NicaNotes: On the 90th Anniversary of His Death: Race, Class and Sandino’s Politics

By Katherine Hoyt

[This article was published in Against the Current, July/August 1995, in the year of the centennial of Augusto Sandino’s birth. We republish it this week on the 90th anniversary of his death on February 21, 1934.]

Katherine Hoyt is a retired National Co-Coordinator of the Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice. In retirement she has published Unequal Encounters: A Reader in Early Latin American Political Thought from Rowman & Littlefield.

Sandino believed that Indo-Hispanic unity was necessary to throw off the yoke of oppression from the north but that Indo-America would merely light the fuse for a revolution of all the oppressed peoples of the world. This photo from about 1928 shows Sandino with his fighters, including Santos López on the right.

“The simple folk with whom we talked were all agog over Sandino. He had become ubiquitous. He had been seen here; he had been seen there. At night he had gone stalking along a ridge, god of the universe. Later I found the same mythology was believed everywhere in Nicaragua. At many a low doorstop I sat and talked over a jicara of chicha corn beer, or a glass of yellowish palm wine, and there was no place Sandino had not been seen. He had fired the imagination of the humble people of Nicaragua. In every town, Sandino had his Homer. He was of the constellation of Abd-el-Krim, Robin Hood, Villa, the untamed out-laws who knew only daring and great deeds, imbued ever with the tireless persistence to overcome insurmountable odds and confront successfully overwhelming power. His epos will grow—in Nicaragua, in Latin America, the wide world over. For heroes grow ever more heroic with time.” 
–Carlton Beals, Banana Gold, (1932)

From 1927 to 1933, a small man with a rag-tag army kept the U.S. Marines at bay in the northern jungle-covered mountains of Nicaragua. Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral referred to the forces of Augusto C. Sandino (1895-1934) as the “small crazy army,” but she made the remark with respect and admiration; Sandino had become a symbol of resistance to the “colossus of the north” for an entire generation of Latin Americans.

Sandino’s primary objective was to rid his country of the U.S. occupation, which had lasted since 1912. His other aims, however, have been the subject of much controversy. Was Sandino a petit-bourgeois nationalist who merely wanted the Yankees out? Or was he a communist, a Bolshevik who would take property away from the land owners? What were his true aims?

Studies of Sandino and his writings which appeared outside Nicaragua between 1936 and 1979 show an almost total absence of political analysis. (Inside Nicaragua, in these same years under the dictatorship of the Somoza family, no materials on Sandino appeared.) In virtually every case, the authors assumed that Sandino was a nationalist fighting to rid his nation of U.S. Marine occupation and that he had no additional goals. The embarrassingly large number of ideas permeating his writings and the confused way in which they are often presented strengthened the notion that his main role was that of a national liberator.

In the 1970s and 1980s, leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), following the example of their founder Carlos Fonseca, began emphasizing one previously overlooked aspect of Sandino’s thought, above all based on class. In the view of the modern-day Sandinista, Sandino used a “class-analysis,” siding invariably with workers, peasants and Indians, in a word, the oppressed — los oprimidos. FSLN writers emphasized that Sandino had two objectives: first, to rid his nation of the Yankee invaders, and second, to make social changes for the benefit of the poor majorities.

A thorough reading of Sandino’s writings, journalist interviews of him, and other studies shows, however, that Sandino used both a race and a class analysis of Nicaraguan society.

Yet even the most competent of the interpreters of Sandino give little importance to Sandino’s race analysis.

Sandino lived in a period of intellectual effervescence in Latin America, in which the idea of anti-interventionism was combined with a glorification of the Indian and of Indo-Hispanic culture as well as with various forms of populism, anarchism, socialism, communism and spiritualism. Sandino believed that Indo-Hispanic unity was necessary to throw off the yoke of oppression from the north but that Indo-America would merely light the fuse for a revolution of all the oppressed peoples of the world.

