Tomás Guatemala, reluctant rebel,
surrenders at Jinotega
Guatemala was a lifelong Jinotega
resident and active Sandinista rebel
until early 1929, when he withdrew from the
rebel movement. In this, the first of his
statements to his Marine-Guardia interrogators,
he frames his involvement with the EDSN as
involuntary, which was a lie, though it's also
true that his allegiance was not strong.
As the ancillary documents show, a few months
later he would quit, and soon after be arrested,
jailed, and released on the condition that he
work as a spy.
Here he provides a valuable
insider's look at the rebel movement at this
critical juncture, only six weeks before the
November 1928 presidential elections, and a
glimpse into the ambiguities that so often
marked Segovian political identities and
allegiances. (Photo of Liberal
soldiers turning in their arms, Tipitapa, May
As we see in the fourth ancillary document, Tomás Guatemala
was arrested by the Guardia in Jinotega on
January 29, 1929. On his person were found
a safe-conduct pass signed by Sandino and some
letters from Major Rafael Altamirano. This was
Guatemala's second detention in only a few
The information gained through his interrogation
sheds considerable light on various rebel
leaders, especially Pedrón,
under whom Guatemala had previously served
(though his claim that Sandino had known Pedrón
since childhood was false). Soon after his
imprisonment in the National Penitentiary,
Guatemala agreed to serve as a spy for the
Marines & Guardia, though in January 1930 the
Guardia concluded that he could not be trusted,
and he was incarcerated again until at least
October 1930 (as seen here).
Guatemala's case underscores several key
features of the evolving rebellion
particularly the tendency of many of the
Defending Army's less ardent members to drift
away from the movement after Moncada's election
in November 1928. In his letter, excerpts from
which are included below, Sandino chastises
Guatemala for his tepid allegiance to the cause.
The case is also exemplary of the heavy-handed
repressive tactics of the Marines & Guardia
the big stick that accompanied their handful of
carrots. (Ironically, Abraham Rivera,
deeply committed to Sandino's cause, was
released by the Marines-Guardia, while Tomás
Guatemala, tepidly committed to the movement,
Two bandits surrendered at
Jinotega 14 September and gave the following
Tomas Guatemala, has a house in Cua. Came into
Jinotega about Easter time got some supplies for
his place and when Sandino came through early in
April on the way to Garrobo took everything and
made him go along; that Sandino never trusted
him, but assigned him to Altamirano's band and
they made him work. He cut trail to Pis Pis. Was
at Poteca, where they had camp about three hours
travel up from Gulke's Camp, left late July or
first of August with Altamirano [Pedron] and
escaped at first opportunity after had reached
country he knew. Has hid out since until he had
news Altamirano had gone north again. Says that
Jose Leon Diaz is still alive. That it was his
band bombed in the Coco on July 24th that all
the rifles were lost when the boats were bombed
and could not be recovered. Says conditions are
bad. Only one doctor with the headquarters and
none with small bands. Men have leg sores and
fever. If they have at one time a week's rations
they are doing well. That there are not so many
Honduranians with the main body; that Altamirano
has no machine guns and only 20 to 25 men, not
so well armed; i.e., not all of the rifles will
shoot. This man gave a tremendous lot of
information. Some old, confirming our own report
and much that I believe to be false. I have
known he was in the vicinity of Jinotega for
about four weeks, and made special effort to get
him in. He turned in after a letter from Jefe
This man speaks very good
English, can carry on a conversation in German,
and has a smattering of French and Portuguese.
Says he knows civil engineering; claims to be
self-taught. Has been in the mahogany business
on the Cua and Coco; know to Mr. Gulke here, but
unfavorably. Says he is a drunken bum who gets
out his lumber by maltreating the inhabitants.
Chavarria says he is not level-headed and drinks
too much. Says he would have been several days
earlier but for the fact they couldn't get him
sober. I have made arrangements to have this man
watched at all times. He intends to live at
Aramas, between Jinotega and the flying field
until it is safe for him to return to Cua.
IR28.10.08: 7, RG127/43A/3
A. C. Sandino to Tomás Guatemala, January 7, 1929.
El Chipotón, Nicaragua, C.A. enero 7 de 1929
Capitán TOMAS GUATEMALA
He visto con atención las noticias que de usted me
llegan y reconozco que no tiene justificación la actitud
de usted frente a los acontecimientos de nuestra Nación.
Nada justifica la entrega de la vida a quienes conculcan
nuestros derechos de pueblo soberano. Es lo que han
hecho los que como usted se retiraron de la lucha para
ir a entregarse a ver con impasibilidad la agonia de
nuestra Patria. ...
