Herbert Hoover photo

The President's News Conference

April 17, 1931


THE PRESIDENT. I have no statement for quotation today. I thought perhaps it might be helpful if I reviewed and gave you a little background about this Nicaraguan situation. You will recollect that Sandino 1 has been operating his group of bandits up in the north central part of Nicaragua in the mountains on the borders of Honduras, and the Marines and the National Guard have policed the country in such a fashion that he has given no great disturbance for the last 3 or 4 years. He has recently--in the last week or two--sent out three and possibly four small bands of organized assassins coming down the rivers in canoes to the west coast. That is in the territory that has hitherto been entirely undisturbed by bandits. They have directed their activities towards isolated Nicaraguan and American plantations and have acted in a fashion that would do discredit to an Iroquois Indian--with free murder and assassination of isolated Americans and isolated Nicaraguans.

1 Augusto Cesar Sandino was the leader of a rebel group in Nicaragua.

You will recollect that the Nicaraguan Government undertook the building up of a constabulary under American marine officers. That constabulary has been built up to the point where it was able to take over the responsibility for maintaining order, and we, therefore, were in a position to withdraw the great bulk of our Marines. That constabulary is much better adapted to hunting bandits and assassins than the normal marines because they are better habituated to the bush and the kind of fighting that that implies, so that we were in position to make very large withdrawals in accordance with our previous undertakings and agreements.

You have also to bear in mind that the whole of these forces of [the] Guardia, except for perhaps 100 of the guards, that is, the constabulary, and the Marines are all concentrated on the west coast; that it is 200 miles across Nicaragua without a road; that to move forces from the west coast sections over into the sections near Bluefield on the east coast would be a matter literally of weeks; and they could not move any adequate army of equipment across. So that the Navy has done the very sensible thing of putting new forces into the east coast. And that in no way changes the fact that we have a surplus on the west coast, and there is no reason why we should not remove some of those marines and put whatever is necessary of forces along the east coast in order to protect the Americans in that quarter. Furthermore, the Navy is assisting the Nicaraguan Government to transport [the] Guardia across by airplanes to strengthen up their local force. These, as I say, are much better adapted to hunting bandits or assassins of this character, and they are taking over the job of working further inland and the American Marines will take care of the situation that arises along the coast.

There are some things that one could say about Mr. Sandino. Many of you have realized that he has been set up in some of our Latin American countries as a great patriot. He heads no political cause. He was a member of Mr. Moncada's 2 own army and part of Moncada's forces at the time of the revolution with which we had to deal 6 years ago. Moncada and his forces in an election held under American auspices-and a fair election--won out. In other words, Mr. Sandino's own party and his own political party, if he ever had one, is now in government of Nicaragua under Moncada. So that he is just a plain bandit. He has all the qualities and character of a city gangster in the United States. He is no patriot or he would not at the moment when Nicaragua is involved in a great calamity start more disturbances and embarrassments to his own country. That, however, is only a comment of a Nicaraguan citizen.

2 Jose Maria Moncada was President of Nicaragua.

So far as Americans are concerned, they will be protected in the accessible places along the coast, and those who happen to be inland, of whom there are very few, are coming out to the coast. And the Guardia will get busy to see if they can get hold of Mr. Sandino. It does not look as if 100 men who are involved in it could do so much but 100 men running loose in inaccessible country can make a lot of uncertainty and create a lot of harm and embarrassment to all citizens.

That is the actual situation. There is some confusion in the minds of the public over the fact of our withdrawal of marines from the west coast. But it would have no more relationship than if they were somewhere in the United States, 2,000 miles apart, because there is no communication between the two places. Such forces as we need to put on the east coast we can handle from Panama and Guantanamo in a third of the time--probably a tenth of the time--that we could handle them from the west coast. I do not myself anticipate that it is going to require any great force to take care of 100 or 150 assassins and gangsters, and that, therefore, it is not a national disturbance of the first order.

Note: President Hoover's one hundred and eighty-sixth news conference was held in the White House at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 17, 1931.

On April 1 t, 1931, rebels loyal to Augusto Cesar Sandino attacked Logtown, and on April 15, looted the coastal town of Cape Gracias a Dios. In this new outbreak of fighting, an American missionary and eight American employees of the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company were killed. By April 17, American gunboats arrived at ports on Nicaragua's east coast.

Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/212203

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