Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 272 | Marzo 2004



The Killing of Carlos Guadamuz: Who Stands to Benefit?

If it’s hard to gauge the consequences of the murder of journalist Carlos Guadamuz, it’s even harder to guess the reasons behind it. And the whirlwind of suspicions makes everything even more painful.

William Grigsby

It has been many years since Nicaraguan society experienced political terror. But those years are a relatively short amount of time in the national conscience. The three bullets that ended the life of Carlos José Guadamuz and the hair-raising shriek of his son Selim calling for help while tending to the bloody body of his dying father shook us as a nation and initiated a new phase whose consequences are hard to gauge. It is even harder to guess at the reasons he was killed. Everything related to the crime is rendered difficult, complex and above all painful by the whirlwind of suspicions surrounding the events. How strong will we have to be to bear the truth?

In the Guadamuz crime, the perpetrator—already under arrest—and the instigators—still unknown—are not the only ones on trial. The National Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the courts and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) are also being judged. To understand the circumstances of the murder and eventually come up with clues that might reveal the identities of the actual masterminds, it is essential to examine the victim’s personality, his political record and, above all, his relationship with a group of notable Sandinista leaders with whom he built up a profound and contradictory friendship over 40 years.

Brave, audacious, reckless;
he appeared to be fearless

Throughout his 58-years of life, Carlos Guadamuz was the archetype of controversy. In his early youth he was brave to the point of recklessness in the fight against Somoza’s National Guard. Political analyst and radio commentator Julio López Campos, one of the many who had a love-hate friendship with Guadamuz, remembers him in the following way: “Back then, at the beginning of the sixties, when the Somoza dictatorship was an impregnable force, when it was thought we would have a dictatorship forever and most Nicaraguans were subjected to outrages and cruelty but almost nobody was taking up the fight against the Somoza dictatorship, Carlos José Guadamuz set out on that path, first in the Patriotic Youth and then in the Sandinista Front.

“He belongs to a generation of Sandinistas that came right after the generation that gave rise to and founded the Sandinista Front. So we had the chance to meet them and learn of their audacity, their decision to fight against the dictatorship. He was young—very young in fact—full of courage and with really surprising, extraordinary, anti-Somoza and anti-dictatorship convictions. He never worried about his personal safety. At a time when you could still count the number of Sandinista Front militants on the fingers of one hand, he was a fighter, a combatant in the urban resistance who was really brave, audacious, even reckless. He appeared to be fearless. From then on I’ve always had the impression that Carlos never knew what fear was. He always did what he thought he had to do and always said what he wanted to say, although not always out of personal conviction, but rather because he was following political orientations.”

When he was 23, Guadamuz ended up in prison following a thwarted guerrilla action. In jail, he provided a real lesson in honor when for four months he resisted the worst tortures meted out by Somoza’s agents and never gave away his FSLN brothers in arms. Jacinto Suárez, a childhood friend and one of his companions in Somoza’s dungeons, tells how every night in his cell he heard Carlos’ horrifying screams as they applied electric shocks or twisted his testicles with pliers. And between each howl of pain, Guadamuz cried out, “Long live the Sandinista Front!”

Under Daniel Ortega’s patronage

Guadamuz got out of jail as one of 13 prisoners released when a Sandinista commando unit kidnapped some hundred Somocista figures on the night of December 27, 1974, in the house of Chema Castillo. He took refuge in Cuba and only returned to Nicaragua in 1979, a few months after the triumph of the revolution. During his stay in Havana he was cured of his physical wounds and injuries, but the Cuban doctors were unable do anything to improve his emotional traumas.

He never really recovered and his friends and political mentors always used the psychological consequences of the torture and his seven years locked away in the Tipitapa prison to justify his political or on-air excesses. Among his apologists was Daniel Ortega, one of Guadamuz’s cellmates. The two developed a love-hate relationship that included loyalty to the point of complicity. Ortega’s patronage was decisive in getting Guadamuz back into the FSLN after he renounced his Sandinista militancy in 1978 and caused considerable problems with the Cubans. It was Ortega who handed him the management of La Voz de Nicaragua, the name he gave to the revolutionary state radio station. In doing so, Ortega satisfied journalistic inclinations that Guadamuz had first demonstrated at the beginning of the sixties when he worked at one of the country’s most listened-to radio news shows. During the revolutionary years, Carlos forged a new era in national radio broadcasting when he turned La Voz de Nicaragua into the most popular and trusted station by initiating and promoting what was then a novel participatory, dynamic and interactive format.

Only his friendship with Ortega can explain why Guadamuz kept control of the radio station despite the fact that he never bowed to party directives and abused the microphones to revile any Sandinista leader who presumed to set himself up as a competitor or political rival to his “brother” Daniel. There are many examples, but the following serves to illustrate the point.

Protected by the “iron circle”

In July 1984, the all-powerful FSLN National Directorate met for six days to discuss the party’s electoral strategy for the country’s first democratic elections, and in particular who would be chosen for its presidential ticket. At that time, Tomás Borge, the FSLN’s only surviving founder, was the most popular Sandinista leader; his fiery oratory fascinated the masses. It was well known among FSLN cadres that Minister of the Interior Borge aspired to the presidency and was convinced that he had sufficient historical merits.

