NicaNotes: ‘The mouse kills the cat’: Augusto Cesar Sandino’s rebellion against the US: How Sandino fought for Nicaragua’s independence, lost, and remained a hero for its people

By Dan Kovalik

(Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-released No More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using “Humanitarian” Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests.)

[This article originally appeared on at on Feb. 21, the anniversary of Sandino’s assassination.]

Sandino in San Rafael de Norte with some of his men, including Santos López on the right.

Before Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, before Ho Chi Minh and before Mao began his Long March, there was Augusto Cesar Sandino.

While Sandino is not a household name in much of the world, as these others are, he was one of the most important and successful guerilla fighters of the 20th century, successfully driving the US Marines out of Nicaragua against nearly impossible odds. His image, with his iconic Tom Mix cowboy hat tilted to one side, continues to be the most ubiquitous symbol in Nicaragua – a country led by the Sandinista Front, named in his honor.

Unlike the aforementioned revolutionaries, Sandino was not an intellectual and he was not a Marxist. Rather, he was a mechanic from a small town outside the city of Masaya, Nicaragua, and a member of Nicaragua’s Liberal Party. Sandino was not a revolutionary by training or study; he was drawn into the armed struggle in response to the US Marine invasion and occupation of his country which began in 1911 with the goal of ousting Liberal Party President Jose Zelaya. As the US State Department itself explains, American opposition to Zelaya stemmed from his intention to work with the Japanese government to develop a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua which would rival the US-controlled Panama Canal. This flew in the face of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which holds that the US has sole dominion over the Western Hemisphere and the right to intervene in any country therein to prevent the influence of other nations.

The US was able to put in place a succession of Conservative Party presidents to its liking with the backing of the US Marines. The US was thereby able to ink a deal with the Nicaraguan government which gave the US and US companies significant control over Nicaragua’s treasury, finances and railroad. However, this did not sit well with the Nicaraguan people who, eventually, revolted. As the US State Department explains (in an incredible act of understatement), the US’ attempt to “prevent local management of finances … caused considerable nationalist concern in Nicaragua.” To quell the resulting unrest and civil war which broke out between the Liberals and Conservatives, the US, which withdrew the Marines in 1924, sent an even greater Marine force to Nicaragua in 1925.

It was this Marine invasion which sparked the rise of Augusto Cesar Sandino, who led hundreds of mostly peasant guerilla fighters to repel it. As historian Michael J. Schroeder explains, Sandino, who “had become a Liberal general in the civil war, launched his rebellion, sacking the US-owned San Albino gold mine and issuing proclamations against ‘Yankee cowards and criminals’ and the ‘worm-eaten and decadent’ Nicaraguan aristocracy” that served US interests.

Sandino and his forces, though not great in number and certainly not as well-armed as the United States Marine Corps, proved to be a formidable force which could neither be caught nor vanquished. Sandino soon became a legend, and “even China’s Kuomintang carried standards bearing his image.” As the late, great Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano wrote in his acclaimed ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’:

“The epic of Augusto César Sandino stirred the world. The long struggle of Nicaragua’s guerrilla leader was rooted in the angry peasants’ demand for land. His small, ragged army fought for some years against twelve thousand US invaders and the National Guard. Sardine tins filled with stones served as grenades, Springfield rifles were stolen from the enemy, and there were plenty of machetes; the flag flew from any handy stick, and the peasants moved through mountain thickets wearing strips of hide called huaraches instead of boots. The guerrillas sang, to the tune of Adelita: ‘In Nicaragua, gentlemen, the mouse kills the cat.’”

And so, in its desperation to somehow subdue Sandino and his gang of merry men and women, the US increasingly turned to the new form of warfare which it continues to wage today – the aerial bombing of town and country.

Summing up the testimony of those who lived through the US assault, Schroeder describes the US aerial bombings as “a remorseless faceless enemy inflicting indiscriminate violence against homes, villages, livestock, and people who, regardless of age, gender, physical strength, social status, [and who] lacked any defense except to salvage their belongings.”

According to a fellow combatant of Sandino, quoted by Schroeder, who lived through the aerial bombing and the sacking of Ocotal, Nicaragua, which followed, “the aviation did much damage to the population between loss of life and loss of property, causing thirty-six deaths in our forces. …. Sandino’s troops stood up to the planes as best they could, downing one enemy plane (a Fokker), and after this the Sandinista troops withdrew, and that’s when the Yankee troops entered the already destroyed town, causing the greatest destruction, sacking the images and bells from the ruins of the church and throwing them in the river … There were hundreds of deaths here, among them children, women.”

