And the People Rose Up; Testimonies of the Insurrection in Masaya
On the tenth anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution, we invite you to look back at the bravery, sacrifice and pure stubbornness that led the Nicaraguan people to their victory. Here are excerpts from Y se armó la runga! (And the Fight Began!*), a collection of vivid testimonies from participants in the 1978-79 insurrection in the town of Masaya.
* Y se armó la runga!, compiled by the Institute of Sandinista Studies out of testimonies recorded during the literacy crusade, was published by Editorial Nueva Nicaragua in Managua in 1982. (The ages and occupations given refer to when these testimonies were collected.) Our thanks to the institute and to Editorial Nueva Nicaragua for permission to translate and publish these excerpts.
Masaya, particularly the neighborhood of Monimbó with its strong indigenous traditions, was a center of resistance to the Somoza dictatorship. In February 1978, as these testimonies recount, Monimbó exploded in rebellion, taking everyone—including the FSLN—by surprise. The inhabitants of this "pissed-off barrio" defended themselves against the National Guard for a week, using makeshift weapons, homemade bombs and barricades built out of paving stones from the dictator's own factory.
In September 1978, Masaya again rose in rebellion, in coordination with insurrections in other cities throughout Nicaragua; from May through the triumph in July 1979 was one long battle. In June 1979, the FSLN called a general strike and the start of the final offensive. On the 27th of that month, the FSLN evacuated the people of Managua’s eastern neighborhoods, whose lives were in peril from the bombings by Somoza's air force, on an all-night march to Masaya, which was by then virtually liberated territory. On July 17, Somoza fled the country and two days later the demoralized National Guard collapsed.
Some 50,000 people died in the insurrection. Ten years later, 30,000 more have lost their lives in a counterrevolutionary war that has not yet ended.
Here are those events as lived by the "muchachos," the mainly young people who fought with the FSLN, and the people who backed them—peasants, housewives, factory workers, priests, artisans, professionals, market sellers, children...
The issues were obvious I heard about the FSLN from the very beginning. About how they died, first in Bocay, then in Pancasán, in Zinica and other places. You grieved when you heard that they'd been discovered in the mountains and slaughtered by the Guard; and about how the peasants who helped them suffered. [The National Guard] committed atrocities in the mountains; they burned peasant huts, captured peasants and pushed them out of helicopters. They exterminated whole families.... Sometimes they even killed the children.
—Luis S. Palacios Ruiz, doctor, 58 years old
The issues were obvious: the high cost of living, unemployment, lack of education, the economic situation beyond all hope, privileges for one class alone...
I think there was no need to have studied much to see the privileges of some sectors and see how the other sector, a class that also has its rights, was excluded.
—José Brandino Raudes, Inspector, Ministry of Labor, 27 years old
After the taking of Chema Castillo Quant's house [December 1974] and the death of Eduardo Contreras [November 1986], there was more repression, mainly in the mountains. Thousands of peasants were disappeared; the harassment and attacks were continuous. The repression was more intense every day. After that, when it was clear that the FSLN was organizing in the cities, the watchfulness and repression were even worse.... In 1977, the FSLN declared war against the dictatorship in the mountains and in the cities.
—Ernesto Suárez Espinoza, student, 19 years old
In October 1977, when the [FSLN] carried out the attacks against military headquarters in Masaya, San Carlos and in the north, Las Manos, that's when the insurrection began. People began to see that it was possible to take on the Guard, that the Guard were not invincible; they saw them running away, they saw them fall.
— EPS Lieutenant Constantino Tapia Roa, 30 years old
We heard the shooting, which lasted two hours, from seven in the morning until about nine.... [The muchachos] started over near Ticuantepe and from there they went to Masaya.... But someone saw the movement and went to denounce them to the police, to the [Guard] command post. So when the muchachos entered, the Guard was waiting for them, and that was how the disaster happened.... There was quite a long battle, and there were four dead. Some civilians died. A neighbor who was a friend of ours died. The Guard killed her. The Guard shot onlookers. They didn't respect that she was an old lady and they shot to kill. The Guardsmen were completely savage; they didn't have pity for anyone.
—Manuel Rayos Alvarado, construction worker, 60 years old
When the assault occurred, a bunch of people went to the park to see what the Sandinistas were like, to see what they looked like; if they were supermen or just run-of-the-mill people who simply had decided to get rid of the dictatorship. They had the idea that a member of the FSLN was someone out of the ordinary.
Some came to take up arms and others just to see who was with the FSLN. We were in front of a high school, so the students themselves, who were from Monimbó or La Estación, from the barrios of Masaya, saw that one of their teachers was an FSLN member.
