Augusto Nicolás Calderón Sandino; May 18, 1895 – February 21, 1934), also known as Augusto César Sandino, (Spanish pronunciation: [auˈɣuʰto ˈsesar sanˈdino], was a Nicaraguan revolutionary and leader of a rebellion between 1927 and 1933 against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua . He was referred to as a "bandit" by the United States government; his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to United States' domination. Drawing units of the United States Marine Corps into an undeclared guerrilla war, his insurgents suffered many defeats, but Sandino evaded capture. United States troops withdrew from the country in 1933 after overseeing the election and inauguration of President Juan Bautista Sacasa, who had returned from exile.
Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by National Guard forces of Gen. Anastasio Somoza García, who went on to seize power in a coup d'état two years later. After being elected by an overwhelming vote as president in 1936, Somoza Garcia resumed control of the National Guard and established a dictatorship and family dynasty that would rule Nicaragua for more than 40 years. Sandino's political legacy was claimed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which finally overthrew the Somoza government in 1979.
Sandino is revered in Nicaragua, and in 2010 was unanimously named a "national hero" by the nation's congress. Sandino's political descendants, along with the icons of his wide-brimmed hat and boots, and influence of his writings from the years of warfare against the U.S. Marines, continue to help shape the national identity of Nicaragua.
Augusto Calderón Sandino was born May 18, 1895, in Niquinohomo. Born out of wedlock, he was the son of Gregorío Sandino, a wealthy landowner, and Margarita Calderón, a servant with the Sandino family. Sandino lived with his mother until the age of nine, when his father took him into his own home. His father arranged for his son's education.
In July 1912, when he was 17, Sandino witnessed the first intervention of United States troops in Nicaragua, to put down an uprising against President Adolfo Díaz, regarded by many as a United States puppet. The Liberal Gen. Benjamín Zeledón died that year on October 4 during the Battle of Coyotepe Hill, when United States Marines recaptured Fort Coyotepe and the city of Masaya from rebels. Zeledón's body was carried on an oxcart by the Marines to be buried in Catarina. Sandino retained a vivid recollection of Zeledón's face.
In 1921 at the age of 26, Sandino attacked and tried to kill Dagoberto Rivas, the son of a prominent conservative townsman, who had made disparaging comments about Sandino's mother. Sandino fled to Honduras, then Guatemala and eventually Mexico, where he found work at a Standard Oil refinery near the port of Tampico. At that time the military phase of the Mexican Revolution was drawing to an end. A new "institutional revolutionary" regime was forming, driven by a wide array of popular movements to carry out the provisions of the 1917 Constitution. Sandino was involved with Seventh-day Adventists, spiritist gurus and anti-imperialist, anarchist and communist revolutionaries. He embraced the anti-clericalism of Mexico's revolution and the ideology of indigenismo, which glorified the indigenous heritage of Latin America.
In 1926, Sandino returned to Nicaragua, after the statute of limitations ran out on the charges against him. He found work as a clerk at the San Albino gold mine, located in the Segovias mountains near the northern border with Honduras.
Shortly after Sandino returned to Nicaragua, the Constitutionalist War began when Liberal soldiers in the Caribbean port of Puerto Cabezas revolted against the Conservative President Adolfo Díaz. He was recently installed after a coup as a result of United States pressure. The leader of this revolt, Gen. José María Moncada, declared that he supported the claim of the exiled Liberal vice-president Juan Bautista Sacasa.
Sacasa returned to Nicaragua, arriving in Puerto Cabezas in December, and declared himself president of a "constitutional" government, which was recognized by Mexico. Sandino assembled a makeshift army composed largely of gold miners, and led a failed attack on the Conservative garrison nearest the San Albino mine. Afterward, he travelled to Puerto Cabezas to meet with Moncada. Because of the guerrilla's hit-and-run operations against Conservative forces, conducted independently of the Liberal army, Moncada distrusted Sandino and told Sacasa of his feelings. Sacasa denied the unknown Sandino's requests for weapons and a military commission. But, after the insurgent captured some rifles from fleeing Conservative soldiers, the other Liberal commanders agreed to grant Sandino a commission.
