General Augusto Sandino
Come on, you pack of drug fiends! . . . I don't care how many of you there are. -- General Sandino addressing American Marines
Mystic, bandit, and anarchist are just some of the labels you can stick on General Augusto Sandino. However, the most all-encompassing and accurate are Nicaraguan patriot and national hero. The public's high regard for this 1920s freedom fighter can be seen in the numerous images of him that dot the nation; usually a black silhouette of a skinny guy with a rather large hat.
Sandino was born in 1895, the illegitimate son of a large landowner in the Pueblo Blanco Niquinohomo outside Masaya. His servant mother initially raised him until his father begrudgingly accepted him into the household. Yet he was always treated as more a servant than son, and this instilled a sense of injustice that remained with him for the rest of his life. His father's philosophy of "If I don't exploit, I will be exploited" is something he set about disproving from early on. Then, at the age of 17, he saw the corpse of Nicaraguan rebel General Zeledón being carted away by his killers, American Marines, after a failed uprising, and this introduced a heavy dose of anti-Americanism into his character.
In 1923, he fled to Mexico after attempting to murder a local who had insulted his mother. There, he worked for Standard Oil and drew heavily on the revolutionary zeal that was sweeping his northern neighbor. He was particularly attracted to the concept of mestizaje -- a newfound pride in indigenous culture that could unite the region. He returned to Nicaragua in 1926 and immediately took up the cause of the liberals in a revolt against an American-installed president. He gathered a ragtag army of miners in the northern mountains of Segovia and continued fighting long after the liberal movement signed a peace treaty. Sandino could see no peace as long as American interference remained in the country. He looked upon them as occupiers who, among other things, blocked the country's right to an inter-oceanic canal. U.S. Marines were sent in to quell his peasant army, and he engaged them in a grinding guerrilla war that became a blueprint for other rebel armies across the continent in the 20th century. Superior American firepower and aerial bombing could not defeat the mountain general, and his capture evaded the Americans.
Eventually, the Americans gave up and withdrew in 1933. They left a newly founded National Guard led by Anastasio Somoza García to keep the peace. Delighted and vindicated by the American retreat, Sandino entered a peace treaty with his liberal counterparts, but was tricked and kidnapped in Managua by Somoza and then murdered. His grave has never been found. Somoza declared himself dictator 2 years later, and with American support, the Somoza family ruled and practically owned Nicaragua for the next 44 years.
"Death is but one little moment of discomfort," Sandino often told his troops, and his martyrdom was the inspiration for other rebel uprisings in the region, including those in Cuba, El Salvador, and Colombia. Anti-Somoza forces eventually gathered in the 1970s, and the Sandinista National Liberation Front borrowed Sandino's name to propel a revolution that eventually ousted the Somoza dynasty. Sandino's image remains untainted, as he was never corrupted by power, and he remains a siren call for anti-imperialist, anti-American sentiment.
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