The United States government and its allies progressively trash and abuse fundamental principles of international law in inverse proportion to the steady, if uneven, decline in their global power, control, influence and prestige. In cahoots with the US government and its allies, the United Nations itself has promoted abuse of its own fundamental principles, practically abandoning the people of Palestine, facilitating aggression against Libya and Syria, adopting a blatantly neocolonial role in Haiti and Ivory Coast, and making a great many counterproductive interventions elsewhere, principally in Africa. When the UN system fails to oblige, then the United States and its allies take a do-it-yourself approach.
Lately, in Latin America and the Caribbean, their crude, cynical interventions have included, most obviously, permanent subversion in Venezuela, endless efforts to destabilize the governments of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador and a very clear intention to exploit current efforts at normalization so as to undermine Cuba’s revolutionary government. In that context, the memory of resistance plays a supremely important role as an active, current resource for the defense of the radical and revolutionary gains made by the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean over the last fifteen years. Innumerable components make up that living memory, with each country and people contributing their own great triumphs and terrible tragedies.
For many people alive now, the most important among many other crucial events are the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Sandinista Revolution twenty years later and the victory of Comandante Hugo Chávez in 1998. But those tremendous achievements themselves stood on the shoulders, so to speak, of many other powerful memories. In Nicaragua, General Augusto Sandino’s war against the US occupation stands out among all the other decisive historical events there, from the time of US expansion into the region during the 19th century to the present. Sandino’s extraordinary feat of arms showed that it is possible for a small guerrilla army to challenge, hold off and even defeat the military might of a great power.
Sandino’s campaign moral and spiritual strength were at least as important as military skill and physical endurance. One of the deep principles sustaining Sandino and his comrades was a fervent love of their country and a fierce determination to defend its sovereignty. The contrast between the moral sincerity and intellectual clarity of their faith in the cause of Nicaragua’s national liberation and the hypocrisy of their US antagonists is clear from this exchange between the arrogant commander of the US occupation and Sandino. On January 20th 1928 Rear Admiral David F. Sellers, Commander of the US Special Service Squadron operating against the forces of General Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua, wrote to Sandino demanding his surrender :
As you know, the US government in accordance with the Stimson agreements signed last May is committed to a) protect the life and property of North American and other foreign citizens and to maintain order in Nicaragua during the Presidential elections of next November.
Over the last days and months, the task assigned to the US forces resident in Nicaragua has been obstructed in the department of Nueva Segovia by the hostile activities of a certain part of the population under your command.
This refusal by you and your companions to accept and abide by the provisions of the Stimson agreements, supported by illegal operations by your men has caused considerable damage in terms of blood spilled unnecessarily, creating an intolerable situation in that department.
In full understanding of the solemn obligation undertaken by the United States to keep order in Nicaragua, disarming the country’s inhabitants, the forces under my command have increased considerably in men and munitions which we intend to use with all their power along with the vast resources our government has placed at our disposal.
It is unnecessary to assure you that our only objective is to re-establish order in Nueva Segovia, in order to realize complete peace in conditions which permit the peaceful citizens of Nicaragua to live with their families and property in the security they are entitled to expect.
Likewise, it is superfluous for me to declare emphatically that our forces energetic and intensive campaign, to begin shortly, can have only one decisive final outcome.
The unnecessary sacrifice of human life is a point so serious that it occurs to me, despite your refusal to disarm on earlier occasions, now, in the light of subsequent events, you may want to consider ending the current armed resistance to the forces of the United States and that you will know how to follow the example of your fellow citizens of both political parties who in May last year agreed to settle their differences in a highly patriotic spirit without further bloodletting.
Carrying out my government’s policy to re-establish order in the most expeditious possible way I do not feel justified in holding back any of the energetic preparations currently under way unless you decide it opportune to answer immediately in writing your willingness to discuss the ways and means whereby you and your companions accept the Stimson agreements.
