Hickenlooper’s Imaginary Republic
View at the Old Santiago Cathedral of Managua - Nicaragua
Photo by milosk50 on Adobe Stock

“The waterway across
the isthmus of Nicaragua
is the apple of our Eden.
It will be our curse.”

Anonymous nineteenth
century Nicaraguan

Mariana Rodríguez Salazar thought George Hickenlooper was being foolhardy and perhaps delusional when he told her he had decided to issue a public proclamation the next day in Managua’s central plaza and that he intended to send copies to be posted in the capitals of all the other Central American republics. As he read it to her, Mariana was sure her little dwarf  was laying the groundwork for his own death.

“GEORGE HICKENLOOPER THE GREAT FILIBUSTER HEREBY ANNOUNCES THAT HE IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF CENTRAL AMERICA, ALSO KNOWN AS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF CENTRAL AMERICA. ALL GOVERNMENTS IN THE REGION MUST YIELD TO HIS POWER, NOT ONLY NICARAGUA BUT ALSO EL SALVADOR, GUATEMALA, HONDURAS, AND COSTA RICA. THOSE WHO DO NOT WILLINGLY SUBMIT WILL BE FORCED TO DO SO BY FORCE OF ARMS.”

“I don’t think it’s the appropriate time,” Mariana told him. “You aren’t even in full control of Nicaragua given ongoing resistance from the legitimistas and now you’re thinking of launching a war against all the other Central American republics combined. The armies of Nicaragua which you control aren’t powerful enough to take over the entire isthmus extending from the South of Mexico to the frontiers of Gran Colombia.”

“Didn’t Simón Bolívar do it thirty years ago when he established a great confederation of several South American countries? With a few thousand soldiers, he captured an entire continent. At all events, we won’t be fighting everyone at once. We’ll begin with Honduras to the north, not as well-armed as Costa Rica and with a destitute people who will readily accept an American President. Once having taken Honduras, we’ll move on to tiny El Salvador and Guatemala. Only when we have achieved control over those three countries will we attack the powerful Costa Rica to the south.”

“You’re going to be routed by the military forces of several countries who will band together against you, and you will end up being killed by firing squad. The circumstances aren’t ripe yet, my little dwarf, for you to form your imaginary confederation of Central American republics.”

“That’s what everybody said when I invaded Nicaragua with my trusty band of two hundred and fifty American filibusters. Now I am the duly elected President of the Republic of Nicaragua, chosen by the masses, and the country is full of Americans. Francisco Pizarro took control of all Peru and its massive gold mines with an army of less than two hundred men and he was facing millions.”

“Pizarro, as far as I know,” responded Mariana, “was fighting against Indians with very primitive weapons, no match to the conquistador’s horses, muskets and cannons. The armies of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala will not succumb so easily. And your American Phalanx is now made up of two thousand soldiers at most. The rest of the Americans are simply merchants or laborers working on the construction of the canal.”

 “My army is not just made up of my American filibusters any more, but also by thousands of Nicaraguan soldiers. And huge numbers of additional Americans are coming on ships belonging to Cornelius Pogue.”

“It’s not the Americans thirsty for land and treasure you have to convince. It’s the natives who already live on the isthmus.”

”I think the peoples of the other Central American republics will welcome us with open arms. I know for a fact that many of the citizens of Central America are in favor of the confederation I propose. As independent republics, the countries of the isthmus are powerless, too weak and small to thrive as independent states. United as the Federal Republic of Central America, they would make a formidable force. And the Central Americans realize that with Anglo-Saxons at their command, they’ll be much better off.”

“I think we’re doing just fine without being ruled by the Americans,” replied Mariana dismissively. “I supported your conquest of Nicaragua because I thought yours was a noble quest to oust the racist legitimistas and their brutal dictator Fruto Chamorro, but your unbridled dreams of empire are something I find very difficult to support. If you persist with your plans, my little dwarf, I shall never share a bed with you again.”

***

Mariana Rodríguez Salazar was the daughter of a landowning Spaniard and a mixed-race  Nicaraguan woman whom he had never married. She was also Hickenlooper’s first lover and his most trusted confidante. At the age of twenty-five, when he first met Mariana, Hickenlooper had been green when it came to sexual love. Mariana first saw him in Granada, when the mighty Hickenlooper and his two hundred and fifty American filibusters – known as the American Phalanx – entered the city triumphantly after routing the armies of Chamorro’s conservatives, known as the legitimistas, on behalf of the liberales. As Hickenlooper rode on his white steed through the streets of the city, Mariana threw a bouquet of roses to him from the balcony of her home. That very night, the two ran into each other at a celebratory ball organized by Joaquín Arboleda, a powerful liberal merchant and landowner aligned with Hickenlooper’s cause. Mariana and Hickenlooper danced all night together. Mariana had her own private reasons for being drawn to Hickenlooper, as she detested the legitimista dictator Fruto Chamorro with an unbridled passion. Physically, Hickenlooper was no match for Mariana’s beauty. Standing only a little over five feet tall and with the face of a schoolboy, weighing only a hundred and twenty pounds, no one would guess that the frail, freckled American was a formidable warrior with a habit of command. Mariana immediately delighted him by her loveliness and intelligence. She had the olive skin of her mother and the green eyes of her father, as well as a shapely silhouette, and she could speak about varied subjects with great ease – philosophy, politics, religion, and above all, the history of Central America. Hickenlooper fell in love with her during their first conversation and swore he would make her his lover. He didn’t have long to wait. By the next week, Mariana coaxed the shy and virginal Hickenlooper to her bed, and from then on, they were inseparable lovers. Even when Hickenlooper was engaged in battle with General Chamorro’s legitimistas, Mariana was always close behind him, sometimes in the uniform of a coronela.

“I just think,” said Mariana, “that you should give it a little time. There’s no rush to invade the rest of Central America. If at some point the people clamor for you, then it’s another matter. I supported you in Nicaragua because it was the masses that wanted to make you President. I’m not sure that’s true in the other republics. You want to be declared King but have no willing subjects.”

“I must! I must!” protested the diminutive warrior. “I’m sure the other Central American republics shall be toppled one after another like a row of dominoes. Don’t doubt for a minute the might of the American Phalanx. And I am supported by powerful forces. The magnate Cornelius Pogue desperately wants to finish the canal on the isthmus to provide transportation from the Atlantic to the Pacific for his ships. With me in power, he’ll be able to achieve his grand designs, so he’ll support my little war. Also, there are many wealthy white southerners who will gladly contribute money to the cause, as I have decided to make slavery legal in the Federal Republic of Central America.”

“There you go again,” exclaimed Mariana. “Is there no limit to your racism? Slavery was prohibited by all the Central American republics in the eighteen-twenties – more than thirty years ago – and all the blacks are used to living in freedom. Many Nicaraguans have African blood as you well know, to say nothing of the Hondurans. I myself am probably a woman of partial African descent.”

“I’m not speaking of enslaving all the blacks and mulattoes of Central America already here. There has been too much mixing of the races in the isthmus to figure out who has African blood and who does not. In fact, it is the race-mixing that has been the ruin of this region. I am thinking of bringing blacks from across the Atlantic as well as from some of the southern states of my own country, perhaps from Cuba as well.”

“The Atlantic slave trade was ended by the Latin Americans a long time ago. Nobody wants a return to that horror.”

“You don’t have an imagination, Mariana. You see things as they are and not as they should be. What is to prevent the President of the Confederate States of Central America from reinstating the Atlantic slave trade? We’d be doing the blacks a favor. Have you considered how they live on their own continent? Their life is nothing but poverty, nothing but squalor. They need the protection of the white man even more than the half-castes of Central America.”

“You’re inviting trouble with the idea of importing slaves from Africa to your imaginary confederation. There are plenty of men with African blood in positions of power in Central America. Many liberal politicians in León happen to be mulattos and are not considered black in Nicaragua. There is no one-drop rule in Central America, and we have wonderful combinations of every race, color and hue like multicolored butterflies. And there are millions of partial or full-blooded blacks in Central America, twenty million in Honduras alone, which you seek to conquer through force of arms. Well, you won’t be doing any favor to your cause by antagonizing millions and making them your enemies.”

