Are rearmed contras for real?

PRN thinks grumblings of rebellion in the “contra corridor” could provide their party with an opportunity to channel discontent into political capital

The recent execution of rearmed contra fighter Santos Guadalupe Borge—aka “Pablo Negro”— could give new political purpose to the contras’ mercurial and wilted Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN).

PRN national secretary Roberto Ferrey says the killing of Pablo Negro and the alleged return to arms of other contra guerrillas is challenging his emasculated party to break from its alliance with the ruling Sandinista Front and assume a stronger leadership role among its more truculent constituents in the so-called “contra corridor.”

“If the Sandinistas continue to close civic spaces, it will boomerang against them and become fertilizer for rebellion,” Ferrey told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “If the PRN runs alone in the 2012 municipal elections, we could offer our people their own candidacies and become the emerging opposition party. This could be the rebirth of the PRN.”

The PRN’s last attempt to run independently ended in embarrassment, when the divided contra party won less than 2% of the vote in the 2008 municipal elections and was unable to elect a single mayor. But given the otiose condition of Nicaragua’s other political parties, the PRN thinks it has as good a chance as ever to harness discontent among former contras and unify its old base into viable political alternative.

If the reports of contra rearmament bruited through the countryside are within the normal margins of embellished, the PRN will have to act quickly to keep discontent from becoming rebellion.

“The situation is getting worse,” Catholic Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata told The Nicaragua Dispatch by phone from his diocese in Estelí. “The campesinos now talk of four rearmed groups, including one that has 60 men.”

Monsignor Mata said the rumors of rearmed contra groups started “after the electoral fraud of the 2008 municipal elections,” but recently “the reports are multiplying.”

Worse yet, Mata says, the rearmed groups are apparently receiving some sort of aid or financing from unknown sources.

“They have to be getting funding from somewhere, because the campesinos tell us that the rearmed men have modern weapons, new boots and new uniforms,” Mata said. “Who is giving them this aid? Who knows?”

In the 1980s, the contras received millions of dollars in training, weapons, equipment and aid from the United States.

The government calls the outspoken bishop’s warnings ecclesiastic exaggeration. Nicaragua’s top brass, Gen. Julio César Aviles, says Mata is spreading “bad information.”

The Army firmly denies the existence of rearmed insurgents in Nicaragua. Aviles insists the armed groups are not guerrillas, rather small bands of bandits and cattle-rustlers involved in extortion, kidnapping and thievery.

“There are no politically motivated armed groups in the country,” Gen. Aviles told reporters last week. “Nicaragua does not have that situation. We have said that repeatedly and I say it again today.”

President Ortega, meanwhile, has not addressed the issue.

The bishop from Estelí calls the authorities’ continued denial a case of “terrible deafness” to the problems in the countryside. But he says increased police and army patrols in the northern zone indicate the authorities are more aware of the situation than they admit.

“The situation is delicate,” Mata says. “The government knows it has generated this problem, but they don’t want to admit it.”

How serious are reports of rearmament?

The ghastly discovery last week of Pablo Negro’s bloated and decomposing corpse has revived speculative claims about how many rearmed contras have returned to the mountains.

Killed. Rearmed contra leader “Pedro Negro” was found last week in ditch in Honduras with bullets in his head and abdomen (courtesy Roberto Portray)

Pablo Negro, a former contra fighter who last August returned to arms and his old nom de guerre, was found in a ditch in the Honduran border town of Las Manos, with a bullet in the head and another in the abdomen. His body was identified by family members in Tegucigalpa last Friday, and will be repatriated Monday for burial.

Nicaraguan authorities are reportedly seeking collaboration from their Honduran counterparts to determine what happened.

Pablo Negro was the second rearmed contra killed in similarly murky circumstances in the past year. Rearmed contra commando José Gabriel Garmendia, aka “Yajob,” was shot and killed in Estelí last February.

Both men were allegedly killed in similar setups, after apparently being led into a trap by someone they trusted.

 Whether Pablo Negro and Yajob were lone wolves deluded by martial fantasies or legitimate leaders of insurgencies brewing in the mountains is still subject to debate and speculation.