People realized that anyone could be in the FSLN, that those who were in it were people like them. A friend told me, after the attack: "How could I have dreamed that you were a member of the FSLN? I imagined that FSLN members all had beards, that they were dirty, with shifty expressions...."
Seeing their own people getting killed in the attack...Monimbó got involved.
—EPS Lieutenant Tapia Roa
When I wasn't so aware of the struggle, I was a bit romantic, I saw it as a great adventure: "Christ! These FSLN guys are well trained, really cool. I want to be with the FSLN!" But later I began to realize that it was necessary to think of it as more than an adventure; not just to think about how well trained these compañeros were—but about why they fought.
—Luis Ernesto Gómez, Mechanic, 18 years old
When we heard about the death of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, there was a tense atmosphere throughout the neighborhood. People took to the streets to talk about Chamorro's murder and formed small groups that went on to his wake. The neighborhood began to wake up because of the critical situation of hunger and injustice at the time.
When we celebrated the 40-day mass after Chamorro's death, the Guard began to throw tear gas bombs, even from helicopters.... The people in the San Sebastián area began to water the streets with hoses so that when the bombs fell they wouldn't have as much effect. Many put out pails of water and lemons to give to the people involved in the action.
With this repression, the people weren't scared; they just got angrier. The tension mounted and a period of intense organizing began in Monimbó. There was more participation from the neighborhood. Monimbó became the heart of Masaya, because combatants from other neighborhoods came....
—Wilfredo Vargas, Leader, Sandinista Youth of Masaya, 21 years old
People felt that their most precious thing was being attacked: their children. Monimbó is a patriarchal community. The children marry and set up house near their parents, all together.... When their children were attacked with tear gas—not even the Guard attacked children directly, but the tear gas went all over, in almost every family someone was affected. They said: "If the Guard attacks us, we'll have to defend ourselves." That's how it was.
—Father José María Pacheco Vásquez, director of the Salesian High School
I remember the first clashes between the Guard and the muchachos very well, because I was one of those who started organizing the neighborhood. We began to talk about the FSLN’s struggle, which is the people's struggle, and when we started demonstrating and all, we were repressed by the Guard.
The first time they broke up a demonstration...we still didn't have contact bombs; we fought with rocks and bottles. We broke bottles all over the street—everybody gave us bottles to throw into the streets—so the Guard wouldn't follow us.
Monimbó led the insurrection in Masaya.... Perhaps it's because of our idiosyncrasies or our warrior culture of old, because you know we weren't born with the dictatorship; we in Monimó drew the line even with the yankees.... Ever since the time of the Spanish colony, there have been fierce battles here.
—Daniel Martínez, peasant, 28 years old
In Monimbó there were problems like lack of water. There was no potable water there. Year after year, the rains carried away part of the land. There were no gutters, no sewage system, no sanitation services.
In what's called "the corners of Monimbó," people lived in shacks made of straw, or wood slats or little sticks, and there was high unemployment.
Apart from all that, the Guard had it in for Monimbó. Perhaps for some old tradition, but the people from Monimbó really stood their ground; and then each year there was the "Bull-Deer" shindig.
During [this festival] the people of Monimbó would dress up as personalities and situations that attacked the dictatorship. For example, one would go out dressed as a Guard with his face covered, beating another who was hooded and had a sign reading "political prisoner." In the carnival! Another would come out with a cart full of sawdust and a shovel and he'd fill the potholes. He'd carry a sign saying, "This is how the mayor's office works." They were really critical of some of the dictator's failings.
—Allan Bolt, theater director
There was a boy who was a genius at making bombs. He's a relative of ours, a cousin. This man, the spirit he has is wonderful, we won't forget him, because he gave up his life. Out of friendship, maybe, people don't turn him away, but it's awful to see him, the poor thing, it's frightening. They say that he's in Germany now, that they're trying to patch him together....
I think there were about 10 or 12 explosions in this [underground] bomb factory.... Lack of experience was what caused these accidents.
This cousin of mine, it would have been better if he'd died and not been left like that: now he's like the living dead, we say. He doesn't have a woman, he can't work.
He's a real symbol for our neighborhood now, because he was very much loved. He was a baseball player, a handball player, an entertaining guy, a 100% brave man....
—Shoemaker, 35 years old
Not everyone was organized: Monimbó Insurrection, February 1978 One Thursday night, just when the program "Ten O’clock" was beginning, three of us priests were watching TV and four students were sleeping. That was all the staff that was in the school. Four sleeping students and us watching television.
Outside there was a boroomboom! Here comes the Guard! Everyone run...escape! You could hear bombs all over.