Hickenlooper paused to consider what Mariana had told him. Ever since they began living together, she had become a trusted advisor with a deep knowledge of everything Nicaraguan. She had even given him advice as to how to conduct certain battles, since she knew the topography of the country as well as anyone. And now she was telling Hickenlooper that his dream of a unified Central America under his control was lunacy at best and at worst guaranteed suicide. But that did not deter President Hickenlooper from going forward with his grand, quixotic plans. The die had already been cast. His armies had been given the command. The American Phalanx was massed at the Honduran border.

For all intents and purposes, the war for Central America had already begun.

***

Cornelius Pogue, one of the wealthiest magnates in America, had set up a meeting with George Hickenlooper at his law offices in San Francisco. By then, the young attorney had already achieved a certain notoriety for his efforts to establish an independent republic in Baja California and Sonora. Hickenlooper had assembled a ragtag bunch of filibusters to invade northern Mexico, mostly veterans from the Mexican-American war and disappointed Easterners who had come to California in a quest for gold and had found nothing but poverty instead. Cornelius Pogue had heard about Hickenlooper’s reputation and wondered whether he would be the right man for the job he had in mind. Pogue wanted to find someone to invade Nicaragua and oust its current dictator, General Fruto Chamorro, because the man did not consent to the building of a canal in his country by the American tycoon. Of course, Pogue knew that Hickenlooper’s efforts to take over Baja California and Sonora had resulted in a calamitous defeat, but he figured that the man had developed experience through his efforts in northern Mexico, and  perhaps more importantly, Hickenlooper was one of the few Americans crazy enough to accept the challenge of organizing an army of filibusters in order to overthrow the powerful dictator of Nicaragua and his great army.

“As you know,” said the magnate, “I am the owner of Ocean Transport Enterprises, the largest commercial fleet in the world. One of my major sources of revenue comes from the transportation of voyagers from the East Coast to California. But my services are made difficult by virtue of the fact that there is no way to get to the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean without going all the way to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Currently some voyagers disembark at Nicaragua on the Caribbean side and then cross the isthmus on foot to board another of my vessels on the Pacific Ocean. They traverse Nicaragua part of the way by using my steamboats on the enormous Lake Nicaragua and then making the rest of the journey walking to the Pacific through the area around Rivas. What I want to do is build a canal in Nicaragua to allow my ships to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific without having to make the long trek around Cape Horn or forcing travelers to make part of the journey on foot in an often- volatile country. But the present government of Nicaragua won’t allow it – and there’s where you come in.”

“How so?” queried the young Hickenlooper.

“You have earned a reputation as one of the boldest of the filibusters. I know you are bored of sitting behind a desk and writing briefs, that you chafe under the humdrum routine of a sedentary life. Well, what if I told you that I’ll give you the opportunity to embark on a wonderful adventure which will bring you fame and glory?”

“Keep talking,” said Hickenlooper. “I’m interested.”

“The conservatives of Nicaragua are now in power, although the liberals contest the legitimacy of their rule. I have engaged in numerous efforts to reason with General Fruto Chamorro, the conservative dictator of Nicaragua, but he is wary of American influence and has made short shrift of all my efforts. He simply won’t allow me to build a canal through his country even if generously bribed. But ever since the Gold Rush in California, there has been a greater and greater need for a canal as thousands need to travel from New York City to San Francisco. So, I have decided to take the bull by the horns. I want you to organize an expedition to go to Nicaragua and oust General Chamorro from power. I shall give you the money to arm and fit an army of one hundred fifty filibusters – I’m thinking of about fifty thousand dollars – and more money will come your way if it becomes necessary. What do you say?”

“It’s a very attractive proposition and I am tempted to accept it,” responded Hickenlooper as he locked his eyes with those of Pogue. “But we must make one thing clear. If I go on such an expedition, it won’t be merely to persuade the Nicaraguans to allow the building of your canal. My men will go there with the ultimate purpose of ousting the president from power in order to form a republic of our own. I won’t risk my life and health only for the success of a commercial enterprise. I shall do so only if you agree to continue to fund me as I make an effort to become the President of Nicaragua – and to keep funding me thereafter so that I can stay in power.”

Pogue took off his glasses and put them on the top of Hickenlooper’s desk.

“I’m a businessman first and foremost, as you well know. As such, I never agree to open-ended commitments. There’s no way to know how much money it will take for you to capture and maintain your independent republic assuming you can even achieve it. And the American government won’t support you. They’ll accuse you of violating our Neutrality Law.”

“I am not a mercenary, Mister Pogue. I am not a hired gun. You could say that I’m indifferent to wealth. My only dream is glory. I am a revolutionary at the service of the white man’s manifest destiny. If you can’t agree to fund my cause, I simply cannot support yours. You should know that after I invaded Mexico, I was tried for violation of the Neutrality Law and the jury acquitted me in eight minutes.”

“Can you give me some idea of how much money we’re talking about? If I’m entering a deal with you, I want to do it with open eyes.”

“Have you considered that if I’m not in power, another Nicaraguan might ascend to the presidency and void your contract for the construction of the canal you so desire? With me in power, you can build your canal – you know it’s going to take at least five years – and you can use it exclusively in perpetuity. I won’t let other transport companies use it, and we’ll absolutely bar its use by the British. So, let’s say ten percent of the revenues coming to Ocean Transport Enterprises from its business in Central America.”

“You drive a pretty hard bargain, Hickenlooper. We’re talking of untold sums of money. I could probably find another filibuster to accomplish the deed without receiving such a massive amount of funds.”

“My filibusters could oust the despotic Chamorro from power without much difficulty, but you’re going to need us to remain in Nicaragua if you want your venture to succeed for more than a couple of years. If you retain another filibuster, the continued success of your venture certainly won’t be guaranteed. You can spend years building your canal and pouring fifty million dollars on its construction only to see it expropriated by a hostile government once it’s completed. Your project will only be protected by an overwhelming number of Americans in Nicaragua. You need me, Mister Pogue.”

“Your boldness is only matched by your unbridled optimism, Hickenlooper. You not only expect to take power in Nicaragua but to hold it for the remainder of your years.”

“I am a man of destiny, Mister Pogue. It is the destiny of the white man to subdue Central America, Cuba and Puerto Rico, perhaps the Philippines as well.”

“You and I both dream of empire albeit in different realms,” said the magnate as he shook Hickenlooper’s hand to seal the deal. “I too want to secure my place in history through the construction of my canal, which will make Central America the hub of worldwide trade.”

Soon Hickenlooper was on his way to Nicaragua with a hundred and fifty volunteers.

Cornelius Pogue did not realize that at some point his ambitions would clash with those of the American filibuster he had just hired.

***

A week after Hickenlooper’s declaration of war on the Central American republics, the first skirmish happened as the self-proclaimed emperor of the isthmus led his men in battle to take Choluteca, a city in the legitimista-ruled Honduras. At the same time, a Nicaraguan warship – supplied by Cornelius Pogue years earlier – made its way through the Gulf of Fonseca to the small but heavily populated El Salvador, with instructions for the soldiers on board to attack the tiny country as soon as Hickenlooper’s forces took control of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. The battle for Choluteca was not much of a battle, since a hundred-man battalion of Nicaraguan men under the command of Hickenlooper easily overpowered the small Honduran garrison. Tegucigalpa would be tougher, and Hickenlooper knew it, so he sent his American Phalanx to conquer the city. Even with Hickenlooper’s warning, the Hondurans were completely unprepared for the invasion. They made a lackluster effort to resist, but soon the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America flew from the rooftops of the Honduran President’s palace as well as the Parliament and the cathedral on the plaza. The flag depicted a white band between two blue stripes, representing the land between two oceans, as well as five stars representing the five Central American states which would form Hickenlooper’s empire.  The Honduran President was immediately tried for lèse-majesté for his refusal to recognize the sovereignty of President Hickenlooper over the land of Honduras and was hanged immediately despite his weeping pleas. Mariana did not make good on her threat to stop sharing her bed with Hickenlooper, as the defeated legitimistas of Honduras represented aristocratic white men just like the legitimistas of Nicaragua. And Mariana did not fail to realize that among Hickenlooper’s troops, even among the officers, there were many so-called mulattos from the liberal enclave of León.