In contrast, Daniel Ortega, with his thick moustache, enormous and grotesque glasses and permanently unkempt hair, was colorless. His speeches were deadly boring and his character showed visible signs of his seven years as a prisoner.

At some point during the discussion among the nine comandantes in the National Directorate, the balance started to shift towards Borge. So Ortega told Guadamuz what was going on, and although it is unclear whose idea it was, Guadamuz took the microphone the following morning and broadcast a fierce speech accusing Tomás Borge of being an incompetent and ambitious traitor and a criminal, among other things.

At the end of their closed-door session, the nine comandantes designated a presidential ticket of Daniel Ortega and Sergio Ramírez—by then dominant in the governing junta. While Guadamuz’s diatribe was obviously not the determining factor, it did show his colleagues in the National Directorate that he was more than capable of preserving power regardless of the consequences. That was the first of hundreds of radio interventions Guadamuz used to launch all kinds of accusations and insults against whoever he chose to, usually with no proof at all. As long as Guadamuz enjoyed Ortega’s support, he never paid the political consequences for such behavior. But it was in the last eight years of his life that he would gain his greatest number of critics, adversaries and enemies, many of whom he had once considered his brothers.

López Campos believes that the reason behind these excesses was that, for Guadamuz, “the Sandinista Front was Daniel Ortega. The FSLN’s National Directorate was Daniel. The others didn’t count, or at most they were there just to fulfill a certain protocol. And this generated a great deal of problems with FSLN leaders.”

Guadamuz received unconditional support not only from the FSLN general secretary, but other old cellmates and life-long friends also held key political positions and did everything possible to protect him. They included former State Security chief Lenín Cerna; General Humberto Ortega’s former private secretary and ex-deputy foreign minister Jacinto Suárez; former head of personal security at the Interior Ministry Manuel Rivas Vallecillo; and former TELCOR minister Leopoldo Rivas. Together, they made up what is known as the “iron circle.” Another of his protectors was former domestic trade minister and FSLN propaganda chief Dionisio Marenco, with whom Guadmuz enjoyed friendly relations, although there was tension between the two on more than a few occasions.

From the microphones of Radio Ya

Following the FSLN’s electoral defeat in 1990, Guadamuz created Radio Ya with Daniel Ortega’s full backing. Between them they invented a company that included various bastions of La Voz de Nicaragua: sports journalist Edgard Tijerino; singer-songwriter Otto de la Rocha; journalist Adrián Roque Cuadra, who had been in exile with Carlos in Cuba; and announcer Conrado Pineda. One by one they all left the station because they couldn’t put up with Guadamuz’s autocratic management, and when they did, they expressly resigned the company that owned it. Eventually Guadamuz became its sole owner, while Daniel Ortega dealt with the intense pressure from other party leaders who wanted to subject Radio Ya to their political directives and also opposed the avalanche of internal pressure to democratize the FSLN.

But things started to change in 1993. For one thing, Guadamuz had managed to sign a contract to broadcast publicity for the Managua municipal government. Managua’s mayor at that time was Arnoldo Alemán, who had already sharpened his claws against the FSLN, was literally sacking the municipal coffers and was trying to create a municipal police force to serve his interests. “Managua’s changing, the Municipal Government is keeping its word,” ran the publicity spot broadcast by Radio Ya throughout the day, particularly during sports programs. Then at 8 o’clock one April night, during the broadcasting of an exciting baseball game, the station suddenly went off the air. Forty-five minutes later, Guadamuz himself charged on Radio La Primerísima that the transmitting plant had been attacked, the guards disarmed and the transmitters damaged. The following day, Radio Ya was back on air, but this time without the municipal government’s adverts. Guadamuz did not want to accuse anyone of carrying out the attack, although some directly blamed Daniel Ortega.

The beginning of that year marked one of the FSLN’s worst internal crises, when a struggle broke out between a social democratic and a leftwing tendency. The former, led by Sergio Ramírez, had a clear majority among the party organs and was made up of almost all the party’s former ministers and other high-ranking officials from the Sandinista government. The other tendency was mainly made up of intermediary political leaders. Daniel Ortega oscillated between the two, as usual leaning towards the one with the majority following. The following year, Guadamuz once again demonstrated to Ortega his own idea of loyalty.

By January 1994 the FSLN’s acute internal differences were public knowledge. While other Sandinista journalists sided with the leftwing tendency, playing up the ideological nature of the conflict, Guadamuz used Radio Ya’s microphones to slander all the leaders of Ramírez’s tendency, from Sergio himself, his daughter María and former guerrilla comandante Dora María Téllez, to historical comandantes such as Borge, Henry Ruiz and Bayardo Arce. Sergio Ramírez fired back, calling the Sandinista stations “radiophonic sewers.” Daniel Ortega chose to keep quiet. In the end, after the May 1994 FSLN Congress, Ramírez and his followers decided to go it alone and founded the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

From journalist to politician: a leap in the dark

Guadamuz claimed his prize and ran as FSLN mayoral candidate for Managua in the 1996 general elections, which put Ortega in a very difficult situation. He could not refuse to back his friend, ally and accomplice, but he knew that Guadamuz was not a winning candidate and that, even if elected, his administration would almost certainly be a disaster. In addition, Guadamuz had insulted many of Ortega’s new allies on more than a few occasions. Meanwhile, Herty Lewites—an old friend of the Ortega brothers who had had a great impact as tourism minister during the Sandinista government—ran against Guadamuz as an independent candidate on the “Sol” ticket. Following the FSLN split and the founding of the MRS, Lewites had withdrawn from the FSLN parliamentary bench to which he had been elected, which meant he couldn’t run for the party.

