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Luis A. Delgadillo and the Cultural Occupation of Nicaragua under U.S.-American Intervention


The U.S.-American intervention in Nicaragua (1909–1933) had far-reaching consequences for the country, and isthmus of Central America. Among a number of U.S. interventions in the Caribbean Basin from the early twentieth century, Nicaragua was key to U.S. security in the region, preventing the reunification of the Central American federation, while obtaining the perpetual right to build an inter-oceanic canal across the country. Guided by the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1904), the U.S. meddled in Nicaraguan internal affairs for over two decades through political, economic, and military machinery, ultimately transforming Nicaragua into a protectorate. With the state plunged into economic impoverishment, and the nation disintegrated, Nicaraguan culture buckled under the weight of foreign imposition.

This dissertation examines the cultural effects of intervention, a little-studied aspect of U.S. geopolitics in the Caribbean Basin, through the music and published writings of Nicaraguan composer Luis Abraham Delgadillo (1884–1961), employing him as a lens through which to understand the period from a local and transnational perspective. Delgadillo responded and adapted to the impositions of intervention through musical nationalism, a private project informed by nation-building discourses particular to Central America. He was one of a number of Latin American composers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who created art and popular musics based on folklore, yet his practice was marked by regionalism and continentalism in subject matter. More importantly, his musical nationalism was both a tool of resistance to and support of the intervention, a result of his sustained negotiation with a culture under foreign compromise. Delgadillo and various musical, literary, and political contemporaries thus figure throughout this examination, which comprises six broad thematic areas—U.S. geopolitics and consequences, transnational musical exchange, civic ritual and meaning, cultural ambivalence, nationalist theater, and musical representation.

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