Nicaraguan Biographies/Introduction

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Introduction, Methodology, and Summary[edit]

The biographies in this report are in some ways a history of Nicaragua, particularly of the last years of struggle for democracy. More than a few Nic- araguans have been fighting at least that long, first against the Somoza dictatorship, then against the new Sandinista dictators.

External factors are critically important in Nicaragua. The Soviet bloc in 1986 gave the Nicaraguan regime 10 times more military and economic aid than the United States provided the Nicaraguan Resistance. In fact, Soviet aid to this small Central American country is larger than that of the United States to the region's four other countries combined. This report, however, does not address US and Soviet policies; it focuses on Nicaraguans, too often the forgotten actors in their country's history.

The more than 500 individuals, fragments of whose lives are presented in this report, represent all sides of the internal conflict in Nicaragua. Their fate, and that of millions more, hangs in the balance of the Nicaraguan civil war and the Central American peace process.

The index of names at the end of the report aids those wishing to obtain information on particular individuals.

The glossary provides information about organizations, events, and symbols important to Nicaraguan political history, thus putting individual entries into a broader context.

This report was prepared in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, US Department of State. Data is current as of November.

Methodology and Sources[edit]

Every member of the Directorates of the ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN) and of the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) has a biographic entry. So, too, does every member of the FSLN's Security and Defense Commission and every senior military commander in the Resistance forces. To use a concept associated with polling, the entries in these cases are the entire universe: there is an entry for everyone, regardless of how much or how little the information. In other cases, the entries under "Regime Cadre" or "Resistance Activists," for example, are samples — representative, we believe, but necessarily incomplete.

A report that focuses on people encounters many obstacles. Personal information — even such relatively basic matters as date and place of birth, education, or occupation, let alone data on travel, family relationships, or political activities — often is not readily available. When found, it is typically incomplete or contradictory. These obstacles multiply when the search is for information about people in a poor or unevenly developed country. Except for members of privileged elites, the social history that is recorded in nonin- dustrial countries is developed from primarily oral accounts.

Nicaragua's case confirms this proposition. Published materials weigh heavily in favor of the country's ruling circles. Over the last half-century, this has meant the Somozas and those families either opposing or belonging to their immediate circle. The roughly 100 biographies in Manuel Jiron's Quien es Quien en Nicaragua (San Jose, Costa Rica: Editorial Amor, 1986) and the family circles portrayed by Arturo Cruz, Jr. ("One Hundred Years of Turpitude," The New Republic, November 16, 1987) exemplify the point.

Since Somoza's ouster in 1979, the interest aroused by the Sandinistas and the FSLN's own sensitivity to the uses of the printed word as a political weapon have provided continuity with Nicaragua's past on this point, as on some others. The pages of the FSLN's official newspaper, Barricada, like the ubiquitous portraits of heroes and martyrs at FSLN ceremonies, sometimes resemble an official iconography more than news.

Much less is known about the people of the Nicaraguan Resistance. As will be seen, most Resistance fighters are young, have little formal education, and do not come from middle- or upper- class backgrounds. In addition, they have suffered from the belief in some quarters that theirs is a covert war (hence it should not be reported) and in others that they are agents of a foreign power (hence it does not matter who they are). Both views are wrong, but their cumulative impact meant that this report could not have been written without extensive direct personal interviews with Resistance members.


The basic sources used to write this report were:

  • Personal interviews;
  • Documents published by the Sandinistas, the Resistance, and other Nic- araguans, whether at home or in exile;
  • Secondary sources, including books, articles, and newsletters; and
  • Unclassified US Government documents, supplemented in a few cases by diplomatic cables.

Personal Interviews. More than 100 individuals were interviewed by State Department officers during 1987. The interviews took place in Nicaragua, in the United States, and throughout Central America. Some took place at Resistance military and political facilities. Most interviewees were delighted to provide personal data and eager to share their views and experiences in the Nicaraguan civil war.

"He who impedes the free expression of a people does not base his public administration on the consent of the majority, but on the violent imposition of his own conceit."
Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, referring to Somoza.