The Guard thought the muchachos were here, in the school, and they started a pitched battle against us, we who didn't have a single weapon to defend ourselves. From ten at night until three-thirty in the morning they were shooting at us constantly. The boys came up across the roofs of the houses in front of the school and threw bombs at them....
—Father Pacheco Vásquez
The Salesian priests were the ones who helped most during the insurrection.... The Salesian school was a bastion for our people during the insurrection.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas, doctor, 33 years old
Of the priests, some were with the people and others were with the capitalists, just like today. The priests who didn't support the people said that Christ had already come to liberate us so we had no reason to keep on fighting.
—Jorge Gómez Taleno, carpenter, 50 years old
We never really thought we were going to overthrow this guy, Somoza. We thought we could only lose. But there are many stories in books... that say that when people make up their minds, they really go for it.... But we saw that sometimes people were afraid: we won't go farther than this. We didn't really think, then, that they would take up arms when they did. But it's true. You have to see that when the people say, "Okay, Let's go!", nobody can stop them.
—Shoemaker, 35 years old
Not everyone was organized. Everybody left their house at their own risk. Those of us who were organized had orders to follow, someone directed us, and that's what we did. But people in general didn't have leadership; they came out ready to fight on the streets, ready to die. The people joined in because they were sick to death of the regime.
—Israel Ramírez Guevara, Agrarian Reform Institute worker, 25 years old
One night we took Camilo Ortega* and his compañeros and held them as prisoners.... We were acting as lookouts; we'd spent three nights making bonfires on the highway.... A compañero came up to us and said, "Boys, come here, there are some guards. Come here, we're going to investigate these people." All of us from the lookout went and there we saw Camilo seated on the floor, leaning against the wall, with a book; the other, Hilario Sánchez, "Claudio," was leaning on the fence.... There was one other, I don't remember well, I think it was Moisés.
What got them in trouble was that they had Guards' boots on, a fragmentation grenade and money. Everyone there, the people, began to yell that they were mercenaries. They shouted: "These are mercenaries and we have to grab them, take them prisoners, investigate them!"
They said that they were with the FSLN, that they had IDs.... We told them to give themselves up, that if they were from the FSLN, why weren't they making bonfires in the highway, why hadn't they identified themselves earlier?
—Federico Méndez Palacios, agricultural worker
When the Guard managed to get into Monimbó was when the three first FSLN members showed up: Camilo Ortega, Moisés Rivera, Arnoldo Quant and "Claudio."* Although they identified themselves as FSLN members, people didn't believe them because there had been a lot of infiltrators and they'd had this experience.
*Ortega (brother of President Daniel Ortega), Rivera and Quant were all killed in Los Sabogales, Masaya, on February 26, 1978. "Claudio" is the nom de guerre of Hilario Sánchez, a guerrilla commander who survived the war and was killed later while evacuating people after serious floods hit the country.
They were captured and tied up; they took away their money and weapons.... They intended to shoot them. But a compañero... came and it seemed he recognized one of them, Camilo or Claudio. So right there they let them go, returned their weapons, and everything.
—Martín García, Ministry of Labor inspector, 22 years old
I joined the FSLN because I felt things so deeply. Given my proletarian origins, the massacre of my people really hurt me.... I felt I had to take part. For me the FSLN was the best; I wanted to know them, hang out with them, be one of them. When I read news of combats in La Prensa , I got goose pimples. So many compañeros died.... That's why I woke up and became a Sandinista.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo, Agrarian Reform Institute worker, 26 years old
Something very important in my life, in the revolutionary process, was my participation in the assault on the National Palace [August 22, 1978].
My participation was unexpected. My life before this action was normal. I worked for the organization, but no one knew I was part of it.
One day in August 1978, we went to Lake Masaya and there I met Asunción Armengol Ortiz. He was one of the FSLN leaders from here for Masaya, and he told me that there was a "Free homeland or death" action to be carried out and asked if I was ready to participate in it. For security reasons, he didn't say what it was, but I said yes.
What left an impression on the Palace staff was the quickness with which we carried it out, the way we spread out as if we knew the building well, and the fact that we were incognito: What's
happening? Were we from the Guard, was the Guard carrying out a coup, who were we, where had we trained for this, were we Nicaraguan...?
When we put our red and black kerchiefs around our necks, the people began to realize that it was the muchachos who were there, and it was a relief for them. They were happy to know that it was the FSLN that had taken over the National Palace.
Some people began to talk to us and they asked us how much time it had taken us to train for this action, where we had trained, and if we were foreigners...
In response to whether we were Nicaraguans, we said yes, pure nationals, we weren't foreigners, and that indeed some of us were from Monimbó. They said: "Oh, yes! Then you're from the pissed-off barrio!"