In the end the PLC won the elections, with Alemán taking the presidency and Roberto Cedeño ending up as mayor of Managua. Guadamuz accused the FSLN party apparatus and his friend Daniel Ortega of betraying him by telling Sandinista militants to vote for Daniel on the presidential ballot, and Herty on the municipal one. Although Guadamuz could never prove his accusations, the fact is that even if Ortega didn’t clandestinely work to get people to vote for Herty, he did almost nothing to encourage anyone to vote for Guadamuz.

Guadamuz never got over that frustration. Elected as a municipal councilor, he was chosen to lead the FSLN bench in the Managua municipal government and used his position to take on the party apparatus, which was headed by FSLN political secretary for the department of Managua, Emmet Lang. In this long and bitter war, Guadamuz made all kinds of twists and turns. He reached the extreme of allying with Liberal councilors and modifying his original support for the Ortega-Alemán pact. He even started denouncing the pact in his usual confrontational style on Radio Ya.

The last straw

Things appeared to be getting out of control and Lang, fed up with waiting for Ortega, as general secretary of the FSLN, to do something to reign in his old friend, moved to shove Guadamuz out of his post as head of the Sandinista bench and expel him from the FSLN. The larger aim of both measures was to stop Guadamuz running again as FSLN candidate for mayor of Managua in the 2000 elections.

Guadamuz was not only virulently denouncing the pact between Ortega and Alemán on ideological grounds, he also attacked the subdividing of the municipality of Managua, one of the pact’s many political consequences. Guadamuz called the parliamentary representatives who had approved the division of Managua “corrupt, opportunist and pigs,” including Daniel Ortega who he called a “damned traitor.” His attacks and offensive remarks finally got Guadamuz expelled from the FSLN on December 16, 1999. He was neither notified nor afforded the right to defend himself. The votes of 3 of the 15 National Directorate members were enough to confirm the expulsion. Guadamuz reacted furiously, using Radio Ya’s microphones to accuse Daniel Ortega of sexually abusing Rafael, the eldest child of Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo and to passionately support the public accusation of sexual violence that Zoilamérica Narváez—Rafael’s sister—had made against Ortega in March 1998, insisting on lurid details.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back; Daniel Ortega decided to wrest the radio station from him. On December 22, hardly a week after his expulsion from the party, he organized a paramilitary group with the help of Marenco and Cerna to take Radio Ya by force, with no judicial support. Under the excuse that the station had not paid its social security contributions, as denounced by a group of four Radio Ya journalists, 3 judges flanked by 80 heavily armed riot police simultaneously embargoed the radio’s studios and its two transmitting plants.

A thirst for revenge

Guadamuz was left with nothing but a thirst for revenge. He had lost his friends, his party and his radio station. And to cap it all, the man he blamed for his own electoral loss in 1996, Herty Lewites, was the FSLN mayoral candidate for Managua in the 2000 municipal elections. So a few months after losing the radio, Guadamuz accepted a proposal to oppose Herty on the ticket of the Christian Way—closely linked to Alemán’s Liberals—in the hope of capturing part of the Sandinista electorate. In the event, however, he only pulled 1% of the votes.

He completed his metamorphosis in 2001, between the municipal and the national elections, when he outright joined the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and was named as a PLC alternate representative in the Supreme Electoral Council. He formed part of Enrique Bolaños’ campaign team for the 2002 presidential elections, under the apparent conviction that once in power they would either return his radio, return the equipment that had been embargoed so he could start up another station or name him director of Radio Nicaragua. But in the end none of these objectives actually materialized.

Disillusioned and discouraged, Guadamuz took refuge in a program called Dardos al centro [roughly translated as “Darts to the bulls-eye”], which aired his personal views on various subjects. Originally broadcast on Radio Ya, Dardos al centro broadcast on several different stations and later on a local television channel of little influence. In the final months of his life, he accepted an offer to direct the press department of Radio Corporación, the extreme rightwing station against which he had fought for so many years from La Voz de Nicaragua and then Radio Ya. He even took Dardos al centro there with him.

The last dart

On February 10, at 12:30 in the afternoon, Guadmuz had just arrived at Channel 23 from Radio Corporación. As he got out of his vehicle and started walking toward the building, William Hurtado García, a former subordinate of Colonel Lenín Cerna’s in the State Security Office (DGSE), approached him, pulled a 38 revolver and shot him three times. The first shot perforated Guadamuz’s liver and the second hit his heart, leaving a mark on his hand as he tried to shield himself. Hurtado fired the last bullet as Guadamuz was falling to the ground. It entered his back and left through his neck.