Documents. The Sandinistas and their supporters have been prolific writers. Sandinista thinking and personal profiles may be found in numerous works including: Tomas Borge, Carlos, The Dawn is No Longer Beyond Our Reach (Vancouver, Canada: New Star Books, 1984); Omar Cabezas, Fire From the Mountain (New York: New American Library, 1985); Carlos Fonseca, Obras (Managua: Editorial Nueva Nicaragua, 1982); and Humberto Ortega, 50 Anos de Lucha Sandinista (Havana, Cuba: Casa de las Americas, 1980). The daily newspaper Barricada acts as the official chronicle of the Sandinistas. The magazines Patria Libre and Segovia have served as the official journal of the Sandinista army.

The FSLN's Department of Propaganda and Political Education also publishes a number of highly revealing documents: El FSLN: antecedentes y estructura organica (Managua: Editorial Vanguardia, 1987); De los miembros del FSLN, Sus Deberes y Derechos, reprinted in Octavio y Elvira Sanabria, Nicaragua: Diagnostico de una Traicion (Barcelona, Spain: Plaza & Janes Editores, 1986); "General Political-Military Platform of the FSLN for the Triumph of the Popular Sandinista Revolution," reprinted in Jiri Valenta and Esperanza Duran, Conflict in Nicaragua: A Multidimensional Perspective (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987, pp.-318). Still relevant is the original "Program of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation," Tricontinental (Havana, Cuba), No. 17 (March-April 1970), pp. 61-68.

The Nicaraguan Resistance also has written about its senior leadership, organization, and activities. The Nicaraguan Resistance Directorate, its military headquarters, the Nicaraguan Resistance Army/North, Nicaraguan Resistance Army/South, and YATAMA all issue periodic news releases and statements. In addition, such publications as Asi es la Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense, Comandos, Liberacion, Nicaragua Hoy, and the journal Resistencia (available in Spanish and English) all provide biographical and historical data.

Whether living in their homeland or in exile, individual Nicaraguans are willing sources of information about the people and events of the civil war taking place in their country. La Prensa — when allowed to publish — remains the bellwether of press freedom and human rights under the Sandinistas that it was under the Somozas and provides regular insights into a Nicaragua that is not what its rulers claim. Church, labor, political party journals, newsletters, or other occasional publications do not appear as regularly but can be very useful. Dr. Alejandro Bolanos, Nicaraguan historian now living in the United States, maintains one of the most extensive archives on contemporary Nicaragua.

Secondary Sources include Manuel Jiron's Quien es Quien en Nicaragua, cited earlier, and several historically oriented volumes that also contain biographical data, among them Claribel Alegria and DJ Flakoll, Nicaragua: la revolucion Sandinista (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1982); Fernando Car- mona, Ed., Nicaragua: la estrategia de la victoria (Mexico City: 'Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, 1983); David Nolan, The Ideology of the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution (Miami: Institute of Interamerican Studies, University of Miami, 1984); Shirley Christian, Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family (New York: Vintage Books. 1986), and Humberto Belli, Breaking Faith (Westchester, IL: Cross way Books, 1985).

Unclassified US Government Documents. The Directory of the Republic of Nicaragua — an unclassified CIA publication (LDA 87-12849, July 1987)— was of significant assistance in identifying the multiple roles played by the senior leadership of the FSLN and its control of the army, security police, mass communications, and organized society. Previous Department of State publications, particularly "Revolution Beyond Our Borders:" Sandinista Intervention in Central America (September 1985, Special Report No. 132) and Human Rights in Nicaragua Under the Sandinistas (December 1986. Publication No. 9467), also were useful.


Organization and Patterns of Relationships[edit]

The biographies are divided into three broad categories: "The Sandinista Regime," "The Nicaraguan Resistance," and "The Society." Readers interested in who is who in these categories or in particular subcategories can sample the biographies grouped under each.

The Sandinista Regime[edit]

Heroes. A party or movement is known by its symbols. Some are consciously chosen, others are earned in action. For the FSLN, Sandino and Guevara are conscious choices designed to convey nationalism and armed solidarity respectively, just as Lenin is used to symbolize the unity of party, state, and military in communist power. The most revealing figures, however, are those from within the FSLN: the founders, the first bombers and kidnapers, the forgers of the political alliances and tactics that paved the way to power.