Hickenlooper was delighted when he sat on the mahogany chair of the President in the Honduran governmental palace for the first time and replaced a portrait of the deposed Honduran President with a picture of himself. It had been so much easier to accomplish victory than he had anticipated. All the naysayers had been wrong. But Hickenlooper knew it was not the time to rest on his laurels. As soon as the Honduran soldiers fighting at the Presidential Palace either fled or were put to the sword, Hickenlooper turned to the function of governing. He disbanded the Honduran Parliament, dissolved its judiciary and appointed an interim secretary of state, an interim secretary of war and an interim secretary of the treasury. As far as the Honduran military, Hickenlooper gave the soldiers a choice. Either turn yourselves in and join the army of the Confederate States of Central America or prepare to be put before the firing squad for treason. A great number of the rank-and-file soldiers promptly turned themselves in and were personally welcomed by Hickenlooper into his army. He promised to pay them a fair wage for their work as soldiers of the Federal Republic of Central America – he was still being funded by the magnate Cornelius Pogue – and promised they would be treated just like the Nicaraguan troops. Hickenlooper immediately sent them to nearby El Salvador in order to capture another trophy in his war. The generals of the Honduran military were not given such a choice, however. In his first decree as President of Honduras, Hickenlooper dictated that they should all be eliminated by force of arms. He had crossed a personal Rubicon, prepared to engage in the most extreme acts in his unquenchable thirst for power and his unbridled dreams of empire. Before the Honduran battle, Hickenlooper was known as the most humane of military antagonists, a man without a reputation for killing captives other than the dictator Fruto Chamorro, but that was no longer true. When he learned that some of his men had stabbed wounded Honduran soldiers lying on the ground after being shot, the American filibuster did not object but chalked it up to the “natural and healthy passions of Americans at war.”

  In his first Presidential address from the balcony of the Honduran Presidential Palace, Hickenlooper made a promise and a threat not only to the Hondurans but also to the troops of the other republics of Central America. He knew that the news of his capture of Honduras would be widely circulated as well as what he said upon achieving power.

“We invite you to join in this great gesta, compañeros,” Hickenlooper said in perfect Spanish, “to form a great confederation that will rival that of Bolívar’s Gran Colombia. Abandon the armies of your oppressors and join the triumphant military forces of the Confederated States of Central America. As Bolívar intimated, there is no such thing as a captive soldier, for every captive soldier shall be dead as soon as he is captured. Like the Liberator, we, too, are fighting a war to the death against oppressive forces. Our purpose is to bring you freedom, not to make you slaves. The aristocratic legitimistas will no longer be able to exploit you. We shall bring commerce, industry, and progress to your land. Let us not forget that until twenty years ago all the so-called republics of Central America formed part of a single powerful union. Let us not forget the great Francisco Morazan, champion of the Central American confederation who was assassinated before he could achieve his lofty mission.”

Mariana listened to her little dwarf in rapt attention from a distance and was surprised, as always, by the tiny man’s ability to speak for hours without respite. She was not surprised by how well-versed Hickenlooper was when it came to Latin American history, for he referred to it in all his speeches. He always suggested that he was an equal to the region’s great conquistadors, Pizarro and Cortes and all the rest, while at the same time claiming to be an heir to its great liberators, Bolívar, Miranda and San Martin. Not surprising that he called himself the Liberator of Central America. He also had an intimate knowledge of the history of the isthmus itself, how what had once been a single nation had disintegrated into seven tiny states over time. And that deep knowledge allowed him to present himself as something more than another American interloper, for he couched his arguments to present himself as someone fighting not just for his American confederates but for the betterment of the all the peoples of Central America. If you listened to his speeches to the masses, you would never guess that in his heart of hearts Hickenlooper didn’t think it was a bad idea to make the whole isthmus an empire run by himself and a few other Americans. But Mariana knew it, and it racked her mind. Was she, like the sixteenth century la Malinche, indigenous lover of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, a traitor to her race?

Mariana had seriously considered not joining Hickenlooper in battle – not this time. It was one thing when he was fighting against the right-wing dictator of Nicaragua, quite another when he was trying to crown himself king of the entire isthmus. But in the end, she concluded she could not let her little dwarf face his perils alone. There was a very real possibility that he would not survive his latest quest, his swift victory over the government of Honduras, notwithstanding.  Hickenlooper had managed to take over Tegucigalpa with only a handful of casualties, but for how long could he hold it, especially given his plans to invade El Salvador and Guatemala next? And what about the threat of an invasion of Nicaragua by the Costa Ricans from the south now that Hickenlooper had decided his entire army would be congregated in countries to Nicaragua’s north?

In the end, Mariana had decided to join her little dwarf as he tried to take Tegucigalpa, but not as a combatant. In Nicaragua’s internal wars between legitimistas and liberales, she had actually fought in battle in a military uniform, given the title of coronela by Hickenlooper and allowed to lead platoons. But the siege of Tegucigalpa was altogether different from any battle in which la coronela had participated – it was not an effort to oust the dictator Fruto Chamorro from power but a means to take over an independent state – so she stayed behind with the women who always followed the troops in Central American wars. Somehow, she felt her mere presence was giving Hickenlooper protection, even from behind. If that meant she was betraying her race, thought Mariana, then she would betray her race. She consoled herself by thinking the ousted Hondurans had been led by the same legitimista party of the white elite led by General Fruto Chamorro in Nicaragua.

***

The dictator of Nicaragua, General Fruto Chamorro, was feared and hated by the majority of his subjects, except for a relatively small group of legitimistas, including some businessmen and bishops who did not want to live under the rule of the liberales. He had a reputation for violently quashing any opposition, which for all intents and purposes meant that the country was in a perpetual civil war. He especially terrified young women, married and unmarried, since he was in the habit of taking any woman he wanted whenever he wanted. He would simply send them a bouquet of roses and that would inform them they were to become his lovers, under threat of punishment by his government. It had happened to Mariana when she was just sixteen. A soldier had appeared at her home with the crimson flowers from the general and told her the dictator was inviting her to go to the Presidential palace that very night. Mariana knew that if she ignored the “invitation,” the lives of her parents would be at risk as they would be hauled into prison on trumped-up charges. Although her Spanish father told her to resist, her mother simply told her that she would not have to spend too much time with the general and treated the proposed sexual tryst as a fait accompli.

Mariana would be permanently scarred by her night at the Presidential palace. At first the dictator approached her with a false gentleness, but as she resisted, weeping without cease, he became increasingly violent, pulling at her hair, slapping her, forcing her to perform the most repulsive acts. For years, she would remember his voracious mouth, his avid hands, his disgusting, white flesh. As a result of that terrible night, Mariana would find it very difficult not to equate sex with violence throughout her life although paradoxically she was called a “libertine” by all after her initial encounter with Chamorro. Everybody knew she was available to men of every race and station for the asking. Perhaps Mariana was initially attracted to Hickenlooper because the gentle waif-like man was the very opposite of the tall, well-muscled and brutal Chamorro. Or perhaps what drew her to Hickenlooper was his relentless opposition to the dictator. It surprised no one when Mariana became Hickenlooper’s lover as well as his most trusted acolyte. Her political views had been formed in the crucible of rape.

Mariana met Hickenlooper after the successful siege of Granada by his small, liberating army, but that certainly didn’t mean that the ongoing Nicaraguan civil war was over, or that General Chamorro had been ousted from power. Mariana soon learned that her new lover’s apparent timidity hid an indomitable sense of purpose. He had managed to take Granada from General Chamorro with a mere seventy-five American men against four hundred legitimistas and – more importantly – he had been able to hold it despite the insistent volleys of Chamorro’s cannons. Soon thereafter, Colonel Chillón, on behalf of the liberal forces aligned against Chamorro, first broached the idea that Hickenlooper should be named President of Nicaragua. His suggestion was well received among the masses awed by Hickenlooper’s military prowess and success in battle – Granada wasn’t his first victory as he had also trounced the dictator’s forces at Rivas and Virgin Bay – but Hickenlooper knew it was not yet time and declined the invitation. General Chamorro was still firmly entrenched in power although he was quickly losing ground. Once more of the land of Nicaragua was under Hickenlooper’s control, he would revisit the idea of becoming President.

“My little dwarf,” Mariana purred as they lay in bed together and he told her of Chillón’s suggestion, “you have been dreaming of becoming President even before you set foot in Nicaragua with your little army.”