When we left for the airport, after the action, I felt one of the strongest emotions I've ever had in my life: Seeing all these people eager to know us, to greet us, to congratulate us for what we'd done. This emotion built as we neared the airport. The sea of people who came to greet us was enormous!
—Israel Ramírez Guevara
I'm super ready, bro It really moved me that I was given lodging and food in every neighborhood I went to, not just my own. The revolution wasn't made just by the muchachos but by all the people. The muchachos raised a lot of people's awareness, those were FSLN cadre. At most about 100 of us were organized here in Monimbó.
Masaya Insurrection, September 1978
But by September everybody had gotten involved and was learning how to take a weapon apart and put it together, how to move lying down, and about combat tactics. By that time, everybody was already Sandinista. The Guard respected us for that. Even the little kids worked. Christ, how they worked!! They came out of that experience more grown up.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
The children helped us put up barricades, they brought us water, whatever we needed. The nicest thing was that the children felt a huge sympathy towards anybody from the FSLN. They asked us all kinds of questions, like where we came from. We answered them: "We don't come from anywhere." "But they say you come from the mountains." "A few others are in the mountains, but we're here and we're the same. Can't you see that I live here? I know you...." "Oh, hey, that's true.... So you, the muchachos, you're the same ones who used to play handball in the streets?" "Right, man; before, we used to play handball, now we're making the war." "Okay, great, then we're going to stay with you. Here we're protected."
—Dionisio Francisco Centeno Mendoza, Ministry of Labor, 23 years old
Children... are natural agitators. For example, what were the children's neighborhood games before the overthrow of the dictatorship? They would play demonstrations, or having a meeting, and suddenly a group of kids with eggs would run out. Supposedly they were the Guard, and they'd throw the eggs as if they were tear gas bombs. Then a bunch of kids would run out pretending to be Sandinistas, and others acting like the Guard. What happened was that hardly anyone liked being the Guard; they all wanted to be Sandinistas.
—Mercedes Vijil, 22 years old
We began using weapons in September. The groups and places that would be attacked were already chosen. One group was sent to the Institute, to keep the Guard from setting itself up there, and to be able to shoot directly at the [Monimbó] command post.
Another group went off to take the highway [so the Guard couldn't send reinforcements] and another one left to take the command post.
The muchachos attacking the post wiped it out in an hour..... The Guards were well protected by the parapets and the muchachos, since it was the first time they had used arms, didn't use them very well. The bombs did the most damage. That was the first day, in the night.
—Ramiro, shoemaker, 28 years old
At the start of the September insurrection, on a Thursday afternoon at about two in the afternoon, compañero "Diego" arrived and he says: "You prepared to go do a job?" I'm super ready, bro. "I'll come get you at three." We went to a safe house. It was so beautiful to see 100 rifles laying on the tiles; I jumped for joy. Now, I said, now they're going to see what the FSLN is all about.
I went with an armed squadron of six compañeros, because the Guard was in the Institute. The signal was a bomb that was going to be thrown from there at the little Monimbó command post. I took off my shirt because I liked to fight like that, without a shirt.
We went to Royal Street, where we got into open combat for the park. We thought the Guard had already been wiped out in the Institute. But when I go by the wading pool, suddenly rat-a-tat-tat, the Guard lets go with automatic rifle fire. Everybody hits the ground! I get furious and I say to Marta Navarro, who's fallen half over me, How could they send us here? Here we are—and we're gonna die without even firing a shot! I scoot slowly backwards and fall right into the gutter. I came out of there mud head to toe, and with no shirt.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
For me, the September insurrection came just in time. The Guard was going around wiping out all humanity here in Monimbó and in all of Nicaragua. The biggest crime was to be young. If the Guard found you they killed you. So the FSLN had to figure out how to make people rise up, how to make the war move quicker and stop all that.
—Justo González Gómez, shoemaker, 29 years old
Before, no one had any hope for the future. I felt we were alone, and had even started thinking of leaving Nicaragua. Things were getting worse and worse, not only economically, but also in that there was no way to survive physically. [It] had reached the point where it was impossible to live, to go anywhere, because one felt persecuted, threatened with death.
It was enough just to see the faces of the Guards who patrolled the neighborhood to feel repressed, hemmed in. It was enough just to feel young to know that your life might be short. The repression was unbelievable.
—Noel Ortega Morales, medic, 48 years old
At the time of the insurrection, I had a bar here. Everybody knows me as Marino. Once Sergio Delgadillo, who died in El Naranjo, came with another named Darwin Ramírez, a great fighter from the Southern Front, at three in the morning. We began to talk and they said to me, "Look, Marino, you're a real good thing for us." One of the reasons was that the Guard came here to collect taxes, and, of course, to down a few beers. So they asked me if I could hide a few rifles. We stuck them in plastic bags and put them in the cooler.