The FSLN was founded little more than a quarter century ago, but of the original founders, only Tomas Borge lives. Of the guerrilla forces at El Chaparral or Pancasan, perhaps a dozen survive. The FSLN's early history is best told through its dead, fragments of whose lives are grouped here.

Most early FSLN activists were students. Some came from radical Catholic roots, more from the orthodox communist party. Borge boasts that he, Silvio Mayorga, and Carlos Fonseca all belonged to "the first Marxist cell of Nicaraguan University students" organized under the communist party. The FSLN's "heroes" were, on the whole, better educated, more urban, and more widely traveled than most Nicaraguans. Most spent long periods living outside Nicaragua, particularly in Cuba, the Soviet Union, the Arab world, and North Vietnam or North Korea. Like their idol, Che Guevara, they were "internationalists" first and citizens of their own country second.

Inner Circle. This section contains entries on the 9 members of the FSLN Directorate, the 10 members of the FSLN Security and Defense Committee, Vice President Sergio Ramirez, and First Lady Rosario Murillo.

Regime demonstrators. Managua, 1980.


Most analysts believe that Borge and the Ortega brothers are the poles around whom the other six members of the Directorate move and that the quest for power and fear of its loss are the major forces that have kept Directorate members together even as other Sandinistas have become disenchanted.

"Internationalism" is again an important common thread. One Mexican, Victor Manuel Tirado, and one Cuban, Andres Barahona (now known as Renan Montero) — both of whom were granted Nicaraguan citizenship after July 1979 — belong to the inner circle. Tirado's predecessor in the Directorate, Plutarco Hernandez, is a native of Costa Rica. The "internationalist" dimension also is evident in the pattern of the lives of the members of the FSLN inner circle. Most have traveled, studied, and worked in the Soviet bloc. Many maintain extensive contacts with Soviet, Cuban, East German, and Vietnamese military, internal security, and intelligence officials and advisers. The proposition that these are people who have, somehow, been "driven," even against their will, to seek Cuban and Soviet shelter in response to US policies since 1979 or 1981 does not receive empirical support.

Cadre. All here are FSLN militantes, true members of the vanguard. The General Political-Military Platform notes, "Care must be taken to ensure that persons that are not truly members of the vanguard structure — even though they may feel a part of it — not be allowed to assume the responsibilities, duties, and rights of the vanguard's true militants" [emphasis in the original].

"This country will never vote for any party other than the Sandinista National Liberation Front. But in the hypothetical case that the FSLN lost an election it would turn over government, not power."
Daniel Ortega
December 13, 1987, before
the Sandinista Trade Unions

The cadres manage the social control mechanisms of society. From their base within the party apparatus, they penetrate and dominate all essential state institutions, the army, the internal security and police forces, the legislature, and the administration of justice. Directly and indirectly they orchestrate "private sector" activities such as radio, television, and press; human rights advocacy; and labor, religious, and cultural activities. In their often multiple positions, these party apparatchiks or "enforcers" manage everything from the essentials of food, health services, and education, to the movement of information, goods, and people within Nicaragua as well as to and from Nicaragua.

The 112 members of the National Directorate (9) and the FSLN Assembly (103) play a role equivalent to that of the Central Committee in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Eight years after the fall of Somoza was to usher in a democratic order, these 112 Sandinistas monopolize more than 237 of the top positions in Nicaragua (see chart, p. 17).

The FSLN, which as recently as 1970 probably had fewer than 100 members, has expanded to 15000-20000 militants. This is still only about 1% of Nicaraguans of legal voting age (16 or over) — a tiny fraction even for a self- proclaimed "vanguard." The FSLN pays particular attention to the power that comes from the gun. Any officer in the army or the security forces with 2 or 3 years of service is likely to be a party militant. Senior Ministry of Defense defector Roger Miranda estimates that there are 8000-9000 militants in the army officer corps alone. Nonpolitical professionals, or persons who belong to parties other than the FSLN, can be — and regularly are — conscripted into the military. But they are carefully denied leadership positions.

