Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 421 | Agosto 2016



Armed and politically motivated: A repeating tragedy

Since 1990, the inability, insensitivity and lack of political will of Nicaragua’s successive governments to acknowledge and deal with the civil war’s residual effects on those who are always being forgotten has left many poor peasants seeing armed political violence as the only option left open, the only way to recuperate their stolen dignity and violated rights.

Since 1990, the inability, insensitivity and lack of political will of Nicaragua’s successive governments to acknowledge and deal withthe civil war’s residual effects on those who are always being forgotten has left many poor peasants seeing armed political violence as the only option left open, the only way to recuperate their stolen dignity and violated rights.

Military and police authorities persistently claim there are no politically motivated armed groups rebelling against Daniel Ortega’s government in Nicaragua’s northern region and Caribbean Coast. But such groups do exist and the tactics to neutralize them—extrajudicial executions, sudden raids, intelligence operations, targeted killingss and the like—are the same ones security forces used at the end of the 1980s’ civil war against those who rearmed for different reasons. The security forces even used these tactics against Nicaraguan Resistance commandos who handed over their weapons and returned to civilian life.

They began civically

Over the years there have been emblematic examples of the use of these tactics: murders masquerading as traffic accidents, crimes of passion, settling of scores for old personal grudges; mysterious deaths such as the never-solved February 1991 murder of Enrique Bermúdez (aka Coman¬dante 3-80) in the parking lot of a Managua hotel; and explosives inside an army-issue walkie-talkie radio in the 1996 “Trojan Horse” military operation that blew apart Denis Ciriaco Palacios Cruz (aka Charro) and his companions in the Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC) of angry, betrayed-feeling Sandinista dissidents. In January 2015, almost 20 years later, two members of the rearmed anti-Sandinista groups calling themselves Sereno and Nacho in El Portal, Santa María de Pantasma, Jinotega, were killed by another, more modern, walkie-talkie inside a backpack and the owner of the peasant farm where the explosion took place, Modesto Duarte Altamirano, was tortured and summarily executed.

Who are rearming? On the social networks we see videos of armed, very humble peasants and other peasant farmers not directly involved in this new rearmament clearly showing respect and admiration for those carrying the weapons. We also see people expressing their repudiation of the abuses and atrocities committed by members of the Army and Police.

These rural poor began by demanding their violated rights, democracy and freedom civically and, on not being heard, have taken up arms to meet the violent response of the government and its security forces, which fulfills Isaiah’s ancient prophecy: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”

Rearmament is every war’s most dangerous residual effect

After it is over, every war—whether between or within States, conventional or irregular—has various, inevitable residual or secondary effects, some foreseeable and others less so, independent of whether the war was resolved by military means or political negotiation.

The most common and predictable of these effects, and in fact the most dangerous, is the rearmament of former combatants from one or both sides of the conflict. It’s the most dangerous because it prolongs the bloodshed, anxiety, uncertainty and unrest among the civilian population for an indeterminate time and contributes to political and economic instability.

Generally speaking, the rearmament of former combatants expresses their rejection of and dissatisfaction with the terms reached at the end of the war, whether imposed by the victor or agreed among the parties. In relation to the breaching of agreements, we must also take into account the influence of interested internal and external actors, who encourage and provide political support to those who rearm.

The fundamental source of the most dangerous residual effects of Nicaragua’s civil war was the weak, imperfect and inconclusive pacification process, considered by civilian and military authorities as a simple and mechanical exercise of demobilizing and disarming combatants. Adding to the urgency of ending the 1980s war was the lack of a strategic vision for “the day after” or the financial resources needed to support the former combatants’ economic and social reinsertion. The result was devastating: thousands of men and women who fought on both sides for freedom and their rights were abandoned to their fate, and they felt cheated and frustrated.