I would be pleased to receive any communication you send to me, care of the Legation of the United States in Managua”
The Stimson agreements Sellers refers to were the result of shameful negotiations by corrupt Nicaraguan leaders with the US government representative Henry Stimson who notoriously remarked that Nicaraguans were incapable of governing themselves. A couple of weeks later the journalist Carleton Beals of the New York newspaper, “The Nation” delivered to Sellars the following message from General Augusto Sandino, dated February 3rd:
“I had composed a reply in which I answered concretely, point by point, your letter of January 20th, but special circumstances prevented me from sending it to you directly. I make reference now to the last point of your letter. Do not think that the current struggle has as its origin or point of departure the recently passed revolution. Today this is a struggle of the Nicaraguan people in general to eject the foreign invasion of my fatherland. As regards the Stimson-Moncada agreements, we have repeated our rejection of them a thousand times.
The only way to put an end to this struggle is the immediate withdrawal of the forces invading our country, at the same time replacing the current President with a Nicaraguan citizen who is not among the candidates for the Presidency and that representatives from Latin America supervise the elections instead of North American marines.
Fatherland and Freedom
By today’s standards, they could almost be a couple of intellectuals politely voicing an agreement to disagree. But Sellers served in the US military campaigns against Samoa and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, prior to service in the First World War and his subsequent posting to Nicaragua. So Sellers was absolutely the archetypal imperialist military flunkey, ready to perpetrate atrocities and obey any order in the cause of promoting his government’s imperialist agenda. In this he is no different to his military successors like Curtis Lemay in Korea, William Westmoreland in Vietnam, David Petraeus in Iraq or Stanley McCrystal in Afghanistan. These individuals, like their European counterparts, placed themselves all too willingly at the service of their government’s criminal wars of genocidal conquest and occupation.
Sellers was no different, in the Philippines or in Nicaragua he did what he was ordered to do regardless of the human cost to the civilian population he falsely professed to be defending. Later in November of the same year of 1928, confronted with the failure of his attempts to subdue General Sandino’s forces, Sellers again wrote to Sandino appealing in vain to the Nicaraguan hero to capitulate. Sandino replied with a remark written in the immortal blood of Latin American heroes and martyrs from Tupac Amaru, Dessalines and Bolívar to José Martí, Zapata and Charlemagne Péralte, to Fidel and Che and Carlos Fonseca, or Manuel Marulanda and Hugo Chávez.
With forthright purity, Sandino wrote to Sellers:
“A people’s sovereignty is not debated over, but defended, arms in hand.”
Now, after a little more than a decade of renewed progress undoing centuries of genocide, enslavement and ruthless neocolonial exploitation, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean again face yet another intervention offensive by the United States and its allies under different modalities but with the same effective intent. For example, Haiti’s elections are deliberately maladministered under the watchful gaze of UN functionaries, NATO country diplomatic staff and embedded NGO managers. Their efforts more than equal the military force of the US marines of Sandino’s time in securing electoral outcomes preordained by the corporate interests for whom the US and European governments work.
Likewise, the US embassy has now effectively colonized the government of President Mauricio Macri in Argentina and the National Assembly in Venezuela respectively. In Bolivia, the US government is supporting NGOs and the political opposition campaigning against re-election for President Evo Morales, subject of a forthcoming national referendum. In Honduras and Guatemala, both governments are firmly under the thumb of US diplomats in the region with US Vice-President Joe Biden and his government colleagues relentlessly pushing the failed recipes of neoliberal liberalization to address poverty and counterproductive militarization to tackle chronic security problems. Elsewhere, Peru, Chile and Mexico have all signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a US sponsored blueprint for global governance dominated by multi-national corporations.
This context renders more important than ever the inspirational examples of over 50 years of resistance by the Cuban Revolution, by Colombia’s revolutionary movements and the breakthroughs achieved by progressive, radical and revolutionary movements in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Equally important for achieving the region’s ultimate emancipation from US and European neocolonial intervention are the determination and commitment of all the political movements across the region from Honduras to Paraguay who have never abandoned their struggle for true national liberation and self-determination. Transmitted from generation to generation in countless ways, the moral and spiritual power of the continent’s immortal heroes and martyrs is crucially important to the success of that struggle. The enduring ultimate sacrifice made for Nicaragua and for a Greater Latin America by General Augusto Sandino, Blanca Aráuz and their comrades is the clearest possible example of the virtually invincible power engendered by the memory of resistance.