Sandino, Augusto César (1895–1934)

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Sandino, Augusto César (1895–1934)

Augusto César Sandino (b. 18 May 1895; d. 21 February 1934), general of guerrilla liberation army and Nicaraguan hero. Sandino was the illegitimate son of Gregorio Sandino, a small businessman, and Margarita Calderón, a coffee picker, in the town of Niquinohomo. From an early age he was exposed to bitter human experiences and poverty. At the age of ten, he witnessed his mother's miscarriage while she was imprisoned for debt. He also toiled in the coffee fields with his mother before returning to live with his father in Niquinohomo in 1906. However, his life was not much better with his father. His half brother Socrates received all the attention and benefits while Augusto worked and ate with the servants. He began to question the fairness of society, life, and God. In school, he learned the principles of capitalism and the meaning of exploitation. His education ended in 1910, when he was forced to work in his father's grain business.

In 1916, Sandino left Nicaragua to work as a mechanic in Costa Rica, then returned three years later to start his own grain business. Despite some success, he had to abandon the enterprise after shooting a man during an argument. Between 1920 and 1923, he worked odd jobs until he found employment as a mechanic with the Southern Pennsylvania Oil Company in Tampico, Mexico. There he acquired an eclectic political and spiritual philosophy and an understanding of social revolution


In Mexico, Sandino absorbed a wide range of political ideologies in the midst of revolutionary change. Anarchism, socialism, and communism competed in the workers' unions in the oil fields of Tampico and Veracruz. Sandino grasped the unconditional opposition of government, church, and capitalist institutions advanced by the anarchists; he learned the importance of strategies of social change from the socialists; and he endorsed the Communists' demand for proletarian revolution. In addition, Sandino immersed himself in theological doctrines that attempted to explain the human relationship to God. Mexican Freemasonry and spiritualism penetrated his thinking by 1926, when he returned to Nicaragua to join the Liberal opposition to the Conservative government. Sandino's expectations upon his arrival on the Atlantic coast, to join the constitutionalist army of General José María Moncada, are conjecture. Moncada espoused classical liberal values of law, property, and limited government.

At the behest of the U.S. government, Emiliano Chamorro yielded the presidency to his Conservative colleague Adolfo Díaz at the end of 1926. Concurrently, the Liberals formed a provisional government in Puerto Cabezas. Sandino continued to press Moncada for stronger and faster action. Moncada rejected Sandino's request for arms in their only face-to-face meeting in late December. When U.S. Marines landed at the Pacific coast port of Corinto in January 1927, Sandino decided to go to San Juan del Norte in the northern mountains and establish his own military command.

The Liberal-Conservative conflict continued until May 1927, when U.S. envoy Henry Stimson arranged a truce between Moncada and Díaz. Both agreed that Díaz would serve until the 1928 election. The Liberal troops voluntarily disarmed, and the U.S. Marine Corps took control of the Nicaraguan National Guard on 16 May 1927. Moncada sent a telegram to Sandino, asking him to give up the fight. Sandino responded bluntly: "Now I want you to come and disarm me…. You will not make me cede by any other means. I am not for sale. I do not give up. You will have to defeat me" (Ramírez, p. 85).

In September 1927, in the village of El Chipote, Sandino promulgated the Articles of Incorporation of the Defending Army of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua. The Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral later called Sandino's guerrilla band "the crazy little army." The army launched attacks against the marines and the Conservative government, each time retreating to El Chipote. Gradually, the general achieved a mystical quality in Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The marines constantly searched for El Chipote, often interrogating uncooperative peasants in the dense jungle of Las Segovias. The secret camp was discovered in January 1928 by air reconnaissance. Intense bombings began immediately, and the marines entered El Chipote on 3 February, to find only stuffed "soldiers."

Over the next few years, Sandino rejected compromises with the Liberal government that came to power in 1928. His army achieved many small victories, such as downing a U.S. bomber. Carleton Beals of The Nation provided an inside look at Sandino's life for the North American public. However, a review of recent literature does not reveal a consensus on Sandino's political thought and revolutionary intentions. The eclectic mix of socialism, nationalism, and theosophy has created disagreement about Sandino's intelligence and ability to apply abstract ideas to the Nicaraguan reality. He insisted on social justice for workers and peasants, often using deeply philosophical and sometimes confusing language to explain his motivation.


In 1932, political conditions in the United States and Nicaragua changed. Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded the conservative Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt promulgated the Good Neighbor Policy, which redirected resources away from U.S. political adventures abroad. And Liberal candidate Juan Batista Sacasa triumphed over Adolfo Díaz in the 1932 presidential election. Thus, the U.S. Department of State laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of the marines and the installation of the National Guard with Anastasio Somoza García as chief. One of Sacasa's first actions was to send a peace delegation to San Rafael del Norte, to negotiate a truce with Sandino. On 23 January 1933, an agreement was reached that facilitated the departure of the marines on 1 February. Three weeks later, the Defending Army was disarmed.

From this point Sandino's life took a severe turn for the worse. In June 1933 his wife, Blanca, died giving birth to their daughter; in August the National Guard attacked Sandinistas in Las Segovias, which prompted Sandino to request that President Sacasa declare the Guard unconstitutional. Sacasa invited Sandino to come to Managua in late February 1934. Sandino met with Sacasa and Somoza on the evening of 21 February. Upon leaving the presidential house, apparently satisfied with the result, Sandino, his brother Socrates, and two Sandinista generals were kidnapped by the National Guard. They were murdered in an open field. Sandino's remains have never been found.

See alsoCommunism; Nicaragua; United States-Latin American Relations.


Neill Macaulay, The Sandino Affair (1967).

Gregorio Selser, Sandino: General de los hombres libres (1979).

Sergio Ramírez, El pensamiento vivo de Sandino, 5th ed. (1979).

Miguel Jesús Blandón, Entre Sandino y Fonseca Amador (1980).

Carlos Fonseca, Ideario político de Augusto César Sandino (1984).

David Nolan, The Ideology of the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution (1984).

Donald Hodges, The Intellectual Foundations of the Nicaraguan Revolution (1986).

Steven Palmer, "Carlos Fonseca and the Construction of Sandinismo in Nicaragua," in Latin American Research Review 23, no. 1 (1989): 91-109.

Wayne G. Bragg, trans., Sandino in the Streets (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Bendaña, Alejandro. La mística de Sandino. Managua: Centro de Estudios Internacionales, 1994.

Bolaños Geyer, Alejandro. Sandino. Masaya: A. Bolaños Geyer, 2002.

Isaguirre, R. R., and Adrián Martínez Rodríguez. Sandino y los U.S. Marines: Reportes de los agregados militares y comandantes marines en acción. Tegucigalpa: Omni Editores, 2000.

Tirado, Víctor. Sandino y la doctrina de liberación nacional. Managua: Editorial Vanguardia, 1989.

Wünderich, Volker. Sandino, una biografía política. Managua: Editorial Nueva Nicaragua, 1995.

                                      Mark Everingham