Sandino: The Chronology of our National Hero
Nicaragua's revolution took place, progresses and is understood not in terms of revolutionary theory, but rather from a historical perspective. This is the viewpoint on which many researchers, sociologists, political scientists, and journalists with an interest in Nicaragua base their analysis of the country.
This historical perspective doesn’t rule out the existence of revolutionary theory—or theories—within the transformation process presently going on in Nicaragua. It only gives the nation's history priority over such theories for the purpose of understanding the country’s reality.
Those whose interpretation of this country's revolution is based primarily on other criteria probably will discover unexplainable contradictions in Nicaragua's present and recent past. Some, by taking a dogmatic approach to theory, will see the revolution as unorthodox; others, from the standpoint of pragmatism and efficiency will consider that the revolution has fallen victim to an emotional rhetoric that reduces its credibility.
From the historical perspective, numerous factors must be considered in any serious attempt to understand the Nicaraguan revolution. These might include economic and cultural structures inherited from colonial times, as well as foreign intervention both before and after the struggle between Liberals and Conservatives; cultural and linguistic differences within the country; the progressive or detrimental influence of religion; alliances and divisions among the different political parties and movements; the isolation or integration of the Atlantic Coast populations; dominant capitalism (until recently); cooperative experiences; struggles for liberation and justice; the role of the military in every Nicaraguan government; conflicts with the other Central American nations; planned illiteracy or selective education.
To help people grasp the meaning of the above, Nicaragua must recover its own history. This is why historical themes have been constantly repeated in official speeches and explicitly used in the context of the literacy campaign, production efforts, the organization of Defense Committees, the call for military service, governmental relations with the Church and the upcoming November elections.
The historical context explains why the National Liberation Front decided to define itself as Sandinista. It also clarifies the importance and indestructible presence of Augusto César Sandino.
The ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sandino's death was held on February 21. The symbolic words “A 50 años Sandino Vive” (After 50 years, Sandino lives on) are clearly intended to evoke the vigor and contemporary significance of the man who was so justly known as the General of Free Men and Women.
In this issue of envío it seems worthwhile to look at the life of Nicaragua's greatest hero and the events that led up to his assassination on February 21, 1934. Our intention is to encourage our readers to understand the importance of Nicaraguans’ history with respect to the country's present situation.
Following the orders of National Guard chief, General Anastasio Somoza García, a firing squad executed Augusto C. Sandino and his comrades in arms, Francisco Estrada and Juan Pablo Umanzor, on February 21, 1934, at 10:30 p.m.
Ten days later, the National Guard attacked the farming cooperative Sandino had founded in Wiwilí. On March 3, 1934, Sandinista General Abraham Rivera surrendered after firing his last bullet.
The victory Sandino achieved in February 1933 after years of struggle against US military intervention as well as the social and economic reconstruction he had begun in Las Segovias were lost. Promises made by President Sacasa to provide economic aid and protect the veterans of Sandino's army had meant nothing. The bloody dictatorship was about to begin. The National Guard would be its private army and the US government its political and financial support.
A. Childhood and formative years1895, May 18: Augusto César Sandino is born in Niquinohomo, in the department of Masaya. He is the natural son of Gregorio Sandino and Margarita Calderón. His father abandons him. José Santos Zelaya, a Liberal, is the President of Nicaragua.
1904: He takes care of his mother, who suffers a spontaneous abortion while in jail. She had been imprisoned because the local mayor was afraid she would not pay him a debt.
“I had just turned nine. While I uncovered biological secrets, my mother's groans and deathly appearance filled me with indignation. When my mother fell asleep, I lay down beside here wide awake on the blood-covered floor and began to think of all sorts of atrocious ways to take revenge. However, I realized how powerless I was, and I vividly remember thinking, with the philosophy of a child: why is God like that? Why do people say that authority is the arm of the law? And what is the law anyway? If, as the priest says, the law is God's voice in protection of the people, then why do the authorities favor the unscrupulous instead of helping those, like us, who are poor?”
1906: He is recognized by his father and goes to live, study, and work at his father's home.
1909, December 1: The US intervenes in Nicaragua against the government of President Zelaya, who is accused of the death of the US citizens Cannon and Groce.
1910: August 22: Juan J. Estrada becomes President. The US opposes him, and he resigns. The Conservative Adolfo Díaz takes power with the support of the US.
Sandino leaves his father's home. He falls in love with his cousin, María Mercedes Sandino.