On September 9, '78, when the insurrection exploded here, a compa... came carrying a little piece of paper that was the code for me to hand the rifles over to him.
I got a little sad thinking about my children, but I saw that this wasn't the moment to think about my family, but rather about all us Nicaraguans who had been oppressed and tortured; I thought about all of us. I went to my wife, who began to cry. I decided to take a 38 pistol and go.
—Luis E. Briceño, "Marino," Sandinista police officer, 35 years old
Many rich people, those from the well-off class, lawyers, those from the center, got all made up, got in their cars and left. Many took refuge in the Red Cross, the hospital or some church.
Those who stayed, who responded, who rose up, were from the poorer classes, the barrios. The rich were afraid and some gave a little bit of help like loaning a vehicle, things like that so that nothing would happen to them, but most of them left anyplace where fighting was going on.
—Marta, mass organization worker, 18 years old
When the disturbances began, the riots, when the revolution began, while we were getting killed in Monimbó, throwing bombs, the Guard machine-gunning us, the bourgeoisie were eating their banquets, drinking their whisky. That's when I began to hate them, because they didn't put themselves out like us in the revolution. They thought differently. There were some who played two roles: with the Sandinistas and with Somoza.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
I had my house all mined with bombs in case the Guard entered. When they'd carry the bombs out, I'd always carry the most because I said to myself: If some Guard stops me I'm not going alone. With a bunch of bombs, anything within 15 feet of me would get it too.
—Seamstress, 25 years old
There were different ways of demonstrating, for people to express their rejection of the Guard and Somoza. One was that at night everybody would take out their pots and pans and make a big
ruckus through all the neighborhoods. That happened constantly.
Another way was that the boys from the FSLN would shoot off loud firecrackers. The Guard would run to see where what they thought were shots were coming from.
The muchachos used this ingenuous method to attract them, and then when they arrived they'd rain bombs down on them. It was really something. The Guard couldn't do anything but run back out shooting wildly.
—Avelino Escorcia Zúñiga, artisan, 66 years old
The paramilitary or the orejas [spies] were worse than the Guard, because they were dressed in civilian clothes and the Guard wore olive green; from a long way away we could see them and run, while we couldn't with the paramilitary. We could even be chatting with them and not realize anything.
—Santos Mercado, EPS, 23 years old
Truthfully, the worst enemies were those who infiltrated and when the FSLN succeeded in unmasking them as direct collaborators with the Guard, they were executed at Four Corners.
The thing is that in a liberation struggle you can't vacillate about anything. A class revolution doesn't allow the luxury of having your enemy alongside you, since if you turn your back they naturally stick a knife in it. A class struggle is life or death.
—Jorge Gómez Taleno
When the Guard became really repressive the FSLN wisely decided to pull back. They hid their weapons and many of the combatants left their houses. But since the Guard swept down from the entrance of Las Sabogales, all the men headed for the Red Cross.
Some five thousand people gathered there. Maybe ten or twenty percent of these people had fought directly against the Guard, but the majority were just people who had collaborated a hundred different ways in the struggle. To avoid being killed they all went there, knowing that if they were found in the streets they would be brutally murdered.
When the Guard got to the Red Cross, no one could say who was who, because all the orejas had now been cleaned out of Masaya.
Some little lieutenant went in and called five of them to get up. He began to look them over and, luckily, they had clean elbows and knees, which was what the Guard was looking for, or their hands to see if they had any powder burns.
After that the Guard stopped bothering them and withdrew. They didn't find the combatants who were there. At that moment, the Red Cross served as a safe house.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas
In September, we saw the massacre carried out by the Guard in Monimbó and here by La Reforma. I myself saw some 40, 50 corpses that the families were taking away and the Guard stopped them. Here it was a sin to be a man or to be young. The Guard came and killed you.
—Angelita Valle, teacher, 35 years old
One of the worst murders in Masaya was of a leader from the Conservative Party. It happened in September '78, after the insurrection.
Arturo Velásquez was taken from his house at midnight, after some shots had been heard in the San Jerónimo barrio. There had been some sniping with 22 rifles, which here had become an effective weapon, feared by the Guard.
The Guard took everybody from their houses and were inspecting them, and since Arturo Velásquez was from the opposition they took him out and killed him in the street. They left him bleeding and it wasn't until the next morning that they took him to the hospital. There they operated on him, but they couldn't do anything. His liver and right lung had been destroyed....
