Sandinista Silkscreen Print

Sandinista! – Mark Vallen. Linoleum block & serigraphic print. 1985. Nine color silkscreen print created to commemorate the anniversary of Augusto César Sandino’s death.

Sandinista – Mark Vallen. Linoleum block & serigraphic print. 1986. Nine color silkscreen print created to commemorate the anniversary of Augusto César Sandino’s death.

It was in 1984 that I originally carved the linoleum block from which I would pull the black and white print titled, Sandinista.

I created the print to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Augusto César Sandino, the legendary Nicaraguan patriot who was murdered February 21, 1934. Initially I mechanically reproduced the artwork as an offset litho flyer, of which thousands of copies were distributed in Los Angeles. Two years later I would rework the black and white artwork into a full color silkscreen print.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Sandino’s death, and having only a small number of my nine-color silkscreen prints remaining, I thought it would be appropriate to offer them as rare signed and numbered prints, as well as to make known the story behind their creation.

Just who was Augusto César Sandino? My interest in him began in the early 1970s, when I commenced serious study of Latin American history and found out that he was a celebrated figure in Nicaragua and throughout Latin America – even to this day; a man often compared to Simón Bolívar and referred to as the “General de los hombres libres” (General of free men). In the United States during the late 1920s, Sandino was villainized and condemned as a “bandit”, but by the late 1930s he was almost entirely forgotten in the U.S. Augusto César Sandino should be remembered as one who dreamt of, and fought for, a united Latin America that was free, sovereign, and independent.

By the late 20th century in Nicaragua, Sandino’s visage had been transformed into a popular, almost ubiquitous symbol of freedom. His silhouette was immediately recognizable to all, and the ten gallon hat that he wore in the 1930s became an ever-present symbol. This short-hand language of rebellion was to become so conceptually abstract that by the time of the 1979 revolution Sandino’s portrait was rarely seen: instead, minimalist and highly stylized depictions of his hat were etched or spray painted onto surfaces everywhere. Likewise, Sandino’s commanding silhouette was carved, daubed, and spray painted onto every available surface.

In my silkscreen print I portrayed an anonymous individual waving a flag marked with a silhouette of Sandino, his faceless outline a ghost that will forever haunt tyrants and invaders.

Signed and number copies of this print can be purchased here.

9 color Linoleum block & serigraphic print. 1986
(c) Mark Vallen. Hand pulled by the artist
Dimensions: 11” x 17”
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 50

“We do not protest against the magnitude of the intervention,
but simply against intervention.” – Augusto César Sandino

Augusto César Sandino was born May 18, 1895, in Nicaragua’s Masaya province, but his story actually began with the interventionist foreign policy of the United States. The U.S. was interested in Nicaragua as a potential site for a canal linking the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, expanding trade routes and extending U.S. control over the entire region. In order to guarantee that Nicaragua would remain under its domination, the U.S. directly intervened in the country several times starting in 1909. In 1912, Washington sent thousands of troops to wipe out a nationalist uprising – the beginning of a military occupation that continued until 1933.

When civil war broke out between Nicaraguan liberals and conservatives in 1926, Sandino joined and fought on the side of the liberals. In 1927 the U.S. intervened on the side of the conservatives “in order to protect U.S. citizens.” Initially landing some 5,000 U.S. soldiers in the city of Corinto, the Yanks then bombed the liberal-held city of Chinandega by airplane – it would be the very first air attack in U.S. military history to be conducted against a civilian population center. Liberal politicians and generals surrendered to the U.S. backed conservatives that same year, and Washington sent 800 more Marines to support the new regime, but Sandino refused to surrender. From his mountain jungle hideaway he issued a July 1st manifesto that read in part:

“My greatest honor is to have come up from the ranks of the oppressed, who are the heart and soul of our people. We have been at the mercy of those hired assassins who helped foment high treason: the Conservatives of Nicaragua who have destroyed the nation’s dream of freedom and relentlessly persecuted us as if we were not the sons and daughters of the same country. I accept the challenge to fight, and I myself am ready to initiate the struggle. My answer to the cowardly invaders and traitors to our country is my battle cry. My body and those of my soldiers will form walls against which the legions of Nicaragua’s enemies will be dashed to pieces.”