When this revolution triumphed, injustice would be destroyed and “love, with its favorite daughter, Divine Justice” (Sandino, 1976:214) would rule the earth.

Today the struggle to preserve ethnic identity often seems to lack that second stage — the commitment to struggle for the liberation of all who are oppressed, above and beyond but still including one’s own ethnic group. A new look at the thought of Augusto Sandino in this year of the centennial of his birth can help us understand how that further commitment might be attained.

The U.S. had invaded six Latin American countries (Cuba, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico and the Dominican Republic) in the first third of the 20th century. The violent Mexican revolution was in process of consolidation. Sandino was one of the most important symbols of this period of ferment, one of the sources of that intellectual effervescence while at the same time deriving sustenance from it. As leaders of various movements vied for Sandino’s allegiance, he absorbed what he felt was useful from their ideas and adapted them to the Nicaraguan reality as he perceived it.

Sandino’s Intellectual Development

Augusto Sandino was born on May 18, 1895, in the province of Masaya. He was the illegitimate son (later recognized) of a medium landholder and a servant woman. His class consciousness emerged in the course of his early poverty-stricken life with his mother at the same time that a legitimate brother lived in comfort.

While Sandino was in Mexico the first time in the early 1920s, he became a Mason; when he went there again in 1929-30 to obtain the Mexican government’s support in his struggle against the United States Marines he rose to the rank of Master Mason.

Also in this second trip, according to historian Donald Hodges, he became a member of the Magnetic-Spiritual School of the Universal Commune headquartered in Argentina. Founded by Basque Joaquin Trincado, the School combined spiritism and Spanish anarchism. It complemented the study Sandino had made in his previous trip to Mexico of the writings of Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon. (Hodges, 1986: 13)

Living and writing at the same time as Sandino were three actors on the Latin American political scene who shared with him the ideas of what was called indigenismo, a kind of racial mystique glorifying both the Indian and the mestizo person of mixed race. Exponents of indigenismo came from varying political perspectives: from the Mexican Jose Vasconcelos, who with middle age became conservative (much like the revolution he supported); through the Peruvian populist and spiritualist founder of the APRA Party, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre; to Jose Carlos Mariategui, the Peruvian intellectual who combined Marxist social and economic analysis with the agonic Christianity of Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.

All of these supported social measures in their countries that would improve the living conditions of the poor. They, along with Sandino of Nicaragua, were beginning to combine race with class in analyzing why and how some groups of people dominated and oppressed others. Black socialist anti-colonial leaders in Africa used this analysis, as would Martin Luther King Jr. when he expanded his aims from purely civil rights for African-Americans to rights for the poor and to an end to the Vietnam war.

Class analysis was not enough in itself for Sandino or for others who sought to explain the contempt and scorn felt by the “Yanqui” for Indo-Americans. Racial prejudice was also involved. However, racial prejudice alone did not suffice to explain inequities within Nicaragua, where landowners were not always of lighter skin than the peasants whom they hired for the harvesting of their crops. An analysis also based on social class was necessary to explain these inequalities.

Many people find themselves uncomfortable with this combination of race and class. For one, Marxists have called the “race question” the “national question” and have found it difficult to resolve, given their emphasis both on internationalism and on the primary importance of economic class relationships. For another, Liberals who support equal opportunity may have no problem with supporting racial equality but object when questions of economic and social class are introduced, as many did when Martin Luther King expanded his horizons and began to do battle for the poor of all races.

To understand revolutions that have occurred in the Third World and elsewhere, one needs to grasp the ideological currents behind them. If racism is an important part of colonialism, slavery and neo-colonialism, then racial pride must inevitably become a part of the struggle for independence, freedom and national sovereignty. Vasconcelos, Haya de la Torre, Mariategui, and Sandino were determined to forge this kind of pride.