By 1927 Sandino had returned to the Segovias, where he recruited local peasants for his army and attacked government troops with increasing success. In April, Sandino's forces played a vital role in assisting the principal Liberal Army column, which was advancing on Managua. Having received arms and funding from Mexico, the Liberal army of Gen. Moncada seemed on the verge of seizing the capital. But the U.S., using the threat of military intervention, forced the Liberal generals to agree to a cease-fire.
On May 4, 1927, representatives from the two warring factions signed the Espino Negro accord, negotiated by Henry Stimson, appointed by the U.S. President Calvin Coolidge as a special envoy to Nicaragua. Under the terms of the accord, both sides agreed to disarm, Díaz would be allowed to finish his term, and a new national army would be established, to be called the Guardia Nacional (National Guard). U.S. soldiers were to remain in the country to supervise the upcoming November presidential election. Later, a battalion of U.S. Marines under the command of Gen. Logan Feland arrived to enforce the agreement.
After the signing of the Espino Negro accord, Sandino refused to order his followers to surrender their weapons, and returned with them to the Segovias.
During this period, Sandino married Blanca Arauz, a young telegraphist of the village of San Rafael del Norte. She was related to Ambrosia Ubeda of the same village.
At the beginning of July 1927, Sandino issued a manifesto condemning the betrayal of the Liberal revolution by the "vendepatria" (country-seller) Moncada. He declared war on the U.S., which he described as the "Colossus of the North" and "the enemy of our race".' At the height of his guerrilla campaign, Sandino claimed to have some 3,000 soldiers in his army; in later years, officials estimated the number at 300.
Later that month on July 27, Sandino's followers attacked a patrol of U.S. Marines and Nicaraguan Guardia Nacional sent to apprehend him at the village of Ocotal. Armed primarily with machetes and 19th-century rifles, they attempted to besiege the Marines, but were easily repulsed with the help of one of the first dive-bombing attacks in history, conducted by five Marine de Havilland biplanes. The Marine commander estimated that 300 of Sandino's men died (the number was about 60), while the Marines suffered two casualties, one dead and one wounded, and the Guardia three dead and four taken prisoner. After these heavy losses, Sandino learned from his mistake; he concentrated on ambushes and sudden raids rather than frontal attacks.
As his successes grew, Sandino took the name Augusto César Sandino and renamed his insurgents, "The Army in Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua". Efforts by the Marines to kill or capture Sandino over the summer failed due to his forces' superior knowledge of the local terrain, first-rate military intelligence, and their skill at camouflaging their movements. In November 1927, U.S. aircraft succeeded in locating El Chipote, Sandino's remote mountain headquarters east of San Albino Mine. But, when the Marines reached it, they found the quarters abandoned and guarded by straw dummies, Sandino and his followers having long since escaped.
In January 1928, U.S. Marines successfully located Sandino's war base in Quilali and were ambushed as they approached it. The Marines received supplies by air and captured Quilali, but they could not prevent Sandino and most of his men from escaping.
After reaching the mountains of Nueva Segovia, Sandino smuggled a message to Mexico City saying:
I will not abandon my resistance until the . . . pirate invaders . . . assassins of weak peoples . . " are expelled from my country. ... I will make them realize that their crimes will cost them dear. . . . There will be bloody combat. . . .
"Nicaragua shall not be the patrimony of Imperialists. I will fight for my cause as long as my heart beats. ... If through destiny I should lose, there are in my arsenal five tons of dynamite which I will explode with my own hand. The noise of the cataclysm will be heard 250 miles. All who hear will be witness that Sandino is dead. Let it not be permitted that the hands of traitors or invaders shall profane his remains."
Evading detection, Sandino surprised the Marines by moving southward and raiding the coffee plantations of Matagalpa and Jinotega. In February 1928, the journalist Carlton Beals interviewed him in the town of San Rafael del Norte. The interview, published in The Nation, was the only one Sandino ever granted to a North American journalist. Afterward, Sandino and his forces moved to the east toward the Mosquito Coast.
In April the Sandinistas destroyed the equipment of the Bonanza and La Luz gold mines, the two largest mines in the country, which were both owned by three American brothers: James Gilmore, G. Fred, and D. Watson Fletcher, all of Manhattan, who were brothers of the US Ambassador to Italy, Henry Prather Fletcher. After destroying the two mines of the Fletcher brothers, Sandino wrote that he was targeting not just U.S. Marines, but also North Americans within Nicaragua who "uphold the attitude of Coolidge."
