Augusto Cesar Sandino was the son of a Nicaraguan landowner and an Indian peasant woman. His father instilled strong liberal convictions in him, which translated into a lifelong commitment to securing political autonomy from the United States, which had a military presence in Nicaragua for most of the first third of the 20th century.
Returning from labor in the oil fields of Tampico, Mexico, in 1926, Sandino joined the liberal revolt led by Dr. Juan Bautista Sacasa, which waged a continuous guerrilla war against U.S. troops. On May 5, 1927, Sacasa negotiated a peace with envoy Henry L. Stimson, which Sandino and his rebel band found unsatisfactory. They continued to confront the Marine garrison stationed at Ocotal.
When asked to surrender his forces on July 15, 1927, Sandino replied: “I want a free country or death.” The U.S. government proclaimed him an outlaw.
Sacasa elected president
In 1932, Sacasa was elected president of Nicaragua, and the Marines withdrew a short time later.
Sandino proclaimed his intention to forge a lasting peace with the newly installed leader. To meet this objective, he traveled to Managua and met with President Sacasa several times in February 1934. On the night of February 21, Sandino, his brother Socrates, his father, and two military generals left the presidential palace.
Without warning, members of the Guardia Nacional pulled up to the gates and forced Sandino, his brother, and the two generals into a truck. The Guardia, a force of about 2,500, was commanded by General Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who later became dictator. The vehicle drove through the streets of Managua, past the airport, to the crossroads of La Reynaga.
Bodies buried in secret
There, the guardsmen killed Sandino and his party with machine guns and left them on the side of the road. They buried the bodies secretly later that night, afraid of a public funeral. Sandino’s assassination and his unwavering opposition to U.S. intervention made Sandino a martyr to the insurgents who toppled the regime of the U.S.-backed military dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979.
The leaders of the revolutionary movement called themselves “Sandinistas” in his honor.
Somoza Debayle fled to Miami after relinquishing power in Nicaragua. The Jimmy Carter administration threatened to deport him and Somoza later moved to Paraguay with his half-brother and his mistress. There, on September 17, 1980, he was assassinated by Argentine radicals. He is buried in Miami.