The death of Gloria Palacios after the [September] insurrection was similar. She was bleeding in the street from a miscarriage when the Guard passed. They said to her, "What are you doing here?" "Well, I have to get to the hospital." "And why?" "Because I'm bleeding." "Do you want to die, then?" The girl answered yes. "How do you want to die?" With that they shot and killed her.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas
We fought against the Guard to save our lives. We realized after the [Guard's] cleanup operation that life wasn't worth anything here. Whoever stayed home would be killed! It was easier for us
to grab a rifle and go fight with the muchachos than stay home; we were just a target for the Guard. So it was the repression itself that made us fight, because we didn't want to die.
Every last one of us spoke with a single voice: go fight, beat 'em or die, to kick the dictatorship out of this country. That was the goal of our struggle, to kick the military dictatorship out of our country.
—Ernesto Rodríguez Zelaya, mechanic, 38 years old
There wasn't any different treatment by sex; they even killed women! There came a moment when the situation was so intolerable that the people had to throw themselves into the war.
—Noel Ortega Morales
The revolutionary torrent December 1978-May 1979 So one day at the end of December my nephew Julio Humberto Marenco said to me, "They're beginning to bring some muchachos down to see if they can organize this better so we can work for Tacho's [Anastasio Somoza's] defeat, because we can't go on living like this, y'know." I agreed. So he said, "I want to know if you can help us by letting a muchacho stay in the house." Send him along, I told him, I'll be happy to help you.
"We've worked in a disorganized way, and have made lots of mistakes," my nephew told me. "Now we don't want any more destruction; we want direct struggle, to destroy the Guard, and no destruction of houses or markets or any of that. Because that was an error, since the economy is affecting us, too. Now we're going to fight the Guard, really give it to them." Right on, I said, send him to me.
So they began to bring a lot of young guerrilla fighters down from the mountains. When they had them settled in safe houses they began to organize Monimbó. Monimbó was very combative but it wasn't organized. So they organized people, explaining, giving talks and forming columns.
Those kids organized Monimbó in a spectacular way, really good; you should've seen it! The day they hit the Banco Nicaragüense, it was marvelous to see them work. It just made you tingle. What incredible organization!
—Consuelo Marenco de Cuadra, housewife, 70 years old
Such tremendous shooting began about 10 in the morning that it seemed it was the finale we’d been expecting. That assault was phenomenal, because the muchachos went into three banks and came out unscathed, calm as can be. Miriam Tinoco went in to BANIC all very elegant, with a wig, and that's how she came out, cool as a cucumber.
—Professor, 35 years old
When we hit the bank [on May 15], I remember how the people helped. They knew well what we were about. I recall that I got to one house with my rifle, and how nice the people were: "Come on in, young friend, come in here, my son; go up the stairs...." I felt really happy that the people supported us like that.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
In the pre-insurrection period, we treated the wounded compañeros in the safe houses in Santa Rosa, Pochotillo, in San Carlos.... We used almost primitive methods to cure them. Only if the compañero was little known would we take him to the hospital.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas
Before the final insurrection here in Masaya, since May, since Holy Week, which never took place, you could cut the tension with a knife. There was martial law and no one went out. By six in the evening, everybody was in their houses. It was very strict, no freedom at all, everybody was locked in. At night the only thing you could hear was the dogs howling. You could hear shots and people were afraid at night. You couldn't turn the television on loud because even that bothered them.... The bodies began to turn up; that was daily: teenagers, boys, young kids, mature men; their bodies and heads all shot up. They were unrecognizable because they were completely riddled with holes, with their brains exposed and their eyes out. It was horrible, daily, daily. It was hard to recognize them.
—Nurse, 30 years old
The business leaders in COSEP... protected their own interests through this organization. When the final insurrection was drawing near, they, together with the Conservatives and the Social Christians, tried to mediate the revolution. After the September insurrection Washington’s envoy, Bowdler, came wanting to install a Somocismo without Somoza. So these groups, organized to defend their interests, their class position, their position as exploiters, lent themselves to the maneuvers of imperialism, trying to mediate the revolution right up to the last moment.
—Guillermo Sánchez, "Pancho," EPS Lieutenant, 23 years old
The bourgeoisie was dragged along in this revolution. Days before the insurrection, compañero Julio López told the people from FAO [Broad Opposition Front] to define themselves, to say which side they were on, to decide if they were going to participate in the general strike; but there was no answer from them, until the day the strike began.
They participated by remote control, dragged along by the revolutionary torrent.
With or without them, the workers weren't going to help factories or businesses; with or without them they were going to participate in the struggle. If the country was going to grind to a halt in any case, they preferred to look like they were calling the strike.... Until the very last minute, they were looking for ways for imperialism to rescue them.