In the countryside, former contras claim there are as many as 3,000 rearmed men skulking about in the mountains, playing cat-and-mouse with the police and army. Gen. Aviles insists that’s bunkum.

Still, in the hills of Estelí, former contra combatants insist the situation is more serious than it appears from the bubble of Managua.

“Nicaraguans don’t want war; we want to live in peace. But when the path to peace is blocked, it has to be opened by violence,” says Felix Pedro Cruz (aka “Comandante Jehu”), a former contra combatant in Estelí who was left crippled from fighting in the 1980s. “Unfortunately, there are groups of men who no longer see any other path other than armed resistance. The political persecution is bad. There is no respect for anyone who is in opposition to Daniel Ortega.”

Roberto Petray, executive director of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH), an organization based in Estelí, reports he has information of three rearmed groups: the Democratic Front for Nicaragua’s Salvation-380 (Salvation-380), the Democratic Front for Nicaragua’s Fatherland and the Democratic Coastal Front-380.

Petray says he has been in contact with three other rearmed contra leaders codenamed “Cobra,” “Pitufo” and “Sargento.” He says he has had heard rumors that the various rearmed contra groups are trying to unite into one movement under the banner “Democratic Front-380,” named after legendary contra leader Enrique Bermúdez— aka “Comandante 3-80”—who was assassinated in Managua in 1991, after the war ended.

Retired general Hugo Torres, former head of Nicaragua’s military intelligence unit, says the government’s disregard for democratic advances and abusive use of Sandinista Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) as mechanisms of social control is stirring unwelcomed ghosts in the countryside, where the memory of repression and war is still fresh.

“Some people may conclude that there is nothing left to do here peacefully because the government doesn’t understand anything other than armed struggle,” Torres told The Nicaragua Dispatch.

Still, Torres says the army and police have very good information-gathering networks, which makes it hard for him to believe that there are any sizable rearmed movements operating in the mountains. But, the former general says, it’s “not impossible” to think that smaller groups led by experienced former contras would be able to evade authorities for a long time.

“These are men with lots of experience in guerrilla activity; they would know how to mobilize and seek collaboration from sympathetic campesinos,” Torres said. “Plus, cell phone technology makes it easier for them to communicate now than it was in the 1980s.”   

Though recent efforts to rearm appear to lead to a quick and violent end, Torres says that even a few small bands of rearmed soldiers could have an impact on a small country.

“With this type of phenomenon, you don’t need thousands of men to influence the political life of a country,” Torres said.

Opportunity for political opposition?

Flickering Alliance? The PRN first formed its tenuous alliance with the Sandinistas in 2006 (photo/ Tim Rogers)

In Managua, the PRN’s Ferrey says rearmed groups “have no future” other than violence and death, which he laments.

Still, he thinks the stirring of rebellion in the countryside could give his party an opportunity to change tack and become a viable political alternative by harnessing the indignation of former contras—assuming the PRN is capable of providing such leadership.

By going after their bases, Ferrey said, it could free the PRN of its uncomfortable and opportunistic dependency on the Sandinista Front and rediscover its opposition roots.

“The PRN can become the emerging opposition party,” Ferrey said hopefully. “And that will prevent us from being absorbed completely by the FSLN.”

Perhaps that alone is proof that the rearmed contras—even if their presence is wildly exaggerated—really can have an impact on Nicaragua’s political situation.

  • de Las Sombras

    A New Numbers Game???
    In 1990 at the ‘end’ of the “Contra War” there were thought to be somewhere between 6,000 (FSLN count) to 15,000 (US State Dept count) Contras active in the northern reaches of Nicaragua… yet during the next 2 years CIAV (Comisión Internacional de Apoyo y Verificación ~ an organization set up to assist with the return and reintegration of former Contras back into civil life) registered more than 28,000 Contra combatants AND AN ADDITIONAL 80,000 unexpected civilian supporters who also been with them in their mountain camps/hideouts. However CIAV and the OAS (Organization of American States) later estimated that there were a FURTHER 400,000 to 500,000 active non-combatant supporters who supplied, fed, housed them during their 11 year fight…

    Hmmmmm… that’s a whole bunch of ‘pissed-off highlanders’ in the contra corridor…

  • Pedro Arauz

    I’ll let you in in a secret Tim, they have always been there and with more money than ever as the drug trade will focus more and more in the area. You will see things in Nicaragua only reserved for Mexico and Guatemala with an touch from al Qaeda…
    Never forget, the goal is the USA.