Friends. Some Nicaraguans are not officially members of the FSLN but nonetheless support the regime, often more effectively than if they were FSLN members. They have lent the regime their family name, their apparent professionalism, or the blessing of their religion. There is a famous historical precedent: in the spring of 1977, 12 prominent Nicaraguans from business, religion, and the professions declared that peace would be impossible without the participation of the FSLN, whose selflessness they praised. The declaration by 12 established leaders gave an important boost to what had previously seemed just another radical student group, more violent and persistent than usual, but nonetheless not to be taken seriously as a potential future government. Most members of the "Group of 12" later admitted that they were, in fact, Sandinistas (one of the exceptions: Arturo Cruz). This tercerista strategy was a key to Sandinista success in 1978-79. It called for cloaking Marxist- Leninist principles and goals; for reaching out for assistance to noncommunist nations, groups, and leaders; and for always maintaining strict control over the military aspects of the struggle, no matter what political compromises were made. This is much the strategy that they are now following in the government.

Who, then, are the Sandinistas? The biographies of today's Sandinista inner circle and its cadres, and even of the FSLN's heroes who died in the struggle against Somoza, reveal several facts.

  • The three founders of the FSLN all belonged in the 1950s to the same cell in the Moscow-line Nicaraguan communist party (PSN).
  • After the Cuban revolution, together with other young Nicaraguans,


  • they moved to the left of the orthodox communists and adopted armed warfare as their primary strategy.
  • Despite major early failures, their Cuban support persisted, enabling the FSLN to build an experienced cadre capable of channeling the dissent created by Somoza repression and corruption.
  • In addition to support from Cuba, the FSLN received important support and training from the Soviet Union, North Korea, and extremist PLO factions.
  • Few of the senior FSLN leaders completed their higher education or practiced a profession before taking power. Their training in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other Eastern-bloc countries was political and military.
  • In power, they have fused the FSLN with the state and army, which they see as the "property" of the party. The top 112 FSLN members occupy (and monopolize) a multiplicity of roles in the government and military.

Since it has been in power, the FSLN's militarism, dependence on communist aid and ideas, and general economic and administrative incompetence have disillusioned many former supporters and an increasing number of militants.

The Nicaraguan Resistance[edit]

The origins of today's conflict are rooted in Sandinista policies and actions. Before the FDN or any organized anti-FSLN resistance group had come into being — in fact, well before they eventually were forced to flee into Honduras by the thousands — the Mis- kito Indians of the Atlantic Coast began to resist Sandinista policies. The Miskito rebellion began with the 1979 introduction of Cuban teachers in the Atlantic Coast schools. Anti-Cuban demonstrations began as early as September 1979. The leader of the elders' council, Lester Athas, was arrested and murdered. In January-March 1980,

Resistance forces, about 1984.

the Sandinistas seized tribal landhold- ings to collectivize them; mass demonstrations took place in September 1980 along the Atlantic Coast in such places as Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas. More Miskito leaders were arrested. In February 1981, fighting erupted between Miskitos and Sandinista troops in the town of Prinzapolka. Four soldiers and four Indians died.

This series of events in the Atlantic Coast parallels the MILPAS rebellion that took shape in north-central Nicaragua in September-November 1979. Small, independent farmers, cattlemen, and tradesmen (most of whom had fought with the Sandinistas in 1978-79 and many of whom had become EPS soldiers or militiamen after Somoza's ouster) in Matagalpa and Jinotega began to rebel against the Sandinista regime. During 1979-80, a number of MILPAS foci developed and operated independently in Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and elsewhere in northern Nicaragua. Protesting what they saw as the betrayal of the revolution, the Nueva Segovia-based MILPAS took the town of Quilali during the week of the revolution's first anniversary, July 1980. From the beginning, the regional reaction to the directives coming from Managua demonstrated popular support. One of the Sandinista army commanders sent to track down the MILPAS after their takeover of Quilali, Encarnacion Baldivia ("Tigri- llo"), is now a Resistance Commander.

This popular base has enabled the Resistance to sustain itself and develop even under the most adverse of circumstances. The Jorge Salazar unit began with a few hundred fighters in 1982; by 1986 it had grown from a Regional Command to an Operational Command with ///[5?] Regional Commands and 17 Task Forces with some 4,000-///[5,000?] troops operating in Jinotega, Matagalpa, Boaco, Chontales, and Zelaya. The increasing effectiveness of the Jorge Salazar troops1 led the FSLN in spring 1987 to intensify efforts to "drain the sea" of peasant supporters

1 Along the Rama Road and in Nueva Guinea, these troops often coordinated with Resistance fighters formerly associated with Eden Pastora's Southern Front, which struggled against Somoza.


for the Resistance forces. In the Nueva Segovia area alone, they rounded up some 7,000 persons, relocating them in three camps, and creating "free-fire zones" throughout the lands where the families had once farmed. In all, some 250,000 Nicaraguans have been forcibly resettled (see map, p. 49).