Guadamuz’s 16-year-old son Selim, who often accompanied him for security reasons, was walking behind his father. He reacted quickly and with admirable control of the situation, threw the bag he was carrying at the assassin, which connected, then took off after him. While fleeing, Hurtado turned and shot at the boy twice but missed both times. With the second shot, he fell and Selim caught up to him, pushing him down onto the pavement. Several other people came to help the boy and beat the murderer into submission, then held him there until the police arrived. With the situation under control, Selim returned to his dying father, yelling for help. Guadamuz’s last words were “Call an ambulance.” With the help of several journalists from the TV station, Selim lifted his father onto a pick-up truck, but he was dead on arrival at the hospital. Most of these shocking scenes were filmed by a Channel 23 cameraman and shown repeatedly on all the national television channels.

The first information about the killer

Once Hurtado was in police custody, it was discovered that he was wearing two pairs of trousers and two shirts, one on top of the other. The police confiscated the pistol he had used to commit the crime and a notebook in which among other things he had written down 8 mobile and 9 conventional phone numbers. According to his identity card, Hurtado was born in 1960 and worked in commerce. The police learned that he had belonged to the DGSE until 1987, when he was discharged and sentenced to five years in prison for falsifying the signature of then Interior Minister Tomás Borge to obtain 1,200 pairs of jeans, which were a very scarce commodity in those days. He was freed a few days after the 1990 elections. Hurtado subsequently participated in the taking of the National Opposition Union (UNO) headquarters in 1990 and was also linked with two guerrilla movements: the Worker and Peasant Revolutionary Front (FROC), led by Víctor Manuel Gallegos, alias Pedrito El Hondureño, and the Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC).

The day after the murder of Guadamuz, the police captured two more people: Hurtado’s wife, Margarita Membreño, and lawyer and former DGSE member Luis Alfredo García, who owned the pistol Hurtado used. García argued that he had bought the gun from an Army shop in Managua and that it was stolen from his car at the end of January, but that he hadn’t reported the crime because he had never registered the gun. García belonged to the DGSE until just before 1990. In 1984 he worked as head of Security at Managua International Airport and later went to work in the Interior Ministry’s public relations offices.

“A million sandinistas wanted to kill him”

Police experts say they confiscated a sheet of paper from Membreño’s house on which Hurtado had written precise instructions about what she should do: “Call the number 277-4505, Police Department Five, and say that you’re Irma Montes, that you’re calling to say you’ve been watching a very suspicious car in the street where Channel 23 is located in the Colonia Centro América sector, that the car is a modern, beige Toyota with dark glass and that you don’t know the license number because it doesn’t have a plate on the back. Say there are two suspicious-looking individuals in the car who have been hanging around that street for three days now and that the car appears between 12 and 12:30 in the afternoon. Could they please send a patrol car to check them out. You have to call at 11:50 am.”

Commissioner Julio González, head of police investigations, assumed that “Hurtado was looking to distract the police so that when things played out, the first thing we’d do was look for that vehicle, enabling him to get away.” He interpreted the message as a sign of Membreño’s complicity and that this was a planned operation. The day after the crime, González informed the public that Hurtado repeated to the police who were interrogating him that “I’m a revolutionary—a legitimate one, not one of those who just say they’re revolutionaries—and I acted on my own.” And he added: “In Nicaragua there are over a million people who wanted to kill Guadamuz, and I’m one of them.”

On February 20, William Hurtado appeared in court for the indictment. He stuck to his story that he had acted alone, without an accomplice, and asked for his wife and García to be set free. “I declare myself guilty of the crime I’m charged with,” he said. “I assume personal and individual responsibility.” But he added, “I don’t accept that this act should be classified as first degree murder, but rather as an unpremeditated killing because there was no prior planning involved. It was a personal impulse... The police officers themselves concluded that this is not a plot due to a series of technical assessments they made, because a plot specifies the smallest details and contemplates how the perpetrator will get away.” He repeated that “there are a million Sandinistas who could have carried out this activity, given Guadamuz’s grotesque, insulting and offensive character... He didn’t respect the living, let alone the dead. He attacked people very dear to me in his editorials.”

A conspiracy and a political assassination

Be that as it may, everything points to a conspiracy. The big question is whether Hurtado just conspired with his wife and friend, or if they were contracted by others to carry out the crime. Right from the start the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that it would work on several lines of investigation in coordination with the Police to follow up on various hypotheses: that Hurtado did in fact act on his own in reaction to Guadamuz’s political position; that someone in the FSLN hired him to carry out the killing, whether for revenge, to stop him revealing more information about certain party leaders or to stop him from gaining control of another radio station; that anti-Sandinistas had him killed to discredit the FSLN in the upcoming elections; that someone simply hired Hurtado to punish Guadamuz for not paying a debt, as it was rumored that Guadamuz had economic problems; or that it was a crime of passion, as Guadamuz had had problems with his wife recently and it was well known that she had extramarital affairs. But four weeks later, neither the Police nor the Prosecutor’s Office had commented on the results of their investigations.

