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Thursday, March 16, 2023

Filmmaker Blames Sandinistas for La Penca Bombing

MANAGUA – After a year of probing into the events of a terrorist attack in which he claims to have been an unknowing and gullible accomplice 25 years ago, Swedish documentarian and former journalist Peter Torbiornsson is convinced the erstwhile Sandinista government is solely responsible for the May 30, 1984 bombing of the press conference at La Penca, which killed four rebels and three journalists – including Tico Times reporter Linda Frazier, 38.

Twenty-two others were injured.

“It was the Sandinistas who did it, I have no doubt at all,” Torbiornsson said.

The 1984 bombing of a press conference held at the jungle headquarters of charismatic anti-Sandinista rebel leader Edén Pastora has remained one of the most perplexing and maddening mysteries of the first Sandinista government.

Journalistic investigations over the past two decades have produced a number of conspiracy theories involving Nicaraguan contras, Cuban-Americans, Costa Ricans, a supposed Libyan assassin and CIA collaborators with links to the drug trade.

It wasn’t until 1993 that an investigation by Juan Tamayo of The Miami Herald and three other journalists, proved that the bomber’s identity was Vital Roberto Gaguine, a leftist Argentine guerrilla who, posing as Danish photojournalist Per Anker Hansen, had befriended Torbiornsson and gone to the press conference carrying the remote-controlled bomb in his camera case.

Torbiornsson, who openly sympathized with the Sandinista revolution, said he had been introduced to the phony journalist by a Cuban Sandinista spy, Col. Renán Montero, but never suspected “Hansen” was a terrorist.

Long haunted by the thought that he was used in a terrorist plot to kill his colleagues, Torbiornsson – now 67 and retired – set out earlier this year to make one last documentary called “Last Chapter” (NT, Jan. 30).

The documentary, which is 80 percent complete and scheduled for release next May in time for the 26th anniversary of the bombing, is as much about uncovering the truth of La Penca as it is about revealing Torbiornsson’s personal torment.

The film, which was recently shown to The Tico Times in a private screening, features several brooding scenes of Torbiornsson smoking cigarettes in hotel rooms as he looks out the windows and wrestles with the ghosts of his past. A whiny saxophone provides a moody soundtrack.

But the film also features startling original interviews with two former Sandinista comandantes who headed the Ministry of the Interior in the 1980s: former Minister Tomás Borge and former Vice Minister Luis Carrion.

Carrion, who gave an interview earlier this year to La Penca survivor Susie Morgan, a British journalist who is helping Torbiornsson with his documentary, said he learned the truth about La Penca days after the bombing.

“I knew it was an intelligence operation of the ministry of the interior at the time. I learned that a few days after it happened,” Carrion tells Morgan in the documentary.

“For me, the most serious part was that I didn’t confront it when it happened. This is the first time I have spoken about this.”

Carrion, who is now a member of the dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), appears nervous and distressed during the interview. “I think my wife would be very worried with what I just told you,” he says, fidgeting in his chair.

In a subsequent interview with Borge, who now serves as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru, Torbiornsson gets in a heated exchange with the elderly comandante, who at first denies any involvement in La Penca and then accuses Torbiornsson of being an accomplice.

“You are my accomplice. You are my accomplice. I don’t accept this interview. It’s a trap,” Borge says.

“I am going to say something I’ve never said before,” Borge tells Torbiornsson. “I never knew that they were going to do this. And I never would have accepted it …how do you think I am going to kill journalists? It’s completely against my principles and my way of being… But I don’t want to talk about this.”

The interview then ends abruptly, with Borge throwing Torbiornsson out of his house.

Torbiornsson earlier this year filed a formal police complaint against Montero, Borge and former Chief of State Security Lenín Cerna. Montero died earlier this year in Cuba, and Cerna hasn’t responded to the allegation. Torbiornsson hopes to interview him in the coming months.

“I want the authorities to know that the truth has been found,” the documentarian told The Tico Times this week.

“The people hurt at this press conference need to know the truth,” he said. “And today it’s much clearer that there is really something rotten here.”

For Susie Morgan, who made her own documentary on La Penca in 1988 (in which Borge blamed the bombing on the CIA) Carrion’s recent and belated confession was an important moment for the truth.

“It’s the first authority who has told us what’s happened after 25 years,” she says in Torbiornsson’s documentary. “As a victim, I feel so much better that I have been told the truth, that I know who it was. I mean it’s horrible that we were expendable… but it’s much better to know.”

For Torbiornsson, who’s still planning to travel to Argentina and Washington, D.C. before returning to Nicaragua to finish filming next year, the documentary, which is being funded by TV stations in Sweden and Cataluña, is about setting the record straight and exorcising demons from the past.

“I really need to do this on levels I can’t even fathom,” said the soft-spoken Swedish filmmaker.


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