At all events, things quickly came to a head. The liberales under putative President Elías Ruelas quickly established a government in exile in Granada. Ruelas – a man of mixed African and European descent – claimed that he had handily won the last election against Chamorro and that the victory had been stolen from him through ballot stuffing and massive electoral fraud. Hickenlooper wasn’t named President yet, but he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Nicaragua, which made him even more powerful than the President himself. The civil war deepened as half the army fought under the dictator Chamorro and the other half under the American Hickenlooper. Soon the nation was divided in a sort of checkerboard pattern. There were pockets of the country under the control of the dictator, others under that of Hickenlooper. The American filibuster intended to make himself President of the country and push Ruelas aside, but he couldn’t do it unless his army – no longer so little – took control of the capital at Managua. However, events soon forced Hickenlooper’s hand ahead of time.

An assassin murdered Ruelas as he was delivering a speech at the headquarters of the liberales in Granada and the locals clamored for Hickenlooper to take his place. Soon there was a perfunctory election – Hickenlooper was the only candidate on the ballot – and the American took the crown he had desired for so long. He was now the President of Nicaragua, with one minor impediment. General Chamorro continued to rule the country from the Presidential Palace in the capital. Thus would begin Hickenlooper’s long siege of Managua. Soon Chamorro hatched a plan. Rather than fighting the American’s troops for months, he would simply kill the intrusive foreigner instead.

Hickenlooper was sleeping with Mariana in the municipal building which served as his headquarters on the outskirts of Managua – this was a year before she forswore his bed as a result of his decision to become emperor of Central America. Suddenly, Mariana was awakened by the sounds of barking dogs and guessed that there were intruders on the premises. She was sure that General Chamorro’s agents had somehow breached the building, probably after killing the five guards who were supposed to protect her lover. She immediately roused him and commanded that he escape through a window. There was no time to lose and Hickenlooper, still groggy, did as he was told. By the time Chamorro’s would-be assassins entered the room, they only found Mariana sleeping in the bed in her camisole. The three men demanded to know where the filibuster was, and Mariana responded with sangfroid that he had departed to the north.

“He’s back at Granada,” she lied to them. “He has some business with the leaders of the liberales. Now I hope that you will leave and never come back. Surely you are men of honor and don’t want to hurt an innocent woman.”

The three men realized their plan was aborted and retreated in haste. Thereafter, Hickenlooper would be protected by a whole retinue of soldiers, and Mariana would be hailed as a champion in the civil war, acclaimed as the filibuster’s filibuster. The would-be assassins didn’t realize that the next day Mariana, dressed in the uniform of a coronela, would lead two platoons in the continuing siege of Managua.

The siege of Managua took several months. Hickenlooper’s troops forced General Chamorro’s soldiers into an ever-decreasing zone of influence until by the end Chamorro’s cadres were fighting only to protect the Presidential palace. The self-proclaimed American President of Nicaragua soon was battering the building with his cannons, and his snipers were felling the dictator’s soldiers left and right. When all hope was lost, General Chamorro decided to sue for peace. He promised to disband his soldiers so long as he was given safe passage out of the country. Hickenlooper sent word to the dictator that he was inclined to accept his offer of surrender and soon appeared at the Presidential palace to sign an armistice. The crowds cheered to celebrate the end of the civil war, and Hickenlooper soon took control of the Presidential palace. But the filibuster did not keep his end of the bargain and reneged on his promise to allow General Chamorro to live in exile. As soon as possible, Chamorro was brought before the firing squad and accused of leading a barbarous and savage war against his people. Hickenlooper wasn’t foolish enough to allow the dictator to escape to Costa Rica and from there renew his attacks against the filibuster’s troops. At the moment when the execution happened, Mariana – in her role as coronela – demanded to be part of the firing squad. She had to settle a long-held grievance against Chamorro and remind him that men could not rape women with impunity even though it might take a lifetime to bring them to justice.

Immediately after taking control of Managua, Hickenlooper attempted to establish diplomatic relations with the other nations of Central America. None intended to recognize his government, and the Central American republics sent out a joint communiqué announcing the American filibuster – whom they derisively called el pulgarcito – was not the legitimate ruler of Nicaragua. They realized that the man’s intentions were not only to control Nicaragua but also all the other nations of the isthmus. Hadn’t he appointed a Director of Colonization to assure that American citizens would come to Central America in massive numbers enticing them with the promise of a two-hundred-acre plot of land upon arrival? Hadn’t he promised the Americans that they would be allowed to profit from the mineral and agricultural riches of the isthmus? Hadn’t he ousted the Matagalpa Indians from their ancestral lands in order to give them to the gringos? Hickenlooper bitterly protested, but in his heart of hearts knew they were not wide off the mark. If Nicaragua had so easily been taken, there was no reason the other Central American republics couldn’t be taken as well nor that once taken all of Central America would be his empire. So, he began to plot the invasion of the other countries of the region. He would show them the might of the man they depicted as Little Tom Thumb in their cartoons. Mariana tried to make him desist from his plans, but to no avail. In his ever-growing pride, Hickenlooper was already thinking of his place in history, believing his feats would be celebrated just like those of Samuel Houston and the other men who took over Texas and the Southwest. The little American filibuster was certain that nothing could stop a man with his talent and ability. In his mind, his success was manifestly the will of God. He even believed that the day of the arrival of his men to Nicaragua would one day be a national holiday in all of Central America.

***

When Hickenlooper and his troops tried to take the Presidential Palace in San Salvador, they were met with a vigorous and obstinate resistance. The plaza was walled in, as the Salvadorans had thrown up a ten-foot barricade across every street leading to the town square, making it very difficult for an attacking army to invade. Unlike the Hondurans, the Salvadorans were fully prepared for battle and would not allow their country to be taken by the American filibuster even if their fierce opposition resulted in massive bloodshed on both sides. Nor were the Salvadorans as weakly armed as the Hondurans. On the contrary, the native forces at San Salvador had cannons ready for their aggressors and used them to great effect, making it nearly impossible for Hickenlooper even to approach the central plaza where the Presidential Palace was ensconced. Soon Hickenlooper and his men realized that the Salvadorans had snipers on the roof of the Presidential Palace and on the tower surmounting the Cathedral who were felling the filibuster’s soldiers trying to climb over the walls to enter the plaza, leaving more than a hundred of them on the ground, bathed in their own blood. From three corners outside the plaza, a constant attack by the filibuster’s troops was made from eight in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon, all to no avail. The assault resulted in the loss of a great many of Hickenlooper’s men and only a few Salvadorans. At all events, the number of Salvadoran forces five times exceeded that of the American filibuster. As he understood that the Salvadoran central plaza was impregnable, Hickenlooper gave his men the order to withdraw.

Church bells started ringing in celebration, and Salvadoran President Gustavo Flores soon delivered a stirring address from the balcony of his Palace, declaring victory over the “plundering American usurper.” But he warned his people that their bitter and perfidious enemy wasn’t yet entirely defeated. Hickenlooper would come back in greater numbers and with cannons of his own to decimate the guanacos of El Salvador. The Salvadoran President noted that the American’s siege of the Presidential Palace was inexplicable given that Flores was a member of the liberal party of Central America just like Hickenlooper. Or better said, added Flores, Hickenlooper’s aggression had an explanation, but it was an affront to liberty and self-determination. He wanted to make an American colony of the tiny Central American country. And then President Flores uttered the four words which would become a rallying cry for all the Central American republics fighting off Hickenlooper’s assaults.

“They shall not pass,” cried out Flores in a roaring voice as his people delivered a thunderous applause.

That evening the dejected Hickenlooper and Mariana slept in different beds at a large ranch house on the outskirts of San Salvador with a retinue of soldiers protecting them from any possible attack. Since the President of El Salvador was not aligned with the racist legitimista party of General Chamorro but with the liberales, Mariana had reminded Hickenlooper of her ancient threat not to sleep with him if he sought to make himself the emperor of Central America. After all, she well knew what had happened to the Spanish-speaking tejanos and californios once the Anglo-Saxons had established their “republics” in Texas and California. She could not possibly applaud Hickenlooper’s attempt to do the same to the native peoples of Central America. The little dwarf didn’t leave her despite her reticence to engage in sexual love. Even if they had to live like brother and sister, even if he couldn’t even kiss her, he wanted her at his side because the freckle-faced conquistador could not possibly contemplate life without her.