Le adjunto un salvo-conducto para que las Fuerzas de
nuestro Ejército le dejen en paz, pero teniendo que ese
salvo-conducto solo le servirá a usted para dedicarse a
trabajar, no para entrar nuestros Campamentos. ...
La libertad no se conquista con flores, he dicho más de
una vez. Ella requiere de todos los esfuerzos de los
hombres que no resignen a ser esclavos. ...
/s/ AUGUSTO CÉSAR SANDINO [seal]
Cuartel General del Ejército Defensor de la Soberania
Nacional de Nicaragua
RG127/192/Casefile Tomas Guatemala
Reproduced in Alejandro Bendaña, La mística de
Sandino, pp. 222-224
EDSN-Docs References to tomÁs
- Mentioned in letter from Sandino to Abraham Rivera
- Mentioned In note from Sandino to Sgt. Major Francisco
- Mentioned In note from Sandino to Sgt. Major Francisco
29.01.07 - Letter from Sandino
chastising him for his attitude (above)
HEADQUARTERS, CENTRAL AREA
GUARDIA NACIONAL DE NICARAGUA
29 January, 1930.
From: The Area Commander.
To: The Jefe Director, Guardia Nacional, Managua
Subject: Tomas Guatemala, report on.
1. I have to report that Tomas Guatemala has
not performed any services of benefit to the troops
occupying this Area, and his reports have been of such
nature as to indicate falsehood and positive
2. The subject named man has made reports
from time to time as to location of bandit groups, and
upon investigation these reports have proved false. One
example of this nature is that he reported Pedron
Altamirano with sixty men camped at Tomatoya on the
night of 15-16 January, 1930. A combat patrol was
immediately despatched, and thoroughly investigated the
area, and found no indications of any bandits having
been in this area for about one month. Tomas Guatemala
lives within one league of Tomatoya. Other reports from
this man have been found to be of similar nature.
3. On the night of 15-16 January, 1930, I
ordered Tomas Guatemala to proceed next day to Los
Cuchillos, get in touch with Montenegro, who was
reported to be so located with six men, and talk with
Montenegro with reference to receiving guarantees and
reward for rendering service to the Government. He was
directed to arrange for a conference between myself and
Montenegro at any place and under any conditions of
armistice and protection that Montenegro might desire.
Guatemala reported to me last night that he had left his
home January 17th, conferred with Montenegro on January
18th, and returned to his home January 19th. He further
reported that Montenegro refused to consider any
proposition, and threatened his life for making such a
suggestion. This report is undoubtedly entirely false,
and I have every reason to believe that Guatemala held
no conference with Montenegro and did not go to Los
Cuchillos. His description of the place where the
conference was held was inaccurate, since I am familiar
with the locality, and First Lieutenant Marcos, G.N.,
who was present during the report, is thoroughly
familiar with the places reported upon. His report was
very incoherent. / p. 2 /
4. Another agent named Villegas, whose
truthfulness and loyalty has been proven and whose life
was spared some months past, was informed that a rumor
was about that Tomas Guatemala was in a certain
locality. He was directed to locate him, follow him from
January 17th to 20th inclusive, and report upon who
visited and conferred with him during this time. This
agent returned on January 20th and reported that it was
true that Guatemala was in the vicinity, described his
house, stated that Guatemala was drunk in his brother's
house on January 18th, and that on January 19th,
Guatemala went to Los Robles with a woman to purchase a
pig, and that he could assist in his capture at anytime.
He was informed to keep this man under surveillance as a
bandit spy until we were able to capture his
confederates. Villegas has no knowledge of Guatemala's
connection with the Guardia or of any plans to
communicate with Montenegro.
5. On January 25th as Captain Puller's
combat patrol was arriving at Jinotega, Braulio
Altamirano, nephew of Pedron Altamirano and a member of
his band, met and passed the patrol very near
Guatemala's house, stopped near the house and bought a
drink. This man was recognized by Villegas, who was some
distance in the rear of the patrol, and immediate report
was made. Guatemala stated, when questioned, that he saw
the patrol, recognized various other people who passed
at the same time, that he was in a position of
observation all morning, that he knew Braulio Altamirano
very well, but denied that he passed that day. The
report that Braulio Altamirano did pass the patrol near
Guatemala's house has been confirmed from other sources.