Heroes. All four zones of the ERN/ South are named for former Sandinistas who later became leaders of the Resistance. Of 20 Regional Commands in the ERN/North, eight are named for Nicaraguan historical figures or locales, five for Sandinistas who became leaders of the Resistance, and five are named for Jorge Salazar. Jorge Salazar's biography makes clear why his choice is appropriate. That of Pedro Joaquin Gonzalez exemplifies the role of the former Sandinistas in kindling the Resistance. However, although their numbers have fallen with time and attrition, former Guardsmen were important in the early years of the Resistance; to this day, each in his own way — Enrique Ber- mudez, Rodolfo Ernesto Ampie Quiroz, Juan Ramon Rivas Romero, Luis Alfonso Moreno Payan, and a handful of others — remains a key source of professional military skills and leadership. The one Guardsman included in this section was assassinated in Honduras in October 1979. Maj. Pablo Emilio Salazar, known as "Comandante Bravo," was a popular officer whose tactical military skills were said to have been largely responsible for holding Eden Pastora's troops to a standstill until the last days of the war in July 1979. Those skills and that popularity apparently marked him for an early death at the hands of Lenin Cerna. They also made him something of a symbol to some of the Nicaraguans who later took up arms against the Sandinistas.

In 1987 alone, more than two dozen Resistance military commanders gave their lives, including at least 12 Task Force Commanders or Executive Officers. Some of their biographies are found here. Little is known of some of the others. For example, "7 Leguas" and "Madrigal" were local farmers who led Task Forces of the Regional Command Jorge Salazar IV when they were killed in 1987. They had joined the Resistance sometime in the mid-1980s and, because of their leadership abilities, rose to become Task Force Commanders. Fighting for their homes and communities, they never had left them during their years of fighting. Neither is likely to have traveled far or to be considered as having been very political before joining the Resistance. They do not have the biography of a Daniel Ortega or an Eden Pastora, but they risked — and gave — their lives for their vision of Nicaragua.

Leaders. This section includes political and military leaders of the RN and YATAMA, whose organizations are diagramed on page 41. It also includes various individuals recognized for


their leadership among their respective exile or refugee communities, such as Inda- lecio Rodriguez and Albert Bent.

Impeded by relentless pressure from the FSLN coercive apparatus inside Nicaragua and by the generally debilitating environment of exile, Resistance politics has, nonetheless, developed markedly during the past year. The RN Directorate formed in May 1987 is far more representative of the diverse origins of the fighters and activists than in the past. Resistance leaders seek to represent the very diverse interests and social views of the combatants and commanders, which range from former MILPAS, ARDE, and FARN combatants to former Guardsmen, MISURA, MISURASATA, and independent campesino fighters. Their great challenge is to turn the loose, often temporal alliances among these diverse and armed social forces into a political movement that will contribute to the democratization of Nicaragua.

Fighters. The General Commanders of the North, South, and Atlantic Coast military fronts (Enrique Ber- mudez, Pedro Lara, and Osorno Coleman) are listed under "Leaders." Otherwise, all senior Resistance commanders (members of General Staffs as well as all Regional and Task Force Commanders) are listed here.

Senior Resistance Commanders come from varied backgrounds. As of November 1987, 49.7% were previously civilians, 33.3% were in the Sandinista army or militias before joining the Resistance, and 17% had served in the National Guard under Somoza (see pp. 89 and 91). Of 147 commanders, 81 were from north-central Nicaragua, 23 from the Pacific Coast region, and 15 from the Atlantic Coast. For 28, we do not have information on the place of birth.

Behind this military leadership stands a true peasant army. The thousands of peasants and rural workers who belong to it began, for the most part, as nonpolitical as they were unlettered in their formal education. But they have proved themselves adaptable and stubborn in defending what they believe to be their rights. A relatively large proportion, perhaps one in five of the total force, was once actively allied with the Sandinistas. A small number — today less than 200 or about 1% — previously served in the National Guard.2

The strong support the Resistance has garnered in certain rural areas is evident in the presence of extended family groups that are at the core of many task forces and regional commands.