The most popular theory with the public is that it was a political conspiracy. This view is based on declarations by the victim’s oldest son, Carlos Guadamuz De Castro, who just two hours after the crime directly accused Daniel Ortega. According to him, his father considered Ortega his greatest enemy and feared he would attempt to kill him. “He is the real instigator,” said Carlos Jr. as he left the hospital where his father’s body had been taken. “There’s someone else behind the man who shot the gun. The real instigator is somewhere else. I hope that this time they don’t come out saying that the murderer was drunk, drugged and didn’t know what he was doing. He had a pistol, he was stalking like a hit man, not out of his head, and he shot at point blank range; he knew what he was doing. This was not planned overnight.” And he added: “People have to know that my father was always being threatened, but he never feared for his life. If you’ve received threats all your life, there comes a time when you stop taking them into account. I hope that this is fully investigated, although I don’t trust in this country’s justice.”

Guadamuz’s son also mentioned Dionisio “Nicho” Marenco right from the start, and has maintained his accusation ever since, backed up by his siblings and the victim’s widow. Certain media also centered their suspicions on Marenco—the FSLN candidate for mayor of Managua in November’s municipal elections—and on Lenín Cerna.

Borge: “I don’t have the slightest doubt
that this act was done to blame the FSLN”

FSLN leaders have responded in various ways. Hours after the crime was committed, FSLN press chief Freddy García Eschke signed a brief communiqué in the party’s name to “strongly condemn this criminal act and demand that the corresponding authorities completely clear up these events.” According to the communiqué, “As a position of principle, we proclaim that ideas are fought with ideas, which is why we strongly condemn this crime, which attacks not only freedom of expression and the dissemination of ideas, but also life, the most sacred of human rights. We fervently desire that events of this nature will never again be repeated and that Nicaraguans can live in peace.”

FSLN deputy general secretary and parliamentary representative Tomás Borge was the first to refer to the crime on the day it was committed. He considered it “inconceivable that the Sandinista Front has been the protagonist of or conceived this crime, so it has to be seriously considered that those who committed it are interested in battering and discrediting the Sandinista Front, Nicho Marenco in particular, in the context of the upcoming electoral campaign. It attracted my attention that the crime was committed while he was entering a television channel on the eve of an electoral campaign. And it also caught my attention that telephone calls made to that channel blamed Nicho Marenco for the crime. A minimum amount of common sense tells you that Nicho Marenco and the FSLN would do anything bar put their electoral campaign at risk. I have absolutely no doubt that the crime was committed to blame the Sandinista Front.”

Borge tried to divert attention elsewhere: “It is attention-getting that US Ambassador Barbara Moore is visiting the whole country, trying to unify the so-called ‘democratic forces’ against the Sandinista Front. Before the killing, we were asking ourselves, What’s the United States going to do this time to stop the Sandinista Front winning? Slander us? Bring up the past? Say we were drug traffickers? We were speculating about that. Maybe they were planning this murder. I can’t assert that, because it’s difficult to get enough facts. It’s just a line of reason employing a little logic, something I don’t rule out, just as I don’t rule out that it might have been an individual act. What I do totally rule out is that poor Nicho, who is such a kind soul, is behind a crime that is obviously going to affect him negatively.”

Borge also asked: “Who does the crime benefit? Does it benefit the Sandinista Front? If it doesn’t, then who does it benefit? Who does it negatively affect? It negatively affects the Sandinista Front and it benefits others, including the PLC or the country’s Right.”

By a couple of weeks after the crime, Borge had three hypotheses: it was a group of extremists, “which there always are in any organization”; it was an individual act; or it was a rightwing conspiracy employing Sandinista cadres, because that would give them much greater credibility.

And he added: “Carlos Guadamuz had no credibility. What reason, what logic could there be for a thinker like Nicho, a cadre who is standing as a candidate and knows that the slightest thing could negatively affect him, to have someone killed who didn’t represent a problem to us?”

Marenco: “I don’t feel responsible; I don’t have anything to hide”

Nicho Marenco talked about the crime two days after it was committed, calling it a “disgrace” that Carlos Guadamuz had passed on to his children “responsibility for his almost pathological problem with Daniel, with the [Sandinista] Front, with me, with quite a few people, after he fell out with the Front. His political differences with us led him to come up with a series of really unbearable insults, slanderous statements and terrible rumors. From then on, Carlos began a metamorphosis into the Front’s most savage enemy, and now his boy is repeating what his father said. I find myself thinking, ‘Who wasn’t attacked by Carlos Guadamuz? From former President Chamorro, to former President Alemán, current President Bolaños, Sergio Ramírez, Sergio Ramírez’s daughter, Dora María Téllez, Mónica Baltodano, William Grigsby, Julio López... Whoever he was fighting with was bombarded with tremendous virulence. He wasn’t just abusing freedom of expression, he over-abused it!”

Marenco categorically denied any link with the crime and dismissed Guadamuz’s frequent warnings that his life was in danger from his former brothers. “The Sandinista Front has absolutely nothing to do with this. In any event, someone saying you’re responsible for what might happen to him doesn’t mean a thing. What Guadamuz was doing was covering his back for things that might cause him problems. If you drew up a list of his insults and the people who had something against him, it would cover almost the whole of Nicaragua, because there isn’t a single figure who’s escaped the diatribes and insults he hurled around.”

