817.00 Bandit Activities, 1931/35: Telegram

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

27. Confidential for the Secretary. Your 80, April 16, 6 p.m. The most general conclusion here based on such reports as are reliable and verified, is that there was a movement to the east of the forces operating under some of the bandit leaders who heretofore have confined their operations mainly to the Matagalpa, Jinotega, Ocotal areas. The numbers as usual have been greatly exaggerated. Their purpose may have been a mere marauding expedition but there are reasons for believing that they also hoped to capture Puerto Cabezas or some other port on the east coast and thereby give their banditry the character of a revolutionary movement. It also appears that they had decided to show no quarter to Americans and perhaps other foreigners residing in that region.

The main forces of the Guardia, about 1,350 enlisted, have been continuing their operations in the northern and central areas. Approximately 200 enlisted are in Managua and vicinity on duty growing out of the earthquake and approximately 150 enlisted have been on the east coast. About 300 enlisted are doing police duty in peaceful regions of the Republic and the remaining 150 of the authorized 2, 150 are yet to be enlisted. The patrolling in the northwest and central areas had encountered little opposition during the past 2 months and the significance of this had in nowise been overlooked by the Guardia headquarters in its control of operations. Altamirano’s forces attempted an incursion into Chontales about 3 weeks ago but were driven back and, as is inevitable in such operations, contact with them was lost. Guardia headquarters was not misled by the comparative lull in the bandit activities but on the contrary employed all the resources at its command to obtain information about bandit plans and intentions. The withdrawal of the Marine garrisons from [Page 811]the Ocotal region had commenced and plans for the early withdrawal of Marine garrisons in the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions had been perfected. An essential prerequisite for these withdrawals was and still is the replacement of those garrisons by additional Guardia and their replacements were and are still in progress. Any incursion of large bandit forces into the eastern area embracing ports on the Atlantic Coast can only be sporadic and the main theater for bandit activity probably will continue to be the central and northern areas which have doorways to the heart of the country to the south. A bandit incursion over long and difficult jungle trails to the east coast might succeed in committing some outrages, such as those which have just been committed, but in all probability would be repelled eventually and compelled to return to the central and northern areas. This has a fundamental bearing on the distribution of the Guardia available for opposing banditry.

The Americans killed in this last bandit raid were in interior localities and far from Guardia protection. The regrettable loss of a captain of Marines serving with the Guardia was but the fate of warfare meted out to a valiant soldier in the line of duty. The heroic fighting of Guardia patrols in stopping the advance on Puerto Cabezas was but the usual task of this efficient force. The important part played by the Marine air service in cooperation with these patrols was nothing new in the warfare of the banditry. The casualties in the Guardia were two wounded. The bandits lost heavily comparatively and there seems to be little or no doubt that Blandon was among the killed. It is understandable that all of that section was alarmed and that its estimate of what has transpired may have been distorted. It is not possible to hold securely all points in that region with the maximum force of Guardia that can be stationed in that region but it is believed that the force is ample to protect the principal points and prevent a prolonged occupation of that region by the bandits. The opinions of the Guardia and the situation as it exists now constitutes a successful if not brilliant outcome for the Guardia. All serviceable planes suitable for cooperating were sent to the assistance of the Guardia as soon as the situation became known here. The advisability of sending reenf orcements in the one serviceable transport plane capable of carrying 10 men was carefully weighed and decided in the negative because of the great danger involved. Moreover, but one round trip on the same day would have been possible. Reenforcements were obtained in the only speedy manner possible by ordering the Guardia commanders at Puerto Cabezas to re-enlist immediately a considerable force of trained men who had recently been discharged.

The problem of obtaining accurate information about bandit plans and movements is one which naturally has engaged the preferential [Page 812]attention of the Chief of the Guardia and of his principal subordinates. There has been no laborious diligence in this connection. The best possible information service has been created within the limits of the funds available for this purpose. The volume and reliability of information has steadily increased. The sources are more numerous and friendly than a year ago. The difficulties in the way of obtaining accurate information are of great and unusual magnitude. The region involved is extensive and the population is hostile to the Guardia. The withdrawal about to be effected of the major portion of the Marines now stationed in Nicaragua may stimulate bandit activity and will surely subject the Guardia to a severe test. I believe that public confidence in the Guardia is especially important at this time.