Activists. This section is made up primarily of men and women in exile: writers, academics, journalists, and other professionals. Ideas are the backdrop to action. They are important to motivation, to initiating the action, and then to explaining what happened and why. Several activists, Xavier Arguello, Donald Castillo, and Arturo Cruz, Jr., among those included here, are former Sandinistas.

Resistance activists also reflect a basic truth about Nicaragua: the FSLN has deliberately attempted to polarize society. For many middle- and upper- class professionals, the message has been "Either you're with us or you are a traitor, a vendepatria." Too old and too urban to take up the armed struggle in the mountains of Nicaragua, these professionals nonetheless decided to identify with an armed movement. Unlike most exiles, they have not tried to hide in other Central American societies or in the United States. They participate and provide their services, professional expertise, names, and prestige to a Nicaraguan cause. They are pursuing their vision of the original objectives of the 1979 revolution; the accomplishment of that vision is the only way that they can return to Nicaragua as free men.

Who, then, are the people of the Resistance? The biographies reveal that:

  • The overwhelming majority actively opposed Somoza.
  • They did not, however, believe that communism was the answer to Nicaragua's problems. Daniel Ortega said it on December 13, 1987: "They were anti-Somoza, but they were not anti- capitalist."
  • Some were hostile to the Sandinistas from the start, but most attempted to work with the new government, in some cases serving both it and the FSLN in the highest positions.
  • Most Resistance leaders turned to armed resistance only after persuasion failed and political action was foreclosed.
  • Just as many FSLN leaders studied or worked in Cuba or the Soviet Union, many Resistance leaders have studied or worked in the United States.

Perhaps the most striking fact about the Resistance is that the overwhelming majority of both its field commanders and its fighters are Nicaraguan campesinos, the very people whose interests the Sandinistas claim to defend. In contrast to the inspiration of the FSLN in concepts and models learned in foreign exile, the core of the Resistance is quintessentially Nicaraguan — in experience, conviction, and nationalism.

The Society[edit]

The FSLN "vanguard" attempts to impose a totalitarian system on a society of 3 million. Nicaraguan society, however, is not homogenous. Moreover, the absence of a democratic tradition accentuates social, economic, and political diversity. Though increasingly polarized, the Nicaraguans whose biographies appear in this section are not a unified force and do not consider themselves to be one. La Prensa stands for freedom but maintains its independence from all political parties; the churches seek to

1 Former GRN Junta member and Resistance Director Alfonso Robelo has said that he had some of his people take a census of former Guardsmen in the FDN before joining UNO. He concluded that, as of 1985, 220 out of 15,800, or 1.5% of the total FDN force, and 15 of 54 senior Commanders were former GN. He noted the bulk of them had been enlisted personnel and that none had been personally implicated in the atrocities committed under Somoza in 1978-///[79?]. The former Guardsmen who are active in the Resistance appear to be driven by a desire for personal and institutional justification, nationalism, and anti-communism. Of the three, probably the strongest motivation is the desire to redeem institutional honor and personal dignity in the eyes of the world.


Nicaraguan children at refugee camp, Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, 1986.

minister to all Nicaraguans; the various parties choose not to unify. The relationships, if any, of these groups to the Sandinistas and to the Nicaraguan Resistance are necessarily delicate.

For one Nicaraguan in five, the practical meaning of "revolution" is forced relocation, prison, exile, or obligatory military service. More than 250,000 have been displaced from rural areas by Sandinista authorities. The crime of these desplazados was to have lived where Resistance forces operate or maintain a presence. Another 300,000 Nicaraguans or more are abroad as refugees or exiles. Some 10,000 political prisoners, including some 2,200-2,500 Guardsmen, remain in Sandinista prisons. Every year, some 30,000 youths are subject to the compulsory military duty required to sustain current Sandinista force levels (120,000 among the regular army, the militia, and reservists).