She also told him that for military reasons it would be best to abandon the siege of the Salvadoran capital and concentrate on holding power over Honduras instead. It was simply folly to persist in a battle for San Salvador that would take months to come to fruition if it ever did. Then she spoke about the news that had just arrived from Nicaragua. The Costa Ricans had declared war on the country and had taken the border town of San Carlos adjacent to the Lake of Nicaragua. It was imperative that Hickenlooper return to Managua, Mariana said in an insistent voice. But instead of abandoning the battle for El Salvador or returning to Managua, Hickenlooper decided that he would persist in San Salvador and that he would invade Guatemala as soon as possible. As far as Costa Rica, they were a nuisance at best given that they were all dying due to the cholera epidemic. They hadn’t arrived in great numbers, and he advised Mariana that he could reclaim the sleepy town of San Carlos in a mere three hours of battle.

“He who grasps at much, holds little,” Mariana said, using an old Nicaraguan proverb. “You’re overextending your army and biting off more than you can chew, my little dwarf. You can’t fight wars all over Central America and defend Nicaragua at the same time.”

“I’ve already decided,” replied Hickenlooper, “on a plan that will allow me to take the capital at San Salvador and continue my battles elsewhere at the same time. It may take a couple of months as you say, but victory over the guanacos is absolutely guaranteed. My brave soldiers shall simply encircle San Salvador and starve the residents of the city into submission. No food will come into the capital nor ammunition to help the guanacos in their struggle. That will force them to sue for peace on very favorable terms for the Federal Republic of Central America. At the same time, we’ll proceed northward to Guatemala, seat of the Captaincy General of Central America under the Spaniards.”

“What about the Costa Ricans who have already breached the borders of Nicaragua?” Mariana demanded. “For a while they even took control of the transit route, with the support of local Nicaraguan legitimistas. While your army is taking over the entirety of the isthmus, who will be protecting your home base at Managua from the Costa Ricans and their legitimista allies?”

“I left three platoons of Nicaraguan soldiers armed to the teeth at the border with Costa Rica under the command of three of the ablest warriors of the American Phalanx. They weren’t able to protect San Carlos only because their forces were concentrated around the more heavily populated Rivas, to the east of the Lake of Nicaragua rather than the west where San Carlos is located, but that can be easily remedied. I promise you that we will avenge the murder of any of the chivalrous Americans or loyal Nicaraguans killed by the Costa Ricans. You should realize that even though they were ultimately successful, the Costa Ricans lost more than two hundred men at San Carlos, and they failed to get the support of local Nicaraguans which they expected. But for a few Conservatives, the Nicaraguans rallied to my cause. And I am expecting a thousand more Americans to soon arrive aboard the ships of Cornelius Pogue. They will help protect us from the Costa Ricans.”

“How can you be sure of that?” asked Mariana. “You can’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“The prospect of riches and glory is very enticing to the men who will soon be arriving in droves from San Francisco, New Orleans and New York City. Now that they realize that all of Central America is up for grabs, that there is plenty of property to be distributed, their natural inclinations as Americans will lead them to lust for battle. There can be no doubt of a just and victorious result nor of the progress we Americans are bringing to these lands. All of Central America will learn to emulate the Americans’ industry and to admire the formidable courage of the Anglo-Saxon.”

“I should tell you that I have news for you, my little dwarf. You shall be the father of a mixed-race child like so many of your American brothers. Your filibusters decry race-mixing on the isthmus at the same time they colonize the wombs of Central American women.”

“A child is always a blessing. And I think the union between American men and Nicaraguan women is something good. It should contribute to the whitening of the isthmus.”

 “What you consider a vice when done by the Spaniard, you call a virtue when done by the North American. I shall renounce your bed to punish you, my dwarf, but I can never forsake you. I hope and pray that when the child is born, his father will not be dead after being killed somewhere in his imaginary Federal Republic of Central America.”

***

Before Hickenlooper could go forward with his plans to move on to Guatemala City, he received news that none other than the millionaire Cornelius Pogue was on a clipper ship at anchor off the Nicaraguan port of Puerto El Rama. Hickenlooper immediately departed in the hopes of finding more Americans aboard the vessel, ready to help in the conquest of Central America, and enlisted Colonel William Saunders with the task of continuing the siege of San Salvador. Hickenlooper had grown used to receiving great numbers of American soldiers of fortune every time one of the Ocean Transport Enterprises’ ships anchored off the coast of Nicaragua. He was hoping Pogue had arrived in a steamer carrying over nine hundred American passengers. When Hickenlooper arrived at the port, however, he was quickly disenchanted. The vessel was a very small clipper, bringing no filibusters, and apparently the only passengers were the New York tycoon and a retinue of armed guards. The magnate gave Hickenlooper a perfunctory handshake and then proceeded to excoriate him with a fierceness the President of Nicaragua had never expected.

“Until this moment, I have always supported your government and have not interfered in your abuse of the native people’s right to self-determination. I am a man of business and not a moralizer or a priest. Frankly, if you control Nicaragua as a perpetual dictator for the rest of your life, I couldn’t care less. I have even let your forces routinely use our ships without paying fare or freight charges and were it not for the services of my company, you would have had neither the ammunition nor the men to launch your revolution. However, now you are messing with my business, you little fool, and I will not abide it.”

“How so?” asked Hickenlooper. “We’ve always been on the best of terms. Until quite recently, we were making great progress on the canal.”

“The war you have wantonly launched across the length and breadth of Central America is costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, nobody from the United States wants to come to Central America other than your besotted followers, most of whom don’t even have the wherewithal to pay the fare such that we have become accustomed to waive it at your request. And my business of transporting voyagers through the Nicaraguan transit route to get from one coast to the other has completely dried up. Ordinary Americans have been dying in your little war – not merely filibuster rogues but regular people trying to make their way from New York City to California. While you and the Costa Ricans were fighting over the transit route, entire American families were caught in the crosshairs. Children were killed as well as women. Now, nobody wants to use my services or travel to any part of Central America. Bad news travels fast.”

“So, you think you’re losing business because of the war? That may be true in the short term, but if we prevail, it is you who will benefit. And very few American civilians have been killed in our battles. The newspapers tend to sensationalize things.”

 “I used to move twenty-five hundred men through Nicaragua every month, and now it’s down to a trickle. Nor can I use another Central American country as a transit route to move people from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as you have declared war on all the other republics at once in an act of magnificent folly and Panama is also in turmoil. Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle of the ubiquitous skirmishes which you have visited upon the people of Central America. I have even lost my contract with the U.S. government to carry mail from the East Coast to California, which brought me nearly a million dollars a year. In simple terms, war is not good for business. Do you understand that, you fool?”

“Mind your mouth, Cornelius. You’re talking to the President of the Federal Republic of Central America.”

 “I come to demand that you immediately desist from your piratical quest for empire and agree forthwith to an armistice with all the other Central American republics. Otherwise, I shall use all means at my disposal, peaceful and otherwise, to make sure you are forever ousted from Nicaragua. I can throw my weight around, Hickenlooper, both here and in Washington. Do you understand what I mean?”

“With all due respect, I think you’re underestimating me, Cornelius. You’re in my country now, and I can have you executed as a traitor to our people. I’m not afraid of the consequences that might follow. The American people are fiercely loyal to my cause as you well know. All you need to do is read the newspapers. There was recently a congress in New York City’s City Hall Park attended by twenty thousand people manifesting their support of our civilizing enterprise. They even have plays meant to celebrate my feats. Have you heard of the musical, 'General Hickenlooper’s Victories?'”

“You might have the rabble on your side, but I have friends in high places.”

“President Pierce won’t attack me as he would lose desperately needed support from the southern states in the next election. If you cease to support me, I shall commandeer all your vessels in the Lake of Nicaragua as well as the clippers you have anchored at our ports on both sides of the isthmus. Large shipments of cash, gold and silver shall be confiscated, including money sent by banks. We have the legitimate right to do so as the Ocean Transport Company owes us millions.”

“I anticipated that might be your initial response,” scoffed the tycoon. “But I urge you to reconsider. If you sue for peace, you shall continue to be the dictator of Nicaragua in perpetuity. If you don’t, you’re guaranteed an inglorious defeat. There has even been hand-to-hand combat along the transit route itself, and the Costa Ricans have only temporarily abandoned it because of the plague. Your insane little war is even going to make you bleed Americans, as many of them realize that it is ruining their businesses along the transit route. They’re used to making good amounts of money from their hotels, casinos and taverns, and they’re no longer making a dime. Even the brothels along the pathway are going bankrupt because of the military instability. And there are no longer any prostitutes coming from America to satisfy the filibusters’ lust for Anglo-Saxon women.”