The four detonators of the first rearmament

The cycle of arming-disarming-rearming by Nicaagua’s civil war combatants between 1979 and 1990 took place at different times and had different causes and expressions. Recurrent developments, not necessarily connected to each other, have been intersected by virtually continuous common threads right up to today: intolerance and intransigence, tricks and falsehoods, lack of political will…

When the contra army officially disarmed in 1991 in San Pedro de Lóvago, Chontales, Nicaraguans thought and fervently hoped that the armed political violence that had cyclically devastated the country would now be nothing more than a nightmare and they would never again have to resort to arms to resolve political differences. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

According to the Mexican historian Verónica Rueda, author of the 2015 book Recontras, Recompas, Revueltos y Rearmados
Second was the ability they all retained to recuperate weapons. The commandos demobilized but they had securely stashed away a large part of their weapons, as had the Sandinista officers. Furthermore, after the electoral defeat in February 1990, the outgoing FSLN government gave out about 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles (AK-47s) to civilians in the countryside and cities, a considerable number of which were stored in clandestine caches.

The third trigger was the breaching of the demobilization and reinsertion agreements, and the fourth was the unresolved agrarian situation.

Thus began a sort of rearmament-negotiation-disarmament spiral of re[armed]-Contras, re[armed]-Compas [as the Sandinista military were popularly known], Revueltos [a tactical mix of former Contras and former Compas], and undefined rearmed groups in which, Rueda says that economic, social and political demands were confused in some cases with social banditry involving looting, pillaging, blocking of roads for extortion. Even this unjustified antisocial behavior was fed by desperation and frustration on seeing the disarmament agreements breached. It was but a step from these disappointments to seeking how to meet their unaddressed needs.

Scams and disappointments in rural Nicaragua

In the main, the failure of the succession of governments to honor their commitments has been ultimately responsible for derogating the fair demands of those who offered up everything and found themselves in worse conditions at the end of the war than before because they had lost the little they had and, instead of being acknowledged, were stigmatized and despised. In a talk with envío in May 2014, sociologist María Angélica Fauné very aptly summarized this tragedy: “the State hasn’t changed in its disrespect for the peasantry, and I believe that peasantry has been accumulating rage. It has experienced yet another wave of usurpation of lands and is brooding over it in silence, like a volcano that could one day erupt again.”

More than fifty agreements were signed during Violeta Chamorro’s administration with different groups of former combatants, who later rearmed because none of the agreements were fully complied with: from deception to despair, from there to frustration and on to inevitable desperation. Urgency leads to violence. From then to the present, the Nicaraguan governments’ inability, insensitivity and lack of political will to acknowledge and deal with the residual effects of the civil war has pushed those who are always being forgotten to resort to armed political violence as the only option they feel is open to them.

The Sandinista government in the 1980s didn’t know about or ignored the nature, idiosyncrasies, history, culture and traditions of peasants from northern central Nicaragua and the different ethnic groups of the Caribbean… until they took up arms and began a civil war. The Ortega administration that came to power in January 2007 doesn’t seem to have learned the lesson: repeating mistakes from those times and committing new ones.

This is the vicious circle in which Nicaragua and many Nicaraguans are trapped. It has been closing further with the injustices of the current regime which, not so long ago, flew the banner “Power to the Workers and Peasants” and now touts the slogan “People President.” Armed violence is for many poor peasants the only way to recover their stolen dignity and violated rights.

February 2002—July 2010:77 months without war

The military command and remnants of the FUAC were finally eradicated in February 2002. It seemed to mark the end of armed political violence in Nicaragua after more than two decades of a bloody cycle of war-revolution-war. But it wasn’t so: eight years and five months later, politically motivated armed groups once again reappeared in mid-July 2010.

Moreover, there wasn’t peace between February 2002 and July 2010, just absence of war. Those 77 months weren’t a time of peace and social tranquility but a violent time where all kinds of common crimes flourished, especially against life and property. The National Police’s annual statistics show homicides and assassinations increasing from 554 to 802 between 2002 and 2009, an overall growth rate of 44.76%. And crimes against property increased from 47,057 to 71,473 during that same period, a 51.98% overall growth rate. These figures may in some way be unforeseen residual effects of the war.

Today’s authoritarian involution is the detonator for the current rearmament

After three consecutive electoral defeats (1990, 1996 and 2001), Daniel Ortega won the November 2006 general elections with just 38% of the valid votes. He was able to do so thanks to the central point of the 1999 Ortega-Alemán pact: amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Law by which the PLC and FSLN divvied up power in a two-party blueprint of political control and the percentage of votes needed to win the presidency on the first round was lowered to 35%.