They were looking for an alternative that would allow them to keep their power and participate in public life in place of the dictatorship.... That's why they constantly opposed the Sandinista triumph and why they negotiated until the last minute of the fight, seeking the imperialist alternative, because the struggle of the rich against the dictatorship was a product of a conflict of interests that had emerged between them, between the rich and the dictatorship in the last years.
Before this, the dictatorship had guaranteed that they could go on enriching themselves and exploit our people with no problems. In fact, any time Alfonso Robelo* had problems in his factory, he called the Guard to repress the workers...
—Octavio Caldera, psychologist
*Industrialist Alfonso Robelo was a member of the coalition government following the triumph. He left the government in April 1980 and later became a civilian leader of the contras' FDN. He is currently planning to return to Nicaragua as leader of the opposition party, MDN.
Some business people, the patriotic ones, the bourgeoisie with patriotic sentiments, and honest, joined the struggle. Not in a decided way, that is, they didn't grab a rifle and risk their lives for the liberation. They contributed economic help to the FSLN, they joined strikes stoppages, closing their businesses, things like that. Their attitudes were mainly passive... but one way or another they supported the defeat of the Somocista dictatorship.
—Julio César José Ruiz, artisan, 23 years old
Most of the wealthy people fled the country. They were really like rats. The moment they saw that it was all sinking, they abandoned ship in a flash. It was the people who were stuck with the problem and had to resolve it.
—Shoemaker, 52 years old
Following the FSLN's orientations on Radio Sandino,* people began to get food together for the struggle they were awaiting.
Sure there were cases of some who were against the revolution. They didn't believe it was a reality and they didn't prepare, so they had to make do. But those involved in the struggle prepared themselves and got their food together, calculating one, two, three months of fighting.
—Jorge Gómez Taleno
* A radio station that began operating clandestinely in September 1977.
What really impressed me a lot was when a compañero came to Monimbó and said: "Muchachos, are you ready?" Then all the people got up and were shouting, "YES!" One boy who came brought gasoline. Everybody went to get some gas to begin to make bonfires.
I saw that what Camilo said was true, that the people were willing to rise up.
—Faustina Palacios Castro, maid, 28 years old
Revolutions are born when the people feel oppressed, when they look for ways to take their rightful place. With so many troubles, so many massacres; seeing so many students killed, so many revolutionary compañeros, peasants...
Revolutions, what are they born of? Of the people being oppressed, massacred, treated like dirt.
So what happened then? We put our shoulders to the wheel, we made everyone aware, we formed a single bloc and showed the dictator and the whole world that the people, when they put their shoulders to it, can make it move.
That man never imagined that he was making those paving stones to kill himself. Because what did people do? They raised those stones against him. I don't think in the history of the world there have been such great barricades of compact stone such as those we made with Somoza's paving stones.
—Luis E. Briceño Tapia, "Marino"
Somocismo was such a corrupt, disastrous system that one couldn't imagine where it was going.
The capitalist system we were under was so intense that we, the workers, had no place in it; we were practically foreigners in our own country—except that the real foreigners were those who owned all the country’s wealth.
—Jorge Gómez Taleno
Many young people died During the war my folks behaved well, they said the revolution was a good thing. My folks are ignorant, they don't even know how to read, but they supported me. The only thing my mother said to me was: "Take care, child, stay on your toes."
Final Offensive, June 1979
I taught my mama how to assemble a rifle so she wouldn't be afraid. It made her less nervous. I told them: Be firm, hit the ground and defend the children.
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
My father was one of the happiest men when the war came. Because he always said that that was the only way to get rid of such a bandit. My father is a man made with an ax and a machete, forged
in pure struggle.... All his life he's dreamt of the well-being of the workers. He said: "Someday that bandit is going to bite the dust. I want the President to drink the whole Tiscapa lake." That's what my papa always said.
—Ernesto Rodríguez Zelaya
By June 6 an attack on the command post, a kind of assault action had been planned. But a series of events screwed up the plan. A force went to contain the enemy reinforcements, but those compañeroswere detected before 1:30, which was the time the operation was supposed to begin. They were caught in combat with the enemy, of course at a tremendous numerical disadvantage; the surprise factor didn't play the role it was supposed to and the compañeros were finally obliged to retreat.
We were waiting for the youth at the entrance; it was two days after the general strike had begun. I happened to be at the door with my family when a patrol passed toward La Reforma.... There were about a dozen Guards and there was an empty jeep in the middle of the street. When they got to the block we lived on, they picked up Javier Sandoval, a boy from El Calvario Street. They grabbed him, searched him and found a revolver so they shoved him into the jeep. Then they continued on to La Reforma.
About a quarter of an hour later, we heard some shots, two at first. They killed the kid, we said, because that was the only thing we could expect.