Still, Sandino and his mostly peasant liberation army persisted, and successfully drove the US Marines out of Nicaragua in 1933, but not before the Marines were able to shore up the National Guard under the leadership of Anastasio Somoza. Not able to defeat Sandino on the field of battle, the only method left for Somoza was chicanery. And so, on the promise of an improvement on the 1933 peace deal, Somoza lured Sandino to Managua where he was assassinated on February 21, 1934. Sandino’s remains disappeared and have never been found. Meanwhile, Somoza – “a son of a bitch, but … our son of a bitch” as FDR would quip – declared himself president of Nicaragua with the backing of the United States and turned quickly to repressing Sandino’s followers and supporters.

Somoza and his two sons ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist (and US military assistance) for the next 45 years. However, Sandino’s example inspired the creation of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1962. The FSLN, again a primarily peasant movement in a mostly agrarian society, waged a guerilla war against Somoza and his National Guard, culminating in the victory of the FSLN and the ousting of the last Somoza in 1979. But Somoza did not leave without a fight; in the end 50,000 Nicaraguans died, mostly through the aerial bombings of his own cities, reminiscent of the US bombings in the 1920s and early 1930s.

In addition, 100,000 were wounded, 40,000 orphaned, and 150,000 became refugees. And, when Somoza fled the country, he took its treasury, ensuring that huge swaths of Nicaragua would remain in ruin from his air campaign for years to come.

The FSLN, once victorious, made sure that Sandino’s memory and legacy would be preserved. At the same time, Sandino is one of those historical figures, like Jose Marti in Cuba, which nearly all parties claim in Nicaragua. Indeed, the worst accusation one could level against a leader or activist in the country is that they have somehow betrayed Sandino and his legacy, and this charge is made often.

Indeed, it is now fashionable amongst disgruntled Sandinistas, the mainstream press in and outside Nicaragua, and amongst even the left in the US and Europe, to claim that the current FSLN leadership, including President Daniel Ortega, have abandoned Sandino’s legacy and the Sandinista Revolution. Even the dictator Somoza, before being gunned down while exiled in Paraguay by Argentine revolutionaries in 1980, made such a claim, putting out a book shortly before his death entitled ‘Nicaragua Betrayed’. It is now even common in some circles to hear claims that Ortega is in fact “the new Somoza.”

As my good friend S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran turned peace activist who lost his legs protesting a train carrying an arms shipment from the US for Central America in 1987, said to me, the essential promises of Sandino and the Sandinistas have been fulfilled. And these essential promises to the Nicaraguan people were and are: (1) independence and sovereignty in the face of the US and its attempts to determine Nicaragua’s destiny; and (2) land reform, education, and a decent life for Nicaragua’s large agrarian population. Brian, who has lived in Grenada, Nicaragua for years, knows what he is talking about.

Ortega and the FSLN have largely made good on both these promises, according to a majority of Nicaraguans. And that is why, much to the chagrin of many leftist intellectuals, Ortega remains popular in Nicaragua, particularly among peasants, workers and the poor. Ortega and the FSLN have given many hectares of land to peasants; instituted free education and health care; put money into affordable housing for the poor; electrified the country and built up the infrastructure; and significantly reduced poverty and extreme poverty, with nearly 100% of the food Nicaraguans eat grown and raised by the peasants themselves.

The Sandinistas also kept Nicaragua free from US interference, most notably by winning the brutal Contra War of the 1980s in which the US financed, trained and directed former leaders of Somoza’s National Guard to try and violently retake the country. The resulting conflict killed 30,000 and left the country and economy in ruin. Thankfully, Nicaragua has now more than bounced back.

I have been traveling to Nicaragua since 1987. And it was back then that I saw my first images of Sandino and learned of his fight against the US Marines. I even met an old man in Ocotal who fought with Sandino and who proudly sat on his front porch in the old uniform he wore in battle. I have watched a country with once shocking levels of poverty and underdevelopment become a prosperous and developed society. If Augusto Cesar Sandino, who continues to look upon Nicaragua from statues and paintings, could see his country today, I believe he would be proud.

By Nan McCurdy

Number of Cooperatives Has Tripled since 2007
During the III National Meeting of Cooperatives held Feb. 21 in Managua, Karla Somarriba, Associate General Director in the Ministry of Family and Cooperative Economy (MEFCCA), announced that the number of cooperatives grew from 1,722 in 2007 to 6,010 in 2021, of which 500 are headed by women. She noted that “the Creative Economy Model promoted by the Nicaragua Government encourages and strengthens cooperative organization in all economic sectors, with the purpose of guaranteeing food security and economic sovereignty for all Nicaraguans.” (Nicaragua News, 22 Feb. 2022)

More Houses for the People
The Nicaragua Institute for Urban and Rural Housing (INVUR) presented a report on Feb. 15 on the “Casas para el Pueblo” Low-Cost Housing Program that the Government is implementing. The report states that 126,376 affordable homes were built between 2007 and 2021, contributing to reduction of the housing deficit. INVUR General Director, Olivia Cano, stated that “over the next five years, INVUR plans to build 50,000 low-cost homes financed through the General Budget with support from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the World Bank, and the People’s Republic of China, benefiting the at-risk population.” (Nicaragua News, 16 Feb. 2022)