During the 2006 electoral campaign Ortega promised a government of “national unity and reconciliation” and afterward adopted that slogan as the government’s official name. Slogans aside, he soon began to dismantle the framework of the incipient, fragile democracy being constructed.

The steps in the authoritarian involution process by Daniel Ortega’s regime during these ten years are very evident. He has completely dismantled the democratic institutional structure. He has absolute control over all four branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial and electoral) and all institutions (the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Comptroller General’s Office, the decentralized and autonomous bodies, and the mayoral offices) and he has transformed the Army and Police from national institutions into armed institutions supporting and serving his project to remain in power indefinitely.

Furthermore, the country has seen successive frauds in the municipal elections (2008 and 2012), the general elections (2011) and the Caribbean’s autonomous regional elections (2009 and 2014); party domination of all the national education sub-systems including public higher education; the subjugation of workers’ unions; and cronyism with big private capital.

This authoritarian involution of Ortega’s regime is the detonator for the current rearmament cycle, although the emergence of politically motivated armed groups at this point is somewhat confusing and the related information scant and scattered. For example, a video that appeared on YouTube on April 8, 2015, stated that the Nicaraguan Guerrilla Group Coordinating Body (CGN) was founded on September 17, 2007, but there’s no record of its armed actions until five years later.

“Yajob” was the first to take up arms

Estelí-born José Garmendia Gutierrez was a contra member in the 1980s and years later an official in the Nicaraguan Water and Sewage Company (ENACAL) during Arnoldo Alemán’s administration.

By mid-July 2010 he had taken on the pseudonym Yajob, and from that date on he began communicating with newspapers and radio stations announcing that he had taken up arms against Daniel Ortega’s government. In a radio interview he said he was leading an armed group called Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), and noted that his wasn’t the only armed group in the country. The Army and Police describe them all as bands of common criminals with outstanding accounts with the law. was specifically accused of murdering Piraña, a former Nicaraguan Resistance commando, an allegation Yajob emphatically denied.

Yajob ’s political thinking was straightforward and clear and showed a good understanding of national reality. A year and a half before it was borne out, he had denounced the fraud Daniel Ortega was planning for the November 2011 general elections. He also warned that the Army and Police were serving Ortega’s interests even before this was quite so evident and at least the military was still keeping up appearances. He called on people to “fight against the dictatorship and the pact” between Alemán and Ortega, and he recognized that without the funding from the United States the Nicaraguan Resistance had enjoyed during the 1980s, the public would have to collaborate with those in arms.

Yajob announced that he would remain in the mountains if he received support to do so from the people, calling himself their armed wing. From the hills he issued a stern warning that ominously evokes a recurring reality in Nicaragua’s political history: “We won’t take down Daniel Ortega’s tyranny wearing bandanas, we’ll do it with bullets!”

Extra-judicial executions become institutionalized

Yajob revealed in a radio interview that Army officers had offered him benefits in exchange for demobilizing and disarming: “They offered dollars,” he said, “they sent someone to offer me a farm and to tell me that we could work out the problem.” Yajob rejected them and, unable to buy him off, they planned his murder. On February 14, 2011, eight months after Yajob had taken up arms, the Army conducted a sudden raid, an intelligence operation, by a group of soldiers dressed as civilians who went in by the only path that would reach him, crossing through three rings of security, and shot him in from behind. One bullet went through the femoral vein in his leg and he bled out. It was a typical extrajudicial execution.

Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (aka Pablo Negro), a member of the CGN, was executed in Honduras on January 6, 2012, and his body found a week later. He had been shot with one bullet in his forehead, another in his abdomen and signs of torture. All this appears in the report presented on January 25 that same year to Police Director Aminta Granera by Roberto Petray, then executive director of the Nicaraguan Association Pro-Human Rights (ANPDH),. Petray coolly stated: “He was executed.”