Nicho unequivocally condemned the murder: “I don’t think anybody has the right to kill anyone. Now, I don’t know whether there are any instigators...” And he recognized that “it affects the country, the electoral process, the investment climate, the stability of a country that prided itself on being the safest in Central America. That kind of case hardly ever happens here, let alone against people from the press. Will it affect my campaign? I’m not worried about that. If the population perceives that the Front did this, then it will obviously have a cost. If the population understands that the Front had nothing to do with it, it will pass by like just another accident. But I don’t feel responsible for anything, I have nothing to hide and it isn’t bothering me. They can say what they like. I’m calmly getting on with my campaign.”

Daniel Ortega: “Nothing’s easier than manipulating the dead”

After an extended silence that only raised expectations, Daniel Ortega spoke publicly for the first time on an emblematic day, 11 days after the event, without ever referring explicitly to the crime, let alone condemning it. On February 21, the 70th anniversary of General Sandino’s assassination, the FSLN general secretary repeated almost exactly the same speech on three different platforms—in the municipality of Ciudad Sandino, in the poor Managua neighborhood of Memorial Sandino and in Niquinohomo, birthplace of the legendary guerrilla general after whom the FSLN was named.

First he referred to the betrayal that cost Sandino his life. Then he recalled the smear campaign organized by the man who ordered the assassination, dictator Anastasio Somoza García, comparing that situation to the one the FSLN is currently being experiencing. Next he remembered the avenging action of Rigoberto López Pérez, who executed “the traitor” who had Sandino killed. “The dictatorship continued slandering Sandino,” said Ortega, “and said that Rigoberto was a murderer because he had meted out justice to Somoza. It seemed that that campaign of terror and defamation was always going to have the Nicaraguan people on its knees, because it wasn’t until 1960, 61, 62, that the red and black flag of Sandino began to be raised again....”

He went on to recall other historic moments experienced by the FSLN, with the same intention of denouncing what he considers to be slander against his party. He finally arrived at today: “Now that we’re in this electoral campaign, the dirty war has intensified again, because they’re experts in dirty wars. Just as they have previously manipulated tragic situations, they’re now trying to manipulate the dead, to try and confuse the Nicaraguan people, to try to prevent the victory of the Sandinista Front and the National Convergence... They’re left with no other alternative than manipulation, and nothing is easier than manipulating the dead... We’re now seeing how they’re trying to manipulate one dead person, after the FSLN took a very clear position….” After that, he continued his speech without making any further allusion, even indirectly, to the Guadamuz crime.

Henry Ruiz: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”

The opinions of former Sandinista leaders currently excluded by Ortega for not submitting to his dictates also tended to exonerate the FSLN. Former National Directorate member Víctor Tirado López recalled that the FSLN “never carried out that kind of terrorist act during the struggle against Somoza, when it could have done, let alone now when there’s greater room for political maneuvering. No, I don’t suspect Comandante Ortega. I don’t know what brought about such a condemnable blow... It’s a political error, whoever the instigator was. There are no facts or arguments with which to accuse the Sandinista Front. Perhaps it was the Right, using someone from the Left. Blaming it on the FSLN puts active militants and other Sandinistas who aren’t inside, who aren’t pro-Daniel but respect the FSLN, in the same bag. You shouldn’t blame everyone for a single act.”

Another former member of the historic National Directorate, Henry “Modesto” Ruiz, shared basically the same criteria: “It’s not good to speculate. Nor should we say that the Liberals did it to put the blame on the Front. We should let the Police investigate the matter. For me there’s no discussion about whether Carlos was polemical or used strong language. Everyone speaks as they see fit. That’s their right. Some speak politely and others more openly. It wasn’t just Guadamuz; there are other broadcasters whose programs are full of insults, and certain parliamentary representatives too. You can get angry with them, but there’s no excuse for going out and killing them. The Police have to determine whether someone paid for this.

“I can’t even go so far as to say whether this had a political motive; it could have been a fanatic. But we shouldn’t forget that organized crime is a force in Nicaragua. The killer acted with all the meticulousness of those who kill. Crime is increasing in this country and that’s dangerous. There’s agreement that those involved were from State Security, but I don’t believe that necessary links them to the FSLN. You have to remember that there were a lot of people in Security and some of them are honorable and good citizens while others are nasty bits of work. There are lawyers who left there and are real swine, while others are excellent citizens. The fact is that this is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. It¡s a crime against freedom of expression. It would be a real reversal if we let cases like this consolidate and repeat themselves and go unpunished.”

Lenín Cerna: “A mistake to tolerate his presence so long”

If Daniel Ortega’s problem was what he didn’t say, not wanting to condemn the crime or even name his old comrade, the retired Colonel Lenín Cerna’s problem was that his declarations stoked the fire. On February 25, he exploded, unprovoked, before a battery of journalists: “Mr. Guadamuz was a traitor, as he has been seen all along, because he renounced the Sandinista Front when he was in Cuba. He returned to Nicaragua in 1979 and comandante Daniel Ortega gave him an opportunity with La Voz de Nicaragua. Then he resigned from the Sandinista Front and went off with the Christian Way and then finally with the PLC. And I say that if we made a mistake, particularly comandante Daniel Ortega, it was to have tolerated his presence for so long.”