The combination of an understanding of class struggle, drawn from anarchism and Marxism, and of racial conflict between Indo-Hispanics and Anglo-Saxon Yankees was an essential part of Sandino’s ideology. This synthesis must be considered in order to make clear what this jungle general, who meditated long hours, read voraciously and corresponded with the world from his mountain hide-out, intended for Nicaragua and for Latin America.

Sandino spent several years in revolutionary Mexico in the early 1920s working in the oil fields of Tampico which, according to Neil Macaulay, supported some fifty thousand workers and several different radical social doctrines. The long occupation of his country by the U.S. Marines was painful to Sandino. He said:

“In about 1925, I began to believe that in Nicaragua everything had become ignominious and that honor had completely vanished among men in that land. At that same time…I had a circle of spiritualist friends and we daily commented on the submissiveness of our Latin American peoples in the face of the advances through hypocrisy or by force of the murderous Yankee empire. On one of those occasions, I said to my friends that if in Nicaragua there were one hundred men who loved her as I did, our nation would be able to restore her absolute sovereignty, which the Yankee empire has imperiled. My friends answered me saying that there could possibly be that number of men in Nicaragua, or even more, but the difficulty would be in finding them.

It is because of this [Yankee] intervention that the peoples of Central America and Mexico hate us Nicaraguans. I had the opportunity to confirm that in my travels through those countries. I felt wounded in the depths of my being when they called me ‘sell-out,’ ‘shameless,’ ‘traitor.’” (Sandino, 1976: 53)

Sandino’s Nationalist Struggle

Upon hearing the news of the revolt of Liberal Juan B. Sacasa against U.S.-imposed President Adolfo Diaz, Sandino returned to Nicaragua from Mexico in May of 1926. Although he joined the Liberal cause, it is quite certain that by this time he had moved beyond Liberal beliefs.

He began working at the San Albino gold mine, a company owned by Americans, and soon started talking to workers about how they were exploited by the capitalists and by the foreign companies. He told them that they had a right to unions, schools and medical care. “I also explained to them that I wasn’t a communist but rather a socialist.” (Roman, 1979: 49)

Soon Sandino left the gold mine with a small band to join General Jose Maria Moncada’s Constitutionalist forces in Prinzapolca. He asked Moncada to supply his force with arms. Said Moncada:

“I saw Sandino for the first time in Prinzapolca. He addressed me, saying that he wanted to go fight in the interior; at the same time he gave me a written statement concerning his ideas, the concluding sentence of which proclaimed that ‘PROPERTY IS THEFT.’” (Somoza, 1936: 85)

Needless to say, Moncada denied his request for arms and Sandino learned to hide his political convictions. With the help of a group of prostitutes, he was able to retrieve a quantity of rifles that had been dumped into the bay at Puerto Cabezas and arm his men with them. With each victory, Sandino’s small army grew. His headquarters was in San Rafael del Norte where the Arauz family ran the telegraph office, and nineteen-year-old daughter Blanca became one of his most important collaborators.

By April of 1927 Sandino had taken Jinotega and the U.S. Marines had declared Matagalpa neutral territory. But by May, Moncada was negotiating with U.S. representative (later Secretary of State) Henry Stimson to end the fighting with the assurance that he would have the presidency in the 1928 elections.

Sandino was the only one of the chiefs of the Liberal Army to oppose the pact. He returned with his men to San Rafael del Norte and sent a cache of arms into the mountains to be retrieved later. On May 18th, his thirty-second birthday, he married Blanca. A few days later he dared Moncada to come and disarm him: “I am at my post and waiting for you … I will not sell out nor will I surrender. You will have to defeat me.” (Sandino, 1976: 85)

He also wrote:

“We are alone. The cause of Nicaragua has been abandoned. Our enemies from this day forward will not be the forces of the tyrant Diaz, but rather the Marines of the most powerful empire in history. It is against them that we are going to fight…Those who are married or who have other family obligations should return to their homes.” (Sandino, 1976: 90)

In July of 1927, Sandino led 800 men to take the city of Ocotal. A Sandinista victory would have been complete if the Marines had not sent airplanes to bomb the city….


