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

No. 740

Sir: Supplementing my telegram No. 53, of April 2, 1932, in reply to the Department’s telegram No. 26, of March 11, 1932, I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of General Matthews’ letter of April 4, 1932, concerning his plans for turning the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua over to Nicaraguan control after the November elections, as well as a copy of his letter of November 16, 1931, referred to therein.

Following the receipt of General Matthews’ letter of November 16, 1931, referred to, I discussed with him the project which existed at that time of total reform of the Nicaraguan Constitution, and pointed [Page 854] out to him the consequent inadvisability of bringing up the matter of legislative reform at that time.

General Matthews agreed with me that under the circumstances it would be better to let the matter rest until after the question of Constitutional reform had been disposed of.

Respectfully yours,

Willard L. Beaulac
[Enclosure 1]

The Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua ( Matthews ) to the American Chargé ( Beaulac )

My Dear Mr. Beaulac : Under the announced policy of the Government of the United States to withdraw all American troops from Nicaragua, including those now serving with the Guardia Nacional, on January 1, 1932, there arises the question of the status of the Guardia Nacional after that date. The Guardia agreement51 will naturally cease to be operative once all American officers are withdrawn and presumably the Guardia, or whatever military organization is maintained, will fall back upon the old laws which governed the military forces maintained prior to the establishment of the Guardia.

Under the conditions then existing, if our experience is any criterion, the military forces in each locality were subject to the orders of the Jefe Politico, the Director of Police, the Commandante de Armas, the Criminal Judge, the Local Judge, etc. One of the greatest problems with which the Guardia has had to contend has been the attempt on the part of the above officers to issue orders to privates, non-commissioned officers, and officers of the Guardia, assuming that authority to be one of the prerogatives of their office in accordance with old customs and laws.

The former military organizations were officered by military appointees commissioned by the government which happened to be in power, and in accordance with the political favors which that government desired to bestow. Consequently there was no permanent corps of officers or any basic law providing for a continuous military organization in which the officers and men had reasonable protection or assurance of continuing in the service other than the whim of the government officials in power.

[Page 855]

As a natural result of the above described state of affairs no government of Nicaragua ever had a force upon which it could fully depend to exercise its authority or to maintain it in power during times of internal stress or attempted revolutions. Hence the inability of all past governments to exercise authority or control the internal conditions of the country, and as a sequence thereof the maintenance of a legation guard since 1912, which was the primary factor in keeping the constituted authority in power. It would appear that for the Guardia organization to revert to the former chaotic condition would be merely to invite disaster, and that the only result which could be expected would be the rapid disintegration of the Guardia organization and the resultant inability of any future government to exert its authority whenever a revolution is attempted.

The Guardia today, as has been the case since the day of its inception, is engaged in combating banditry which is in effect an attempt to overthrow the present government by means of force exerted through guerilla warfare. Since the withdrawal of the marines, the Guardia alone has so far been able to keep the warfare within bounds which eliminates any doubt as to their ability to maintain the government. This of course is because the Guardia is based upon the Guardia agreement which makes it a federal force responsible only to the central government, and impartial in its attitude towards any political faction. The loyalty of the men is obtained because they receive their pay, rations, and clothing regularly. They are trained to maintain an impartial attitude in regard to politics, and they are treated by their officers in a manner which stimulates their national patriotism. They live, work and carry on their campaign in the field and their police work in the more peaceful sections under conditions which prohibit the interference with their duties on the part of any officials except their own officers, to whom they are responsible for their conduct and for their manner of performing their duty. Under these conditions they have been welded into a compact, loyal, and enthusiastic body with a growing Esprit de Corps, a consciousness of their usefulness to the nation, and a spirit of patriotism which makes them loyal to the state. There has been hardly a case of disloyalty among the men, and as long as they operate under American officers, and with the organization based on the Guardia agreement, it is firmly believed that they could be counted upon to the last man to carry out any orders which might be necessary to uphold and maintain the constituted government.

It is believed that one of the important steps necessary before this organization is put completely into the hands of the Nicaraguan officers is to put it on a basis that will enable it to carry on its work [Page 856] and continue its existence without interference on the part of civilian officials of the government, and without participating in any political movements. Such an attitude cannot be attained unless the Nicaraguan Government, before the Guardia passes completely into its own hands, takes the necessary measures to enact a law which will place its military forces upon a sound basis. It appears as a paramount necessity that the legislative body of Nicaragua should work out a basic law governing the establishment and maintenance of its military forces. This law should make it possible for the officers to choose it as their profession and to make the military service their career. It should forbid participation in politics, take away the right to vote in the election of national officials, and make it responsible only to the federal authority. It should provide for a set of Regulations for the Government and Discipline of the body along the lines of the present Regulations for the Government and Discipline of the Guardia, which afford protection to the individual in the performance of his duty, while at the same time affording the proper methods of punishing him for abuse of authority.