Human Rights. Organized human rights efforts began in Nicaragua in 1977 with the establishment of the CPDH. Human rights lawyers Marta Patricia Baltodano and Lino Hernandez have never wavered in their efforts to uphold internationally recognized human rights principles. Because they believe the Sandinistas should be judged by the same standards applied to the Somoza regime, they are called "counterrevolutionaries." Other entries tell the stories of Mauricio Membreno, a political prisoner since mid-1985, and Tomasa Hernandez, who encounters constant pressures to stop her work identifying political prisoners and providing support to family members.

According to data in the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for 1986-87, Nicaragua is second only to Cuba in the Western Hemisphere in the number of political prisoners (Cuba has 16,500 political prisoners, Nicaragua 9,500, and Chile follows with 1,100). This total includes three major categories of political prisoners: Guardsmen "tried" by popular tribunals in 1979-80; individuals, most of them from among the rural poor, accused of collaborating with the Resistance; and leaders, mostly of urban organizations, who are periodically interrogated and imprisoned, usually for brief periods.

More than 2,200 National Guardsmen are now in prison after sentencing by special courts. Most were sentenced in a matter of minutes and with little evidence of the crimes or human rights abuses charged against them. Some were convicted solely on the grounds of carrying a National Guard identity card.

Of the estimated 6,000-7,000 "collaborators" who have been tried and sentenced by the tribunales populares (TPA), more than 90% are peasant farmers. They come from areas where the Resistance has operated effectively with the support of local inhabitants since the early 1980s. They typically have no money for lawyers or legal fees, must face the popular tribunals outside their own communities, and have no right of appeal to the national court system. Lacking resources and having little access to human rights organizations, the international press, or foreign embassies in Managua, they are the unknowns, the desconocidos, among political prisoners.

The third category of political prisoner faces another form of "revolutionary justice." Few political, religious, business, labor, professional, media, or human rights leaders are actually "sentenced" to prison. They are too well known inside and outside Nicaragua. Such people are periodically held for a few days or weeks, then released before their detention can become the source of antigovernment publicity.

The immediate objective of this strategy is to push the leaders of independent organizations into exile, into open opposition or identification with the Resistance, or into a passive state of mind and political inactivity. The ultimate purpose is to "decapitate" social institutions of leadership that can challenge FSLN dominance. The organization continues to exist but must be led by less experienced, younger leaders who have little recognition and few followers, while the FSLN creates parallel "private" organizations supported by government resources.


Proregime graffiti at entrance to La Prensa newspaper prior to its closing by the government in June 1986.

Religion and Culture. Cardinal Obando y Bravo, an arbitrator of political conflict since the mid-1970s; Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega, long-time opponent of Somoza and proponent of land reform; and Father Nicolas Mondragon, an activist and organizer in the Eastern Market area of Managua, reveal a Catholic Church actively grappling with the problems of Nicaraguan society. Vega was forced out of Nicaragua. Like him, other religious leaders have had to flee: Norberto Herrera, President of the Baptist University; Galen Varnghs, pastor in the Creole Assembly of God; and Oscar Kellermann, Jewish community leader.

Other biographies in this section illustrate how Sandinista rhetoric and actions are pushing moderates into opposition or exile. One of the few countries accepting Jewish refugees during World War II, Nicaragua today is in danger of asphyxiation by the official religion of the FSLN. So pervasive is the politicization that neither boxers nor painters nor poets can escape. Alexis Arguello's three world titles did not protect him. Rafael Mendoza's paintings made him a symbol of the Sandinistas while they fought Somoza; then his integrity made him a liability. The internationally recognized poet, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, remains at La Prensa, setting an example of nationalism unbowed.

Business and Labor. The Nicaraguan business community and labor played critical roles in the ouster of Somoza. In January and again in August 1978, it was the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, and the professional organizations belonging to the FAO that called and led the general strikes against Somoza. Active in the streets against Somoza were numerous labor leaders, among them Al- vin Guthrie (who organized and led seaport strikes in 1978-79) and Jose Es- pinoza Navas. The Sandinstas have harassed and briefly jailed both men, subjecting them and the rank and file of independent unions to constant vigilance by MINT security personnel.

