Indigenous Army

18 May marks the birth of Nicaraguan nationalist, Augusto Sandino, in 1895.

From 1927 to 1933, Sandino led a rebellion against US Military occupation of his country.

Sandino was the illegitimate child of a wealthy Spanish landowner and his indigenous house servant. At 17, Sandino witnessed the intervention in Nicaragua by United States troops, sent to suppress an uprising against President Adolfo Díaz, who many regarded as a United States puppet. This action helped to radicalize Sandino. In his youth, Sandino worked in an oil field and as a clerk at a gold mine, traveling through Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. In these travels he met and befriended activists from an array of radical groups, including anti-clerics, Communists, Anarchists, Anti-Imperialists, Spiritualists, and advocates for indigenous peoples.

In 1926, Sandino became involved in a struggle against the Nicaraguan government, which again at the time was viewed as a pawn of the United States. When a peace was brokered in the conflict by the United States, Sandino felt that the revolutionary forces had been betrayed and in 1927 he founded ‘The Army in Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua’ and made his first attack on a column of US Marines. Efforts to kill or capture Sandino were continually thwarted. Having eluded the Marines, Sandino began to attack gold mines and coffee plantations.

Sandino began to capture the attention of the American public, and was frequently quoted in TIME magazine. Sandino’s half-brother was a resident of New York City and organized rallies in support of the Nicaraguan cause. By 1928, The US Congress had grown weary of the expensive Nicaraguan adventure and refused to allocate any further funds to the matter. One Senator commented that if the US wanted to use the military to apprehend ‘bandits’ (as Sandino was termed) then they should send Marines to Chicago rather than Nicaragua. The onset of the Great Depression made the US presence in Nicaragua even more untenable and in January 1931 Henry Stimson, then Secretary of State, announced that all U.S. soldiers in Nicaragua would be withdrawn following the 1932 election in the country. 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 and his half-brother were ambushed and executed on February 21, 1934. In 2010, the Congress of Nicaragua unanimously named a Sandino, “national hero”.