“My father is a landowner, and I consider that he is taking advantage of the difficulties in which our people are forced to live. I imagined that my father would be surprised when I asked him if this means of making his little bit of capital was not unjust. “He answered that he did not want to exploit the people's situation but that, if he did not, the real exploiters would. “So, dear brother, you might say that, from that time on, I began to be more aware of things.”
1912, October 3: In order to put down a nationalist uprising, Adolfo Díaz appeals for and obtains US military intervention. Benjamin Zeledón is killed in the revolt.
“I was 17 years old when I witnessed how US filibusterers butchered Nicaraguans in Masaya and other parts of the Republic. I saw Benjamin Zeledón's corpse with my own eyes. He was buried in Catarina, a town very close to my own. Zeledón's death provided me with a key to understanding our situation in the face of US intervention.”
1914, August 5: On behalf of the Nicaraguan government, Emiliano Chamorro signs a treaty with W.J. Bryan by which Nicaragua grants the US the right to build a canal across Nicaragua and to set up military bases on the Gulf of Fonseca.
1916: Sandino works as a mechanic near the Costa Rican border and soon returns to Niquinohomo.
1920: Shortly before Sandino is to marry his cousin, María Mercedes, a man named Dagoberto Rivas insults Sandino during Mass and accuses him of being involved with Rivas' sister, a widow. Sandino wounds Rivas and flees to Honduras.
1921: Diego Manuel Chamorro takes office as the President of Nicaragua. Sandino works in the Honduras Sugar and Distilling Company.
1922: Sandino goes to work first in Guatemala, then in Tampico, Mexico.
1925, January 1: Carlos Solórzano and Juan Bautista Sacasa share power in a deal between Conservatives and Liberals. (Solórzano becomes President and Sacasa Vice President.) The US occupation forces (supposedly) leave Nicaragua. Emiliano Chamorro attempts to overthrow Solórzano.
Sandino works in the Huasteca Petroleum Company in Veracruz, Mexico. He experiences the effects of economic interventionism and a nationalist labor struggle.
1926: Solózano resigns and Emiliano Chamorro becomes President. Sacasa, the Liberal Vice President, is pushed aside in violation of the Constitution.
May 2: José M. Moncada leads a Liberal revolt in favor of Sacasa on the Atlantic Coast. Upon Chamorro's request, US troops land in Bluefields “in order to protect US citizens.”
May 15: Sandino quits his job in Mexico and returns to Nicaragua.
“A Mexican who was very drunk said to me: 'No, man, you can’t go back there. Nicaraguans are all a bunch of traitors. You're doing fine here. What the hell, just keep making money!'
“….and those words danced in my head all night. Even if it was just a drunk who had said it, the fact that I was accused of being a traitor was my fault and that of all Nicaraguans lacking in patriotism. It is true that people everywhere call us Nicaraguans traitors because of the Bryan-Chamorro treaty.”
B. Sandino fights on the side of the Constitutionalist Liberals1926, June 1: Sandino arrives in Nicaragua. He visits Niquinohomo and begins to work in the San Albino mines. He gathers his first comrades in arms.
November 2: In El Jícaro he fights his first battle against Emiliano Chamorro’s troops.
Sandino meets with Moncada and Sacasa, who say they will accept his help but not provide him with weapons. Sandino salvages arms that were thrown into the ocean.
December: Chamorro resigns. Alfonso Díaz takes power with US backing. Marines occupy the Atlantic Coast and declare it a “neutral zone.” Sacasa yields without much of a fight and withdraws his troops from Puerto Cabezas.
1927, January 6: US troops land in Corinto—3,900 soldiers, 865 Marines, and 250 officers. The city of Chinandega is leveled by the first air attack against a civilian population in US military history.
February 2: Sandino installs his troops in Yucapuca and later in San Rafael del Norte.
Moncada is victorious in Muy Muy. Sandino takes Jinotega.
April 17: Henry L. Stimson, US President Calvin Coolidge’s emissary, arrives in Nicaragua. Three representatives of Sacasa negotiate with him without taking into account the cause for which Nicaraguans are fighting.
May 2: Sandino drives the Conservative troops from Cerro del Común and occupies the locality.
May 4: Moncada meets with Stimson in Tipitapa and agrees to sell out for personal gains, as was the custom in such political agreements.
“From that time on, I felt a deep disdain for Moncada. I told him I considered it our duty to liberate our country or die in the effort; that for that reason I had adopted the red and black flag as a symbol of liberty or death; and that the Nicaraguan people hoped to achieve their freedom through the constitutionalist war. "He smiled sarcastically and gave me the following answer in a derisive tone: 'No. Why should you sacrifice yourself for the people? They won't be grateful….'”