6. Tomas Guatemala was ordered last night to
proceed immediately to Guali area, locate Pedron
Altamirano's camp in that general vicinity, which has
been reported as Santa Maria and also as Cerro Venado,
prepare a map of all trails that may lead to the camp
(including blind trails), and return with names of
persons in Jinotega who are familiar with these trails.
(The persons who know the trails will be arrested and
ordered to serve as guides in event the camp is
7. It is believed that Tomas Guatemala is
unreliable, and his connection and friendship with the
bandits is very strongly suspected. It is recommended
that this office be authorized to arrest him and
immediately transfer him to the National Penitentiary as
an escaped prisoner, unless he produces reliable
information upon return from his present assignment.
/s/ G. B. Erskine,
January 30, 1929.
Statement of Tomás Guatemala.
I state: That having received a letter directed to me by
the Jefe Político of Jinotega don Rigoberto Reyes, in
the month of August last [August 1928] he informed me
that the President of the Republic Don Adolfo Diaz had
given ample guarantees to those that had committed
criminal faults in the ranks of General Sandino, and to
assure his affirmations he sent me several pamphlets
published by the newspapers, observing also that I was
anxious to see my family and that it was time for me to
come before the authorities and received the guarantees
offered. I wanted to leave those ranks from which I was
already running away, as soon as I received the letter,
I decided to come to Jinotega which is my native town,
and on the 14th of September  with two more
friends I came before don Rigoberto Reyes to procure my
amnesty, and accompanied by don Rigoberto Reyes and Dr.
Trinidad Castellon went to the American Command who at
that time had as its Jefe Captain Shaw. They referred
the Captain that came to claim the guarantee which the
Government had offered.
After that the Captain discussed with them for a long
time the guarantees that were to be given to me,
decided, that he did not find it convenient to extend me
my passport [safe-conduct pass], but it was necessary
for me to go to his office so as to help him to receive
the statement from the other two who had come with me.
On the afternoon of the same day, 14 September last, the
Captain personally took my oath in which I was required
not to take up arms against the Nicaraguan Government
and against the American Marines while they are helping
the Government of Nicaragua. Under these conditions,
also expressed in the passport, he extended the referred
passport as my guarantee.
It is natural that on leaving the ranks of Sandino they
would accuse me as a traitor. I remained for some time
in my house at the Llano de La Cruz, two miles North of
this town, but as the time for the election was closing,
the committee of propaganda pro-Moncada in Jinotega,
appointed me Inspector of Propaganda of the Bocaycito
zone up to La Cruz and the Valle of Pantasma of this
In charge of this commission, I left Jinotega on the
27th of September (as far as I can remember), but when I
reached Paso Real I was informed that the first
assassination had happened and which had been committed
by the troops of General Sandino in the person of don
Gonzalo Blandon, don Carmen Valdivia, and four men more.
Being a personal friend of Dr. Blandon and Valdivia I
wanted to wait for news and see what I could do for
them, for they were assassinated on the pretext of being
propagandists (according to what we were informed by
some members of the families of the dead men). When I
was informed that the bodies of the assassinated men had
already been four days without being buried, and while
staying in the house of don Audilio Palacios, a brother
of don Carmen Valdivia, I advised that a number of six
men at least, should be looked for in order to bury the
men, and effectively, we did not find six men but ten,
and went towards the place where the bodies of the men
were, which was at a distance of about four leagues from
the place where I was, and once we reached the place we
buried two of the bodies and brought home that of
In order to fulfill this commission it was necessary to
take some time, I had a delay of two days on my way, and
as the mother of Valdivia begged me not to go again too
far into the mountains as something could happen to me.
Two days after I went to "Cua" and when I reached the
place called El Guapinol, I was informed that Pedro
Altamirano, nicknamed Pedron, had passed by that place
asking for me, saying that he would cut my head off as
soon as he captured me, and as he had taken the road
which comes out at the Llanos de Jinotega. I could not
return because the road was intercepted by the troops of
Pedron and had to continue towards "Cua" to carry out my
commission of propaganda two or three days after being
in "Cua" was informed of the fatal news that at the
place called La Pavona, Geronimo Gutierrez and others
had been assassinated, and because this place is close
to "Cua" I had to run away while Pedron passed by. He
came close to "Cua" and I had to run away as he was
informed that I was in propaganda and pursued me with
his troops, but fear and good luck kept me in the bush,
but he laughed at this, assuring according to what I was
informed that I would not escape from him.
When I was informed that he left that place, I returned
to Jinotega, where the news of my death had already been
spread. The first thing I did was to go to the Jefatura
Politica, to inform the Jefe Politico what had happened.