By Nan McCurdy

400,000 Coastal Residents Eligible to Vote in Regional Elections
Nearly 400,000 Residents of the North and South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions are eligible to vote in the regional elections to be held on March 3, reported the president of the Supreme Electoral Council, Magistrate Brenda Rocha. She said that there are 30 districts, 15 in each of the autonomous regions, where 45 councilmen and women will be elected with their respective alternates. She highlighted the work of each alliance and political party participating with both women and men as candidates. For the first time, with the reform of the electoral law, there are alternates and now there will also be an equal number of women and men as council persons and alternates. Rocha said that the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, Alianza Frente Sandinista with nine parties, Partido Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense, Partido Alianza por la República APRE and Alianza del Partido Liberal Independiente made up of two parties are participating in the regional elections (five different parties or alliances). Each political party (or alliance) is proposing three council people for each constituency. (La Primerisima, 19 February 2024)

FSLN in Full Electoral Campaign Mode in the Caribbean Region
Sandinistas are carrying out house to house visits in the municipality of Prinzapolka, as part of their campaign for the elections in the Caribbean Coast scheduled for March 3. On Feb. 17 the FSLN activists visited the communities of Galilea and Limbaikan where they had exchanges with the population and explained in detail the strategy that the FSLN will continue for development of the Caribbean region. Voters will be able to go to the 745 polling places located in 310 voting centers, to elect 90 councilpersons, between councilpersons and alternates in the two regions [North and South]. See photos:  (La Primerisima, 17 February 2024)

Regional Elections: Continuation of the Promise of the Revolution
The president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Brenda Rocha, said that this electoral process on the Caribbean Coast is the continuity of the work that the Nicaraguan people began with the Sandinista Revolution of the 1980s. “Before the revolution,” she said, “the Caribbean coast was not recognized as part of Nicaragua, we did not have the right to have education, drinking water, decent roads. It was only with the Revolution that the Coast was recognized in the Political Constitution of 1986; and in 1987 with the approval of the Statute of Autonomy that recognized ancestral rights.” Rocha [who is from the Caribbean Coast] spoke of compliance with the electoral calendar, which involves 36 activities, including the formation of alliances by the parties; establishing the location of each political force on the ballot, as well as the formation of the two Regional Electoral Councils, among others. The next scheduled activities are related to the appointment of the members of the Voting Boards (JRV) on February 22nd, while their swearing-in will take place on the 24th. (Radio La Primerisima, 20 February 2024)

Clinics launched for Early Detection of Cancer in Women
On Feb. 14 the Ministry of Health launched the Women’s Early Cancer Detection Clinics, with an activity held at the Nora Astorga National Center for Radiation Therapies. The opening was held in commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the death of the heroine Nora Astorga, who was a guerrilla fighter, lawyer and diplomat and who died of breast cancer. Dr. Carolina Dávila, Advisor to the Minister of Health, said that a few days ago they inaugurated the Nora Astorga Cancer Detection and Timely Treatment Program and, within the framework of this program the cancer early detection clinics are being launched in all the health centers. Dávila said that “today we are commemorating 36 years since the departure of our sister Nora Astorga in this center that is so emblematic because it is a center that provides life-saving treatment for all those women who are suffering from cancer; men and women, but above all women, because the greatest cancer incidence we have is cervical cancer and breast cancer. Our government has been working and promoting many actions for early diagnosis like pap smears, which we do in all the health posts and health centers. And today, thanks to all these actions, we can say that we have reduced cervical cancer mortality in our country by 34%.” See photos:  (La Primerisima, 14 February 2024)

