During the neocolonial period, foreign powers' economic influence was felt heavily in Latin America. The investments of Great Britain and the United States ushered in a new era of modernization for Latin America. It was an era of great prosperity, as the countries all experienced a boom in the exportation of domestic goods such as rubber, bananas, and sugar. The wealthy were made even wealthier as they wealthy played the neocolonialist game. Social status was based upon cooperation and adherence to U.S. or European ideals. The ‘decent folk’ of Latin America went so far as to style their speech and dress on their foreign beneficiaries, as their wealth and status depended entirely on these white gentlemen.
While the influx of foreign capital and the boom of the domestic export economy greatly aided the upper classes, it did not help the poor. The common man's life changed little, and if anything, became worse. Peasants were used as disposable day laborers and many were unable to earn enough to support their families. The large landowners bought up much of the peasant land to fuel the export economy, leaving the common man even more dependent upon the societal elites.
However, even with such income disparity, prosperity was able to reach many areas of society. Education became a must among the wealthy. The literacy rate of urban populations was greatly increased. In some cases, even the indigenous or mestizo peoples were able to ride the wave of modernity. Authors, such as the novelist Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis or the writer Ruben Dario, became internationally renowned for their talent despite their skin color. Even women began to garner greater recognition, both in Latin America and internationally. Paulina Luisi was the first Uruguayan woman to receive a medical degree, and became an internationally known supporter of women's rights. While change was slow in coming, the people looked up to such examples of 'one of their own' making it.
The shift to look within their own community for role models was catalyzed by the United States' increasingly unpopular relations with Latin America. The U.S. saw itself as the source and enforcer of progress in its backyard, while Latin Americans often found their interests to be mutually exclusive. The U.S.'s efforts in Latin America were largely fueled by the cherished idea of white America’s racial superiority.
Under this doctrine, the United States launched a ‘splendid little war’ in which it effectively seized Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. They did not stop there. Whenever it was beneficial to U.S. interests, Marines would land in Latin America. Most notable was the five-year civil war, known as the Constitutionalist War, in Nicaragua during the 1920s. This conflict made the guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino a household name in Latin America. He spearheaded the anti-American sentiment that arose during these years, and was a hero to Latin Americans for opposing the United States. It is for this reason he is a great example of an ideal Latin American during this time. He fought for Latin America because he loved it, and was not distracted by foreign interests, power, or money.
Augusto SandinoBorn in 1895, Augusto Calderon Sandino was the illegitimate mestizo child of the landowner Gregorio Sandino and one of Gregorio Sandino's household servants. He witnessed firsthand the violence of United States involvement in Nicaragua at the young age of 17, and this incident colored Sandino's perception of foreign powers. After trying to kill a man for insulting his mother, Sandino fled to Mexico. There, he was swept up in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, and joined the Seventh Day Adventists, who were anti-imperialist, communist, and anarchistic revolutionaries. With the post-Mexican Revolution and anti-imperialist mindsets surrounding him, Sandino's perception of the United States only became more negative. Sandino returned to Nicaragua in 1926, and soon began fighting U.S. involvement there.
In the same year Sandino returned to Nicaragua, the Constitutionalist War broke out in Nicaragua. Liberal Nicaraguan soldiers revolted against the conservative President Diaz, who was recently put into power with pressure from the United States. Sandino, seeing his opportunity to combat the imperialistic U.S., gathered a group of common workers and led a few guerilla attacks before meeting with General Jose Maria Moncada, the leader of the Liberal Army. However, Moncada distrusted Sandino's guerilla tactics, and refused to provide reinforcements and supplies to the young and then-unknown Sandino. Without Moncada's soldiers, Sandino began recruiting peasants to his growing army, and he began to earn the notice of many liberal leaders. After providing valuable assistance to the Liberal Army forces marching toward the capital, Managua, Sandino earned the respect and recognition of many of the liberal leaders. Already, Sandino was making an impression on Nicaraguans with his audacity and skill. However, when the Liberal Army appeared to be on the cusp of victory, the United States threatened to intervene unless Moncada agreed to a ceasefire. With the new pressure of United States' military, Moncada signed the ceasefire agreement in 1927, allowing President Diaz to finish his term, and leaving U.S. Marines in Nicaragua to supervise the next election. Sandino, unwilling to accept surrender to the U.S., rejected the ceasefire and his army began a guerilla war against the United States Marines.
Sandino felt Moncada had betrayed his country by agreeing to a U.S.-dictated ceasefire, and immediately declared war on the United States. Sandino now saw himself as fighting on behalf of all Latin Americans in an effort to throw off the chains of U.S. oppression. He demanded that President Diaz step down, and that the United States leave Latin America. He began harrying the United States Marines forces in Nicaragua to see his demands through. Sandino's surprise and ambush tactics won him many victories against the United States Marines, and his many victories brought a great deal of attention to him, both from the U.S. and from Latin Americans. With his newfound infamy, Sandino renamed himself Augusto Cesar Sandino, invoking the name of Caesar Augustus of Rome - this added a sense of grandeur to Sandino, and only made him more heroic to the Nicaraguans. Sandino found himself hunted by the United States Marines through the next few years; however, with his army's knowledge of the area and terrain, along with his army's skill at hiding their movements and erasing their tracks, Sandino stayed one step ahead of the Marines, escaping them several times. The Marines were never able to capture Sandino, and the United States forces left Nicaragua and returned home in 1933 due to the United States' Great Depression. This was seen by Latin America as a victory against the oppressive United States, and Sandino was hailed as a hero by all of Latin America.
Though the Marines left, Sandino found a new opponent in the U.S.-established Nicaraguan National Guard, a group led by General Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the first of the later Somoza Dynasty. Sandino believed that they continued U.S. influence in Nicaragua, and he began to lead guerilla attacks against the National Guard. Unfortunately, though the Marines were never able to catch Sandino, the National Guard did manage to stop him. Seeing the great threat Sandino presented, Somoza ordered for Sandino to be assassinated. Sandino was betrayed by one of his own army, and he and several of his most trusted leaders were ambushed and killed by the National Guard. His sudden death came as a blow to Nicaragua, and the Somoza family met with little opposition while assuming power. However, Sandino's legacy lived on, as the Sandinistas would later take Sandino's name and overthrow the tyrannical Somoza family.
With his successes, Sandino was a hero to the Nicaraguans. He also became a hero to much of Latin America, as an elusive figure willing to combat the heavy, ever-present influence of the United States. His name was eventually borrowed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a group formed to combat the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. His ideals influenced later leaders such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez, and his style of guerilla warfare was utilized by several later revolutionary groups across Latin America. Sandino was named a national hero by Nicaragua's congress in 2010, and he represents an ideal Latin American to Nicaragua and all of Latin America: a mestizo man who embodied machismo, who was unwilling to submit to foreign rule, and whose ideals, strength, and skill inspired Latin America for generations to come.
An interesting counter example to Sandino was Porfirio Díaz. He ruled from 1876-1911, and was a neocolonial dictator in Mexico. He was of indigenous descent and he strengthened Mexico by providing more job opportunities for people of the middle class and by increasing the revenue of the state. Despite these wonderful changes and the progress being made, Porfirio Díaz was not idolized by Latin Americans, because he encouraged foreign influence in Mexico, believing progress stemmed from it. He was especially close with the United States and once even quipped," Mexico- so far from God and so close to the United States." However, the United States and Britain believed all Latin Americans should think and act like Porfirio Díaz, because "he was one of the greatest men to be held up for the hero worship of mankind" (Chasteen 197).