817.00 Bandit Activities, 1931/56: Telegram

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

90. Following statement issued to the press by the Secretary on April 18:

“The problem before the Government today is not a problem of the protection of its citizens in Nicaragua from a war, but from murder and assassination. In that respect it is totally different from the problem which existed in 1926.

[Page 815]

In 1926, two armies, consisting of two or three thousand men each, were fighting in Nicaragua on the east coast. Both armies professed to be carrying out the rules of warfare and to be protecting neutrals and neutral property. So the problem of this Government was solved by establishing neutral zones in which, by agreement with both armies at that time, hostilities did not enter. These neutral zones, as I recall it, were established with the consent of both the Liberal and Conservative commanders of the contending armies. There was no organized attempt to murder private citizens of any country. The problem was only to protect them from the inevitable catastrophes of war.

Now we have a situation where small groups of confessed outlaws—treated as outlaws by the Nicaraguan Government—are making their way through the jungle to the east coast, with the avowed intention of murdering and pillaging the civilian inhabitants of the country. The terrain were this is taking place is one of the thickest jungles in the world. The rainfall on the east coast of Nicaragua is something more than double the rainfall on the west coast and as a result this is very thick jungle country, a region where it would be almost impossible for regular troops to operate effectively even if it were attempted.

Another point of difference which is vital is that in 1926 there was no Nicaraguan Constabulary. Since that time, for nearly 4 years, our officers have been helping the Nicaraguan Government tram a force of Constabulary especially for fighting in this kind of terrain, the very object being to produce the most appropriate kind of force to meet tropical and jungle conditions of warfare. That force has been recently raised from 1,850 to over 2,100 and is reported by its officers as being highly efficient. Purely from the standpoint of protection the most effective way to protect the American and foreign civilians who have been suddenly exposed to this danger in the forests of eastern Nicaragua is to give them warning of the danger and an opportunity to escape to the protection of the coast towns; and then for this specially trained Constabulary to operate in the jungle against the bandits. If the number of Constabulary now on the east coast is not sufficient for that purpose, there are certainly enough elsewhere to reinforce them against these comparatively small bands of outlaws. American naval vessels are standing by at all the threatened east coast ports with orders to protect life and property at these ports. These ships will remain until the danger is over.

By assisting the Government of Nicaragua in organizing and training a competent guardia, we are not only furnishing the most practical and effective method of meeting the bandit problem and the protection of Americans and foreigners in Nicaragua from its attendant perils, but we are at the same time recognizing that it is a problem with which the sovereign Government of Nicaragua is primarily concerned and a problem which it is primarily the right and duty of that Government to solve. There has been no change in the determination of the American Government not to send American troops into the interior.

The events of this last week have pretty thoroughly torn the mask off the character of the mythical patriot Sandino. Two of his lieutenants have been recognized as leaders of these outlaw bands, and both from their work and from the evidence of captured papers they [Page 816] are shown to have been engaged in a deliberate plan of assassination and pillage against helpless civilians of various nationalities, including Nicaraguans, working in mines and logging camps. The movements of these outlaws from the northwestern provinces to the eastern coast of Nicaragua came just after the terrific earthquake which prostrated the center of that country, when every humane impulse was to assist those who were suffering from the catastrophe and when all forces, including Marines and Constabulary were engaged in the alleviation of distress. It was in the hour of his country’s desolation that Sandino chose to send his outlaws across the country to attack the region which he believed to be left unguarded.”