He received me with courtesy and advised me to go to the
[Guardia] Command and inform them, which I did. The Jefe
of the Command received me with courtesy and told me
that he had been informed as to my being assassinated
but that he was glad that it was not so. My acting as
the Jefe de Propaganda ended like this in that zone.
I also told the Jefe of the Command that I could not
expose myself to go alone in those places. Since that
time I remained in my house at Apanas, until 9 December,
the date on which I reached an agreement with don Lucas
Zeas to work for him as resident manager [mandador] of
his coffee plantation, situated on the other side of the
Rio Tuma, of this jurisdiction, but on the 18th of
January of the current year I was informed that Pedro
Altamirano was near the place where I was with troops.
The next day I sent a workman to see what direction he
had taken and the worker informed me that he was told
that Pedron was heading toward Coyolar. On the 20th I
was informed that Guardias Nacionales and a few Marines
were following Pedron and not wishing them to return I
came back to Jinotega to see if I could get any people
to pick coffee.
In one of my trips to the town, Thursday, 24th of the
current month, I met a man in the street whom I know and
his name is Nicolas Davila, who delivered to me several
papers, ignoring its contents, and I only "pude" a
letter which was directed by General Sandino, saying
that in spite of my being impartial he sent me a
safe-conduct pass, not to return to his ranks but to
dedicate myself to work.
I followed my way and when I came to the house of don
Balbino Garcia, don Clemente Torres came and I was
brought to the office of the Guardia Nacional and from
there I was taken to jail where I am now. I must also
say that I have been well treated by the Jefe Politico
and Director of Police and the Marines, especially by
the officers who never mistreated me but treated me with
courtesy. Don Lucas Zeas can give a good reference about
me and can show the letter I wrote to him from his
hacienda, he is also the owner of the mule I rode the
day I was captured.
Jinotega, 30 January, 1929
/s/ Tomas Guatemala.
HEADQUARTERS GUARDIA NACIONAL DE NICARAGUA
5 February 1929.
From: The Jefe Director
To: The Division Commander, G.N., National Penitentiary
Subject: Bandit Prisoner Tomas Guatemala.
1. Please confine Tomas Guatemala in the National
Penitentiary as a bandit prisoner.
2. He was captured by the Guardia Nacional in Jinotega
with correspondence and papers on his person from
Sandino to himself and Guadalupe Rivera. The papers
which form the evidence against Guatemala are in the
GN-2 file at Guardia Headquarters and can be found in
Tomas Guatemala's personal folder and in a large
envelope attached thereto.
Victor F. Bleasedale,
Major, Guardia Nacional,
Dist: Jinotega. Jinotega-2. Nat. Pen. Nat Pen.-2. Tomas
Political prisoners, National Penitentiary, Managua,
1928, US National Archives.
Caption reads: "Prisoners in Nicaragua, from a series
by Palmer, November 1928."
S E C R E T
24 October, 1929.
Jefe Director Gen. McDougal to
S E C R E T 24 October, 1929.
From: The Jefe
To: Captain H. H. Hanneken, G.N.
Via: Area Commander, Central Area, Ocotal.
Subject: Tuma Guatemala
1. Attached hereto is the intelligence
report on Tuma Guatemala captured by the Marines and
held as a bandit prisoner in the Penitentiary.
2. It has been suggested to me several times
that Tuma be used as a secret service man in the
Jinotega Area to obtain information through his former
bandit connections as he had given some fairly accurate
information in the past and seemed willing to cooperate.
3. A few days ago I had a talk with this man
and offered him his liberty provided he would play
square with us and would act as an agent of Captain
Hanneken's in the procurement of information.
Accordingly he was allowed to escape last night and,
after one day's visit with his family here in hiding, he
will proceed to Jinotega and there report to Captain
Hanneken. I furnished him with a paper which states that
"he is Tuma Guatemala of whom I have written a letter."
His escape will be published in the papers in order to
protect him in his negotiations with the bandits. He
states that it would not be safe for him to visit
Altamirano's camp as Altamirano has information that he
has guided Marines and has assisted the Brigade. However
he believes that through friends he can pick up much
4. He was advanced $10 for his expenses to
Jinotega and you are authorized to pay him small amounts
from time to time provided he is producing, not to
exceed $50 a month. This money is not in the nature of
payment for services but for his subsistence and
expenses as he is performing this duty in exchange for
5. He was told that if he gave faithful
service and valuable information that the charges would
be dropped against him and that he would be given
complete freedom. Please keep me informed on the value
of this experiment.
/s/ D. C. McDougal
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