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pedrÓn
 


     THIS IS THE Homepage 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 1934. 

     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 moral code.

     In camp and on the trail he 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. 1933)

   
  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 would 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.   (Right:  Pedrón, his wife María, and some of his children, ca. 1930, US National Archives)

     In sum, in the Marines' sustained six-year effort to secure actionable intelligence on Sandinista General Pedro Altamirano, everything failed.

    Pedrón 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 USNA/RG165/77/2653). 

      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, RG127/38/31)

 

.Photograph 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 immediately above.

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 2010.

 

 

The most 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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