Budget Increased for Scholarship Program at UNAN-Managua
The scholarship program offered by the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), Managua, received an increase of US$270,270 this year, which will allow it to increase scholarships by 1,200 more than last year for first year and reentry students [these are special scholarships that include housing, food, books and more]. The director of the scholarship department, Francisco Ruíz, explained that students who apply for special, academic, housing, food or transportation scholarships, and who meet the requirements, will be guaranteed them. Ruíz added that “the scholarship program was born with the Sandinista Popular Revolution in 1980 with the objective of helping the sons and daughters of workers and peasants who wanted to study and who needed to travel from distant places to the capital and have a place to stay, in addition to having a free and quality education.” (La Primerisima, 14 February 2024)

UNICAM — Professionalization Opportunity for Farmers in Rosita
The University in the Countryside arrived this weekend for the producers and children of producers who will become professionals in two areas in Las Breñas, municipality of Rosita, in the Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast. Diomer Rocha, a farmer and student at UNICAM, said that these programs will allow him to be more efficient in production. He feels that they provide them with the basic tools for progress, since the country is in frank development and already making great strides.

Hermes Davis, coordinator of UNICAM at the Regional University Center at the Las Minas branch of URACCAN (University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast), said that the programs offered in Agroforestry Engineering and Veterinary Medicine will contribute to improving productivity through free and quality education. Efraím Peralta Tercero, Director of Agriculture at URACCAN, said that the university is launching this effort to bring education to the most remote areas where young people have not had the opportunity to pursue a career and become professionals. Eloy Frack Gómez, president of the Mayangna Nation, emphasized that this government effort ensures quality education for the Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean Coast. URACCAN, with its headquarters in Siuna at the Regional University Center and sub-branches in Rosita, Bonanza and Waslala, offers a total of 10 UNICAM programs with 665 students, including in Upper Wangki and Bocay. (TN8.TV, 19 February 2024)

Women’s Police Station Opened in Municipality of Buenos Aires
The women of the municipality of Buenos Aires, department of Rivas, now have a second office where they can make their complaints if they suffer gender-related violence. The National Police inaugurated the second Women’s Police Station named after María Eveling Ordoñez Sánchez, a prominent Sandinista. The delegation is staffed with trained personnel to deal with cases of violence. This office is the 294th to be opened in the country. (La Primerisima, 14 February 2024)

Nicaragua Has 6,123 Cooperatives
The Ministry of Family Economy registers 6,123 cooperatives in the country since the cooperative legalization process began in 2004, according to Minister of Family Economy Justa Pérez. She said that of these cooperatives, more than 3,000 are agricultural, that is to say, almost 50% are in the production of fruit, vegetables, basic grains, as well as in the diversification of dairy, cocoa and coffee. She said that 1,160 are agro-industrial service cooperatives; 799 are transportation cooperatives; 599 are savings and housing construction cooperatives; 485 are fishing and aquaculture cooperatives and 76 mining cooperatives. Also, 572 women’s associations have been created, which is important because the model promotes equity in all types of economic activities. Thus, more than 5,000 women are organized in 572 cooperatives, in activities such as cattle raising, agricultural production, vegetables, coffee and cocoa. Pérez pointed out that the policies of the Sandinista Government have opened these opportunities so that families can improve their daily lives. Ninety years ago, the first Nicaraguan cooperative was founded on the banks of the Rio Coco; this is part of the legacy of General Augusto Sandino in his quest to combat poverty and ensure food security for families in those territories who had been plunged into poverty and neglect. “Today cooperatives are a reality, our government has a policy aimed at strengthening the cooperative movement in all areas,” Pérez said. (La Primerisima, 19 February 2024)

Catholic Parishioners Celebrate Ash Wednesday
The Catholic faithful in Nicaragua participated on Wednesday February 14 in the imposition of ashes on the forehead, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter. The ashes come from the burning of the remains of the palms blessed during Palm Sunday of the previous year. These branches are burned into a fine powder and mixed with holy water or chrism oil to create a light paste. It is understood that on Palm Sunday people laid palms for Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem, just days before he was crucified. Since the palms have been blessed, instead of throwing them away after the celebration, they are saved to create ashes for Ash Wednesday the following year. (La Primerisima, 14 February 2024)