With aerial support, the Marines made several riverine patrols from the east coast of Nicaragua up the Río Coco during the height of the rainy season, frequently having to use native dugout canoes. While these patrols limited the movements of Sandino's forces and secured tenuous control over the principal river of northern Nicaragua, the Marines failed to locate Sandino or to effect a decisive victory. By April 1928, the Marines reportedly thought Sandino was finished and trying to evade capture. One month later, Sandino's army ambushed another Marine post and killed five troops. In December 1928, the Marines located Sandino's mother and convinced her to write a letter asking him to surrender. Sandino announced that he would continue to fight until the U.S. Marines left Nicaragua.
Despite massive efforts, American forces never captured Sandino. His communiqués were regularly published in American media; for instance, he was frequently quoted during 1928 in TIME Magazine during the Marines' offensive (see cites). At one point, he staged a fake funeral to throw off pursuers. The U.S. Congress did not share President Coolidge's ambition to capture Sandino and declined to fund operations for doing so. The U.S. Senator Burton Wheeler from Montana argued that, if American soldiers intended to "stamp out banditry, let's send them to Chicago to stamp it out there . . . I wouldn't sacrifice . . . one American boy for all the damn Nicaraguans."
Having addressed his declaration of war to the whole of the "Indo-Hispanic race", Sandino portrayed his struggle in racial terms, as the defense not only of Nicaragua but of the whole of Latin America. At the beginning of his rebellion, Sandino appointed the Honduran poet, journalist and diplomat, Froylán Turcios, as his official foreign representative. Residing in Tegucigalpa, Turcios received and distributed Sandino's communiques, manifestos and reports; he also acted as his liaison to sympathizers who provided him with arms and volunteers. Working with a number of prominent Nicaraguan exiles, Turcios sought to build support for Sandino's struggle in other Central American nations and in Mexico, which had backed the Liberals during the Constitutionalist War. In Mexico, Sandino's principal representative was the Nicaraguan exile Pedro Zepeda, who had previously served as the liaison between Sacasa and the Mexican government.
Sandino's principal demands were the resignation of President Díaz, withdrawal of U.S. troops, new elections to be supervised by Latin American countries, and the abrogation of the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty (which gave the U.S. the exclusive right to build a canal across Nicaragua). In October 1928, José María Moncada was elected as president, in a process supervised by the US, which proved a major setback for Sandino's claim to be acting in defense of the Liberal revolution.
Prior to the election, Sandino had attempted, with three other marginal factions, to organize a [junta] to be headed by Zepeda. In an organizing pact, Sandino took the role of Generalissimo and the sole military authority of the republic. Following the election of Moncada, Sandino ruled out negotiations with his former rival and declared the elections unconstitutional. In an attempt to outmaneuver the general, Sandino expanded his demands to include the restoration of the United Provinces of Central America.
He made this demand a central component of his political platform. In a letter he wrote in March 1929 to the Argentine President Hipólito Yrigoyen, "Plan for Realizing Bolívar's Dream", Sandino outlined a more ambitious political project. He proposed a conference in Buenos Aires to be attended by all Latin American nations, which would work toward their political unification as an entity he called the "Indo-Latin American Continental and Antillean Federation". He proposed that the unified entity would resist further domination by the U.S. and be able to ensure that the proposed Nicaraguan Canal would remain under Latin American control.
As Sandino's success grew, he began to receive symbolic gestures of support from the Soviet Union and the Comintern. The Pan-American Anti-Imperialist League, supervised by the South American Bureau of the Comintern, issued a number of statements in support of Sandino. Within the United States, the U.S. branch of the Anti-Imperialist League publicized opposition to the actions of the US government in Nicaragua. Sandino's half-brother Sócrates, who lived in New York, was featured as a speaker at several rallies against American involvement in Nicaragua, which were organized by the League and the U.S. Communist Party. The Sixth World Congress of the Comintern, meeting in Moscow in the summer of 1928, issued a statement "expressing solidarity with the workers and peasants of Nicaragua and the heroic army of national emancipation of General Sandino". In China, a division of the Kuomingtang army that seized Beijing in 1928 was named "the Sandino brigade."
The following June, Sandino appointed a representative to the Second Congress of the World Anti-Imperialist League in Frankfurt, which was also attended by Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Madame Sun Yat-sen of China.
