Swarthmore College Peace Collection

The first post in a series that I am writing for the Peace and Change blog.

In our efforts to better understand the width and breadth of peace scholarship, we at Peace and Change will begin a regular series of posts in which we examine the digital resources available to students, teachers, scholars, and activists. We will shine a spotlight on those tools and archives that forward our understanding of peace studies by either cataloging resources, facilitating student learning, or providing a unique lens through which to view the subject. Through these posts, we hope to introduce readers to resources that may help them improve their scholarship, enhance student learning outcomes, and strengthen their activism.

We chose to begin our series with the Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC), an archive at Swarthmore College, obviously, that houses thousands of documents, including those from the Peace History Society.

The SCPC was founded as a library and archive for the books and papers of Jane Addams, as well as…

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Anastasio Somoza Debalye Responsible for Roberto Clemente’s Death

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On December 23, 1972 a violent earthquake rocked Managua, Nicaragua, killing approximately 10,000, wounding another 20,000, and leaving over 250,000 people homeless. Nicaraguan strongman Anastasio Somoza Debalye immediately reached declared martial law and called out for international assistance. The international community responded quickly, sending millions of dollars for relief, as well as tons of food, clothing, and building materials.

Among those who sprang to the aid of the people of Managua was future Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente. Clemente, who spent his off seasons working for charities in Latin America and the U.S., led efforts in Puerto Rico to raise money, as well as collect clothing and food for the victims of the quake.

Planes loaded with supplies flew from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua, where the Somoza controlled military, the Guardia Nacional, locked the relief aid away in warehouses around the destroyed city of Managua. Holding a monopoly on the incoming aid, Somoza Debalye used it to enrich himself and secure the system of patronage that kept him in power. Guardia officers received the first cut of all relief supplies, with much of the remainder being sold for the benefit of the Nicaraguan dictator.

Although unaware that Somoza Debalye was behind the graft, Celmente caught wind of his supplies being intercepted by profiteers, instead of making it to the people of Managua. Determined to ensure that his supplies made it to those who needed them, Clemente traveled with the second flight of supplies to Nicaragua; however, shortly after take off his plane crashed into the Caribbean, killing all on board.

Clemente, Pirates’ Star, Dies in Crash of Plane Carrying Aid to Nicaragua

The tragic death of Clemente resulted in an outpouring of grief in the United States and Latin America. Although many suspected Somoza Debalye’s involvement in the misappropriation of relief aid, it was not until many years that the true extent of the dictator’s corruption became widely known. Because of the dictators greed, Clemente took that fateful flight to Nicaragua, and ultimately became another casualty of the Somoza regime.

1970s Costa Rican Advertisements

I found the following adds in some old issues of the Tico Times, an English language newspaper operating out of San Jose, Costa Rica. The first two are offensive and the last one is just silly.

In A World of Constant Change
Costa Rica is safe. There are no hungry children or menacing Arab men there. Please bring your investment dollars.

Tico Times - Social Security Add
If only the indigenous peoples of the Americas had had social security.

Horse Shitt
That’s a donkey. Come on.

The Year Santa Claus Skipped Costa Rica

Today I came across a memorandum of a telephone conversation between William Tapley Bennett Jr., a U.S. official in the State Department’s Division of Central America and Panama, and the U.S. ambassador in Costa Rica, Nathaniel Davis. The conversation, dated December 12, 1948, concerned an invasion of Costa Rica by a force originating from neighboring Nicaragua. During the conversation Bennett inquired about the situation in Costa Rica. Davis replied that San Jose seemed normal, however “the football game scheduled for this afternoon has been cancelled and Santa Claus will not arrive as planned.” It is unclear whether Davis’s comment was facetious, or whether an appearance by Santa Claus had been canceled. What is clear is that the situation concerned U.S. officials in Costa Rica enough to place their holiday activities on hold.

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Hostilities between Costa RIca and Nicaragua had existed since the previous spring, when Jose Figueres, leading an army of Costa Ricans and Caribbean exiles, ousted the regime Rafael Calderon (see the Abelardo Cuadra post for more information on the Costa Rican civil war). This troubled the Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, for two reasons. First, he was an ally of Calderon. Second, Figueres was very public in his desire to see Somoza removed from power. In order to remedy both of these problems, Somoza began conspiring against Costa Rica. On December 9, 1948 a small group of insurgents, under the leadership of Calderon, invaded Costa Rica from Nicaragua. Figueres, who had disbanded the Costa Rican military on December 1 and therefore lacked the significant means to defend his country, called on the Organization of American States (OAS) to investigate the invasion. The event quickly became an international incident because many suspected, and rightfully so, that Somoza Garcia was behind the invasion. Despite Nicaraguan help, the invaders failed in their invasion, largely because the popular support they had hoped for never materialized. The force itself was so small that the Costa Rican police force, along with cobbled together militias, were sufficient to contain the invasion. The OAS ultimately ruled against both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, condemning both countries for housing exiles bent on overthrowing the government of the other. Although relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica remained tense for at least another decade, I’d like to believe that Santa Claus was able to return to Costa Rica in 1949.

