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Latin America Team Dispatch

Has Anyone Ever Taken Over YOUR Country Just to be President?

People throughout Latin America have mixed feelings about people from the United States - gringos, as they say. They often wish they could have as easy a life as they see it on TV, especially since their lives can be very hard. But gringos have also done many things that have hurt Latin American countries, and it is understandable if some people here who know their history do not like the US government.

For example, would you believe us if we told you that an American once came down here with some mercenaries (people who will fight for whoever pays them), took over a country, and made himself president. Well it's true!

William Walker was an American adventurer who was born in 1824 in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned a medical degree while still a teenager and then began to study law. He worked as a lawyer for a while in New Orleans, then worked for a while as a journalist, and then finally decided to be a "soldier of fortune," just being a solider wherever he could make money.

When he was still in his twenties, Walker moved to California and led an armed invasion of a northern state of Mexico: Baja Califonia, in 1853. He named himself president of the area that he claimed to be a new country.

Well, the US government wasn't exactly happy with William, so they attacked him. He ran out of supplies and surrendered. He was taken to court for what he did, but he was proclaimed innocent.

That same year, the Liberal party in Nicaragua was fighting the Conservative Party for power, and they were losing. (Read Kavitha's story, "A Tale of Two Cities: Nicaragua's Divided History" to learn more about this war.) So the Liberals went to William for help. He came in with more soldiers and helped them take over the city of Granada. But he double-crossed them by then naming himself President of Nicaragua! This time the US didn't go against him, and even recognized him as the official president.

He declared English as the official language and attempted to become a pro-slavery state of the United States. He hoped to unite all of Central America under his rule.

His plans went awry when some of his supporters took over a company owned by a rich American industrialist, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt then got involved and supported an attack against William. William lost control in 1857. He tried for three years to regain control, but then in 1960, William was captured in Honduras where he was immediately executed.

Though this was over 150 years ago, many US companies still exercise much control here, and seek to control the natural resources.

It is no wonder some people are a little suspicious of gringos, but everyone has certainly been more than nice to us!


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