THIS IS THE
for evidence relating to
Sandinista General Pedro Altamirano, or Pedrón.
One of the wiliest guerrilla chieftains in all the
history of Latin America, and universally considered by
the Marines-Guardia as the most dangerous "bandit jefe"
after Sandino himself, Pedrón occupies a unique position
in the history of the Sandino rebellion
— a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
(Right: photograph of painting of EDSN Gen. Pedro
Altamirano, kind courtesy of Walter C. Sandino)
Around 55 or 60 years old
and functionally illiterate, Pedrón showed an
unparalleled ability to elude his pursuers. From
the beginning to the end of the war, and despite
relentless efforts, the Marines-GN never so much as
glimpsed him, except in photographs. Occasionally
nipping at his rear guard or flanks, they never engaged
his entire band in combat, despite repeatedly combing
his area of operations with dozens of patrols led by the
most experienced field officers. Remarkably, he was the only Sandinista to remain active
in the field after Sandino's assassination in February
For nearly four years
after the Guardia had utterly crushed every other
remnant of the EDSN, Pedrón and the remnants of his
band eluded all detection, until he was finally betrayed
and killed in late 1937. Indeed, some former
rebels, interviewed in the 1980s, attributed his
extraordinary abilities to telepathy, clairvoyance, or
some other special magical powers. And indeed there are
times when his ability to avoid all detection does seem
to border on the magical.
Exactly how Pedrón managed this feat is not known, and
likely will never be. But some points are clear.
He knew the terrain with extraordinary intimacy.
He instilled a fierce personal loyalty among his many
followers and supporters. And he was ruthless,
brooking absolutely no opposition or dissention within
or outside his ranks. With a well-deserved
reputation as a cutthroat and murderer, he is known to
have killed hundreds of Nicaraguans, most suspected of treason or
spying. His methods were gruesome, his usual
custom to kill and mutilate by machete. The most
infamous case was the
San Marcos murders of October 1928.
Yet he pardoned many others, or let them go with a
warning. He was also a deeply religious man who
frequently invoked God in his dictated missives and
letters. His his use of spectacular violence was
highly patterned and seems to have followed a strict
In camp and on the trail
tolerated absolutely no consumption of alcohol. In
several instances he sentenced to death lieutenants with
long service for violating this anti-drinking code.
One rebel woman he ordered shot for allegedly expressing
her view that carelessness among certain members of his
army had resulted in the deaths of her two rebel sons
(see EDSN-Doc 30.04.25 - Pedrón - Proceedings against
Tiburcia García). All the evidence
indicates that Pedrón was a ruthless killer with a
fierce love for Sandino's cause and for his homeland who
led an extraordinarily disciplined and loyal army.
(Left: another well-known photo of Pedrón, ca.
His army was big by rebel standards, usually from 200
to 300 men. He divided this army into smaller
units of 5-20 each and designated precisely where each
should be located at all times. He posted sentries
and spies on every possible trail or access point.
He almost always walked, rarely rode a horse, never kept
dogs, and his band usually cut their own trails.
He was intensely religious, often invoking God in his
utterances and dictated letters, and believed
passionately in the justice of the rebel cause.
Sandino he absolutely adored.
Periodically his band
go on raiding expeditions through the rich coffee and
mining districts, looting and burning farms and mines,
though he never entered any building or populated
area. As his men looted he stood far away with his
personal guard, his silhouette glimpsed from a distance
by witnesses on only a handful of occasions. In
these and other ways about which we can only conjecture,
Pedrón made it impossible for the Marines-GN to gather
any actionable intelligence whatever against him.
For years they spared few efforts to acquire such
intelligence. Nothing worked. Chesty Puller
once proposed copying Sandino's seal and signature to
lure Pedrón into a trap. The idea went nowhere.
Pedrón, his wife María, and some of his children, ca.
1930, US National Archives)
sum, in the Marines' sustained six-year effort to secure
actionable intelligence on Sandinista General Pedro
Altamirano, everything failed.
also essentially "trained" more than a dozen guerrilla
chieftains who first served as his "apprentices" in the
Jinotega-Matagalpa district, including Emilio Blandón,
Abraham Centeno, Gregorio Rizo, Santos Vásquez, Tránsito
Sequiera, and several of his sons, among others.
He also reportedly suffered from cancer of the throat
from around mid-1930, which is why the handful of
surviving photographs show his neck wrapped in cloth.
Yet he endured, surviving in the Jinotega wilds for 45 months after Sandino's assassination
(Feb. 1934-Nov. 1937) until he was
betrayed by one of his own men, in keeping with the
classic pattern for "social bandits" identified by
the historian Eric
Hobsbawm in his book Bandits (on Pedrón's
death, see Jesús Miguel "Chuno" Blandón, Entre Sandino y Fonseca, 2nd ed., Managua: Segovia Ediciones
Latinoamericanos, 2008, pp. 94-97. Image at
left: New York Times, 24 July 1935, 17
months after Sandino's assassination; clipping from
Nicaraguan memories of Pedrón
remain strong to this day. For instance, the
FSLN's decision to rename the hospital in La Trinidad "El
Hospital Pedro Altamirano" in the early 1980s
sparked considerable controversy. I also hear that many of the stories &
poems generated by old people during the early 1980s in the
Sandinistas' award-winning National Literacy Campaign (Cruzada
Nacional de Alfabetización), now housed in
El Museo de Alfabetización in Managua, took Pedrón
as their subject.
Remarkably, there exists no
biography or scholarly study of Sandinista General Pedro
Altamirano, in English or Spanish.
So watch this page for the
accumulation of evidence relating to the life &
times of this fascinating & puzzling character.
(Right: Pedrón's signature, from a dictated
letter to Capitán Sabas Manzanares, 25 June 1930,
of Sandino's wedding party, 18 May 1927, with Pedro
Altamirano on the far left, holding the bowl of food,
and next to his wife María
de Altamirano & one of
their sons. From the US National Archives.
Detail of the photograph
Pedrón on the left (marked "1"),
machete strapped to his belt, with EDSN Gen. Ismael
Peralta ("2") on the right. No date. From
the collection of Walter C. Sandino.
A revolver reputedly used by one
of Pedrón's relatives during the war against the
Marines, housed in the Museo del Café at La Hacienda
Selva Negra, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Photo by the author, July
well-known and widely circulated photograph of Pedrón,
probably in San Rafael del Norte during the rebels'
disarmament following the provisional peace accords of
February 1933, to which he was viscerally opposed.
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