdom, or Mosquito Kingdom as we tended to know it. Under the terms of this treaty, the Miskito King, Edward I, accepted King George II’s overlordship in return for military protection. In 1762, during the Seven Years War, a combined expedition attacked the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, but was held off in a heroic defence led by 19-year-old Rafaela Herrera, daughter of the recently deceased garrison commander. In 1780, Nelson himself was involved in yet another British expedition to try to capture Granada. In March, forces including elements from both the army and navy set off up the San Juan River, with the intention, once again, of making it to Lake Nicaragua. Nelson saw hand-to-hand combat, capturing a Spanish battery on Bartola Island. At the end of April they had managed to capture Fort San Juan (5 miles upstream), but by the time of the surrender, Nelson had fallen ill and been taken back down the river. He was not the first to fall ill, or the last. By the time we were forced to withdraw from the fort in November hundreds had died.
Under the 1786 Convention of London we pulled out our settlers from the area, but we continued to claim it was our protectorate. In the early nineteenth century, Spanish imperial control in the region ended, and we were still interested. Particularly in the region’s mahogany. In 1841, we helped the Miskitos occupy San Juan del Norte and in 1848 we occupied it ourselves, calling it Greytown after Jamaica’s then governor. Eventually, in 1860, we signed the Treaty of Managua with Nicaragua and gradually British influence in the area waned as Nicaraguan and American influence rose. But still today English is spoken by some groups in Nicaragua.