    • http://none Lucy Diamonds

      You seem to have an illogical paranoid brain. We are all after the USA. The bogeyman is after you.

  • Dennis McCormick

    Very informative article. Also, learned tnew vocab: otiose, bruit about.

  • Rita Lugo

    The Scorpion and the Turtle:

    A turtle was happily swimming along a river when a scorpion hailed it from the shore.

    A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across a river. “Are you mad?” exclaimed the turtle. “You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.”

    “My dear turtle,” laughed the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you, and drown as well. Now where is the logic in that?”

    The turtle thought this over, and saw the logic of the scorpion’s statement. “You’re right!” cried the turtle. “Hop on!” The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river the scorpion gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said:

    “Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there’d be no logic in your stinging me. Why did you do it?”

    “It has nothing to do with logic,” the drowning scorpion sadly replied. “It’s just my character.”

    Readers: You do know who the turtle and the scorpio are,right? Welcome to Nicaragua!

    • http://none Itchy & Scratchy

      Tim, you guys did not accept my comment regarding Nicaragua being the turtle, the shell being mass media….nothing really wrong with my comment!
      Disappointed if you did but in case you have a backlog I would be happy to remind you to post it. Or your staff is not being honest!
      Lisa Simpson

  • gotothebeach

    Just having you report this has made an impact. You won’t find this type of information in other media I will assume.

  • Tom P.

    It’s better to get out of that shit-hole before the shit hits the fan!!

  • http://none Lucy Diamonds

    The contras were armed with US made weapons. Paid by all US tax payers then hidden through the Iran-Contra affair . Every bullet, every weapon used during the Nica 80’s war, every drop of blood was a result of US foreign policy. The citizens of the US need to be aware of what the US foreign policy is all about. It’s not for freedom and liberty but plainly to control resources and geopolitical interests. Purely on profiteering reasons!

    God Bless America and no one else!

    • de Las Sombras

      Lucy… while there is NO DOUBT that US foreign policy influenced and indeed, in many aspects, directed much of the contra war especially from 1982-on… there was a significant and a growing ARMED anti-sandinista guerilla movement within Nicaragua prior to 1980, and indeed with roots reaching back prior to even the ‘Triumph’ of July 1979.
      These early ‘contras’ were mostly made up of NOT former GN, their supporters or foreign mercenaries but of Sandinista guerilla units know as Militias Populares Anti-Somocistas (People’s Anti-Somoza Militias or MILPA) that had in fact been part of the Sandinistas’ Northern Front also know as the Carlos Fonseca Front.
      These groups were small, 40 to 50 strong combat units, extremely well experienced in guerilla combat honed fighting vicious campaigns in ‘Las Segovias’ (Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Estalí and Jinotega) against the GN and Somacista forces throughout the 60’s and 70’s, By August of ’79 most of these Milpistas had been absorbed in the highland comarcas and their ranks were growing in strength and new support as sandinista political cadres moved into the highlands and began their program of seizing small groups of fincas and creating Sandinista cooperativas… often referred to by the highland community leaders and campesinos as an “aldea armada”. This active, armed, anti-sandinista movement that was later to become (and some may argue was hijacked/coerced into) the ‘justification’ for the build-up and development of the American backed “Contras”.
      For those ND readers who are old enough to remember these early Milpistas (they later changed the acronym from MILPA to MILPAS to reflect their movements change from anti-somoza to Militias Populares Anti-Sandinistas but still retained the Milpistas name) with nomes de guerres such as ‘Gerónimo’, ‘Tigre’, ‘Rigoberto’, ‘Culebra’, ‘Dimas’ and ‘El Danto’, they may remember their early actions throughout late ’79 into 1980… and in particular the combined Milpista group action led by Dimas in July 1980, barely 1 year after the ‘Triumph’, when they attacked and captured Quilali barely 80km from where Fidel Castro was giving a speech in Estelí to help celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. During the resultant army sweeps and helicopter attacks in and around Quilalí the fledgling EPS even had to battle it out with one of their own units who mutinied and refused to fight the Milpistas…