It is suggested as a means of making permanent the benefits derived from a long American occupation and the money and services expended in the establishment and maintenance of the Guardia, that the Department of State of the United States use its good offices in bringing to the attention of the Nicaraguan Government the necessity for a law along the lines indicated above, because it is believed that the moment the Guardia reverts to the control of the old laws governing military bodies which existed prior to the establishment of the Guardia, a rapid disintegration will begin and Nicaragua within a short time will again be without an efficient, well disciplined force with which to maintain the authority of the central government.

I have refrained from presenting this matter to the President of the Republic because of the fact that it is of a nature which appears to me to be beyond the attributes of the Jefe Director of the Guardia. It more or less concerns an international political situation in that it would be an attempt on the part of an officer of the United States Government to initiate legislation in the Nicaraguan Congress. Also it would be likely to create the impression that the Jefe Director of the Guardia was interesting himself in the political aspects of the situation, which would be contrary to the intent of the proposed law. It is believed however that the Department of State of the United States could logically present this matter in its proper light to the Nicaraguan Government, and that as a sequence the Jefe Director of [Page 857] the Guardia, when called upon by the Nicaraguan Government, could present the draft of a proposed law, for which purpose the necessary data could be obtained from the War and Navy Departments of the United States.

I am, my dear Mr. Beaulac,

Very truly yours,

C. B. Matthews
[Enclosure 2]

The Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua ( Matthews ) to the American Chargé ( Beaulac )

Sir: In reply to your letter of April 1, 1932,52 in regard to the measures being taken for carrying out the policy set forth in the memorandum of February 5, 1931,53 I have the honor to furnish you herewith the following detailed information as to what has already been accomplished, and the plans for the future turning-over of the Guardia Nacional to control of native Nicaraguan officers.

At the present writing the following officers of Nicaraguan nationality have been commissioned and are in active service:

Lieutenants (line) 35
Lieutenants (Medical Corps)  3
Total 38

The present class of the Military Academy will graduate, and the students will receive their commissions as Second Lieutenants, on the 7th of the present month of April, and the total of Nicaraguan officers will be as follows on and after April 7, 1932:

From above 38
Non-commissioned officers—to be commissioned April 6th 4
Students to be commissioned April 7th 59
Total 101

Examinations have already been held and a class of students selected for the next class at the Military Academy, with a total of eighty. These students will graduate from the Military Academy on or about December 15, 1932, and on that date the total number of [Page 858] Nicaraguan officers, without making any calculations for natural attrition will be as follows:

From above 101
Graduates on December 15th 80
Medical officers—to be appointed  3
Total 184

On that date it is contemplated that any vacancies in the above total which may be created by the failure of some students to graduate, and from other causes, can easily be filled by the commissioning of outstanding non-commissioned officers who have had sufficient training and experience to warrant promoting them to commissioned rank, in continuation of the policy now in effect.

It will be noted from the above figures that it is contemplated commissioning only six medical officers. This is because it has been demonstrated by experience that it is impracticable to obtain trained men of the medical profession for the salary paid a Guardia officer. It is consequently believed that better results will be obtained by the system of contract surgeons. This system is applicable to the Guardia because of the large number of widely scattered posts where ordinary first aid and routine treatments are administered by the enlisted personnel of the Medical Corps, while cases necessitating the services of a medical officer are transported to the larger centers.

It goes without saying that the young officers in service and those yet to pass through the Military Academy have not the age or experience to assume command in the higher ranks of the Guardia. To meet this situation our present plans contemplate the appointment of Nicaraguans of mature age and with previous military experience as Jefe Director, Area Commanders, and the Staff. It is believed that these appointments should be made about two months prior to the final turn-over of the Guardia, that they may work side by side with the present Command and Staff for that period of time, in order to familiarize themselves with the situation and the duties which will devolve upon them.

It is recommended that commands below that of Department Commander be turned over to the Nicaraguan officers on December 15th of this year, and that General Headquarters with the Command and Staff and Department Commanders make the final turn-over on January 2, 1933, to the officers designated by the newly elected President of the Republic.

In closing, I again wish to invite attention to my letter of 16 November, 1931, recommending basic legislation for the maintenance and control of the future army of Nicaragua; and I cannot reiterate [Page 859] too strongly that this matter is of outstanding importance if the ground work already laid by our government in the establishment of the present comparatively non-partisan Guardia Nacional, is to endure and furnish any guarantee for the future stability of the Nicaraguan Federal Government.

Very truly yours,

C. B. Matthews
  1. Agreement Between the United States and Nicaragua Establishing the “Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua,” signed at Managua December 22, 1927, Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. iii, p. 434.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. ii, p. 841.