Sandino's relations with Turcios soured, as Turcios disliked the Junta proposal. Sandino criticized him for siding with Honduras in a border dispute with Guatemala, which Sandino saw as a distraction from the goal of Central American unification. Conflict between the two men led Turcios to resign in January 1929, which resulted in cutting off the flow of arms to Sandino's forces and leaving them increasingly isolated from potential supporters outside Nicaragua. Sandino's army suffered a major blow in February 1929 when Gen. Manuel Maria Jiron, who masterminded his raids, was captured by U.S. Marines. More defeats for Sandino's army at the hands of the Marines soon followed. In an effort to secure military and financial support, Sandino wrote letters appealing to various Latin American leaders. Sandino looked for aid from revolutionary Mexico, but the country had taken an anti-communist turn under the de facto ruler Plutarco Elías Calles.
After failing to negotiate his surrender in exchange for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Mexican President Emilio Portes offered Sandino asylum. The leading guerrilla left Nicaragua in June 1929. In the political climate of the Maximato, Sandino's radicalism was unwelcome. To appease the U.S., the Mexican government confined Sandino to the city of Mérida. Living at a hotel, Sandino was still able to maintain contact with his supporters. He traveled to Mexico City and met with Portes Gil, but his request for support was quickly rebuffed. The Mexican Communist Party offered to pay for Sandino to travel to Europe, but the offer was withdrawn after he refused to issue a statement condemning the Mexican government. In April 1930, as Sandino's relations with the Communists grew increasingly cool, they leaked information suggesting that Sandino was critical of Portes Gil's government. Put at risk in Mexico, Sandino left the country and returned to Nicaragua.
During his period in Mexico, he had become a member of the Magnetic-Spiritualist School of the Universal Commune (EMECU). Founded in Buenos Aires in 1911 by Joaquín Trincado, a Basque electrician, the EMECU blended the political ideals of anarchism with a cosmology which was an idiosyncratic synthesis of Zoroastrianism, Kabbalah and Spiritism. Rejecting both capitalism and Bolshevism, Trincado's brand of communism was based on a "spiritism of Light and Truth," which he believed would supersede all existing religions in the final stage of human history. This stage, which would arise from the political conflicts of the 20th century, would be the time of the founding of the "universal commune", in which private property and the state would be abolished, the hatred caused by false religions would disappear, and all of humanity would be part of one race (Hispanic) and speak one language (Spanish).
Although Sandino had communicated with Trincado only through a series of letters, after his return to Nicaragua, his manifestos and his personal affiliations were increasingly shaped by his applying the ideals of the EMECU. He named Tricado as one of his official representatives and replaced the former seal (with an image of a campesino beheading a U.S. Marine) with the symbol of EMECU. His distrust of his former Communist associates led him to break off relations with Farabundo Martí, A Salvadoran who was formerly one of his most trusted lieutenants, and accused Martí of spying for the Communists. In February 1931, Sandino issued his "Manifesto of Light and Truth", which reflected a new millenarian tone in his beliefs. The manifesto proclaimed the coming of the Last Judgment, a time of "the destruction of injustice on the earth and the reign of the Spirit of Light and Truth, that is, Love." He said that Nicaragua had been chosen to play a central role in this struggle, and his army was an instrument of divine justice. "The honor has fallen to us, brothers, that in Nicaragua we have been chosen by Divine Justice to begin the prosecution of injustice on earth."
Although Sandino had been unable to secure any outside aid for his forces, the Great Depression made overseas military expeditions too costly for the U.S. In January 1931 Henry Stimson, then Secretary of State, announced that all U.S. soldiers in Nicaragua would be withdrawn following the 1932 election in the country. The newly created Nicaraguan National Guard (Guardia Nacional), which continued to be commanded by U.S. officers, took over responsibility for controlling insurgencies.
In May 1931, an earthquake destroyed Managua, killing over 2,000 people. The disruption and losses due to the earthquake weakened the central government and gave Sandino leverage to revive his fight with the Americans. Over the summer of 1931, Sandinista bands were active in every department north of Managua, conducting raids into the southern and western parts of the country, the departments of Estelí, León and Chontales. Although they managed to briefly occupy several towns along the nation's principal railroad, linking Managua to the Pacific coastal port of Corinto, Sandino's army did not try to capture any of the nation's urban centers. It briefly occupied some smaller cities, such as Chinandega.