      So… Lucy… while I totally agree with you on your generalized US foreign policy statement…
      I find it sad that so many Nicaraguans and extranjeros know so little of the true history of the early ’79-’82 war years… where the efforts of so many of those who fought, bled and suffered for the freedom of Nicaragua against the Somaza regime (some from as early as the late 50’s and early 60’s) and then chose to continue a fight for a national freedom that they believed was being usurped by a ‘new political regime’… has been swept away into a dark recess of history by the popular media and over-shadowed by foreign intervention.

      • http://none Adonis Lopez

        A good English read on the topic is Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer. Instead of pointing fingers and looking for who is right and wrong you will become aware that circumstances of events led to certain actions. Everybody was wrong and doing what they believed in.

        • de Las Sombras

          … another good factual history would be “Peasants in Arms: War and Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979-1994” by Lynn Horton (Ohio University Center for International Studies, Monographs in International Studies Latin America Series Number 30, 1998 ISBN 0-89680-204-3)

          In 1987 Lynn lived for 6 months on an agricultural cooperative near the town of Tonalá in Chinandega which during the 60’s and 70’s was a center of peasant resistance and several of the cooperative members were active members with the FSLN that participated in land invasions and later fought in the FSLN urban insurrections. Her personal experiences with the Nicaraguan families with whom she lived during her stay on the cooperative led her to maintain close ties with her Nicaraguan friends and to return in the early 1990’s to extensively travel throughout the mountains of the interior and conduct the personal interviews used in her book… which basically examines 2 questions: What factors influenced the mountain peasants to collectively mobilize both FOR and AGAINST revolutionary change in the 1980s… and Why does the conflict persist the post war period.

    • SeniorDaddy

      Lucy, you have a media hyped opinion of Americans. We are all over the world when needed to help the overpowered. The thought was that it would be better for the people of Nicaragua. There are no resources of any major interest in your country. Just that we believe in democracy of the people, though no democracy is perfect. We won the revolution in out own country too, don’t forget. It Nicaragua better off with Ortega? I think not. I read your papers and have some friends there.

  • econica

    I find it rather disturbing how sympathetic this article is to the contras. There’s no historical context, no mention of their brutal and vicious methods massacres of innocent, unarmed women and children. Shoddy journalism from someone who can just up sticks and return to his own country if things ever got nasty. Shameful.

  • blamegame

    I think it’s agood article. However, as an American, I was embarrassed to the extent of unusual financing and support for the contras by the US. Attrocities from all parties aside (yes all parties have guilt), still I can hardly believe that US was the only consipators to the contra war – there was desire by a significant contingent of Nica people, who didn’t want the Somozas nor the repressive Sandinista governement. We were happy to ablige considering the anti-US sandinista retoric combined with the brazen pan-handling for money and support from the pre-soviet collapse communist era. No party is void of fault from this disasterous affair, and the result is still instability, weak economics and suffering people – many lessons to learn.

  • Roger

    I am very glad for this article. It shows that Nicaragua is not a stable place to live , especially if you want to invest your american $$ The contras are getting power slowly and I agree completely with thousands of people. Daniel Ortega will only leave the country with bullets and nothing else. Go Contras all the way!!! Make Nicaragua a safe place again!

    • Mary castell

      hello Roger.. You really want the “contras” back! Amazing how people who never suffer a war can talk non sense. In the 90’s our tiny farm was attacked by contras. I was rape by a disgusting, foul smelling, ignorants, group of them. My 13 year Old sister was taken… We found her days later wondering through the mountains. My mother was shot and our grandmother who was 72 was tied to a post to watch all the horror. Guess what was their excuse for doing all of this? – our father had refuse days before to give them the only cow and a pig that we had. He was asked through a “correo” person to comply or to suffer the consecuenses. Well “dear” Roger, before you wish for the contras to come back, or any armed group in our beloved country think of the little people, the campesinos, people like that little girl whose only crime is to exist in a place where people like you don’t think before voicing out their stupid ideas. Do you really think that bullets and violence will solve the problem in Nicaragua? Then you surely live far away from there., because for people like us living en Yali, El tuma, La Dalia, Rosita, San Jose de Bocay… Believe me another war will be the end of us!!