“That is temporary,” responded Hickenloooper. “The war will eventually be over with the Anglo-Saxon in command. We shall crush the inferior Latin American race. As far as the bars, the gambling dens and the whorehouses, I couldn’t care less. I’m a teetotaler and don’t consort with bawdy women. Heavy drinking has been a stubborn problem among my ranks. I’ve even thought about outlawing liquor, but if I did so, all my filibusters would return home or attempt to overthrow me. As far as the people’s licentiousness, it is a bane in Nicaragua, and I certainly don’t worry about the lack of cathouses.”

“The people think the war is going to drag on for years and that a local mulatto general will take your place,” responded Pogue. “As far as your killing me right now, how do you mean to achieve it? You haven’t come with any soldiers and don’t even have a gun. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We shall sail southward and drop you off in Panama. Then you’ll have to figure out how to get back to Nicaragua. Good luck with that! There’s a little country between Panama and Nicaragua, known as Costa Rica. They will scalp you like Indians if you ever set foot in their country.”

Faced with such a direct threat, Hickenlooper wavered.

“Leave me on a skiff in the ocean close to Puerto Lempira in Honduras. I have already captured the country and it’s on your way New York City. I give you my word I shall do nothing to pursue you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” replied the magnate. “I trust you’re a man of fortune but not a fool. Contrary to what you say, the whole might of the United States Navy will avenge me if you do anything to me. Secretary of State Marcy happens to be on very good terms with me. The United States government has never recognized you as the President of Nicaragua, and they threw your supposed ambassador out of the country with little fanfare. So just think about my proposal and tell my man in Managua, Jerome Tinklebaugh, once a decision has been reached. I’m not one of those dark-skinned natives you so easily control. In fact, I’m telling you all this because I want you to keep your position as President of Nicaragua. With you in power, the construction of my canal will proceed apace. But not necessarily when another dictator takes over. Who knows what caudillo will be in power when your foolish little war unravels?”

“You’re assuming that we shall not prevail. But you should acknowledge not only that victory will be ours, but also that it is in the best interests of the Ocean Transport Company for us to win the war. You cannot help but benefit once all the Central American states form a union under an American President.”

“I’m not a gambling man,” responded Pogue. “But if I was a betting man, I’d bet on the opposition.”

***

“Do you realize what that son-of-a-bitch is doing? Pogue has ceased sending any clippers to either our Atlantic or Pacific Coasts. I know for a fact that there are thousands of noble American warriors willing to come and fight for the Federal Republic and the white race, but they can’t do so since Pogue is not allowing them to leave for Nicaragua from either San Francisco or New York. Nor are we receiving desperately needed ammunitions. Pogue is trying to force us to defeat by starving us of money and of soldiers. He’s put pressure on other American financiers to prevent them from buying our bonds or lending us money. And he’s shipping gold and weapons to the Costa Ricans, inviting them to attack us once again. I’ve heard that he’s even brought some American mercenary soldiers to join in the assault.”

“What did you expect him to do?” asked Mariana. “After all, you confiscated all his boats on the Lake of Nicaragua and all his steamboats docked at the harbors on both coasts of the country as well as his vessels sailing the San Juan River.”

“Do you think I went overboard in punishing Pogue? I thought I’d teach him a lesson. Did you know after I revoked Pogue’s transit route charter the value of the shares in his company precipitously declined? My only purpose in taking certain tough measures against him was to make him change his mind about our little war. I was sure he would come to his senses after we seized his ships.”

“Didn’t you realize Pogue would retaliate? He’s not a man to be trifled with and given his immense wealth he’s more powerful than all the Central American presidents combined. But it might be a blessing in disguise. You now have the opportunity to cease your crazy war, knowing there is no longer any possibility you can win it. Without reinforcements from America, your army will soon be depleted, and you will easily be captured by the enemy. Bring all your soldiers back to Nicaragua, my little dwarf, if you want to avoid an imminent defeat as the richest man in America has threatened.”

“I am not about to capitulate,” responded Hickenlooper as his eyes burned bright with fury. “I think San Salvador will soon be ours as they can’t continue to resist without any new provisions. We’ll simply starve them out. At the same time, the Costa Ricans have been forced to retreat from San Carlos because the cholera epidemic has been decimating their ranks, killing over a thousand men in a matter of weeks. And the Guatemalan nation hasn’t taken any actions against us although they know Guatemala City is our next target. I still think the Federal Republic of Central America will become a reality despite all the efforts of that perfidious capitalist pig known as Cornelius Pogue.”

“Don’t you see God is giving you a golden opportunity? But for the cholera epidemic the Costa Ricans would now be making their way to Managua. They had the best-equipped army on the isthmus and would have made short shrift of your own military. Now you have the time to bring all the soldiers back from Honduras and El Salvador and defend Nicaragua from the Costa Ricans. Forget your delusions of grandeur. Rule as the benevolent despot of Nicaragua, treating both your American and your native subjects with justice and magnanimity. You should profit from the industry, technological prowess and work ethic of your American guests without rewarding their rapaciousness and greed. You should accept the Nicaraguans’ gentleness, humility and hospitality without allowing them to be exploited. You can do so much as the President of Nicaragua, my little dwarf. Why lose it all because of your outsized lust for empire?”

“It is the manifest destiny of the Anglo-Saxon to control Central America.  I may not be receiving any more reinforcements from the United States, but now I have not only the Nicaraguans to help me in battle but also thousands of Hondurans who have enlisted under the blue-and-white flag of the Federal Republic of Central America. And once we take San Salvador, our mighty army shall be swelled with new Salvadoran troops. All is not yet lost, Mariana.”

“And how are you going to pay all those soldiers?  You no longer have the steady supply of money coming from Ocean Transport Enterprises. Once your troops figure out they won’t be paid, they’re going to desert you in droves. The natives, especially the Hondurans and the Salvadorans, obviously don’t have the same blind faith in you exhibited by your American filibusters. Indeed, the Hondurans who have been forced to join your ranks are your sworn enemies. They’ll turn against you at the first opportunity. And the same is true of the guanacos of El Salvador. Even assuming you can take their capital, they shall never be the loyal foot soldiers of George Hickenlooper of Tennessee. Mark my words. Without the steady influx of Americans, your enterprise is doomed.”

“I think you’re right to some extent. I should bring back most of my soldiers from Honduras and El Salvador. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. With my troops back in Nicaragua, we can protect the home base while at the same time threatening Costa Rica. Above all, it is imperative that we hold the transit route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I’m sure that Cornelius Pogue would do anything to regain it, even attempt to broker peace with me and allow my filibusters to once again come to Central America aboard his vessels.”

Mariana was insistent.

“If you face such a formidable foe – and Pogue is one of the most powerful men in America –  isn’t it the right time to sue for peace with the other Central American republics?”

“At the right time, we’ll make our way to the Costa Rican capital at San Jose. Once we control Costa Rica and its treasury, we can return in full force to the three republics to the north of Nicaragua. And all my troops – Americans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans alike – shall all soon learn that the penalty for deserting President Hickenlooper in the midst of battle is a certain death before the firing squad. As far as money, I can immediately obtain it by confiscating the sprawling cattle ranches and haciendas belonging to former legitimistas and auctioning them off to the highest bidders whom I expect to be Anglo-Saxons. Some of the cacao plantations can probably fetch more than fifty thousand dollars each. There are more than a hundred estates owned by the elites, including the multiple properties owned by the family of Fruto Chamorro whom you so detest. And as a last resort I can pay my soldiers with military scrip.”

“You think you’re quite the tactician, don’t you? What is to prevent Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador from regrouping, uniting and invading Nicaragua from the north as you attempt to capture Costa Rica to your south? They have threatened to do so in the past. You have to enter an armistice with all the republics on the isthmus at the same time so that they do not form a coalition against you and proceed to massacre your troops. Anything less than that will result in an ignominious defeat for Nicaragua and forever end your dreams of power.”