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Abelardo Cuadra – Mercenary or Freedom Fighter

Today I came across an interesting bit of information while writing about the role of Nicaraguans during the Costa Rican civil war of 1948. It involves the ever-changing allegiances of Abelardo Cuadra, a Nicaraguan who fought against Augusto Sandino, later plotted to assassinate Anastasio Somoza García, and managed to fight for and against the Caribbean Legion. Although it is not quite clear whether he was an idealist or an opportunist, Cuadra’s story highlights the paucity of both ideological and national boundaries in the post-war Caribbean.

Much of what we know about Cuadra comes from his memoir, Hombre del Caribe (1977), in which he recounts his numerous exploits. As a young man, Cuadra was a member of the Nicaraguan Conservative party, which largely represented the country’s elites, and left school at the age of 22 to fight for them during the 1926 civil war. During the Sandino Rebellion, Cuadra served as a second lieutenant in the Guardia Nacional in the Segovias, Sandino’s home department, and later aided in the plot to assassinate Sandino. However, he was not unswervingly loyal to Somoza García. Cuadra believed Somoza García had corrupted the ideals of the Guardia and conspired to assassinate the jefe director in 1934 and 1935. Both attempts failed and Cuadra was sentenced to death, which was later reduced to exile. It was while in exile that Cuadra found like-minded individuals committed to removing Somoza García and the region’s other dictators from power.

After having lived in exile in Costa Rica, Cuadra traveled to Cuba in 1947 and joined with other Caribbean exiles planning an invasion of the Dominican Republic. As discussed in a previous post, following World War II democratic and dictatorial forces battled over the ideological future of the Caribbean. Towards the end of 1947, a group Caribbean democrats conspired to launch an invasion of the Dominican Republic from a small island off the coast of Cuba. Their goal was to oust the Dominican dictator General Rafael Trujillo. Ultimately, the invasion never materialized, but this group of revolutionaries constituted what, less than a year later, would become the Caribbean Legion. With the Dominican invasion canceled, Cuadra returned to Costa Rica, however it would not be his last encounter with the Caribbean Legion.

In 1948 Jose Figueres, an exiled landowner and future president of Costa Rica, launched what he termed a “war of national liberation” to free his homeland of what he saw as a communist and autocratic government. Figueres secured the support of many democratic exiles, including those involved in the failed invasion of the Dominican Republic, as well as many Nicaraguans fighting under the promise that after its liberation Costa Rica would become the springboard in ousting Somoza García. It was this group of exiles that journalists first labeled the Caribbean Legion. However, the term soon came to cover all of the region’s revolution-minded democratic exiles, which leads us back to Abelardo Cuadra.

Because he had served with and shared many of the ideals of the Caribbean Legion, it would be easy to assume that Cuadra fought for Figueres in the Costa Rican civil war. However, Cuadra proves to be a more complex figure than we might imagine. Cuadra related that at the beginning of the conflict Figueres’ men approached him about joining their struggle. However, he declined the invitation and instead allied with the government forces. Cuadra said that he could not justify joining the revolutionaries because he believed that Figueres’ cause served the nation’s elites, and he preferred to fight for the poor of Costa Rica. Cuadra could not reconcile the fact that the forces “organized to fight against military dictatorships, such as Trujillo and Somoza, came to Costa Rica to overthrow a government that had authored many social programs” and done much to help unions and the poor. Ironically, by allying with the government, Cuadra would be fighting on the same side as the Somoza regime, which supported the Costa Rican government. Apparently, Cuadra’s distaste of Somoza García was not enough to push him into Figueres’ camp. Despite the rhetoric of the antidictatorial struggle, Cuadra saw the government, and not Figueres, as the true advocates of social justice in Costa Rica. Cuadra, at least in his own words, fought for the people of Costa Rica.

During the civil war, Cuadra led a column of government troops against Figueres’ forces, battling against Nicaraguans and other Caribbean nationals that he had considered his brothers in arms less than a year before. Ultimately, Figueres’ forces won the civil war, and Cuadra fled to Venezuela, where he taught high school classics. In 1979, following the success of the Sandinistas, he quickly became a vocal critic of the regime. Like many moderate Nicaraguans who fought to remove the Somozas from power, Cuadra became disillusioned with the apparent lack of democratic reform under the FSLN and voiced his opposition.

