MANAGUA – Returning to the scene where he and a band of Sandinista rebels forever changed the history of Nicaragua, Edén Pastora, the legendary guerrilla leader known as “Comandante Cero,” and seven of his remaining commandos commemorated this week’s 30th anniversary of their daring 1978 takeover of the congressional National Palace by urging the youth of today to continue the Sandinista revolution.
Speaking to an assembly of high school students who gathered in the old congressional hall where Pastora and his commando unit held 90 lawmakers hostage 30 years ago today, Pastora called on the youth of Nicaragua to renew their revolutionary conscience.
“A great part of the youth is falling in certain apathy. They are more into reggaeton and drugs and superficial things,” Pastora told the students, urging them to become “more revolutionary” by studying the lives of Nicaraguan national hero Gen. Augusto Sandino and Jesus Christ.
“Sandinismo is as difficult to practice as Christianity,” Pastora said. “To be a good Sandinista, you have to love the people of Nicaragua; to be a good revolutionary, you have to be proud to be part of this country.”
As part of the revolutionary conscience, Pastora, 71, told the public school students to not forget their social and economic class, and be leery of rich people because “they will use you.”
“You have to be clear, there are rich and there are poor. And it’s a struggle between the rich and the poor – the poor to stop being poor and the rich to become richer,” Pastora said. “Be clear about this, don’t have the slightest doubt that I am lying.”
Pastora said that the 90 lawmakers that he and his rebel unit, the “Rigoberto López Pérez Comando,” took hostage in the 1978 takeover of congress, codenamed “Operation Pigsty, Death to Somocismo,” represented the “aristocracy” – the head of a repressive government that was “making laws to repress the working class people.”
The attack on the NationalPalace was, Pastora says, the “beginning of the end” for the Somoza family dynasty that ruled Nicaragua for 45 years. Within a month of the takeover of congress, the insurrection had begun.
Today, Pastora said, the Sandinista revolution needs young people to offer “generational relief” for the old guard, to continue the struggle after he and others are gone.
Aug. 22, 1978
The takeover of the NationalPalace was Pastora’s masterwork as a guerrilla leader. It was, in his words, a brilliant military and political victory for the Sandinistas that helped to call a nation to insurrection and wake the world to the plight of the poor in Nicaragua.
Pastora recalled that at the time of the operation, dictator Anastasio Somoza was “more powerful than ever.” But the success of the takeover, which ended 72 hours later when Somoza agreed to free a group of Sandinista prisoners and provide a plane and safe passage to Cuba, revealed a vulnerability that no one suspected.
“The takeover of the congress made the world turn its eyes toward Nicaragua and they were appalled to see the terror and the exploitation of the people by an aristocratic class,” Pastora said. “On a national level, independently from the liberation of the prisoners, it let the population of Nicaragua know that the dictatorship could be toppled. It showed the people that Somocismo could be defeated and that the people didn’t have to be afraid.”
Pastora said the takeover was a military “masterwork and a sublime political operation.” “Only the Sandinista National Liberation Front could have done this,” Pastora said, noting that other rebel groups have since tried similar operations in Spain, Colombia and Peru, but all others have failed.
Back in Red and Black
Despite playing a protagonist role in the insurrection, Pastora was given only a minor role in the revolutionary government, allegedly because the relatively unknown leaders of the new Sandinista directorate were leery of Pastora’s charisma and untested ideological formation.
A year later, Pastora deserted the Sandinista government, which he claimed had compromised its ideals with Marxist leanings, and he moved to Costa Rica to start his own counterrevolution. Pastora, however, always maintained that he was still a card-carrying Sandinista, and this year he finally returned to the ranks of the Sandinista Front, appearing on stage with President Daniel Ortega for the July 19 anniversary of the revolution for the first time in 28 years.
Pastora, who ran for president against Ortega in 2006 on the ticket of a minority party, now refers to Ortega as “my brother Daniel.” And this week, for the first time ever, Pastora said that the takeover of the National Palace was actually planned, designed and directed by the “Ortega brothers” – Daniel, Humberto and Camilo, who died in combat during the insurrection.
Saving the River
Pastora also acknowledged that he has accepted a post in the new Ortega government to oversee the dredging of the San Juan River, a Nicaraguan waterway that forms part of the southern border with Costa Rica.
Pastora said he is going to travel to the United States next week to purchase a dredger with Nicaraguan government funds and then come back and oversee the process of unplugging the last 28 kilometers of river, which in past years have filled with mud and sand, diverting the waters south to Costa Rica, where it flows into the ocean.
“We (Nicaraguans) are proud because we are the owners of the Rio San Juan, which in part is true but it’s also a lie because the last 28 kilometers of the river go through Costa Rica,” Pastora said. “The Costa Ricans feel like they are the owners of the front door, and the owners of the front door of a house are the owners of the house. So they are the owners of our Rio San Juan.”
“So I have the responsibility to the people of Nicaragua, to the government, and to the party to clean the river and rescue it,” the aging revolutionary hero said.