National Assembly Approves Cooperation Agreements with China
On Feb. 16 the National Assembly approved the bill entitled “Framework Cooperation Agreement between the Governments of the Republic of Nicaragua and the People’s Republic of China” which aims to strengthen the relations of friendship, solidarity and cooperation between the two nations. This ratifies the various agreements and conventions that both nations have signed since December 9, when they signed a joint communiqué of mutual recognition with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the development of friendly ties of cooperation. With the approval of the framework agreement, the agreements already signed and ratified are: 1) The Framework Cooperation Agreement (general cooperation); 2) A Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation within the framework of the Economic Belt and Road and the Maritime Silk Road of the XXI Century; 3) An agreement on the mutual exemption of visas for holders of diplomatic passports, service passports and public affairs or official passports; and 4) Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua on the establishment of a political consultation mechanism. With these agreements ratified, work will continue towards a Free Trade Agreement. (Radio La Primerisima, 17 Feb. 2022)

Meeting with High Level Russian Minister
On Feb. 17 in Managua, the joint commission of Nicaragua and Russia developed a peace agenda in which economic issues related to relations between the two countries were addressed. The Russian delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov who stated “our task is to expand trade and economic cooperation. The purpose of our visit is to look at areas of trade, scientific and humanitarian cooperation.” President Ortega said “with Russia we have always met in a struggle for peace, and the best reference that humanity has, in the defense of peace, is the blood, the heroism of the Russian people, when they confronted fascism, Nazism, and defeated them, saving Europe, saving the United States, saving humanity. That cannot be forgotten.” He also denounced the new aggressions against Russia. “These are times when again empires are attacking peace, and they are attacking peace in the way they are attacking Russia.” He went on to say, “We express to President Putin our solidarity in this struggle that the Russian people are waging for peace. We are sure that, once again, peace will prevail over the attempts of war, of expansion, of the imperialists of the earth.” Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said that the delegation he heads is in Nicaragua at the request of President Putin “to expand and strengthen cooperation between our peoples. In the last year, the exchange of goods between our countries has grown 3 times; it exceeded US$160 million. We are in conditions to multiply several times this amount of exchange of goods between our countries; this is our commitment.” (Radio La Primerisima, 17 Feb. 2022)

Millions of Sandinistas Remember Sandino
On the morning of Feb. 21 Sandinistas all over the nation participated in a tribute to General Augusto C. Sandino, who was assassinated under orders of Anastasio Somoza Garcia with the approval of the US ambassador 88 years ago, on February 21, 1934. The “Diana,” (a ride or drive through the streets) was carried out on motorcycles, bikes, on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles, carrying red and black flags and singing songs about Sandino and the Sandinista Popular Revolution. See fotos: (Radio La Primerisima, 21 Feb. 2022)

Daniel Calls for No War on Sandino Anniversary
In his speech on the 88th anniversary of the US-backed assassination of national hero Augusto Sandino, President Daniel Ortega supported the decision of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to recognize the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics saying, “The step taken today by President Putin to recognize those provinces [Donetsk and Lugansk] that are populated by [primarily] Russian citizens – I am sure that there they will submit them to an election or referendum as in Crimea; I am sure that people will vote for annexation to Russia, as Crimea did, returning to the situation before the fall of the Soviet Union, because it is a Russian population that is not subject to the dictates of the NATO, European Union and the United States.”

The president recalled that in 2014 the US and Europe successfully supported a coup in Ukraine. He said, “They [US and Europe] were constantly promoting acts of terrorism, crimes, destabilizing actions against an elected government that had good relations with Russia. Let’s remember that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, moreover the Russian population in Ukraine is very high. There was a NATO conspiracy of the Europeans, of the Yankees, to overthrow that elected government. And in the end they resorted to terrorism and the international campaign of defamations against the government, until in the end the coup d’état succeeded.” He went on to speak about sanctions, saying that presently “there is a front of struggle for the defense of sovereignty, of the self-determination of the peoples, who are against sanctions. The US is constantly attacking countries with economic sanctions like China, Russia, Belarus, a large number of countries such as the criminal blockade of Cuba and Venezuela.”