“I don’t need to keep too many troops stationed in Honduras, as all their generals have been brought to justice and promptly hanged for their treasonous behavior. Maybe I can send the Cuban Domingo de Goicuria to control the country. He has recently arrived in Nicaragua with two hundred battle-hardened men who had fought to free their island from Spanish domination. He wants me to liberate Cuba too. As far as El Salvador, I suppose we can leave it at an impasse for the time being. My three hundred soldiers will not be able to take the plaza, but neither will President Flores’ troops be able to oust us from its environs. At the right time, I shall instruct Goicuria to use cannons to breach the walls surrounding the Presidential Palace at San Salvador. In the meantime, the prize of Costa Rica awaits us.”

“It would be so easy to live in peace, my little dwarf. Why do you hunger for war on behalf of the Anglo-Saxon? Why must you force me to refuse your bed?”

“There shall be peace in the Federal Republic of Central America, once I’m done with all my battles. There shall be a grand Pax Americana. And I shall forever be remembered in history as the man who brought American civilization to the backward natives of the isthmus and confederated the states of Central America into a single great republic independent from Great Britain and the United States. All enemies foreign and domestic shall be crushed under the foot of the President of the Federal Republic of Central America. And there will come a night when you will once again welcome the little conquering dwarf into your bed.”

***

Hickenlooper amassed a massive army at the border with Costa Rica, with two thousand soldiers congregated in San Carlos and three thousand a few kilometers south of Rivas. Each battalion was under the control of an American filibuster, with Hickenlooper himself as the master strategist. As expected, the Costa Rican army was in tatters and didn’t offer much of an opposition to Hickenlooper’s troops as they breached the border. Although the Costa Rican soldiers cried out, “They shall not pass,” there was little they could do to prevent the filibuster’s forces from invading the country. Hickenlooper quickly figured out that their intention was to retreat to the capital of San Jose, which was defended by thousands of Costa Ricans and would not be an easy trophy for the filibuster’s army to obtain. The distance between the Nicaraguan border and San Jose was a mere four-hundred kilometers, and as the filibuster’s troops made their way south, they ravaged the towns and villages along the way, burning them down to the ground and sparing no one from a certain death. When the filibuster’s army approached Liberia, they encountered some opposition from the Costa Ricans and a number of Hickenlooper’s Honduran troops immediately deserted and crossed enemy lines. After a long siege, Hickenlooper trounced the Costa Ricans at Liberia and quickly captured a number of their soldiers as well as the Honduran deserters. Hickenlooper quickly hanged and decapitated the luckless Honduran “mulattos,” mounting their heads on metal spikes as a warning to all. They had to learn that the little dwarf was no schoolboy. Although desertion of soldiers continued to be a problem for Hickenlooper, his swift and brutal punishment of any captured deserter made all potential deserters think twice before daring to abandon battle.

The fiercest clash happened when Hickenlooper’s troops arrived at the outskirts of the capital of San Jose. The dauntless filibuster decided to surround the city and force the Costa Rican soldiers into an ever-narrowing central area, the same strategy he had used in his successful battle against General Chamorro of Nicaragua. Hickenlooper’s aim was to force the Costa Rican troops to try to make an escape and thus face the might of the powerful army which was awaiting them. At the same time, Hickenlooper’s men barraged the Plaza de Armas – where the Presidential Palace was located – with relentless cannon shots. The Costa Rican soldiers did not easily give up and fought bravely to the end. Soon everyone was engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the Plaza, with thousands perishing on both sides. After several hours of such bloodshed, Hickenlooper’s troops were able to take the Palace. They quickly convened a military trial of the captured President and sentenced him to death for having invaded Nicaragua six months earlier. The Costa Rican forces quickly scattered, and Hickenlooper achieved full dominion over the plaza and, by extension, of the country itself. He had made a giant leap forward in his efforts to make himself king of all Central America.

After his conquest of Costa Rica, Hickenlooper decided immediately to pivot north. He left a thousand of his men in San Jose to preserve the victory so recently achieved and moved the rest of his soldiers north with the intention of finally securing El Salvador and invading Guatemala. He sent a courier to the Cuban Domingo de Goicuria stationed in Honduras advising him to prepare for a final assault on San Salvador and for a final battle for Guatemala. Hickenlooper encouraged him to bring cannons to the battle in order to breach the barricades set up by the Salvadorans and advised him to tell the Honduran soldiers conscripted by his forces that the swift penalty for desertion would be death. Within a week of leaving San Jose, Hickenlooper and his men joined Goicuria’s soldiers at the perimeter of San Salvador. The guanacos defended their capital courageously and literally fought to the last man, but the truth is after their barricades were demolished by the allied forces of Hickenlooper and Goicuria, there was little they could do to defend the plaza and its Presidential Palace, especially given that after such a long siege they were entirely without food or ammunition. The Salvadoran President, Gustavo Flores, despite his oft-repeated promise to his people that the filibusters “would not pass,” sent a messenger to the Nicaraguan President advising him that he would willingly relinquish power over the country if his life was preserved and he was allowed to seek refuge in exile. Hickenlooper joyfully agreed and offered a safe haven to all Salvadoran soldiers who agreed to join his army and aid in the capture of Guatemala. To those guanacos who resisted, the slight soldier of fortune offered death by decapitation instead. And soon President Flores was put before the firing squad despite Hickenlooper’s assurances to the contrary. Emperor Hickenlooper giveth and Emperor Hickenlooper taketh away. There was no longer any limit to his barbarity.

Hickenlooper and his men next trained their sights on Guatemala, until recently ruled by Rafael Carrera –  a conservative President like Chamorro – who had long advocated for Hickenlooper to be thrown out of Central America and had loudly complained of Hickenlooper’s dreams of a multistate empire long before the American had done anything to achieve it. The Guatemalans had learned of the filibuster’s success in battle against the Costa Ricans, the Hondurans and the Salvadorans. A myth grew around the man that he was invincible in battle. In the space of a month, three men had successively been designated as President of Guatemala, only to resign under the fear that they would be executed by Hickenlooper just like the Presidents of the other three nations captured by the filibuster. When the unified army of the new President of the Federal Republic of Central America arrived in Guatemala City, he was promptly told that the Guatemalans wouldn’t put up a defense and would willingly join his Republic. Now, it was the Guatemalans who realized that their forces could never match those of Hickenlooper, which included thousands of recently conscripted troops from every other country in Central America. In a symbolic act of submission, the Supreme General of the Guatemalan army personally delivered his sword to Hickenlooper before ushering him into the Presidential Palace. Hickenlooper soon ordered that the blue-and-white flag of his tropical empire of the imagination be hoisted above the Palace.

The Federal Republic of Central America, under the command of twenty-seven-year-old President Hickenlooper of Tennessee, was now an implacable reality!

Only Mariana would sound a note of caution even as she continued to resist his advances in bed for engaging in such a war.

“You’ve conquered your empire, my little dwarf, spanning from the Yucatan to the Panamanian isthmus. Now let’s see if you can keep it. Don’t forget that the South American confederation established by the great Simón Bolívar – the man whom you so venerate – quickly disintegrated into a bunch of independent countries before he died in solitude and exile. And some of his contemporaries clamored for his execution.”

“Isn’t now the time for you to join me in love again, my lovely Nicaraguan? The war is over. There are no more battles to be fought.”

“Not a chance,” responded Mariana. “You are now a dictator like General Chamorro, maintaining power through force of arms rather than the approval of your people. I can never leave you, my little dwarf, but that doesn’t mean I wish to reward you for what you are doing.”

***

Hickenlooper spent the first few months of his reign in utter tranquility. After a marvelous inauguration, attended by the most important citizens of each of the Confederation’s constituent republics, Hickenlooper got down to the business of governing his realm. He was not the brutal despot some had fearfully expected, although he was always partial to the Anglo-Saxon. More and more of the major properties on the isthmus ended up in the hands of the white man. And despite the expectations of some, he did not follow the model of the country from which he came and had neither a Congress nor an independent judiciary to check his power. All power in the nascent empire remained with the executive who could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Not only were haciendas confiscated but the gold and silver mines of Nueva Segovia were also. Most of the Governors of each of the member states of the new Federal Republic were former officers of his American Phalanx. Nobody seemed to object, however. All said that Central America had never been as peaceful. All said that the region had never been as calm. All said that Cuba and Puerto Rico would be next. And then Hickenlooper received a message from beyond the isthmus from a nemesis of old.