May 8: In Sandino's absence, the other Liberal generals agree to surrender.
May 12: Sandino refuses to surrender. He escapes from an ambush that Moncada lays with the intent of killing him.
“I could not remain indifferent to the position adopted by a traitor. The insults hurled at us from outside Nicaragua came to my mind at that time. Depressed, sad, not knowing how to react, I spent three days on El Común Hill. I did’t know if it was better for us to lay down our weapons or defend the country. I didn’t want my soldiers to see me cry, so I sought solitude.”
My 15: Moncada and the Liberals triumphantly enter Managua, at peace with Adolfo Díaz, the man who had usurped power. Washington promises to send 800 more Marines.
May 18: Sandino marries Blanca Araúz in San Rafael del Norte, department of Jinotega.
C. The lonely struggle against treason and invasion1927, May 12: Sandino sends the departmental authorities a message saying he has decided not to lay down his arms.
“Better to die as a rebel under fire than to live as a slave.”
May 21: He sets up his military camp in Yalí with 30 men and establishes the departmental capital of Nueva Segovia in El Jícaro under the leadership of Francisco Estrada.
July 1: Sandino makes public his first political manifesto.
“My greatest honor is to have come up from the ranks of the oppressed, who are the heart and soul of our people. We have been at the mercy of those hired assassins who helped foment high treason: the Conservatives of Nicaragua who have destroyed the nation's dream of freedom and relentlessly persecuted us as if we were not the sons and daughters of the same country.
“…I accept the challenge to fight, and I myself am ready to initiate the struggle. My answer to the cowardly invaders and traitors to our country is my battle cry. My body and those of my soldiers will form walls against which the legions of Nicaragua's enemies will be dashed to pieces…
“I want the uncaring Nicaraguans, indifferent Central Americans and whole Indo-Hispanic race to know that there are patriots here in the Nicaraguan mountains who are willing to fight and die like men.”
July 16: Sandino's forces are defeated by a surprise US air attack in Ocotal.
The following weeks are spent in training and in learning guerrilla tactics in El Chipote.
September 9: Victory in Las Flores.
“We actually learned a lot in the Ocotal fighting. First and foremost, we learned what it means to be on the side of honor and justice, which sustain the spirit and make it invincible. Secondly, we saw that the invincibility of the Marines is nothing but a myth. Thirdly, we discovered that air attacks constitute an element of surprise that will be hard to overcome. Fourthly, we learned the tremendous importance of publicity with respect to international opinion, and are now convinced that our main objective should be to maintain the protest struggle for as long as possible.”
December 22: Through an agreement with the Nicaraguan government, the US creates the National Guard.
1928, January: Aerial bombings force Sandino's troops to withdraw from El Chipote. Scarecrows are used to trick the enemy and allow Sandino's troops to escape to San Rafael del Norte, where they set up a new camp.
February: The bishop of Granada blesses the weapons of US marines who are about to set off for Las Segovias.
Battles in El Bramadero, La Luz, Los Angeles, La Flor, and Hilihuas.
September: Froylán Turcios, editor of the Honduran magazine, Ariel, is named the representative and war correspondent of the Army for the Defense of National Sovereignty. Sandino voices his opposition to the US organized elections.
November: Moncada is elected President. He meets with Adolfo Díaz and also with the newly elected US President, Herbert Hoover.
“My sweet wife: Today I received your letter of August 15, and answering you brings me the greatest pleasure you can imagine. However, I don’t know how to respond to your sorrow over having married a man who doesn’t make you happy…
“I have placed the love for my country above all other loves, and you should understand that for us to be happy together the light of freedom must shine on us. If treason and gold can triumph, justice has an ever greater reason to triumph. Be optimistic and trust in God. He will help us gain our freedom so we can be together again. God will give us a child who will bless the memory of his parents for the unyielding will with which they prepared the freedom of his native land.”
1929, January 1: Moncada takes office with full support from the US government, Liberals, and Conservatives.
Sandino answers a letter from US Admiral D.F. Sellers, stating that he will continue to fight.
“The patriotism to which you refer is what moves me to fight force with force, to refuse all meddling on the part of your government in the affairs of our nation, and to prove that a country's sovereignty is not to be discussed, but defended by the people in arms. Until your government understands this, there can be no peace.”
January 7: Froylán Turcios resigns from his position because of disagreements with Sandino and begins to criticize the Sandinista cause. The admiration Sandino sparks in other people fails to result in efficient help, especially in Latin America.
“We are all alone. The cause of Nicaragua has been abandoned.