On July 16, 1927, the U.S. again used airpower against Nicaraguans, this time dropping bombs on Sandino’s forces in the city of Ocotal. It was another aviation first, the earliest known instance of U.S. ground forces directing an air attack. Five U.S. Marine biplanes managed to kill some 300 people, according to press accounts at the time. Newspaper editorial cartoons around the world expressed outrage and dismay over the carnage being inflicted by the U.S. air war. Soon after the air attacks, the U.S. worked with its client government in the capital of Managua on the creation of the National Guard – Nicaraguan troops that would be trained, armed, financed, and directed by U.S. commanders. In a March 28, 1928 article titled Expect Long Stay for Marines, the New York Times wrote about a comment then Secretary of State Charles E. Hughes made concerning the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua:

“Notwithstanding that Charles E. Hughes is quoted here as declaring at the recent Pan-American conference at Havana that the marines would be withdrawn from Nicaragua at the earliest possible time, it is improbable that any responsible person here believes they can be withdrawn for many months, perhaps for years, to come. The Nicaraguans themselves, Conservative and Liberals alike, declare unreservedly that anarchy would descend on the country again if the United States withdrew its forces.”

In November of 1932 Juan Bautista Sacasa won Nicaragua’s presidential election, and Sandino agreed to peace talks with Sacasa’s government. The U.S. Marines finally withdrew from the country in 1933, leaving their well trained and armed surrogates, the National Guard, to preserve order. On February 21, 1934, General Sandino, his father, and three aids were driven to President Sacasa’s home for dinner. By order of Anastasio Somoza García, head of the National Guard, Sandino and his party were seized by Guardsmen, taken to an open field, and fatally shot. Two years later Somoza overthrew the government of Sacasa and declared himself leader of the country. The U.S. government did not break diplomatic relations with Somoza’s regime, preferring instead to support military dictatorship in Nicaragua for the next four decades.

Street stencil of Sandino, Managua 1984

A 50 años Sandino Vive (After 50 years Sandino Lives) - Anonymous artist. 1984. Stencil artwork on the streets of Managua, Nicaragua, celebrating the nationalist hero, Augusto César Sandino.

The poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez assassinated Somoza in 1956, but power was immediately transferred to his eldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle. In 1961 nationalists and left-wing activists rallied behind the legacy of Augusto César Sandino to establish the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (F.S.L.N.), or the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Their intent was to bring down the Somoza dynasty. Luis Somoza Debayle would die of a heart attack in 1967, and the reins of government were then handed over to the youngest Somoza, West Point graduate Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Somoza the younger ran Nicaragua like it was his own personal fiefdom, his brutality and corruption shocking the international community, but the U.S. continued to support him until the very last moment.

Patria Libre o Morir (Free Country or Death) – Graffiti on the side of a bombed-out building in Managua, Nicaragua, 1979. A scribbled drawing of Sandino’s hat floats above the letters, F.S.L.N. (Sandinista National Liberation Front), the revolutionaries who overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Photo taken by Koen Wessing.

Patria Libre o Morir (Free Country or Death) – Graffiti on the side of a bombed-out building in Managua, Nicaragua, 1979. A scribbled drawing of Sandino’s hat floats above and below the letters, F.S.L.N. (Sandinista National Liberation Front), the revolutionaries who overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Photo taken by Koen Wessing.

By 1977 all of Nicaragua was swept up in strikes and insurrectionary violence against Somoza, and his feared National Guard unleashed a reign of terror across the nation. Pedro Chamorro, a critic of Somoza and the editor of the conservative newspaper, La Prensa, was murdered in 1978 – and the dictator was widely suspected of having ordered the newsman’s death. Sandinista rebels began to take over major towns and cities, and Somoza’s National Guard responded with the relentless aerial bombardment of civilian centers. Some 50,000 people died during this period, and since war conditions prevented burials in cemeteries, bodies were simply cremated in the streets.

On June 20, 1979, ABC news reporter Bill Stewart and his interpreter, Juan Espinosa, were stopped at a National Guard checkpoint in the capital of Managua. Troops ordered the two out of their car and escorted them a few yards from the vehicle. ABC cameraman Jack Clark remained in the car, filming the entire encounter. The soldier in charge made Stewart lie face down on the ground – moments later shooting him in the back of the head at close range. The Guardsmen then murdered Espinosa. Miraculously, Clark managed to put the car in reverse and evade the killers. That evening his film was broadcast on television news all around the world. In the U.S., there was so much public outrage over the killings that President Jimmy Carter was finally forced to cut military aid to Somoza. Less than a month later, on July 19, 1979, the dictator fled the country and the National Guard surrendered to the great-grandsons and granddaughters of Augusto César Sandino.

One Response to “Sandinista Silkscreen Print”

  1. […] 1980. During that period I was doing quite a lot of work in serigraphy, generally making prints of a political nature. As evidenced in the above, I was also interested in creating works of a more personal disposition. […]