Cerna also talked about the murderer. “William Hurtado was a member of State Security,” he explained. “Hurtado participated in a secret office of ours, where he handled security documentation and was an excellent compañero. He had a problem, but there are things that still haven’t been written and will be written some day about each individual’s participation. So as far as we’re concerned, Hurtado doesn’t have a bad record. Luis Alfredo García was also a compañero, an assistant in my office; a selfless kid from a humble background who made a great effort and managed to graduate. Is their crime that they belonged to State Security? Well, that’s a matter for those who give their opinion.”

The dialogue between Cerna and the journalists continued as follows:
“Were they disciplined?”
“Like many compañeros. I’m telling you that even journalists were from State Security.”
“What relationship do you currently have with them both?”
“Well, none, because for various reasons I’m in one kind of work and they’re definitely in another situation, or were in another situation.”
“But did they work in the FSLN’s electoral commandoes in the last elections?”
“So they did have some kind of relationship with you…”
“All Sandinistas who consider themselves such are obliged to participate in defending the interests of Sandinismo.”

Julio López: “A defense of
the crime and of its perpetrator”

Such remarks generated two kinds of reaction. Anti-Sandinista sectors denounced them as proof of FSLN involvement in the crime, while within Sandinismo they generated outright rejection. Julio López Campos—a distinguished FSLN leader until 1998—called them unpardonable. “They were a defense of the crime and of its perpetrator. A party like ours cannot, must not under any circumstances express itself that way. When you read all the declarations of Sandinista leaders, not one has condemned the crime... We forcefully, energetically and with conviction reject the attempts of those who want to profit politically from this crime, because it seems to us to be breaking with morals, ethics and the basic norms of political struggle. But we have also said, and we say it in all frankness, that it is unpardonable that this crime has not been condemned and that no one has had the integrity to condemn the perpetrator. That only opens the way for speculation, accusations and all kinds of insults.”

He went on to add that “the underlying problem here is that you run a great many risks when you put the party in the hands of people with a security and counterintelligence mentality. Because a party, any political party, but particularly one with a popular and revolutionary vocation, believes in the people, trusts the people. The party is always convinced that citizens can change and can get involved in just causes through conscience, struggle and explanation. But when the mentality directing the party, organizing the party is based on counterintelligence and security, then the first criterion is not trust, but distrust. So where the party sees compañeros, security and counterintelligence sees suspects. Where the party sees dispirited compañeros, the intelligence, counterintelligence and security mentality sees potential traitors. We warned in advance and talked in private about this and they didn’t want to understand. You can’t lead a party with a police mentality. Following that path could lead to the collapse of our organization.”

Rosario Murillo: “My conscience rejects
these acts of brutality and ignorance”

The most surprising reaction came from within Daniel Ortega’s own family. On February 26, his wife, Rosario Murillo, circulated a public letter addressed to him, which although also failing to mention the assassination directly, did condemn it. At the same time she declared that she felt offended by the declarations her husband, Tomás Borge and “other leaders” had made. “The sad, tragic events of recent weeks,” wrote Murillo, “have left a more than bitter taste in my mouth. On the one hand my conscience rejects these acts of brutality, while on the other our family, and you and I, are exposed, indirect and direct victims of the barbarity of their consequences.

“We cannot approve of actions that do not strengthen the mythic identity of Sandinismo. We can understand and comprehend motives, but I don’t believe that most Sandinistas, particularly we female Sandinistas, agree with vindicating, validating or justifying actions or actors who, even if they have explicable intentions, largely discredit, weaken, darken and quench the votive flame of our ideology and our revolutionary practices... I feel I have every right to demand that we be coherent. It is one thing to use strong language (and even that has a limit), and quite another to arrogantly approve of attitudes or acts that are inappropriate for a civilized and just culture.”

“As a human being, as a woman and a mother, as a thinking, contributing writer, I am offended, I have to say it, by what I unavoidably—as I am neither blind nor deaf—have to read into declarations made by you, Tomás’ and other leaders in previous weeks and days, including yesterday [the day Cerna spoke]. It offends me and I have to say so. I am sure that many compañeras and compañeros share this feeling. And we contribute nothing to ourselves or the country in the present and the future, in culture and humanity, if we don’t say so and if we don’t demand respect and change.”

The crime hit two candidacies

Ortega’s speech was apparently an “historic” argument comparing himself to Sandino and making an indirect comparison between Rigoberto López and Guadamuz’s assassins. Cerna’s declarations were a clear redemption of the murderers and a categorical disqualification of Guadamuz as a victim. Both figures in fact vindicated the assassination as something politically correct. They were as good as saying “It wasn’t me, but it was a job well done.”

But beyond the repugnant nature of these and other declarations by Sandinista leaders and the natural suspicions they awaken, the political consequences of the Guadamuz case appear to rule out the presumption that the crime was planned by the FSLN as a party. So serious are the consequences of any possible manipulation or links that the Sandinistas are in serious danger of losing the Managua municipal government and much more besides. In fact, Daniel Ortega’s image has already taken a battering, as have his prospects as an eventual presidential candidate.