In December 2013, it was reported in the media that Alberto Midence (aka Emmanuel and also El Flaco Midence), a member of the Nicaraguan Patriotic Commando (COPAN), had met a similar fate to Joyas Borge; he was shot to death in El Paraíso, Honduras. Then on June 10, 2014, Gerardo de Jesús Gutiérrez (also aka El Flaco) of the CGN was wounded in a confusing incident, also in Honduras, just over 12 miles from the Nicaraguan border. All these events suggest the scope of the Nicaraguan Army’s long intelligence arm in actions against the heads of these groups and recall the murders of former Nicaraguan Resistance commanders so common in the 1990s.

Do “criminals” take over police stations?

Since then the Nicaraguan Army has repeated that all these groups are “criminal expressions.” The unusual thing about these groups of “criminals” is that they assault police stations. Why would they do that? Nobody doubts that common criminals are audacious, but their daring doesn’t usually lead them to take over police stations because they have more lucrative objectives for their criminal activity.

On the night of September 27, 2012, in one of the armed groups’ first recorded offensive actions, CGN forces commanded by Joaquín Torres Días (aka Cascabel)—described by the Army as “a criminal element”—took over the San Antonio de Kukarawala police station in the village of La Hachita, municipality of El Tortuguero in the Southern Caribbean Region. The assault was led by El Flaco Gutiérrez.

One police officer died in the confrontation and the rebels seized two AK-47 rifles, a 9mm. pistol and a shotgun. “They’re getting armed so they’ll be able fight later, that’s what you hear,” declared a local resident. Commenting on the taking of the police station, Cascabel declared that they didn’t commit any crime because they allowed a junior officer and a police volunteer to leave, even though the officer in question had extorted money from the parents of arrested youths in exchange for their release.

Two years later, on November 30, 2014, an armed group commanded by Invisible attacked the San Pedro del Norte police station in Ubú Norte, Paiwas, also in the Southern Caribbean Region. A junior officer was wounded and a police officer kidnapped. More recently, on February 25 of this year, an armed group carrying new AK-47s and semi-automatic shotguns attacked and burned the police station in the community of Las Golondrinas, Jinotega. “They’re against the government,” said the villagers, who indicated that they had identified themselves, as in the 1980s’ war, as “freedom fighters.”

“We’ve taken up arms because of the breakdown in democracy”

Commander Cascabel explained in a video uploaded onto YouTube: “We haven’t wanted to kill anyone but we have to shoot those who oppose us so they don’t think we’re going to run, and now we’re well armed. I want to tell the whole world that we’re simple, ordinary men, just humble peasants, but we’re also ready to shed our blood for this country.” He also explained that they’ve taken up arms because of “the breakdown in democracy,” Daniel Ortega’s violations of the Constitution, the electoral fraud and lack of respect for Nicaraguans’ constitutional rights, among them the right to choose.

On April 15, 2013, a military press release reported that during a special operation called Reptil in the area of San Rafael de Escalera, nearly 17 miles northeast of Wapí, Southern Caribbean Region, Army troops intercepted a “criminal expression made up of 11 armed elements” who opened fire and “the head of this criminal expression, Joaquín Torres Díaz alias El Cascabel, was killed in this confrontation.”

Special operation Reptile? As its name implies, it was a sudden raid conceived, organized and executed to selectively eliminate Cascabel (rattlesnake in Spanish).

Characteristics of this peasant movement

The armed groups that have emerged in Nicaragua since José Garmendia took up arms against Daniel Ortega’s government in mid-July 2010 are typically scattered, relatively limited in number, lacking in central coordination or an attractive and viable program proposal, with almost non-existent economic resources, limited armaments and military equipment resources, no known international support and insufficient ability to call upon and recruit the rural population.

In most cases those who have taken up arms were Nicaraguan Resistance commandos in the 1980s who made the personal decision to do so, although some declared political militancy to one party or another after demobilizing in the 1990s and reinserting into civilian life. According to what emerges from some of their declarations to the media and in interventions broadcast on the social networks, theirs is a spontaneous reaction to Daniel Ortega’s concentration of power and dynastic dictatorial ambition; his abuses, injustices and violations of the Constitution; and the severe deterioration of democracy and violation of their rights, especially the right to freely choose authorities who represent their most deeply felt interests. What is evident is that we are dealing with an armed peasant movement in the making with extremely limited potential for development and growth precisely because of its own characteristics.

