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k-12 & college-level teaching & study guides

This photograph is from the website of Alfa Project - Women's Empowerment - Empoderamiento de las Mujeres, at www.saa.unito.it/alfa1/index.htm     how best to teach about sandino and the marines in nicaragua?   Good question!  This is the homepage for curricular suggestions & materials for middle school & secondary school teachers and college & university professors who want to incorporate into the classroom issues relating to US imperialism in Latin America and the US intervention in Nicaragua.

      In the near future I hope to add directed lesson plans, study guides & discussion questions on specific documents & document collections, developed in collaboration with students.  In the meantime, I suggest directing students to the Top 100 pages.  These are meant to be brief, easily digestible, reader-friendly narratives that present the full text of some very interesting documents, most accompanied by photos and ancillary documents.  Each of the Top 100 Documents (of which there are currently 56) is preceded by a brief critical introduction that summarizes how & why the the document was produced, what it says, why I think it's important, and some broader issues & themes it touches on.

     Some especially illuminating documents in the Top 100 collection include pgs. 2 & 3 on Sandino's revolutionary activities at the now-iconic San Albino Mine; pAGE 7 on a smooth-talking fake Sandinista "general" who lined his pockets peddling Nicaraguan patriotism in Central & Latin America; pAGE 9 on the sacking of the Neptune Mine; p. 22 on the infamous San Marcos murders; pAGE 28 on the observations of an anonymous member of the Segovian elite on what Sandinismo meant to him; and pAGE 41 on an English coffee grower's account of the sacking of his coffee farm . . . though there are any number of others that would make for some interesting classroom discussions (critical feedback on these pages is invited).

      I would also suggest directing students to the Patrol & Combat Reports (PC-Docs), which offer endless possibilities for classroom discussion and represent some of the most illuminating documents to come out of the US intervention.  Some especially interesting reports & collections of documents include Captain Hatfield's report & related documents on the Battle of Ocotal, followed by Major Floyd's report on the Special Expedition against El Chipote, Nov-Dec 1927 especially if read in tandem with the personal diary of Lt. J. Kilcourse and related reports on these events.  Also of interest is Lt. O'Day's report on the Battle of Bramadero in February 1928, accompanied by Sandino's and a Sandinista polemicist's accounts; and the reports by Captains Holmes, Skidmore, Gray, Kingston & Kenyon on the combined assault on El Chipote in April 1928.  There are some gripping documents in these collections.  Fish around.

      I conclude with the following Frequently Asked Questions about the US intervention that can provide a useful springboard for broader discussions among students about this topic.  I (soon will) respond to each question with a brief answer and suggestions for further reading.   Suggestions for additions to this list of FAQs are welcome.  Ideally this curricular effort will be a collaborative one so if you have any bright ideas on how to integrate Sandino & the Marines in Nicaragua into the classroom (or constructive criticism of the FAQs and my responses), please write!   mjsch313@yahoo.com 



1.   Why was the United States in Nicaragua to begin with?  Was it mainly to protect US investment in the country, or what?  Why did the United States care enough about events in Nicaragua to intervene militarily?

          The USA became involved in Nicaraguan affairs mainly because of a canal that was never built.  From the 1850s to 1902, Nicaragua was the favored locale for a trans-isthmian canal linking Atlantic & Pacific Oceans.  After late 1902 when President Teddy Roosevelt and the US Congress decided to build the canal in Panama (carved out of Colombia just for that purpose), the main US interest in Nicaragua was to prevent the building of a rival canal. 

          So in a nutshell, the USA was involved in Nicaraguan affairs mainly to protect the Panama Canal and US geo-strategic interests in the larger Caribbean Basin.  Recall that the United States had been actively intervening in its southern "backyard" from 1898 and the Spanish-Cuban-American War in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and even Honduras.  In Nicaragua the United States aimed mainly to prevent the Nicaraguans from building a canal that would rival the Panama Canal and potentially undermine US hegemony in the Caribbean Basin and Western Hemisphere.  To achieve this end, US policymakers deemed it necessary to promote its version of "order & stability" throughout the isthmus, and especially in Nicaragua. 

          Recall too that US imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was part & parcel of the Age of Imperialism and contests for empire among European powers, an important underlying cause of the Great War (1914-1918).  As a Great Power, the USA was essentially carving out its sphere of influence in the Americas, and working to prevent the British, Germans, French, and others from doing the same. 

           In short, the underlying causes of US involvement & military intervention in Nicaragua were deep and complex, but the main US goal was not to protect US investments in Nicaragua.  Such investments were a tiny fraction of US investments in Latin America and the world.  American gold mines in Nicaragua (like the famous San Albino Mine) were small fry compared to the big US investments in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the Middle East, and elsewhere.  The main goals were to foster "order & stability" and to "protect American lives & property" umbrella phrases that could be used to justify just about any specific policy, like taking over the country's banks & finances with the 1910 Dawson Pact, for instance.

          With respect to Sandino, the main goal was to eliminate what was officially recognized as "organized banditry".  In virtually all official US government records, Sandino and his followers were called "bandits".  Such bandits were seen as threats to the larger goals of fostering "order & stability" and "protecting American lives & property", so logically they needed to be eliminated.  Hence the US invasion & occupation of Las Segovias, which inevitably led to a lot of violence against civilians, which in turn sparked a huge anti-Yankee backlash among the region's campesinos and fueled the nearly six-year rebellion that is the subject of these pages.

          Ironically (as I've argued elsewhere), if the USA had simply ignored Sandino, let him sack & burn a few American properties and leave it at that, it is very likely that his entire rebellion would have fizzled and died by early 1929 (when Liberal General José María Moncada assumed the presidency after the US-supervised elections of November 1928, a leader the great majority of Nicaraguans appear to have seen as legitimate), leaving no organic social basis for the ideology of Sandinismo. 

          In other words, if the USA had ignored Sandino, it's very likely that Nicaraguans & Segovianos would have ignored him, too.  There'd have been no Sandino rebellion, and no Sandinista Revolution half a century later.  Talk about unintended consequences! 


2.  How was the US intervention in Nicaragua part of a broader pattern of US involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean during these years?  What are the best books to read on the subject? .


3.  Who was Augusto C. Sandino?  What kind of man was he?  What's the best biography of him in English?  In Spanish?


4.  What did Sandino want?  Why did he rebel against US intervention in Nicaragua?


5.  Why did the United States withdraw from Nicaragua when it did?  What role did internal US politics and the Great Depression play in the decision to withdraw US troops? 


6.  Who won the war?  Did Sandino succeed in defeating the Marines and kicking out the United States?


7.  How was Sandino killed?  Who killed him?  Why?  Was the United States involved?  What happened to his remains?


8.  What happened after Sandino's assassination?


9.  What is the relationship between Sandino's rebellion in the 1920s and 1930s and modern-day Sandinistas?


10.  How is Sandino remembered today?  What main legacy did he leave behind? 



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