Cuadra, like many historical figures, is inherently more complex than we might assume. According to his own memoirs, his varying allegiances represented a commitment to democratic principles and social justice. However, sometimes the most flattering pictures we paint are of ourselves. It is unclear whether Cuadra was an idealist or an opportunist: a mercenary or a freedom fighter. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

What Cuadra’s story does reveal is the paucity of the region’s national boundaries and the ambiguity of the ideological line separating the democratic and dictatorial camps. Cuadra, like many Caribbean exiles, moved freely from one country to another with relative ease, highlighting the weakness of the region’s national boundaries. Also, his ability to travel back and forth between political camps points to the ill-defined ideological tenets that underlined each movement. Survival motivated the dictators, while those opposed to them varied in their commitment to democracy. There were those who sought to create a Central American republic based on high democratic ideals and others who viewed democratic structures and institutions as the rightful tools of the elites. What united the opposition was their hatred of the dictators. With such varying and ambiguous ideals, it proved easy for someone like Cuadra to move back and forth between factions. He could be both a mercenary and a freedom fighter.


Abelardo Cuadra, Hombre del Caribe: memorias (San José, Costa Rica : Editorial Universitária Centro Américana, 1977)

Charles D. Ameringer, The Democratic Left in Exile (Miami: University of Miami Press, 1974).

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“Thanks Obama!” – FRUS and Digital Collections

Two days ago I posted about the Larreta Doctrine and its repercussions for Latin America. In that post I used a document from the Foreign Relations of the United States, which I obtained through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. Foreign Relations of the United States, or FRUS as it is commonly abbreviated, is not necessarily a difficult document to find, nearly every research library will hold copies, but it is voluminous, which can make it difficult when researching a specific topic. Besides FRUS, the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections also hold many other federal as well as Wisconsin specific documents.

You can also access FRUS through the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State. When I first attempted to access the site this morning they were apparently experiencing some technical difficulties and I was greeted by the following image:

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The site is working now, but in true internet fashion I have to thank our current president for my problems.

FRUS is an excellent resource for anyone curious about the international history of the United States. It contains documents from many of the U.S. government’s overseas agencies and departments, as well as the personal communications of the diplomats and policy makers. It is available for free to the public through both the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections and the Office of the Historian of the Department of State.

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Latin American Regime Change, Proposed by Uruguay?

When examining the experience of Latin American states in the twentieth century, intervention and overthrow are at the heart of the discussion. Typically, the United States, who regularly intervened in the affairs of its neighbors and ousted many governments it found “troublesome,” is portrayed as the architect of Latin American regime change. However, the United States was not alone in seeking to reshape the politics of the hemisphere. In the late 1940s, inspired but the democratic rhetoric of the Second World War and the human rights ideals of the United Nations, many Latin Americans dreamed of eliminating dictatorial governments from the Americas. Some called for peaceful change through public and international pressure, while others advocated for military intervention.

Among the latter was Eduardo Rodriguez Larreta, the Foreign Minister of Uruguay, who proposed that the American republics work multilaterally to remove any non-democratic elements. In a letter to other American governments, Larreta defended the principle of non-intervention, however he argued that it did not protect “the notorious and repeated violation by any republic of the elementary right of man and of the citizen.” According to the Larreta Doctrine, as it came to be known, dictators like Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic could no longer abuse their citizens while hiding behind the non-intervention. As a means of ending this maltreatment, Larreta called for the pursuit of “multilateral collective action, exercised with complete unselfishness by all other republics of the continent, aimed at achieving in a spirit of brotherly prudent the mere reestablishment of essential rights.” It was also important that the intervention follow international law and not “injure the government affected” because it was “being taken for the benefit of all, including the country which has been suffering under such a harsh regime.”

Initially the United States supported the proposal, however the Cold War quickly forced the U.S. policymakers to change their tune. The United States could not support ousting the region’s dictators because they were its closest anti-communist allies. Without U.S. support, many Latin American countries also withdrew support for what came to be known as the Larreta Doctrine.

However, Latin American democrats, such as Venezuelan president Rómulo Betancourt and Guatemalan president José Arévalo, saw the doctrine as a means of removing what they saw as a blight on the hemisphere. These leaders began sponsoring national liberation movements, headed by democratic exiles, bent on ousting the likes of Somoza and Trujillo. These democratic revolutionaries became known as the Caribbean Legion and launched a series of invasions of Caribbean states over the course of the late 1940s and 1950s. The Caribbean Legion, despite giving Caribbean despots many sleepless nights, existed only in their imaginations. Although many of the revolutionaries shared resources and logistics, there was never a cohesive army made of Caribbean democrats, only individual bands of insurgents largely divided by nationality. Nicaraguan exiles represented a large portion of the Caribbean Legion, with many aiding Jose Figueres in overthrowing the despotic regime of Teodoro Picado Michalski in Costa Rica. In 1954 and 1959, Nicaraguan exiles unsuccessfully attempted to oust the Somoza regime, and with the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the antidictatorial struggle became the purview of communist national liberation movements.

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