Poor farmers in arms in acountry side being de-ruralized

Nicaragua is increasingly becoming predominantly urban. Outstanding among the factors that catalyzed this de-ruralizing are the rural-to-urban migration that started in the 1960s and the civil war of the eighties that strongly exacerbated it.

Nicaragua’s urban population—now almost 60% of the total population, according to World Bank figures—always has been and remains relatively oblivious to armed peasant uprisings, a recurrent theme in the country’s political history. In some ways this same attitude can be seen among peasants themselves in certain rural areas, whether through fear or realism. This is the case with farmer Edgard Montenegro, in the 1980s a contra leader of El Flaco Gutiérrez, who is today is his neighbor. Montenegro says El Flaco came to his farm twice and one time “urged me to accompany him.” I told him “No, I don’t see the possibilities at this time.”

Sacrifice, tragedy and drama

The weaknesses and shortcomings of the armed peasants in the northern mountains and in the Caribbean interior are evident when facing an enemy that has all the resources it needs to neutralize them. They are especially affected by their limited number of combatants, the absence of a pool from which to replace them, limited fire power, insufficient material resources, lack of national and international political and economic support and, as a consequence, the lack of a strategic rearguard.

Without a shadow of a doubt they represent no strategic threat to Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime. Their limited operational abilities have been further reduced since they began their small tactical actions: occasional attacks on small remote police stations, ambushing small military patrols, and minimal political propaganda among the sectors of the rural population where they operate… That’s their drama and nothing to date indicates that these weaknesses and shortcomings can be remedied even in the medium term.

“Nobody respects us”

It’s equally undeniable that the Army and Police have sown terror in many rural communities in northern Nicaragua, particularly in the areas where the armed peasants operate.

Reyna Hernández and her husband are farmers in Wamblán, on the border with Honduras. “We’re afraid,” she said, “because we live in communities deep inside the country and we’ve been threatened because they insist we must be involved with these people.” She and her husband both say the Army and Police harass them for being opponents of Ortega’s government. For them, war means destruction and they don’t think their children “should have to go and die because we already have democracy here in Nicaragua, but I don’t blame anyone else except Daniel Ortega.”

Julio Meza Zeledón from the community of Anisales, says: “Here, we feel afraid because we have no security, nobody respects us here because we’re peasants.”

One discourse is rural, another urban

There’s a noticeable difference between the communiqués’ content from some of the armed leaders and that of some of the armed groups’ supposedly organized authorities, especially the discourse used by the Comandante 3.80 Democratic Alliance Force and the Nicaraguan Guerrilla Group Coordinating Body (FDC 3.80-CGN) in a video uploaded to the Internet on February 25, 2015.

The video presents a “National Agenda of 7 strategic points” in a language that seems more aimed at an educated urban audience than at rural people. It contrasts with the language we heard from the mouths of the armed peasants, Yajob , El Flaco, Invisible, Pelón, Colocho and Cascabel, who talk in plain, direct language, without affectation, capable of reaching both the rural population and city dwellers.

This doesn’t detract from the importance of the Agenda, an attempt to develop a program proposal that addresses, although without much detail, key issues such as the end of the dictatorship; the restoration of democracy, peace and the rule of law; respect for fundamental human rights and cooperation between economic actors; international issues such as the influence of Russia, Cuba and Venezuela in Nicaragua; and other issues such as the abolition of the Army. It also refers to issues more specific to the rural sector: agro-industrialization of the countryside to expand existing markets and open new ones, rural social security, technical education and financial assistance for the rural sector.

The criminal rationale for extrajudicial executions

Between the execution of Yajob on February 14, 2011, and that of Invisible at the end of April this year, at least seven heads of armed groups have been selectively executed in intelligence operations conducted by the Army and an undetermined number of rebel peasants have died in combat with military troops or Police forces, to whom must be added the innocent civilians killed in these operations. The number captured is unknown and neither the Police nor the Public Ministry are saying what processes will be used against them.