In accordance with the Good Neighbor Policy, the last U.S. Marines left Nicaragua in January 1933, following the inauguration of Juan Bautista Sacasa as the country's president. During the Marines' tour of duty in Nicaragua, they had lost 130 men killed. After the Marines departed, Sandino said, "I salute the American people" and vowed he would never attack a working-class American who visited Nicaragua. Sandino met with Sacasa in Managua in February 1934, during which he pledged his loyalty to the President and agreed to order his forces to surrender their weapons within three months. In exchange, Sacasa agreed to give the soldiers who surrendered arms squatters rights on land in the Coco River Valley, require that the area be guarded by 100 Sandinista fighters under the government's orders, and give preference in employment to Sandinistas on public works in northern Nicaragua.
Sandino remained opposed to the Nicaraguan National Guard, which he considered unconstitutional because of its ties to the U.S. military. He insisted on the Guard's dissolution. Given his attitude toward General Anastasio Somoza García, the National Guard leader, and his officers, Sandino was not popular with the rank-and-file National Guard troops. Without consulting Sacasa, Somoza Garcia ordered Sandino's assassination, hoping the act would help win him loyalty among the Guard's senior officers.
On February 21, 1934, Sandino was ambushed by the National Guard, together with his father, brother Socrates, two of his favorite generals, Estranda and Umanzor; and the poet Sofonías Salvatierra (who was Sacasa's Minister of Agriculture), while leaving a new round of talks with Sacasa. Leaving Sacasa's Presidential Palace, the six men were stopped in their car at the main gate by local National Guardsmen and ordered to leave their car. The Guardsmen brushed aside Sandino's father and Salvatierra. They took Sandino, his brother Socrates, and his two generals to a crossroads section in La Reynaga and executed them. Sandino's remains were buried in the Larreynaga neighborhood of Managua by a detachment of National Guard troops under the command of Maj. Rigoberto Duarte, one of Gen. Somoza Garcia's confidantes. (He was the father of Roberto Duarte Solis, Minister of Social Communication during President Arnoldo Aleman's tenure.)
The following day the National Guard attacked Sandino's army in force and, over a month, destroyed it. Two years later, General Somoza García forced Sacasa to resign and declared himself President of Nicaragua. He established a dictatorship and dynasty that dominated Nicaragua for the next four decades.
The full details of Sandino's assassination and what became of his remains are among Nicaragua's most enduring mysteries. After he was executed, witnesses later claimed to have seen the Guardsmen prod Sandino and the other three captives with him to the ground and fire a number of shots into their bodies before burying them. Sandino's followers are said to have located his body and moved it, reburying him. His body was never found again. According to Sandinista lore, Gen. Somoza's assassins decapitated and dismembered Sandino before delivering his head to the U.S. government as a token of loyalty.
Sandino became a hero to many leftists in Nicaragua and much of Latin America as a Robin Hood figure who opposed domination from wealthy elites and foreigners, such as the United States. His opposition to American control was tempered by the love he said he felt toward Americans like himself. His picture and silhouette, complete with the oversized cowboy hat, were adopted as recognized symbols of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, originally founded in 1961 by Carlos Fonseca and Tomás Borge, among others, and later led by Daniel Ortega.
Sandino was idolized by other leftists in Latin America, such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. His brand of guerrilla warfare was effectively used by Castro, FARC in Colombia, the Sandinistas, and the FMLN in El Salvador.
In 1979 Somoza's son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was overthrown by the Sandinistas, political descendants of Sandino. In the 1980s, they renamed Managua International Airport after him as "Augusto C. Sandino International Airport." Pro-Somoza President Arnoldo Alemán renamed it Managua International Airport in 2001 after coming to power.
In 2007, President Daniel Ortega renamed again the airport in honor of Sandino. Nicaraguan artist Róger Pérez de la Rocha has created many portraits of Sandino—whose image was banned by the Somoza dictatorship—and of his associates, adding to the country's iconography.
Come on you pack of drug fiends, come on and murder us on our own land. I am waiting for you on my feet at the head of my patriotic soldiers, and I don't care how many of you there are. You should know that when this happens, the destruction of your mighty power will make the Capitol shake in Washington, and your blood will redden the white dome that crowns the famous White House where you plot your crimes.
(quoted in Zimmermann)
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