The Minister in Nicaragua (Eberhardt) to the Secretary of State

No. 938

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegram No. 35 of March 12, 1929 (6 p.m.), I have the honor to report that, as pointed out in my despatch No. 908 of January 31, 1929,4 President Moncada after taking office wished to assume more of the responsibility for checking banditry in the northern departments and to organize a small nonpermanent force of carefully selected native volunteers under Nicaraguan chiefs to conduct an active campaign against the outlaws. This force was organized and at the present time consists of approximately three hundred men selected from a greater number of volunteers. It is divided into three groups and the President chose three Nicaraguan Generals to lead them. The Generals in command of the three columns at the present time are Juan Escamilla, a Mexican; Felipe Flores, a Nicaraguan; and Alejandro Plata, a Honduran. These three Generals fought in the recent revolution5 with General Moncada, who has expressed confidence in their ability to successfully carry on operations for the suppression of bandits.

These groups of volunteers are administered by the Guardia Nacional, which has charge of the expenditure of the funds appropriated for their support and equipment and which conducted a short preliminary training before the departure of the members for the North. They operate in conjunction with the Marines and the Guardia in combined operations under the tactical control of the Commanding General of the Marine Brigade and the subordinates designated by the latter. They are at all times directed and assisted by the Marine forces which are always in close support.

One group has been operating in Eastern Segovia, another in Western Segovia and the third in the area northeast of Jinotega. Recently the first two mentioned groups were in Eastern Segovia and in conjunction with the Marines operated effectively in that section. The third group after having operated some time in the Jinotega area, was sent to the section northeast of Yalí, and has done good work in conjunction with the Marines.

General Logan Feland commanding the Marine Brigade in Nicaragua states that these forces have operated in a most efficient and [Page 553]aggressive manner, and that their services have been extremely valuable in the outlaw-infested regions principally because their knowledge of the people, their language and customs and the nature of the country has enabled them to detect and apprehend the outlaw spies, agents and sympathizers of the Sandino bands. He is also of the opinion that the organization of these volunteer forces has made a favorable impression on the ignorant people of the northern departments in that it has made them realize that the Nicaraguan Government is taking a direct interest in the wiping out of banditry and in the pacification of the country.

Early in February General Jirón, a Guatemalan, was captured by the Marine forces. He stated that he had abandoned Sandino and that he was on his way out of the country. He also said that a number of other leaders had already given up or were on the point of giving up their activities, and subsequent events tend to confirm that information. He acted as a guide for the Marines in later operations, and was subsequently taken to Ocotal for the purpose of obtaining as much information as possible from him. Late in February, under a promise of clemency in the form of a parole providing he was instrumental in clearing of bandits the Murra area with which he was familiar, he acted as a guide with the volunteer group under the leadership of General Escamilla. On March sixth General Escamilla reported to President Moncada, that after a trial by court-martial authorized by the latter, he had executed Jirón for treacherously misleading the Nicaraguan column. It will be recalled that Jirón was the leader who conducted the raid on the mining area in April, 1928, in which a large amount of American and foreign property was destroyed and stolen. According to reports from police officials and Marine officers, he robbed numbers of Nicaraguans leaving them destitute and starving, and he also made Mr. Marshall a prisoner and held him in captivity until his death.

As the Department was informed in my despatch No. 911 of February 7, 1929,6 the Nicaraguan Congress recently passed a bill providing for a state of martial law (estado de sitio) in the four bandit-infested departments of the North. I have been assured by General Feland that the members of the Marine Brigade in Nicaragua take no part whatever in the enforcement of martial law. It is carried out entirely by Nicaraguan officials in accordance with the Nicaraguan martial law code. When the Marines capture a suspected person, he is turned over to the appropriate Nicaraguan officials. It is understood that the Government has appointed two fiscales de guerra, one for the northern area at Ocotal and the other at Jinotega for cases arising in that district. The execution of Jirón [Page 554]was apparently a purely Nicaraguan affair, conducted entirely by Nicaraguan officials, and the sentence was carried out as the result of a decision of a court-martial which acted under the authorization of President Moncada.

With reference to the military situation, it may be stated that immediately after the election it was apparent that the morale of the outlaws had reached a low point. They were poorly clad, were experiencing difficulty in securing the necessary food supplies, were short of ammunition and were evidently beginning to understand that Sandino had no real mission. Statements of deserters were to the effect that they realized the futility of sustaining their cause any longer. The so-called patriotic motives of Sandino were no longer evident to the most ignorant members of the outlaw bands, and whereas Sandino had formerly obtained and held his following by persuasive methods, he had recently resorted to compulsory means and to threats of punishment. Intensive patrol operations were then conducted by the Marines and Guardia on a greater scale than was possible during the electoral period. The results to date indicate a further and more complete disintegration of the outlaw structure. Eastern Segovia and the area northeast of Yalí have been almost entirely cleared of outlaws, and reports indicate that a large number of the foreign bandits with their leaders have left the country. Banditry is apparently no longer as lucrative a profession as formerly, and it is believed that the outlaws have come to realize this. General Feland is of the opinion that as soon as the Guardia Nacional is able to assume the function of effectively policing the northern departments, it will be possible to further materially reduce the number of Marines stationed in Nicaragua.

At the present time the bandit leader, Altamirano, is in the area northeast of Jinotega, and indications are that his band has split into small groups. He is evidently a professional bandit, and the Commanding General of the Marine Brigade does not believe that he has ever concerned himself with the so-called patriotic ideals of Sandino, and that while he has cooperated with the latter, he has done so merely as a matter of expediency. The leaders, Ortez and Salgado, have recently been reliably reported to be moving in the direction of the Río Negro (Department of Chinandega), and the information is such that it would indicate a very strong possibility that they are attempting to reach the Gulf of Fonseca, probably with the intention of embarking for some other country. A few very small groups still exist in the San Juan de Telpaneca district.

I have [etc.]

Charles C. Eberhardt
  1. Not printed.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. iii, pp. 285 ff.
  3. Not printed.