JINOTEGA – In the mountainous cowboy towns of Jinotega and Matagalpa, removed from the public eye, a growing group of former “contras” has been holding clandestine meetings to “reactivate” their old resistance movement against what they call “the second dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.”
Though they don’t make as much noise or spectacle as the Sandinistas, the former contras claim they represent the silent majority of the “democratic opposition” in Nicaragua. And now, they say, they´re ready to make their presence felt.
After months of secretly reorganizing under the banner of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) – the original core of what later became known as the “contra” resistance movement – the rightwing force says it’s ready to meet the Sandinistas on the streets this weekend. On Nov. 21, as part of civil society’s march against the Ortegagovernment in Managua, the FDN says it plans to mobilize 4,000 contras to “paralyze” the north of the country and make the anti- Sandinista protest a nationwide event.
“We are going to close this down!” barked former contra leader Mario Espinoza, better known by his nom de guerre “Pajarillo.”
The FDN claims it is an unarmed, civil movement that is organizing for “peace and democracy” in Nicaragua. But, FDN leaders say, unlike the other civil society groups attending this weekend’s march, they won’t flee when the Sandinistas attack protesters with rocks and mortars, as they have done repeatedly over the past year.
“This cock has already been in a fight,” Pajarillo said of the FDN, during a recent organizational meeting in a safe house in Jinotega, where 17 contra leaders from different areas sat in a circle in plastic chairs and plotted strategy for the Nov. 21 protest.
“We’ll answer a rock for a rock, and we’ll see which side backs down first,” he said. “We are not going to run.”
Another FDN organizer, who identified himself only by the pseudonym “Danilo,” said the former contras don’t want to play the role of the opposition’s violent counterpart to the Sandinista thugs, but said they have to be ready to defend themselves. He said the FDN group will be mobilizing Saturday with backpacks full of “rocks, water and food.”
“The Sandinistas are going to fight, so we have to defend ourselves,” he said. “We have no confidence in the police.”
Although the civil society group Movement for Nicaragua invited the former contras to march with them in Managua, the FDN says it’s time for them to do their own thing, and under their own banner.
“We are not going to be used anymore, not by the PLC (Liberal Constitutional Party) or by Movement for Nicaragua,” Danilo said. “We have organized and formed our own movement and now it’s time to show our faces.”
Pajarillo added, “The FDN is alive and growing – and we’re not going to be used by anyone.”
What was alleged to be a Sandinista plan called “Zinica Victoriosa” was circulated on the Internet this week detailing an alleged strategy to mobilize 15,300 Sandinistas to block the Nov. 21 opposition march. The goal, according to the e-mailed document, is to “impede the right wing from leaving their houses, neighborhoods, communities and departments” to prevent “the enemies of the revolution” from gathering and marching.
The alleged plan also calls on the Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs), or neighborhood Sandinista groups, to “burn tires” in the streets and burn the vehicles of opposition leaders to prevent people from “leaving their homes.”
Though the Sandinistas have distanced themselves from the alleged plan, saying it’s a hoax, the government party has called for its own countermarch the same day, claiming the streets belong to them. And based on the Sandinistas’ past behavior, the opposition is already denouncing alleged Sandinista plans to intimidate and attack protesters.
The FDN, however, says it’s going to do something about it, rather than just complain. Instead of joining other protesters in Managua, the former contras say they are going to block the highways up north and prevent the Sandinistas from getting through.
By meeting the Sandinistas on their own turf up north, the FDN can level the playing field, they say.
“It’s easier to organize an insurrection throughout the whole country than just in Managua,” said former contra leader Germán Zeledón.
“It’s much easier for us to arrive in Sébaco with rocks and sticks. In Managua, the only way to arm ourselves would be from what they throw at us,” Danilo said. “Plus, up north there are right-sympathizing doctors who can attend to our injured.”
By staying up north, the FDN can help take some of the pressure off Managua, Pajarillo added. “We are doing them a favor by not going to Managua,” he said. “If everyone concentrated there, the city would be destroyed.”
History of The Recontra
Shortly after the disarmament accords in early 1990s, several bands of former counterrevolutionaries decided to take up arms again and reorganize themselves into groups that became known as “recontras.”
By the mid 1990s, the most formidable recontra group was Frente Norte 3-80, led by Pajarillo and several other former contra comandantes. The group allegedly received aid from the Nicaraguan exile community in Miami, and at its peak had between 500 and 800 soldiers before negotiating a demobilization agreement in 1997 with President Arnoldo Alemán.
This time around, Pajarillo and the other FDN leaders insist their goal is not armed rebellion, but rather to form a political and social organization.
“The war in the 1980s left 13,000 contra dead in the mountains, and thousands more were injured or widowed,” Danilo said. “This is not something we want to repeat.”
He added, “Another lesson we learned is that war means we stop producing crops and lose our land. To return to war would be to return to a level of poverty even worse than what were are living in now.”
Danilo said that the contra were good at organizing armed resistance, but not good at political or social organization afterwards, which is why many of the ex-combatants are now abandoned in their poverty. Their goal now, therefore, is primarily to organize politically and socially, especially since the Sandinistas are doing the same thing.
The Contra Identity
Former contra leader Roberto Ferrey, of the National Resistance Party (PRN) – another contra political organization separate from the FDN – said his party is also experiencing a resurgence in membership in rural areas.
During a recent trip to Matagalpa, Ferrey said his party signed up an additional 220 former contra combatants who had previously voted with the PLC but wanted to rejoin the ranks of a contra-identified PRN.
The resurgence of the contra identity, he said, has as much to do with the failures of the Liberal parties as it does with the “provocations” of Ortega’s Sandinistas.
The contras, Ferrey said, feel like they’ve been used by Liberal political leaders – both Arnoldo Alemán and Eduardo Montealegre – and now want to assert their own political identity.
Ferrey, who played an important role in the disarmament of the contras in 1990, said he doubts any former contra groups would organize militarily again – a move, he says, that requires outside financing. Plus, he said, in more practical terms, such a move would be “suicide.”
Still, he warned, if the Sandinistas react to the contra reorganization efforts with repression instead of by trying to defuse the situation with social aid and political inclusion, the situation could become very volatile.
“I hope the government reacts intelligently, and not savagely,” Ferrey told The Nica Times.
Back at the FDN meeting in Jinotega, Pajarillo echoed Ferrey’s warning.
“We are not thinking about taking up arms, but that all depends on the government’s attitude,” he said, adding that his group is currently trying to “reactivate our contacts in Miami.”
“The Sandinistas made a mockery of us during last year’s municipal elections, and they were even more reckless just now with the ruling by the Supreme Court,” Pajarillo said, referring to last year’s alleged electoral fraud and last month’s controversial decision by Sandinista judges to override the constitution and green-light Ortega’s 2011 reelection aspirations.
“That just made our blood boil even hotter,” he said. “Anything could happen here.”
As a final warning, Pajarillo said, “We gave up our arms in the ‘90s, but if we have to, we can get arms back from the enemy.”