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Sandino and Nicaraguan Resistance Against American Imperialism

May 11, 2005


“The sovereignty and liberty of a people are not to be discussed, but rather defended with weapons in hand”
-Augusto Sandino

Augusto Nicolas Calderon Sandino, although born in an obscure Nicaraguan village called Niquinohomo in 1895, would go on to alter the history and heritage of his country, and become a world wide symbol of the revolutionary Anti-imperialism. Augusto Sandino was born illegitimately to a peasant worker named Margarita Calderón and her married boss, Gregorio Sandino. His mother abandoned him at the age of ten and he went to live with his maternal grandmother. Later he was brought into his father’s household but he was forced to earn his keep by working and was never fully accepted.

In 1921, He shot, but did not kill, Dagoberto Rivas a son of an important Conservative in the village in retaliation to some comments which Dagoberto had made about his mother. He then ran away to the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua and from there to various other Central American countries. He finally landed in Mexico spending the next four years working for Standard Oil. While there, he began to get involved in several diverse radical groups which seemingly influenced his perspective on life and hence his future actions.

Sandino’s main thesis, although heavily influenced by anarchism was the support of nationalism and anti-imperialism, specifically the resistance of US occupation and domination of Nicaragua. The United States had maintained a US Marine force in the country from 1912 on, with only brief periods of respite. The US had also intervened in internal affairs through control of the Conservative party and economic influence. Sandino believed in the glorification of personal heritage and liberty and once said, “The sovereignty and liberty of a people are not to be discussed, but rather defended with weapons in hand”

Augusto returned to his homeland in 1926 as the Statute of Limitations on his crime ran out. In June of 1926, Sandino met a troop of migrating workers and traveled North, finding employment in the San Albino mines. Sandino began to agitate and urge the miners to sabotage the mines. In december of 1926 a rebellion against the coservative governamt broke out. Taking some of his personal savings, Sandino purchased some old weapons from gun-runners on the Honduran border to arm the miners and proceeded to attack El Jícaro but where defeated by the garrison force because Sandino was inexperienced and fought with standard mass-army tactics. Sandino decided that in order to be effective he would have to have better weapons. So he communicated with the rebelling Liberal troops led by Commander General José María Moncada but was refused better weapons and more men. Sandino somehow managed to acquire some more weapons, after becoming popular with the other important Liberals, Moncada was finally convinced to allow Sandino to stage independent attacks with the help of rebelling soldiers. Having learned from his earlier mistakes, he gradually refined his warring techniques into a guerrilla
hit-and-run style of fighting much like that used by the Viet-cong during the Vietnam War. This form of guerrilla warfare would later influence many liberation movements around the world fighting against U.S. imperialism.

The United States, wishing to calm the rebellion and decrease the casualties being inflicted on its armed forces, created a peace settlement between the two parties. The majority of the Liberals agreed to the peace settlemnt, except for Sandino who chose to keep on fighting until the US had left Nicaragua. Sandino saw the war as more than a case of Nicaraguans against Nicaraguans, but a war for self determination of the poor and oppressed peasants and worker both against the ruling classes of Nicaragua and against U.S. Imperialism.

Even though Sandino was an idealist with radical political and social ideas such as having communal lands and a unified Central America, Sandino was always a man of action and organized the sentiments of the peasants into revolt. the common peasants provided the manpower to fight and die when needed as well as a constant information network for Sandino’s Geurilla army.

In 1933 Sandino and his peasant amry forced the the united states armed forces to leave Nicaragua. All in all, in spite of growth and recession of Sandino’s military strength, Sandino was still as great or greater a force as he had ever been when the US left. With his ideal fulfilled, Sandino agreed to lay down his weapons and signed 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 for one year. As the United States left, they formed a powerful National Guard under the head of Anastasio Somoza García which was supposed to create a solid, non- political force to allow the country to grow in stability.General 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 which would, among other things, reduce Somoza’s power through the National Guard 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.

The revolution was finally subdued, and in 1937 the U.S client General Somoza became dictator. From 1937 to 1979, Nicaragua was ruled autocratically by two successive generations of the Somoza family. Although Sandino’s revolution had failed, the seed of revolution had been planted. By the 1970’s, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) had grown in popularity and started to threaten Somoza’s hegemony. The Sandinistas, naturally, had taken their name from Augusto Sandino, the martyr who fathered the Anti-imperialist cause in Nicaragua. The Sandinista cause was supported by three major beliefs, “the three legs of the stool of Nicaraguan revolutionary democracy” . The first, political democracy, The second, participatory democracy, the third, economic equality, meant a communistic economy and complete equalization of wealth, incorporating both Marxist and socialist ideas.

The Sandinistas Political pursations were heavily influenced by Augusto Sandino his secular religious beliefs, his Marxist beliefs, and his close association with anarchism. Finally, they were influenced by the Christian Theology of Liberation. With this philosophy, the Sandinistas justified their revolution as freeing people from social, economic, and political oppression. The Sandinistas were a mixture of these influences, which made them a very unique cause, and very unique leaders.

On August 22, 1978, twenty-four Sandinista guerillas stormed the national palace at Managua, and by July 17, 1979, the Sandinistas had driven General Samoza out of power and began the process of making the dream of Sandino a reality.

(Note: Like many revolutions the Sandinista revolution fell short of its initial dream. Many things can be said about the period that the Sandinistas held power but none of them can be fully undersdood without the understanding of the U.S. led counter-revolutiuonary force of the contras. despite the U.S. ‘TERRORIST’ war against the sandinistas they managed to effect many
broad reaching changes in the social arrangment in Nicaruguara in favor of the the peasantry and poor working class.

The National Literacy Campaign of 1980 affected one in every two Nicaraguans . The literacy rate rose from 45% to 86% in one of the largest literacy campaigns ever, and the Sandinista government drew international acclaim. Prior to 1979, about 4% of the landowners controlled about 52% of the arable land. The Sandinista junta set out to fix this, trying to make it an equal proportion. They directly started to confiscate Somoza family land, and other, similar land. The nationalization of Somoza’s property alone affected a total of 168 factories—25% of industrial plant in Nicaragua, valued at $200 million. This initial confiscation led directly to the Agrarian Reform Law of 1981, which targeted unused farms, property of absent landlords, and unproductive land for expropriation. From 1981-1985, thousands of acres of land were expropriated and turned into new, peasant collectives.Along with nationalizing aristocratic land, the Sandinistas began to nationalize certain industries. The Sandinistas issued reform that nationalized sugar distribution, commenced state control over agricultural cooperatives, and started a limited policy of nationalization of business. By 1981, the state accounted for more than 30% of the industry of Nicaragua. The government also initiated control, with so-called ‘wildcat nationalizations’, over 20% of the cotton industry, 50% of the tobacco industry, and 60% of the ‘staple cereal’ industry.


Robin Merrill is a member of the Mobarezeh anarchist collective (NEFAC Boston) and a Member of the Boston chapter of the Jericho movement.

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