JINOTEGA—Two separate incidents in the past week—an armed attack by a group of men wearing military uniforms and a declaration of war by a self-identified rearmed contra leader named “Sheriff”—have again raised questions and rumors about the existence of rearmed rebels in the jungles of Nicaragua.
On May 3, eight people were killed and two others seriously injured in an ambush in the rural municipality of La Cruz de Río Grande, in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), according to daily El Nuevo Diario. The group was reportedly attacked by a group of uniformed men firing AK-47s. Police and military claim the attack might have been related to cattle rustling, but have yet to identify the assailants or explain a clear motive.
Three days later, an alleged rearmed contra indentified as “Sheriff” contacted La Prensa’s correspondent in Miami and told her that the so-called Nicaraguan Democratic Front-380, an alleged group of rearmed contras, has regrouped and remains committed to the armed struggle against the government of Daniel Ortega.
“Our struggle will be until the end; we fought in the 80s until we ousted Sandinismo and now history is repeating itself—we don’t want our children living under a dictatorship,” said the alleged “recontra” leader in a phone conversation with La Prensa journalist Judith Flores.
Flores says the self-identified contra leader, the alleged successor to “Yahob” and “Pablo Negro” –two rearmed contras who were killed in mysterious circumstances in the past year—contacted her by phone, using a series of ex-contra contacts in Miami to prevent her from recording the call or tracing the number. Flores says “Sheriff” told her his group has obtained outside financing, but wouldn’t say form what sources.
Sheriff’s call to Flores came the same day the New York Times ran a front page story about the U.S. military’s recent efforts to build three remote base camps in Honduras to fight the War on Drugs.
The Nicaraguan Army has repeatedly denied the existence of rearmed contra groups in Nicaragua, insisting that the men claiming to be guerrillas are simple delinquents and cattle thieves who are disguising their criminal behavior under the false cloak of politics.
“There are people who still don’t understand or accept the reality in which we Nicaraguans live today,” Coronel Juan Ramon Morales, spokesman for the Nicaraguan Army, told The Nicaragua Dispatch earlier this year.
Morales says the rumors of rearmed contras operating in the mountains are a “dirty argument” used against the government to “create political anxiety.”
“They say there are armed groups, but that is totally false,” Morales said.
La Prensa’s Flores, however, says the mysterious man who called her—allegedly from the mountains of Nicaragua— insists his group’s struggle is political.
“Our struggle is political, though they don’t want to admit it. It started three years ago after the fraudulent municipal elections of 2008. The dictator doesn’t want to leave power. They are the real delinquents,” Sheriff told La Prensa’s reporter, echoing similar comments made by Yahob three years ago.
Yahob, the codename of José Gabriel Garmendia, was a former U.S.-trained special forces commander for the contra in the 1980s. He was killed mysteriously in February 2011, seven months after declaring what appeared to be a quixotic one-man war against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Yahob’s alleged successor, “Pablo Negro,” or Santos Guadalupe Borge, was found dead in a ditch in Honduras last January. His body was riddle with bullets. Finally, Victor Manuel Granados, an alleged rearmed contra known as “Byron,” was killed in a firefight with Nicaraguan police on Feb. 29.
Police and military officials claim all three men were common criminals who were falsely “elevated to the status of rebel leaders” after leading lives of delinquency. Others who knew them claim they were rearmed contras on a political mission.
The alleged existence of rearmed contra groups also remains a mystery to political leaders representing the ex-contras. Roberto Ferrey, vice president of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN), says the longer the alleged rearmed contras remain idle and hidden, the harder it is to believe they exist. Ferrey says he also doubts rumors of recent armed skirmishes with between “recontras” and state security forces, saying, “You can’t hide the injured—they would have to be treated at a clinic or hospital somewhere.”
Meanwhile, in the mountainous former contra territory of northern Nicaragua, rumors of rearmed groups continue to circulate in rural communities, even though no one seems to have any real information about the rebels’ existence.
Félix Enrique Rosales, a rural development worker based in El Cua, Jinotega, says he has spent the last several years traveling all over the mountains and rural communities of Jinotega—even those accessible only by boat or horseback—working on water and electricity projects. He says lots of people in the rural communities talk about the rearmed contras, but almost as if they were ghosts or fantasies.
“If the rearmed contras exist anywhere, it would be in these parts,” he says. “But I haven’t seen any. I think the people who talk about them are people who are still psychologically affected by the war.”