Businessmen like Jaime Cuadra and professionals like Leonel Poveda, both of whose biographies are included below, were leading Sandinistas. Today, like other Nicaraguan noncommunists, they are denied the ability to produce, and Nicaragua suffers from acute and often unnecessary and unprecedented shortages of commodities and other resources. Gross domestic product per inhabitant is one-third that of 1975; exports have steadily declined since 1979; the 1979 foreign debt of $1.5 billion grew to $7 billion in 1987; and economic activity depends heavily on foreign assistance.

Politics. This section includes politicians who cover the entire political spectrum. The entries portray a democratic political culture still struggling for survival despite decades of authoritarianism and bitterness. Myriam Arguello continues to train youth at her political education institute. Ana Maria Gutierrez, gun runner for the Sandinistas in 1978-79, lost her teaching job for refusing to accept political indoctrination for her students. Two former Sandinista combatants also face difficult times: Felix Pedro Espinoza was offered the FSLN's rank of comandante guer- rillero but had his farm confiscated and was finally driven into exile; Harold Martinez, founder of the Sandino Revolutionary Front, combatant with Carlos Fonseca, was wounded seven times fighting Somoza but refused to join the FSLN. Another warrior of anti-Somoza armed rebellions since the 1950s is Vir- gilio Godoy, lawyer, sociologist, and Minister of Labor with the Sandinistas until 1984. Despite their record against Somoza, these individuals are often re- fered to as "enemies of the revolution" if not "counterrevolutionaries." Notes Arturo Cruz, Jr.: "For the Nicaraguan people, democracy has been an endless quest, a profoundly popular aspiration. For them, it reduces to a basic proposition: the right to be a citizen, free of militarism and the caprices of a 'strongman.'" So long as democracy is limited


"You [the people of the United States] have been generous to us — and you have also utilized and manipulated us as part of your domestic agenda. But have YOU been aware that you're playing with the life and blood of a people and a country?
Donald Castillo
RN International Relations Coordinator
(New York Times Magazine, October 4, 1987)

to artificial formalisms, so long as the FSLN insists on its privileged status as a vanguard with the right to monopolize power, these individuals, the organizations they represent, and Nic- araguan society as a whole will pay the costs of the unnecessary betrayal of the democratic vision of 1979.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias commented in late 1986 that "if Sandino were alive today, he would be a contra." Whether or not Sandino would, in fact, fight alongside "Douglas" or "Tigrillo" against the Sandinistas in the mountains of Segovia, the point is well made: as a nationalist, Sandino would be unlikely to support the FSLN's internationalism; as an opponent of centralized government, he would be appalled by its totalitarian impulses.

The last Somoza thought he could run Nicaragua as a family farm. The Sandinistas seem confident that Soviet aid will enable them to run it as a collective farm. Both attitudes deny the rights of Nicaraguans with differing views and interests. In both cases the solution that applies is democracy — not a democracy copied from foreign capitalist or communist models but one that reflects and respects Nicaraguans.

Any lasting peace must address this history and the dislocations it has created. Above all, any lasting peace must help win the respect for the views and needs that so many Nicaraguans feel have been ignored by dictators, whether the old Somoza "family" or the new FSLN "vanguard."

Ten years after the death of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro on January, 1978, the world is still pondering the future of Nicaragua and the other countries of Central America. The biographies in this report make clear that democracy is both possible and necessary. To think otherwise is to forget the wisdom of Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, that:

When an American or European intellectual — or liberal newspaper or institution — advocates for Latin American countries political options and methods he would never countenance in his own society he is betraying a fundamental doubt about the capacity of the Latin American countries to achieve the liberty and the respect for the rights of others that prevail in the Western democracies. In most cases, the problem is an unconscious prejudice, an inchoate sentiment, a sort of visceral racism, which these persons — who generally have unimpeachable liberal and democratic credentials — would sharply disavow if they were suddenly made aware of it.

See p. 92 for a glossary providing information about organizations, events, and symbols important to Nicaraguan political history.


¿¿¿ Food queue, Masaya, 1979. FSLN mismanagement has accelerated the economic decline, ¿¿¿[Gamma Liaison Matthew?] Naythons) 2 Celebration of International Women's Day on steps of Del Carmen Church, Managua, on March 18, 1987, /// Azucena Ferrey is kneeling in right foreground. Family attending mass in Managua stands before mural on church wall depicting FSLN leading popular uprising against Somoza. (© AP/Wide World Photos) ¿¿¿