Michael J. Schroeder
From May 1927 to December 1932, the Nicaraguan nationalist Augusto C. Sandino waged guerrilla war against the U.S. Marines and Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua to expel the “Yankee invaders” and achieve genuine national sovereignty. The war was centered in Las Segovias, the mountainous, sparsely populated northcentral region of Nicaragua bordering Honduras. The website is envisioned as a comprehensive, interpretive, open-access digital archive on this much-discussed but still dimly understood “small war” of the interwar years. Rigorous accuracy, judicious interpretation, and the democratization of knowledge rank among the website’s most important guiding principles.
Before mid-1927 there is very little documentation on Las Segovias. Then, starting with the June 1927 Marine invasion and occupation, our documentary base explodes. For nearly six years, the US imperial spotlight—expressed in a dazzling variety of texts—illuminated the hidden corners of a society and history hitherto almost totally obscured. Alongside this explosion of imperial texts was the proliferation of texts and artifacts created by the Sandinista rebels. In January 1933 the spotlight vanished, and a month later Sandino's rebellion ended in a provisional peace treaty with the newly elected Sacasa government. The Marines went home, carting hundreds of boxes of records with them. What the U.S. imperial gaze spotlighted for those six or so years constitutes the bulk of this website’s focus. Smaller in scale but often punchier in impact are the textual fragments and social memories produced in Las Segovias that survived the brutal repression that followed Sandino’s assassination in 1934.
Inspired by social and cultural history “from the bottom up,” this project conceives of the Sandino revolt as a social and cultural process, as a local response to foreign invasion and occupation. The documents presented here reflect this focus, selected because they speak in some fashion to the agency of Nicaraguans and Segovianos in shaping their own history—including campesinos and Indians, tenants and sharecroppers, smallholders and squatters, miners and migrant workers, seasonal and day laborers, as well as townsfolk and artisans, smugglers and bootleggers, peddlers and traders, boat-drivers and mule-drivers, ranchers and coffee growers, merchants and professionals, politicians and military leaders—individuals, families, and communities caught up in a whirlwind of foreign invasion and insurgency as complex and multifaceted as any in history. What manner of revolutionary movement was this? What were its origins, characteristics, and legacies? All the documents presented here speak to these broader questions and themes.
A work in progress, the website currently houses nearly 5,000 primary documents from U.S., Nicaraguan, and other archives, including patrol and combat reports, intelligence reports, photographs, letters, diaries, maps, oral histories, propaganda fliers, and more. Comprised of 20 expansive, interlinked digital file cabinets organized by archival repository and theme, this noncommercial, easy-to-navigate website contains a goldmine of readily accessible information for students, teachers, and scholars on the period of the Sandino rebellion.
Throughout the 1980s, Central America was wracked by conflict. El Salvador faced a guerrilla insurgency, Guatemala’s long conflict festered, and Nicaragua faced a continually escalating U.S.-led proxy war that used fighters, loosely referred to as the Contras, to wage war on the Nicaraguan government through cross-border raids that implicated Costa Rica and Honduras in persistent violations of sovereignty. The Treaty of Esquipulas, spearheaded by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, ended these conflicts and brought stability to the region.
The Treaty of Esquipulas stands as one of the most significant and understudied peace agreements of the late Cold War. These accords ran counter to the will of the more powerful United States, which throughout the 1980s had sought to use military force as the key to achieving regime change in Nicaragua. The United States policy of supporting guerrillas that waged a war of regime change in Nicaragua fanned the flames of conflict and destabilized the region. Esquipulas undermined this destructive policy. For the first time, the small nations of Central America, so long considered the imperial servants of the United States, thwarted an aggressive U.S. military policy. Through intense diplomatic meetings, and in the wake of the controversy that developed from the Iran–Contra scandal, President Arias of Costa Rica succeeded in creating a peace agreement for Central Americans and authored by Central Americans. The Esquipulas accords were a blanket repudiation of the near decade-long Contra war policy of the United States. Central America created diplomatic unity and facilitated a successful opposition to the military policy of its more powerful neighbor. This agreement was a great triumph of peace and diplomacy created in the face of what seemed like overwhelming odds.
U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America in the 19th century initially focused on excluding or limiting the military and economic influence of European powers, territorial expansion, and encouraging American commerce. These objectives were expressed in the No Transfer Principle (1811) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). American policy was unilateralist (not isolationist); it gradually became more aggressive and interventionist as the idea of Manifest Destiny contributed to wars and military conflicts against indigenous peoples, France, Britain, Spain, and Mexico in the Western Hemisphere. Expansionist sentiments and U.S. domestic politics inspired annexationist impulses and filibuster expeditions to Mexico, Cuba, and parts of Central America. Civil war in the United States put a temporary halt to interventionism and imperial dreams in Latin America. From the 1870s until the end of the century, U.S. policy intensified efforts to establish political and military hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, including periodic naval interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, reaching even to Brazil in the 1890s. By the end of the century Secretary of State Richard Olney added the Olney Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (“Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition . . .”), and President Theodore Roosevelt contributed his own corollary in 1904 (“in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing or impotence, to exercise an international police power”). American policy toward Latin America, at the turn of the century, explicitly justified unilateral intervention, military occupation, and transformation of sovereign states into political and economic protectorates in order to defend U.S. economic interests and an expanding concept of national security.