Selective executions seem to have become the military’s preferred method for dealing with the armed rebels. Yajob was the first to fall in this war of selective elimination of the leaders of these small and scattered armed groups. The rationale for this operational tactic—extrajudicial executions—is both criminal and simple: by eliminating the leader, the group disbands, the danger is neutralized and the threat disappears.

It’s also a way of permanently silencing the armed groups’ leaders because if they were captured and tried, they would have their day in court, to testify that they aren’t criminals and have taken up arms to “defend Nicaragua’s sovereignty, which this government has handed to the Chinese.” Or they would say: “We’re here because we’re prepared to shed our blood for this country,” as both Cascabel and Invisible said when they had the chance.

If they were to go to court they would also have the opportunity to denounce the abuses peasants have suffered at the hands of the Army and Police. It was decided to selectively remove them by extrajudicial executions to avoid giving them that opportunity.

The deaf who don’t want to hear, the blind who don’t want to see

The chorus that runs from the Army Chief and Police Director to the heads of the military regions and the Police’s departmental delegations isn’t inspired. It always repeats the same refrain: “There are no armed groups in Nicaragua.”

Army commander-in-chief, General Julio César Avilés, has worn himself out insisting: “There are no armed elements, they are criminal elements that often group together to commit a crime.” First Police Commissioner Aminta Granera also says: “I repeat, once again: we don’t have politically motivated armed groups in Nicaragua. We have criminal bands plaguing different parts of the country.”

Reality belies them. The videos, Facebook accounts, statements and testimonies from family members and neighbors to organizations defending human rights, communiqués in newspapers and on radio stations reveal what Avilés and Granera fruitlessly try to deny: There are politically motivated armed groups in northern Nicaragua.

Organizations defending human rights say it and so do bishops from the Catholic Church, among them Abelardo Mata of Estelí, Carlos Herrera of Jinotega and Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, all of whom have categorically said: “Yes, these groups are definitively there. We don’t know if there are links between them. If there’s an organization or some institution that can unite them we don’t know about it. But yes, they do exist.”

The bishop of Estelí insists that “there are re-armed groups dissatisfied with the government and we’ve been warning that it’s wise to pay attention although we haven’t been listened to, and here are the results. We’re not saying this to be against the government or in favor of the armed groups but because the solution is civic.” Archbishop of Managua Leopoldo Brenes, now also cardinal, also backed up Bishop Mata’s statements.

The clear affirmations of the existence of these politically motivated armed groups in northern Nicaragua contradict the military and police chiefs who persist in denying it, describing them as criminals, delinquents, extortionists, drug traffickers and thieves.

Any links to drug trafficking?

Bishop Herrera offered a controversial hypothesis by mentioning the possibility of a relationship between the armed groups and drug traffickers: “There are some,” he once said, “who are supported by the drug corridor. Others say they do it to raise awareness in people not to accept all the government’s irregularities and that’s what they say.” Given their precarious material conditions, it’s not impossible to imagine that some of the armed groups could establish relationships with drug traffickers who move in the areas where they operate.

Ana Margarita Vijil, president of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), agrees with the three bishops. In statements to the Associated Press she called it “misleading for the Army and Police to say that the armed groups don’t exist or aren’t politically motivated… The closing of paths to institutionality by Ortega’s government is responsible for what’s happening in the north of the country… they are peasants who feel their rights are being violated and have retaken up arms. And among those who are armed are both people linked to the Contra and old Sandinistas.”

Vijil also warned of the risk of the emergence of armed groups on the border between Nicaragua and Honduras: “There’s an open opportunity for drug trafficking there,” she said. “If there are peasants in the mountains who need ammunition, arms or supplies, they could open spaces for the drug corridors. When democratic spaces are closed, spaces open for other actors.”

