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Sandino, Augusto Nicolás Calderón

by Carla Baughman

         Augusto Nicholas Calderón Sandino was born on May 18, 1895, in Niquinohomo, Nicaragua. He was born illegitimately to a peasant worker named Margarita Calderon and her married boss, Gregorio Sandino. However, when he was about ten years old his mother abandoned him and he went to live with his maternal grandmother. He was later brought into his father's household, but he was forced to earn his keep by working and was never fully accepted.
        In 1921, a situation arose that would change his life forever. He shot and wounded Dagoberto Rivas, son of a prominent town Conservative, for a comment Rivas made in relation to his mother. Because of this crime, he fled Niquinohomo for fear of justice and punishment. Over the next couple of years, he traveled and worked odd jobs all over Central America. It was also during this time that his opinions and ideals were to be shaped by his associations with Seventh Day Adventists and various religious gurus. He was ideologically acquainted with radical ideals on the various political concepts of communism, anarchism, anti-imperialism as well as liberalism and stories that glorified his own Indian heritage.
        By May 1926, the Statute of Limitations on his attempted murder charge expired. Therefore, after years of employment in other countries, he chose to return to his hometown in Nicaragua where he planned to open his own business. Unfortunately, his victim, Dagoberto Rivas, had become an important national political figure and crushed his ambitions. Sandino wandered the city of Leon for some time until that June when he met up with a troop of migrating workers and traveled to the mining areas in the North.
        By November, Sandino found employment in a U.S.-owned mine in northern Nicaragua. It was here that he started to act out his recently found new political ideology. He began to influence the miners urging them to rebel against, what he saw, as unfair foreign intervention in Nicaraguan affairs. The acts of theft and sabotage by the miners led to the Liberal rebellion, which began in 1926. Sandino took some of his own personal savings and purchased some old weapons from gunrunners on the Honduran border to arm the miners. They then attacked El Jicaro, but were defeated by the defense force. Sandino realized that in order to be effective his troops would need better weapons and equipment. With this in mind, he traveled to Puerto Cabezas to meet with another group of rebelling Liberal troop in hopes of obtaining weapons and men.
        In December of 1926, he met with the Liberal rebel Commander General José María Moncada. General Moncada initially denied Sandino weapons and a military commission, primarily because Sandino was an unknown stranger. Sandino, who was not willing to give up enlisted the help of some prostitutes and recaptured a number of weapons from the fleeing Conservative rebels. This action ingratiated him with other Liberal Commanders. The various liberal commanders saw nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting the eager Sandino loose to harass government troops in the Northeast.By 1927, The United States wanted to bring about an end to the conflict between the Liberals and the Conservatives in Nicaragua. They were also beginning to have a serious number of casualties inflicted on the US forces. The U.S. government drew up a peace settlement for the two parties to agree to. The agreement, called the Espino Negro Accords, were agreed to and signed in Tipitapa, under the sponsorship of Colonel Henry Stimson. All of the Liberals agreed to the peace at first; however Sandino was slow to agree and in fact, later retracted his agreement for peace, proclaiming that he had not been consulted about the agreement. He declared he was going to keep fighting until the U.S. had left Nicaragua.
        This decision forced Sandino to move his base of operation further into the mountains to an area known as San Rafeal el Norte. During his stay in this region, Sandino met and later married his wife Blanca, the daughter of a telegraphist. Throughout the rest of the year, Sandino made several proposals to surrender, but he was never given a response by the U.S. As a result of this lack of response, Sandino began to act as an authority figure in the region, some of his actions were to appoint civil authorities. Further attempts to act as a legitimate civil authority were illustrated by his renaming the city of El Jicaro after himself, Ciudad Sandino. Sandino also began to act in an offbeat manner by issuing two political manifestos. One was proclaiming that he had a mystical tie with the Indian race and the other was that he intended to shed the blood of others for the sake of his cause.
        By 1928, Sandino began to anticipate the former liberal commander José Maria Moncada's presidential victory in the upcoming elections. Upset by this, he proposed to counter this prospect. He organized a Junta in collaboration with three marginal political factions and the opportunist Nicaraguan exile Pedro J. Zepeda to take power. In this pact, establishing the Junta Sandino, he had himself declared Generalissimo, the uncontested military authority of the Republic. The legitimate presidential elections take place in December and Moncada wins the presidency as expected. Sandino immediately declared that this new government was unconstitutional and that only his peasant army was the sole source of legitimacy in the country. Sandino began to press for some bizarre changes such as the changing of the standard calendar, which started on October 4, 1912, and the beginning of resistance against U.S. troops. Sandino ordered his loyal personal representative abroad, at this time the Honduran poet Froylán Turcios, to communicate with Zepeda in Mexico. Turcios advised Sandino against the Junta project, because such actions would lead to a fratricidal war that he was not prepared to support. He also wrote the leaders of a number of European countries berating them for not supporting his cause.
        Civil war in Nicaragua ensued following Sandino's actions. José Moncada sent a force of volunteers to fight Sandino in his area of operations. The fighting on occasion forced Sandino to find refuge in Mexico and Honduras. Sandino was successful in the northern region of Nicaragua only. He, however, was not able to control the populated urban areas.
        The United States completed the withdrawal of its troops in 1933. With this withdrawal and the election of Juan Bautista Sacasa as President of Nicaragua Sandino began to see part of his ideal fulfilled. The National Guard of Nicaragua was given a new commander, Anastasio Somoza. The National Guard began a successful operation against Sandino and almost encircled him. Sandino began to think about to laying down his weapons. A Sandino sympathizer, Sofonias Salvatierra, and pressure from his wife Blanca, persuaded him to sign a preliminary agreement with the Sacasa government. The agreement was that, in exchange for peace, some men who wished to stay with Sandino could do so in a commune in the Río Coco commune. These men would be formed into an auxiliary military group under the president's supervision and newly-appointed head of the National Guard, Anastasio Somoza. The National Guard was supposed to create a solid, non-political force to allow the country to grow in stability. The problem was however, that Somoza was anything but apolitical and he rapidly began to turn the National Guard to his own uses.
    In 1934, with the review of his "auxiliaries" getting ever closer, Sandino told the President that he might not lay down his weapons because he believed that the National Guard was unconstitutional. Sacasa called Sandino to Managua to speak with him and, when Sandino arrived, he publicly announced that he thought that the National Guard was unconstitutional. Sandino's talks with the President resulted in an agreement that would, among other things, reduce Somoza's power through the National protector significantly. On February 20, as Sandino returned from speaking with the President, the National Guardsmen under Somoza's command, fearing a loss of power, surrounded him and his party and executed them. The next day the National Guard raided the northern commune, destroyed it, and killed most of Sandino's men, their wives, and children.