But even if those FSLN leaders directly involved as candidates have nothing to do with the crime, it doesn’t mean necessarily that no Sandinista militants, groups or leaders are involved. Following police investigation logic, it is possible to formulate a variation on the queries raised by Tomás Borge: who within the FSLN stands to benefit from the murder of Carlos Guadamuz?

The killer does’t appear to be a solitary fanatic

No one has yet ruled out the US intelligence services or Alemán followers as possible instigators, but it’s hard to believe that “a legitimate revolutionary”—as William Hurtado defined himself—contracted as a hit man by the Right would prefer to rot alone and forsaken in jail rather than finger the contractor in exchange for a reduced sentence. Hurtado’s most serious error was to underestimate the reaction of Guadamuz’s son Selim. Without that young man’s fearless reaction, Hurtado would almost certainly be enjoying his freedom and other luxuries a long way from Nicaragua.

Hurtado’s declarations appear to be those of a fanatic who feels proud of his brutal act, satisfied that he accomplished his mission and happy with the effects caused, but they don’t sound like those of a solitary fanatic. His legal skill and the terrifying coldness of his boasting when he gave his first declarations in court, along with the demonstrated links with his wife and García, indicate a conspiracy. But could Hurtado have acted with just two accomplices? Was his getaway plan really to just strip off one layer of clothes then hail a taxi, walk away or hop on a bus? It’s hard to believe. It’s most likely that he had at least one more accomplice who has not emerged yet.

And more importantly, what was he getting in return? Was he just motivated by the idea of becoming an avenger, inspired by Taliban-like fanaticism? Was he looking to revel in the sinister fame he has now achieved? Did he do it for money? Or was he hired by someone who needed this crime to strengthen his political position? Who would be capable of planning this kind of terrorist action?

Two power groups in the FSLN

The FSLN has had different power groups since 1997, and two main ones since the party’s 1998 congress. The first, known as the “entrepreneurial bloc,” exercises the greatest influence in all spheres. Its visible leaders are the brothers Manuel and Ricardo Coronel Kautz, along with Managua Mayor Herty Lewites and Alejandro Martínez Cuenca. But behind them is retired general Humberto Ortega and his money, although he has publicly distanced himself from the FSLN since the beginning of 2001, when he criticized the selection of his brother Daniel as presidential candidate. Although he doesn’t seen interested in standing for President himself, the former Army chief has invested all of his effort into putting together a group that is strong enough if not to determine then at least to decisively influence organizational decisions, one of which is obviously the selection of the main candidates.

The other power group includes historical FSLN combatants; most former Army officers and Interior Ministry officials; and activists and leaders of the party’s social and professional organizations. It is led by Daniel Ortega, Lenín Cerna, Tomás Borge and Dionisio Marenco.

In the 2000 municipal elections, the businesspeople managed to place Herty Lewites in Managua’s mayoral seat. It proved a good selection, as Lewites is very popular and has run an admirable administration. For this year’s municipal elections, Daniel Ortega undermined any other planned maneuvers by launching Dionisio Marenco as the FSLN’s Managua mayoral candidate in April 2003, before the party’s primary elections had even been planned and a full 19 months ahead of election day. Marenco, one of Ortega’s most trusted men, was paired up with a running mate of unquestionable popularity: former world boxing champion, Alexis Argüello. Ortega’s message was clear: this time around, the Managua municipal government is going to be mine. One of the entrepreneurial bloc’s most attractive candidates was the Managua government projects director Isidro García, also Lewites’ brother-in-law, but he wasn’t even given the chance to launch his primary campaign. As a consolation prize, he has been offered a place among the first seven names on the FSLN slate for municipal councilor.

But the entrepreneurial bloc replied at the beginning of October 2003 with a maneuver that had all the earmarks of General Humberto Ortega. A full two years before the presidential elections, Mayor Lewites proclaimed himself a vice presidential hopeful. Several business leaders have privately commented that this move was to prepare the ground for Herty Lewites to be the party’s presidential candidate when the time comes. “Take it as read,” they said, “that Daniel will not be the candidate again.” But if Marenco wins in Managua, it would strengthen Ortega’s chances of winning the presidential candidacy, not just because of the political implications of taking the country’s most populous city, but also because of the formidable platform provided by the capital’s municipal government.

Who will pay the highest price?

Another very credible hypothesis is that the conspiracy was planned and executed by a fanatical, extremist and fundamentalist splinter group. Such groups have existed within the FSLN structures for many years and are occasionally used by party leaders for determined actions, such as the military occupation of Radio Ya in 1999. These groups enjoy a relative autonomy that often becomes uncontrollable. Their main characteristic is that they consider themselves “legitimate revolutionaries.” Some identify with Daniel Ortega to the point of idolatry, while a smaller number identify with Tomás Borge. Might one of these groups have independently planned Guadamuz’s murder to keep in their boss’ good graces? Could it be that Cerna and Ortega are not condemning the crime or its perpetrators because they already know all the details?

Who will pay the highest price if Carlos Guadamuz’s murder is not cleared up in a credible and convincing way? At the end of the day, the FSLN would benefit the most from a competent police investigation.

William Grigsby is a Nicaraguan journalist.

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