However, when they talk about “drugs,” “drug corridor” or “drug trafficking,” it should be clarified that generally speaking, specifically in Jinotega, they aren’t talking about cocaine but marihuana, which is grown and produced on small plots of land in different areas of that department. The Army and Police campaign to discredit the politically motivated armed groups presents them as “drug traffickers,” a connotation usually associated with people linked to international cartels that smuggle large amounts of drugs and are involved in related activities, such as money laundering. Obviously, the peasants who have taken up arms in areas in northern and north Caribbean Nicaragua are hardly “those” drug traffickers.

“Criminals” who demand free, fair and transparent elections?

It’s also obvious that by accusing those in armed groups of being delinquents and criminals, the military forces are following orders to discredit and delegitimize those who have taken up arms for a just cause that can be summarized in four words: the fight for democracy.

Since the government’s discourse to discredit them, repeated ad nauseam, may possibly impress some sectors of the population, the armed peasants themselves made it their business to set the record straight. Enrique Aguinaga, Comandante Invisible, is a peasant who took up arms to fight against the current government. In the video “The truth about the armed groups against Daniel Ortega, unconstitutional President of Nicaragua,” Invisible carried an AK-47 with a side-folding stock, apparently new, with a drum magazine, pistol, cell phone and grenades on his belt. His bodyguard was armed with a similar rifle but with a normal magazine and he was accompanied by three commanders: Pedro, Jinotega and Matagalpa.

Invisible explained that he took up arms because of “the violation of our Republic’s Constitution,” the lack of free elections, “even though Ortega himself promised in the 1987 Esquipulas II Agreements before five Central American governments to hold free elections, to never again have war in Nicaragua. And now we’re seeing that’s a lie and it has forced all us Nicaraguans to grab rifles.”

Invisible stressed that free elections are “a need of all Nicaraguans” and that he and those who accompanied him are “crying out from the mountains of La Cruz de Río Grande [deep inside the Southern Caribbean Region] for free, fair and transparent elections, for our vote to be respected, verified in each and every polling station, and that there’ll be no more wars here in Nicaragua because when there aren’t free elections we’ll start to react against this dictatorship.” He ended by saying: “We ask all Nicaraguans to join us in this struggle and we tell them that Enrique Aguinaga, Comandante Invisible, will never back off, Enrique Aguinaga will not surrender or sell out.”

In the video you can see thirty men armed with AK-47s, most of them with side-folding stock, dressed in olive green fatigues or civilian clothing, with backpacks, some with the little hats worn by those in military service in the 1980s and others with baseball caps, moving through the bush from a plain towards a wooded area behind which can be seen the outline of misty blue mountains.

On April 30, 2016, Invisible was caught, beaten, tortured and executed by soldiers in Palancito, Wanawás, nearly 14 miles north of Río Blanco, Matagalpa. The Army claims he died in a confrontation with a military patrol that was pursuing three or four men who had stolen cattle and had been charged with extortion. Aguinaga’s family members said he was shot several times when he left the house where he was and his body showed signs of having been tortured.

A tragedy that repeats itself

The first armed groups appeared in north centraln and North Caribbean Nicaragua three years into Daniel Ortega’s first new term in office. They announced they had taken up arms in response to the injustices of his regime: violations to the Constitution, violations to civil and political rights and particularly electoral fraud, which was the initial detonator of this new stage of armed political violence.

Without listening to their demands, Ortega’s government decided to eliminate them, using operations typical of state terrorism: selective elimination of their leaders with targeted killings and extrajudicial executions. The Army and Police have implemented a regime of terror in the rural areas where the politically motivated rebels operate, as they did in the revolutionary 1980s and in the 1990s.

This nascent movement of armed peasants has very few possibilities of prospering. The international scene has changed significantly and Nicaraguan society is currently in a stage of political alienation with a fragmented and weak political opposition and a fragile and virtually immobilized civil society. While there are rural and urban sectors that look sympathetically on the sacrifice of the armed peasants, this sympathy doesn’t go beyond acknowledging their courage.

With Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime controlling all the institutions and branches of government, it is consolidating power and building an economic empire just as the Somoza family’s dynastic dictatorship did in the past. It is one of the tragedies in Nicaragua today.

Roberto Cajina, author of the 1996 book, Transición política y reconversión militar en Nicaragua (1990-1995), is a civilian consultant on security, defense and democratic governability.

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