Hickenlooper made it a habit to spend many of his weekends at a marvelous beach house located at Playa La Boquita on the Pacific Ocean about an hour from Managua. Now that the entirety of Central America was at peace, there was no danger of an imminent attack on the Presidential Palace in the capital. Hickenlooper was satisfied that all potential enemies had been exiled or killed, certainly in Nicaragua, so he did not worry overmuch about security at his beachfront property. The beach house itself, dubbed Puerta del Cielo by Hickenlooper, was not heavily fortified although it was surrounded by a wall three feet thick and eight feet tall. A retinue of five soldiers had been assigned to guard the beach house from the outside, but for the most part they congregated on its eastern side, along the road. At all events, on the night of the reckoning all of them were fast asleep. Hickenlooper also had twenty-five guards protecting him inside the beach house, but at the time of the attack most of them were asleep as well. All of the guards believed in the myth of immortality which had arisen with respect to the tiny emperor. After he had survived so many battles across the length and breadth of Central America, neither friend nor foe anticipated that he could be killed while sleeping at a beach house. But that did not deter a robust magnate from New York City with white hair and steel blue eyes who brooded for months about Hickenlooper’s ascendancy to power. Cornelius Pogue had made George Hickenlooper, and he was sure that he could destroy him too.

When the hundred-and-twenty Matagalpa Indians arrived, they quickly dispatched the five sentries at the entrance to the beach house with a few quick bullets to the head. Then they proceeded to climb the ramparts protecting the property with ladders and ropes brought for that purpose. Once inside the threshold, the natives exploded a bomb packed with a thousand pounds of gunpowder, destroying the façade of the beach house and killing ten of Hickenloooper’s guards instantaneously. As the remaining soldiers tried to reconnoiter what was happening, more and more armed Indians stormed the beach house, engaging Hickenlooper’s sentries in hand-to-hand combat and slashing the throats of many soldiers with the natives’ obsidian knives. More than forty Indians were killed by Hickenlooper’s guards as they tried to protect the President, but the natives just kept coming. At some point, Hickenlooper appeared outside his bedroom and quickly threw several grenades against the marauding Indians, all to no avail. Mariana, still true to her pledge, was sleeping in another room. More and more Indians entered the beach house, most of them with weapons blazing, until not a single guard was left. Hickenlooper wondered why he hadn’t been killed as well, although he was disarmed and apprehended by the Indians. When the leader of the group entered the premises after all the fighting was over, Hickenlooper would learn the reason for the temporary clemency.

A man of mixed African and European blood – he would have been called a “mulatto” by Hickenlooper – entered the premises once all the bloodshed was over. By then, both the diminutive President and his lover Mariana had their hands tied behind their backs. Hickenlooper was sobbing gently while Mariana remained stoic, secure in her faith and ready for what was to come. The leader of the attacking party – his name was Arquimedes García – told the filibuster not to bawl and the filibuster pleaded for his life, offering the mulatto man a great deal of money if he would spare him from a certain death. Arquimedes García laughed derisively.

“Aren’t you the man who wanted to enslave the catrachos like me, all of us with African blood coursing through our veins, as well as all the black inhabitants of your proposed republic? Weren’t you the one who complained about the murderous Indians of Central America and crushed the Matagalpas when they took up arms in revolt against your practice of transferring their lands to the North Americans? You had your time of glory. Now has come the mongrels’ time for vengeance. You can beg all you want, but I don’t have the authority to free you, for one of your own countrymen has paid handsomely for your vainglorious head.”

“Cornelius Pogue,” sighed the President without surprise.

“Indeed,” responded García. “Be thankful that I shall not torture you before your death. I’m sure that’s what Pogue would have wanted, but I’ve received no exact instructions on this issue from Chamorro. And I’m a generous man.”

“Fruto Chamorro?” echoed Hickenlooper. “I executed him long ago.”

“Not Fruto Chamorro. Lucas Chamorro his younger brother. Lucas is acting in concert with Pogue, who has arranged things so Lucas can replace you once you’re dead.”

“Pogue can do that from New York City, right? He can pick and choose the leaders of Central America.”

“With his unlimited money Pogue can choose the leaders of Timbuktu.”

“At least spare my partner Mariana,” Hickenlooper pleaded. “She’s soon to bear my child and has nothing to do with Pogue. She’s not even white.”

García discharged his pistol and killed the pregnant Mariana anyway. Lucas Chamorro had insisted on this as Mariana had participated in the execution of his older brother.

“Come outside,” ordered García. “We’ll kill you on the beach and throw your body into the ocean.”

“For a brief, shining moment I was emperor of Central America.”

“Yes, for the briefest of moments,” responded his executioner.


Epilogue

The story of George Hickenlooper is inspired by that of the legendary William Walker of Tennessee, but the tale of Hickenlooper’s imaginary republic is meant to go beyond the history of the nineteenth century American filibuster. I have changed the name of the protagonist because I am not writing a historical treatise about William Walker but an allegory of United States intervention in Central America throughout the centuries, with all its brutality, violence and racism. Having said that, my story closely tracks the actual history of William Walker’s adventure in Central America.

Like George Hickenlooper in my story, the historical William Walker began his forays into Latin America by invading Baja California in Mexico and declaring himself President of the new “republic.” When that expedition failed, he decided to invade Nicaragua with the intention of becoming its President and making the new “republic” a slaveholding colony. William Walker was deeply racist and dreamed of establishing new states that would join what eventually became the Confederacy. Indeed, most of his support – in terms of money and soldiers – came from America’s deep South. Like George Hickenlooper in my story, William Walker became President of Nicaragua after defeating dictator Fruto Chamorro on behalf of the liberales. As soon as he achieved his goal of becoming President, William Walker legalized slavery and was poised to reinstate the Atlantic slave trade when he died at the hands of the Hondurans. Walker had a plan to “whiten” the Central American isthmus through the immigration of white American and European settlers into the region in massive numbers. At the peak of his powers, he was “importing” thousands of white Americans into Nicaragua each month.

Most of the rest of my story is also based on the actual history. Like Hickenlooper, Walker antagonized the tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (Cornelius Pogue in my story), who proceeded to fund the Costa Rican army fighting against him. Also, as in my story, Walker ended up fighting a war against Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as well as the remaining opposition in Nicaragua. Throughout the war, Walker was brutal in his fighting, claiming he wanted to instill “a salutary dread of American justice” in the Central Americans. As such, his methods became increasingly barbaric, both against his Central American enemies and against any American who deserted or even dissented from Walker’s plans. He did not hesitate to put the heads of his enemies on metal spikes as a means to warn the rest of the people of the Central American isthmus about the perils of resisting the American onslaught. He ordered the burning of the Nicaraguan city of Granada, resulting in dozens of casualties among those living in the town. He did not hesitate to put captive soldiers before the firing squad. And he looked the other way when his filibusters committed atrocities against the Central Americans.

In the end, however, my purpose in writing this story is not only to explore a colorful footnote in history about how William Walker almost made himself emperor of the Central American isthmus in the 1850s. My purpose is to shed light on how the United States has interfered in Central American affairs throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Americans helped rebels who sought to separate Panama from Colombia because the Colombians did not agree to permit the construction of a canal on the terms offered by the United States. The Americans also helped oust President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in the 1950s at the demand of the United Fruit Company, on the pretext that the country was in danger of becoming a Soviet beachhead. Thereafter, the Americans got involved in both the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s, helping to fund and arm the right-wing oligarchy and its military proxies in both nations. Massive acts of brutality were perpetrated by those funded by the Americans – decapitations, torture, burning people alive...As in the view of William Walker, the Americans saw Central American men and women as “expendable.” No act of violence was verboten in the Americans’ ubiquitous “cold war” against the Soviets. The shadow of William Walker looms large in history.

About the Author

Sandro F. Piedrahita

Sandro Francisco Piedrahita is an American Catholic author of Peruvian and Ecuadorian descent, with a degree in Comparative Literature from Yale College. Most of his stories revolve around Latin American mythical or historic themes, told with a modern twist. Mr. Piedrahita's short stories have been accepted for publication in The Write Launch, The Acentos Review, Hive Avenue Literary Journal, Carmina Magazine, Synchronized Chaos, The Ganga Review, Limit Experience Journal and Foreshadow Magazine.

Read more work by Sandro F. Piedrahita.