Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 95 | Junio 1989



News of Contras' Death Greatly Exaggerated

Envío team

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Wheelock Román

The US press conveys the impression that the contras are dead and their war is over. But the damages these forces continue to inflict on Nicaragua and their ongoing US backing say otherwise. In the following ANN Barricada interview, Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Wheelock Román, the Nicaraguan army’s military intelligence chief, discusses recent contra attacks and US military maneuvers. As his analysis makes clear, US policy continues to pose a military threat to Nicaragua.

envío: What is the true situation of the contras?

RWA: In the first place, we'd have to say that the most important forces of the counterrevolution are in Honduras. There are currently some 6,950 contras from the FDN and 500 from Yatama in Honduras. There are 400 from ARDE in Costa Rica and 1,350 contras inside Nicaragua. These figures give us a total of 9,200 armed men and I say it that way because the ones who are fighting are not the only contras. This number would have to be multiplied four or five times to include their families and that would give us the number of people who are in Honduras, for example.

These people in Honduras have been presented as if they were refugees, "dying of hunger," victims of the Nicaraguan government. The truth is that they have been able to maintain what the Americans call the "Command" or "Force Control." That is to say, they are organized militarily in the different camps. To give you an example, in the so-called Center for Military Instruction at this moment there are some 600 mid-level counterrevolutionary officials taking a course to help them strengthen their military structure.

In the different contra camps in Honduras, they are training and upgrading the troops. They have maintained military unity among their forces. For example, in this past month, between 250 and 300 contras were sent into Nicaragua to bring supplies and provide reinforcements. To all this you should add the military role played by the contra radio stations. 15th of September Radio, Radio Liberation and the Radio System of the Resistance continue functioning in Honduras. What is even more important is the system of command through the radios, the military circuit between Tegucigalpa and the Strategic Command and between the latter and the units along the border. That whole network has remained intact, exactly the same as if all the contras were still in Nicaragua.

envío: And the military activity within Nicaragua also continues?

RWA: Military activity has continued. The data on the first three months of this year, through April 10, show that the contras have carried out 403 attacks, 17 ambushes, 10 attacks on villages, attacks on 4 refugee settlements and 3 economic targets. Of course, all this activity has caused deaths. In the first three months of the year between the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and the civilian population there were 43 dead, 75 wounded, 3 disappeared and a fairly large number of kidnap victims. On the contra side, in the combats they provoked there were 193 dead, 89 captured and more than 26 who have surrendered in battle, not counting those who turn themselves in voluntarily.

envío: There are rumors of changes in the contras' internal organization. What can you tell us about this situation?

RWA: In fact, they have changed their military structure. Before they were organized in Regional Commands and Task Forces; now they have organized as if they were a regular army with battalions, companies and platoons. They have 21 battalions, 3 independent battalions, 1 artillery battalion and a company of military police. This matter of 21 battalions is just on paper; they are battalions in name only. They are the same task forces with purely irregular characteristics. They have also structured their leadership as if it were a military command, with chiefs of intelligence, logistics, operations, supplies and psychological operations. They also have an inspector general, a vounterintelligence dection and a person in charge of the internal and northern fronts. Over and above its military significance, this move seeks to make this irregular mercenary army parallel to the Nicaraguan army so that, in the event of negotiations, they can find a way to integrate those forces into the EPS. This seems to be a key factor.

envío: In what sense?

RWA: In spite of not having received military aid, the contras maintain their structure as an army. It is extremely important to be clear that whatever aid goes to these forces is military aid. Obviously, the United States masks that aid to keep the contras alive, calling it "humanitarian aid." "Humanitarian aid" which means tents, uniforms, food, retraining of the forces..., aid which is military, which serves to maintain a force that could enter into combat the minute the United States decides to give them "military aid," to maintain the threat against Nicaragua.

envío: If they haven't received direct military aid, how are they arranging to get military supplies, arms, ammunition, etc.?

RWA: They have maintained their military reserves in ammunition, including explosives, artillery, rifles and surface-to-air missiles.... Nor can we forget the famous $16 million of old military aid that is still frozen. We know that that aid is in Honduras and that the Honduran army is safeguarding it in their warehouses so that it can be turned over any time to the contra forces.

envío: The current President of the United States, George Bush, has asserted that he will carry out a more "diplomatic" policy against Nicaragua than his predecessor. Up to this point, have there been any changes in the military siege which the US Administration maintained against Nicaragua?

RWA: The game plan regarding Nicaragua is not only the same one we had in the most difficult moments of the war, but it has worsened even more now that there is talk of peace, when other governments are saying that the EPS should demobilize its forces. The deployment of US forces in the region is the game plan that keeps the counterrevolution alive.

At this time, a number of maneuvers which are of concern to the Nicaraguan army are being carried out in the region. Engineering maneuvers called "Path of Peace" are currently underway in Costa Rica. Engineering maneuvers mean improvements to road and airport infrastructure which are then used by the host countries. However, what the United States is really seeking is quick and cheap land access to the Nicaraguan border from its bases in Panama.

In Guatemala, for the first time in ten years, engineering and aviation maneuvers with the United States are taking place. In Honduras, two big military exercises are in process: "Ahuas Tara 89," which is a counterinsurgent engineering maneuver, and "Terencio Sierra," directed at improving the country's road network to permit communication from the Honduran Atlantic Coast to the Nicaraguan border and the Pacific. More than 6,000 US soldiers are participating in these Honduran maneuvers. The situation gets worse if we include another maneuver near our coast which the United States is planning to launch in the Caribbean. Twenty US ships, two aircraft carriers and 43,000 men are going to participate in the so-called "Solid Shield" maneuvers. Complementing this is the whole US espionage system. From January through April 15, the United States made more than 60 flights over Nicaragua with different types of planes, including the famous AWACS. These flights range from electronic radio exploration to strategic aerial photography flights.

The naval presence is another element which has not diminished. A spy ship known as the ARL 24, accompanied by a frigate, is always off our Pacific Coast, while in the Atlantic, a series of frigates and another type of boat maintain a permanent line of vigilance extending from Swan Island to the Island of San Andrés.

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