President Ortega indicated that an announcement of war, as is happening with the fierce campaign promoted by the United States through their media, is already affecting the world economy. “There are no winners in a war, how can there be from an action of a military nature? Immediately the world economy is affected,… the stock exchanges fall…. That is to say, from now on, damages are produced to the world economy and that produces damages to our economy as well.” He added, “May God enlighten the minds of the leaders of the United States, of President Biden…., so he won’t … provoke a hecatomb on planet Earth, which is already suffering a hecatomb due to the damage suffered by nature, the ecological damage… and that we can join with all the countries of the world, both large and developing countries, to put an end to poverty, hunger, misery, so that pandemics such as this one do not find our countries in deplorable conditions.” (Radio La Primerisima, 21 Feb. 2022)

Our Principles of Sovereignty Are Not for Sale
Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s representative at the Organization of American States said on Feb. 18 that the country’s principles are not for sale and that they are inalienable rights of all peoples. The diplomat stated that, while Nicaragua is withdrawing from what he called “this decadent organization,” it sees from a distance how this “ministry of colonies” advances myopically, deaf and dumb before the injustices of the US, stumbling over realities that it wishes to ignore, hiding murders, xenophobia, drug trafficking, inhuman blockades and even coups d’état.

McFields mentioned the Guantanamo prison, where there were U.S. specialists in torture. He also recalled the deaths in Canadian Indigenous schools where new mass graves are still being found. Canada has no morals to speak of human rights, he said. McFields recalled the case of Chile, where the carabineros attacked the eyes of hundreds of young university students and raped young women in detention. For a year this report was hidden from the on-site visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Let’s not talk about the OAS response to Black Lives Matter in the US, he said, where Antigua and Barbuda remained cowardly silent so as not to offend the empire. We never saw a tweet from the OAS about the death of George Floyd or Brianna Taylor, the ambassador pointed out. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 Feb. 2022)

Exports Growing
Exports have grown 20% this year with relation to the same period in 2021, according to Edward Centeno, head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. This means almost US$600 million in exports; last year in the same period US$460.4 million dollars were generated. “We are in a process of sustained growth of the country’s exports.” Agricultural goods represent 42.5% of total exports and the main products are: gold coffee, beef and cheese. “All products have been experiencing an increase in exports,” he stated. The main destinations are the US, Central America, Mexico, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. In the 15 years of the Sandinista government, cocoa yields have also increased, and are three times more than 15 years ago. The main destinations for cocoa are Guatemala, Belgium, El Salvador, Italy, United States, Honduras, France, Costa Rica, Russia and Germany. (Radio La Primerisima, 20 Feb. 2022)

Puerto Sandino Port Modernized
On Feb. 18 the Nicaragua Port Authority inaugurated the modernization of Puerto Sandino in León department. The US$4.5 million in investment financed by the General Budget includes reorganization, new administrative and operational facilities, expansion and modernization of docks to provide better service. (Nicaragua News, 21 Feb. 2022)

41 New Ambulances
To strengthen immediate response to medical emergencies, the Ministry of Health delivered 41 fully equipped ambulances to healthcare centers and hospitals throughout the country. The US$1.6 million purchase of new ambulances was provided by the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 18 Feb. 2022)

More than 9,000 Jobs Created so Far This Year in Small Business
Vice President Rosario Murillo presented the report on growth of new small business ventures noting that 1,047 new businesses were created between January 16 and February 15, 2022, generating 5,235 new jobs in sectors such as sale of food products, miscellaneous stores, transportation services, credit centers, pharmacies, veterinary services, mechanical and carpentry workshops. 1,856 businesses have been established in 2022, creating 9,280 new jobs. (Nicaragua News, 17 Feb. 2022)

House Arrest for Pallais, Aguirre Sacasa and Cruz Due to Health
In a statement from the Public Prosecutor’s office, the precautionary measures for Arturo Cruz, 68; Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, 77; and José Pallais Arana, 68 were changed from preventive imprisonment to house arrest due to their health status. They are accused of conspiracy to undermine the national integrity [conspiracy and treason].

The statement said, “The Public Prosecutor’s Office, for humanitarian reasons, asked the judicial authority to change the precautionary measure from preventive detention to home detention, which was authorized by the corresponding judicial authority.” Cruz, Pallais, and Aguirre were transferred to their homes on Feb. 18. (Articulo 66, 19 Feb. 2022)

Found Guilty of Conspiracy or Propagating False News
This week the following people were sentenced to eight years in prison: Mauricio Díaz, Luis Rivas, executive president of Banpro and regional CEO of Grupo Promerica; and María Oviedo and Suyen Barahona, president of the Unión Democrática Renovadora (Unamos, formerly MRS) were sentenced to nine years; Miguel Mendoza was sentenced to eleven years. They were all found guilty of conspiracy. Nidia Barbosa, member of the Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia (ACJD), was convicted for propagating false news under the “Special Law of Cyber Crimes.” Freddy Navas, part of the so-called Campesino Movement, one of the most violent organizations in the attempted coup of 2018 and one that set up hundreds of roadblocks where unthinkable atrocities took place, was convicted of conspiracy; then by the sentencing court, received 10 years. (Articulo 66, 19 Feb. 2022, Confidencial, 19 Feb. 2022)