817.1051/353

The Chargé in Nicaragua (Beaulac) to the Secretary of State

No. 1290

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegraphic instruction No. 4 of January 16, 1930, concerning the trial of Nicaraguan civilians by extraordinary courts martial under the Articles for the Government of the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua, I have the honor to report that I had discussed this subject at length with President Moncada, the Commanding General Second Brigade and the Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional.

President Moncada agrees thoroughly with the Department that the weakness of the present system is the inefficiency of the courts and that every effort should be made by his government to improve them. While he stated that his efforts in the past to do this had been unsuccessful, he promised to call a meeting of the Supreme Court to discuss the matter and determine what steps could be taken under the Constitution or, if necessary, in what way the Constitution must be amended to permit the various civil courts to function in cases of banditry in districts where martial law has been declared.

He said that he had been informed by members of the Supreme Court that the trial of bandits by civil courts under martial law was not possible. He had therefore given that idea up long ago. For several months he tried to handle a large number of bandit cases in the Northern Area through military courts composed of civilians sitting under authority of Nicaraguan military law and having no connection with the Guardia. This system broke down utterly and had to be abandoned.

General Williams and General McDougal likewise agreed that the procedure outlined by the Department, if it can be successfully worked out, is preferable to the trial of bandits by Guardia courts martial. Both however expressed doubt as to the possibility of its success under the plan outlined. General McDougal in particular stressed the urgent necessity which he feels exists to dispose in one way or another of bandits now in the custody of the Guardia. There is transmitted a copy of a memorandum prepared by him on the subject.

President Moncada said that a great deal of pressure was being exerted on him to turn Sergeant Larios over to the civil courts (Legation’s [Page 864]telegram No. 9 of January 15). The Legation likewise has received a number of petitions from various groups of citizens in the same sense. A copy and translation of one dated January 15 are transmitted herewith.49 President Moncada expressed the hope that the Department would stand behind him in this case which he considers extremely important to the future discipline and success of the Guardia. The court martial which will judge Larios will meet for the first time today. Instead of three Americans and four Nicaraguans as I previously informed the Department, it has now been decided that the court will consist of one American who will act as President and six Nicaraguans.

I shall communicate further with the Department on the subject of courts martial as soon as President Moncada informs me of the results of his meeting with the Supreme Court.

I have [etc.]

Willard L. Beaulac
[Enclosure]

The Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional (McDougal) to the American Chargé (Beaulac)

Memorandum

Prior to the declaration of martial law by the President, 9 April, 1929, and 7 October, 1929, no bandits had been tried by any courts except court martials convened by chiefs of Voluntaries of which no reports have been received by the Guardia; but as a matter of common knowledge these courts tried and sentenced prisoners captured in the field and others who were apprehended on information. The one case I have cognizance of is the case of Jiron, who was tried by Escamilla and three or four of his colonels, all of whom being Mexican and one Costa Rican. Jiron was tried and sentenced to death and executed by this court without reference to higher authority.

The Government appointed two Fiscals de Guerra, one who was sent to Ocotal and the other to the Jinotega area, it being the intention of the Government to send a commission of civilians to try cases prepared by these Fiscals, presumably under the military code or customs of the country of previous times. I have no information of the activities of the Fiscal in Jinotega, but the Fiscal who went to Ocotal became very active in preparing different lists of Conservatives, who he listed as bandit suspects, and also lists of Guardia who had been formerly [Page 865]Conservatives and whom he wished to classify as ex-bandits. He took little interest in the bandit prisoners being held by Guardia and Marines for trial, beyond ascertaining which political party they belonged to. Requests were made to the President to send up the commission of civilians to clear up these cases, and to handle cases that would occur from time to time in the future, but no commission was ever appointed for either place. I was informed that the difficulty was in finding reputable persons who were willing to go up into the bandit areas to serve on these courts, and finally the Fiscals were recalled and were discharged.

Upon the discontinuance of the Voluntarios there ceased to be any military tribunal before which bandits could be brought to trial in the Segovias. In Matagalpa, which borders the bandit country, a number of cases were put to the order of the court in that place, and all were either placed on bond or were released summarily. Several notorious criminals were thus set at large, and protests by the Jefe Politico and other civilians were made to the President with representations that the courts were in sympathy with the bandits, and that no further cases should be sent to these courts. On verbal instructions of the President all cases of a bandit nature occurring in that locality have been held waiting the formation of some tribunal which could dispose of them. I have repeatedly urged that a Military Commission formed of civilians be created by the President, under such laws as authorized him so to do, to clear up these cases; but nothing has been done due I believe to the fact that no one could be found who was willing to serve, and thereby incur the enmity and the risk of retaliation which seems to be well founded.

We have the names of a great many of the known bandits and many could be located, but without means of bringing them to trial prestige would be lost by catching them and then having to release them for lack of machinery for handling the cases.

We are facing a situation which exists in the present, which must be met in some way shortly if banditry is to be kept from increasing. At present Martial Law where it exists is in name only. Its only effect is to prevent captured bandits from being released by the courts immediately after capture.

The following courts are in the areas where Martial Law has been proclaimed:

(a)
District Criminal Courts, Matagalpa, Esteli, Ciudad de Dario, Jinotega, Ocotal, Somoto, Juigalpa, Boaco and Acoyapa.
(b)
Court or Appeals, Matagalpa.

D. C. McDougal
  1. Not printed.