  • Yuri I.

    I’m Russian and feel ashamed that the government of my country provided around $8 billions in helicopters, airplanes, tanks, missiles and many other weapons to the Sandinistas to kill their own people in the 80’s.

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  • poncaal

    does this mean they plan on using the mule sys to make money to support there party if so i highly say change your way

  • Miguel
  • Tio Pere

    Let me set multiple facts straight for the howling morons commenting here.
    Journalists: Stephen Kinzer was a left wing punk who never went anywhere during the 80s war without Sandinista (Piricuaco – means mad dog) minders leading him by the nose. A gutless wonder who only visited prepared “battlefields” and just regurgitated Ortega’s spoon fed propaganda during the war and in his garbage book. Don’t forget that Ortega made all the war zones where Sandinista genocide was taking place off limits to journalists. It is on their soul and consience, that basically all of them complied willingly to that mandate. Accessories to genocide if you ask me. Even the few honest journalists generally didn’t have the guts to cross the border North or South with armed Contras and march for months on end through the mud, blood, and bullets. So basically you will find very little truthful accounts about the war.
    The fact is that the FSLN with Cuban/Russion backing hijacked the 79 revolution for a brutal Communist dictatorship. They slaughtered anyone who opposed them. Google “Navidad Roja” for just one example they happened to get caught on becuase of the scale and proximity to the border. They set up “Relocation Camps” all over Nicaragua where campesinos were uprooted and herded to. They burned and exterminated casitas of anyone thought to be in opposition. Gave their stolen “ganados” straight to “cooperativas”. Pretty much every house on Rio Tule in 86. BUT THE WORST WAR CRIME was the cutting off of medicines to the campesinos. Tens of thousands of infants and children died with distended bellies anonymously in the hinterlands of Nicaragua.
    In the end, in the 1990 elections internationally monitored, Ortega got his ass handed to him THE SAME WAY WE STOMPED THE EPS on the battlefield. Landslide election victory by UNO candidate with LARGEST victory margin in the battlefileld provinces like Chontales, Chinandega, Matagalpa, Boaco.
    Sooner or later Nicaragua will be free of this pestilence once and for all. VIVA LA CONTRA!!!

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  • SeniorDaddy

    The massacre at Leymus

    Leymus is a port town. Many miskitos were rounded up and placed in a wharehouse facility there. On Christmas Eve of 1981 these people were slaughtered, pastors, the elderly, and workers.

    Vidal Poveda was one of the few survivors and tells of how the Sandinistas took 7 of these miskitos (he being one of them) to dig their own graves, where all but he was shot. He managed to escape, in the process losing an arm and being shot. He was later rescued by the Honduran Military. He received word that the Nicaraguan government had begun a plan called “Navidad Roja”, a counterrevolutionary plan.

    40 communities along the Rio Coco were forceably evicted. The Miskitos churches, homes and cemetaries were destroyed.

    Community Kligna – July 1982
    The Sandinista Army captured and many people disappeared.

    Sangnilaya July 1983

    The Sandinistas crammed a group of Miskitos into a house (including farmers and a Pastor named Nicolás Zamora, where they through 5 grenades into. The house still remains in ruins with blood affixed to the walls.

    Ortega has apologized for causing these crimes against a race of people, and has said that he will compensate, however he has never come through, nor could he compensate for the lives he has destroyed. Ortega only acknowledged these crimes when he was running for an election, and said that he would compensate. However during the 80’s he never made any apology nor did he even acknowledge the claim.

    Apparently the leaders Steadman and Brooklin (originaly leaders of the Miskitos) are now willing to defend Daniel Ortega. Coleman says that he believes that these 2 were originally leading for personal reasons and it was not about their community.