“Our cause outside Nicaragua has been weakened by a lack of communication, a lack of the spiritual exchange that sustains our struggle here in Nicaragua. In addition, US dollars are buying people and influence in order to restrict the flow of our information to the outside world. This isolation is doing us a great deal of harm.”
May 23: Sandino leaves for Mexico via Honduras. He waits in Mérida for an interview with the Mexican President.
Meanwhile, battles against the invading troops take place in El Jícaro, La Pita, El Naranjo, Cerro Las Cabullas, Quezalguaque, and Muyuca. Members of the National Guard revolt.
1930, January 29: Sandino meets with the Mexican President, Portes Gil, who refuses to provide any real economic or military assistance.
April 1: A US-directed military academy for training Nicaraguan officers is founded in Managua.
April 2: Sandino leaves Mexico.
May 16: He secretly enters Nicaragua.
D. On the way to victory1930, June: Battles in El Tamarindo, Saraguasca, and San Juan de Telpaneca.
July: Fighting in Pasmate, las Cruces, Malacate, and Guapinol.
“I want the men who surround me to be filled with the love of justice because justice is our banner of liberty.
Injustice and other difficulties in life make us like live electric wire. When people carelessly try to take hold of us without knowing how to go about it they are in danger of receiving a nasty shock.”
November and December: Sandino's forces attack Telica and Achuapa. The National Guard abandons Matiguás.
November 2: Fraudulent elections for congressional seats are supervised by the US.
1931: Sandino's troops attack Somoto and destroy the United Fruit Company's installations on the Atlantic Coast. Fighting takes place in Río Wawa and Wuilalí.
April: “I have been informed that the enemy is trying to carry on religious ceremonies in the town of Quilalí and that a priest will arrive there on the 12th of this month to say Mass and preach meekness in the face of the invasion. In light of these facts, I consider it more necessary than ever to attack this town.”
May: Two Sandinista generals, Blandón and Ortez, are killed in battle. The Marines disembark in Puerto Cabezas.
“There is no difference between me and any private in any army in the world…. My conscience is clear, and I can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that my duty has been done.”
June: Blanca Araúz, Sandino’s wife, is jailed for a short time by Moncada's government.
“Many women have performed heroic acts to help our army. It would take forever to tell of the sacrifices they made and the dangers they faced for love of their country. Peasant women, schoolteachers, nurses, housewives and even high-society girls have all made contributions without which this war would have been impossible.”
The fruit companies promote conflicts between Honduras and Guatemala and between Honduras and Nicaragua. Hitler wins the German elections; Sandino foresees the possibility of another world war.
“Of course, in order to feel more secure the Yankees need to take over all Central America. However, because of its geographic situation, Nicaraguans would be their prime choice.”
December 15: Sandino appoints General Horacio Portocarrero as his army's special delegate in the Nicaraguan Liberation Committee, which carried out “public relations” work in support of Sandino's war effort.
“Our efforts should be channeled toward gaining military control over Nicaragua and preventing an electoral hoax under foreign supervision.”
1932: Battles in Peña Blanca, San Antonio, Poza Honda, Las Puertas, Colindris.
April: Members of the National Guard take part in an uprising against Americans in Quizalaya.
June 15: C.B. Matthews, an American, is appointed director of the National Guard.
July 20: US frogmen attack Puerto Cabezas. Battles take place in Los Achiotes and La Rocía.
“A large number of US soldiers have crossed over the Honduran border into Nicaragua. We cannot understand how the Honduran government, which claims to be a zealous protector of its national autonomy, allowed this to happen.”
September: Sacasa runs for president. Sandino organizes a campaign against the elections in reaction to foreign supervision and US military presence.
October: On an individual basis, certain US companies offer to help Sandino fight against the Nicaraguan government after January 1, 1933, when the Marines are scheduled to withdraw.
November: Sacasa wins the presidential elections. Sandino prepares basic stipulations for an agreement that he will sign if Sacasa, not Washington, really takes power. He had ordered Umanzor and Morales to continue fighting, regardless of who would be elected.
The US has the Liberal and Conservative parties sign an agreement regarding the National Guard, thereby creating a virtual army of occupation.
December 24: Sandino agrees to participate in a peace commission.
“We are willing to participate in peace talks in San Rafael del Norte if the Sacasa government is not tied up in public or private commitments with the United States.
December 26: Battle on the El Sauce railway.
1933: January 1: the US Marines withdraw, and Sacasa takes office.
January 19: Sacasa's peace delegation visits Sandino's camp.
