Recent declarations from a former contra commander and close friend of “Comandante Jahob” have raised new questions about the true intentions of the rearmed contra commando’s upstart rebellion against the government of President Daniel Ortega.
Felix Pedro Cruz, a disabled contra veteran still known by his old code name “Jehu,” told The Nica Times this week that his close childhood friend and former comrade-in-arms is more of a victim of circumstance than a one-man army. He said Jahob never intended to return to a clandestine struggle, but was forced to go on the run when the military started to “persecute” him for a murder he claims he didn’t commit.
The Nicaraguan Army claims that José Gabriel Garmendia, better known as “Jahob,” is a common criminal wanted for the murder of another former contra commander known as “Piraña.” Jahob insists he didn’t commit the crime, and those who know him defend his innocence (TT, July 30).
Jehu claims the Sandinistas have been harassing Jahob for years – even after the war ended in 1990. Jahob, he said, is an outspoken man with a quick temper who has no patience for being bullied – especially by Sandinistas.
Jehu said he and Jahob, who grew up as neighbors in the same rural municipality of San Juan del Limay, outside of Estelí, joined the contras together in 1981 because of “Sandinista persecution.”
Then, in 1983, with Jahob and his brother already in the mountains, Sandinista soldiers raided Jahob’s childhood home and killed his father, an evangelical preacher who the revolutionary government accused of being a contra sympathizer. Jahob’s brothers and cousins were later killed in combat.
Those who know Jahob claim he never got over the losses of so many family members, and blamed the Sandinistas for his family tragedy.
Jehu said Jahob’s problems with the Sandinistas continued when he tried to readjust to civilian life. Jahob worked for a while at the state water company, ENACAL, but was allegedly harassed and treated cruelly by an ex-Sandinista coronel who worked as his boss at the company. Jahob was eventually forced out of the job in Managua and returned up north to Estelí, Jehu said. In addition to his continued problems with the Sandinista Front, in a broader sense Jahob also feels betrayed by the government for failing to implement the peace accords from 21 years ago, his friend said.
But when Jahob was recently accused of murdering “Piraña,” the persecution became more intense and Jahob went on the run.
“Jahob feels cornered,” Jehu said in a phone interview from Estelí. “But he is not rearmed, he’s hiding and he has people supporting him.”
Though Jahob has made some bellicose threats in the press, Jehu said his friend’s situation is being manipulated by those who “fantasize about war” for political reasons. “The truth is that Jahob doesn’t want war,” Jehu insists.
“Jahob’s only interest is to live in peace and work,” he continued. “I hope the military is flexible and stops persecuting him because I love him like a brother.”
Jehu, who now sits in a wheelchair from combat injuries, has been contacting former contra political leaders in Managua in attempts to help his friend turn himself in with guarantees for his safety.
Jahob Speaks (Again)
In his second media outreach since taking to the mountains in June, Jahob called a journalist from El Nuevo Diario earlier this month on a disposable cell phone from an undisclosed location.
Instead of claiming to be a misunderstood victim – such as that described by Jehu – Comandante Jahob spoke with the conviction of a man ready for battle.
Jahob said his struggle is against Ortega for closing democratic spaces and for repeatedly “violating the constitution” in his quest for reelection next year. Jahob said he and his men are searching for arms and munitions and are willing to remain in the mountains as long as possible.
“I am prepared to be a guerrilla fighter, I am prepared from a political-military point of view to confront the Army,” Jahob said.
It remains unclear how many men – if any – Jahob has with him in the mountains. Former contra commander Luis Fley told The Nica Times last month he has received information that Jahob has upwards of 140 men under his command. But others claim that is very unlikely.
Another former contra leader told The Nica Times this week that Jahob was spotted Aug. 8 outside the town of La Trinidad, Estelí. Jahob was reportedly unarmed and in the company of three other men, the source said.
Retired Gen. Hugo Torres, who dealt with rearmed groups as head of military intelligence in the 1990s, said it would be a mistake for the Army to downplay Jahob’s rebellion, as nascent as it may be.
Torres said Jahob’s declarations also seem more political than the rearmed movements in the 1990s.
The danger, Torres said, is if other groups that feel resentment towards the government – or even just “rebels without a cause” – join Jahob in opposing Ortega.
“If Jahob’s leadership inspires confidence and others see his movement as an opportunity, people could join him and create a panorama that is increasingly complicated,” Torres told The Nica Times.
Believing the Hype?
For Roberto Ferrey, a former member of the contra’s national directorate, the biggest threat Jahob represents is to himself.
Ferrey said that he has also heard from his old contra sources in the region that Jahob didn’t intend to declare a guerrilla war and now feels trapped. But the bellicose comments Jahob gave to El Nuevo Diario suggest that, in Ferrey’s opinion, the former commando is starting to believe his own hype – a situation that is very dangerous to his own wellbeing.
As much training and experience as Jahob has from the 1980s, and despite his familiarity with the terrain in Estelí, the conditions don’t exist now for an extended guerrilla campaign, Ferrey said.
“In the 1980s he had an army and logistical support, which he doesn’t have now,” Ferrey said.
The former contra leader said there is “lots of propaganda and fantasy” that has arisen around the figure of Jahob. And if Jahob starts to believe his own legend and start thinking he is a “hero in an action movie,” the story could end very badly for him, Ferrey warns.
“The only solution is for him to turn himself in with protection and clarify his situation,” Ferrey said.
Jehu agrees that his friend should turn himself in and continue the struggle for democracy civilly, while there’s still a chance.
“In the 1980s, we were fighting for democracy, so we have to respect the popular vote,” Jehu said, noting that Ortega was elected democratically in 2006.
“When a government comes into power by bullets, they have to be removed by bullets,” he said. “But when they come to power by the vote, they can be removed by the vote.”