February 2: Sandino comes to Managua and signs the peace treaty at midnight.
E. Seeds for the future1933, February 22: Sandino's army officially hands over its weapons in San Rafael del Norte. It keeps only those arms provided for in the treaty.
February 25-March 15: Reorganization of the Sandinista farm cooperatives.
“I can't live wondering if I will be assassinated. No one dies a day before his death. And so what if they kill me? Didn't I face death for seven years in the war against the United States? If I were looking for peace and calm, I would have listened to that drunk back in Mexico and never have become involved in this undertaking. Once you embark on something of this magnitude, you have to face the consequences. It's common knowledge that one who initiates a reform will not live to see the results of it. Maybe it's better that way because it's not easy to live as a hero.”
My 20: Sandino makes a second visit to Managua to sign agreements with Sacasa concerning governmental support for the Sandinista agricultural and mining projects.
June 2: Sandino's wife dies after giving birth to his daughter, Blanca Segovia.
August 7: Sandino alerts his troops upon hearing the announcement that the government's war arsenals were burned in León and Managua. He offers Sacasa his support against the enemies of the country.
August 20: The National Guard attacks the Sandinistas near Yalí. In the following months, the National Guard arrests a number of Sandino's followers.
November 20: Sandino travels to Managua for the third time in order to demand explanations and a solution to these conflicts.
1934, January: Sandino declares that that National Guard is unconstitutional.
February 16: He comes to Managua again in an attempt to resolve the conflicts with the National Guard and to ensure support for the co-op in Las Segovias.
February 17: Sandino again criticizes the National Guard.
“If you read the peace treaty, you will see that I am supposed to hand our weapons over gradually to the duly constituted authorities. The National Guard is not a duly constituted body, and therefore I am not obligated to give our weapons to its authorities. The problem here is that there are not two but three powers: that of the President of the Republic, that of the National Guard, and mine. The National Guard does not obey the President, and we do not obey the National Guard because it is not legal.”
February 18: Sandino meets with President Sacasa. The latter promises to ensure the safety of Sandino's veterans.
February 21: Between 5 and 6 p.m., General Sandino, Gregorio Sandino (his father), Sofonías Salvatierra (Minister of Agriculture), Francisco Estrada and Juan Pablo Umanzor are driven to President Sacasa's home for dinner. Sacasa makes numerous promises.
Nineteen National Guard officers sign a document in support of any action their leader, Anastasio Somoza García, may decide to take against Sandino. Somoza orders Sandino's death.
“Only death can make one a hero forever, as well as a symbol. We continue to influence events once we are dead, perhaps more than when we were alive.”
Why did Sandino sign the February 1933 peace treaty? What was the real motive behind his assassination? Why, 50 years after his death, do Nicaraguans say that Sandino lives on? We can only suggest a few answers.
Sandino surely agreed to sign a peace treaty with President Sacasa because he saw that the main reason for his struggle—direct US military intervention in Nicaragua—was going to disappear…at least temporarily. His years of guerrilla warfare had not been in vain, but he brought his struggle to an end when it became clear to him that the Nicaraguan people had accepted Sacasa. However, Sandino kept a group of men in arms, as the peace treaty permitted, in an attempt to guarantee the survival of the project on which he had begun to work the same day he signed the treaty. His plan was to develop a model for agriculture and mining in Wiwilí and throughout Las Segovias, which were to be left under his direction. He wanted to continue fighting for Nicaragua, this time against economic intervention.
This is why Sandino was assassinated. Somoza and his clique understood the strength that underlay his new program and the significance of his charges that the National Guard was unconstitutional. They saw the political implications of his popularity and the enthusiasm he inspired every time he came to Managua. It was necessary to destroy the symbol of liberty that Sandino had become.
However, a symbol cannot be destroyed through mere physical death. Sandino lives on in many ways: the objectives of his fight; his strategy of protracted guerrilla war; the struggle against foreign intervention and Liberal and Conservative treason and against treaties that put Nicaragua at the mercy of the US, like the one signed by Chamorro and Bryan; his confidence in Nicaraguan peasants, youth and women; his defense of the poor; his firmness in denouncing the false representatives of religion who compromise with injustice and oppression; his constant opposition to fraudulent and foreign controlled elections; his appeals for Latin American unity; his intuition as to what independent economic development might entail; and his demand for a single, constitutional, independent army. All that he did, said, wrote, and lived was a symbol for a way of life. In the struggle of the Nicaraguan people to carry out his plans, Sandino lives on today. He has even become bigger than in real life through the efforts of all those who have inherited his cause.