After another quarter of an hour, we heard more shots, closer together. We waited at the door to see what we could see, or hear. After that, you could hear a tremendous silence.
Angela Valle Zúñiga, merchant, 40 years old
When the first shots were heard, militia members with red and black kerchiefs on began to come out of all the houses, and they raised barricades throughout the city. The city was practically in our power. There were people in charge by zones, a head of the militias in the southern zone, another by barrio who controlled all the trenches and those who in practice exercised authority and control of the population.
—Octavio Caldera, psychologist, 29 years old
The attack began a bit after one. There was hard fighting all Wednesday. Thursday the 7th was the biggest offensive against the headquarters. There something important happened that I call the "human machinegun." The headquarters of the muchachos was in a little corner house near the Salesian high school.
From there a line was set up heading toward the back of the Guards' headquarters.... At the dead end it divided in two. The boys would approach, throw their bombs and return to ask for more. It was impressive. There weren't many weapons, maybe a hundred at best. That's why it was a human machinegun.
The muchachos would come in a row, divide the dynamite in pieces and wrap it in tape around a contact bomb. The compañeros always went in file, one after the other.... There were children, and young girls too. Seeing them gave me feelings of I don't know what: those two with their little sombreros and their two bombs to throw at the barracks. That was a spectacle! It really gave me the chills.
—Julio Marenco, accountant, Coordinator of the Masaya Reconstruction Government
The following day, we were advancing. At about ten in the morning, we were about to take the command post... when the Guard asked for reinforcements and they bombed us with rockets. The "push and pull" plane came to bombard us. About five meters from me a rocket fell that lifted me in the air and deafened me; but I didn't retreat even a step...; they bombed us for several hours....
The next day the Guard's reinforcements entered. A Sherman [tank] came in. The general staff ordered our retreat. Then Comandante "Domingo" went out and a sniper found him; he shot and "Domingo" fell. His body was brought and we retreated.
We wanted to go back later, but the enemy had taken possession and wouldn't let us. So that's when we retreated to the zones of barrio Monimbó, the zones on the far outskirts of the lake, where we camped several days and recovered.
—Reynaldo López García, unemployed, 19 years old
Many people thought we were defeated. What a surprise they had when two, three days later, we returned to the city more robust, stronger, and managed to control a large part of the city to the astonishment of them all.
—Miguel Maldonado, 26 years old
By now we had passed two stages: the first from the 6th to the 9th when we were taking the offensive; the other stage, from the 9th to the 11th, was when we retreated, recovered our strength, organized people and returned to the city with the conviction that yes, now, Free Country or Death.
Another stage began that went from the 11th to the 24th. During that whole period, the Guard didn't push us out because they didn't receive reinforcements, nor did we take them out since we didn't have any ammunition either.
The CDCs [Civil Defense Committees] had a major function organizing people in the insurrection. Daily problems were solved because all of us who were in the CDC went from house to house to see what they needed, what we could do to defend ourselves, carting food, carrying wounded, helping whatever way we could.
—Rolando Namendi Caldera, teacher, 30 years old
To speak of food and medicines in war is like talking about gold, but of course everybody ate.
The CDCs went to the countryside without letting anything bother them, and everyone ate since they brought back a cow or whatever there was.
The men there went to find whatever they could to eat. The thing was that if they grabbed a pig, it was for the whole barrio. It was a question of compañerismo among the families who stayed in their houses.
—Guillermo Sánchez, "Pancho"
As an old man of 60, I helped the muchachos, although not directly with a weapon. I gave them food and drink. They passed here very hungry at times because sometimes they had been two, three nights in the trenches without being able to leave to rest. They were dying of hunger, but couldn't leave and let the enemy into the city.... In this barrio there was a little old woman who, despite the rain of bullets from the Guard in Coyotepe,* would go along the whole ditch giving black coffee to the combatants, comforting them, encouraging them. She was risking her life, but she always went out to give coffee to the muchachos.
—Manuel Rayos Alvarado
*A fortress built in colonial times, Coyotepe sits on a small hill overlooking Masaya.
We must recognize the work of medics and civilians who helped build underground hospitals. In the war, when the Guard still hadn't abandoned the headquarters, we didn't have access to the central hospital. In La Libertad Avenue we had a hospital that treated the compañeros with shrapnel or bullet wounds; there they stopped the bleeding and even operated without anesthesia.
—Guillermo Sánchez, "Pancho"
The muchachos harassed the Guard with loudspeakers, demanding that they surrender, and kept up a curtain of fire against them until June 24, the date the [Guard] evacuated the command post. At night, protected, with hundreds of political prisoners, whom they made push a tank that was out of commission, they left by Seven Corners, taking San Jerónimo Street, and went to [Fort] Coyotepe.
With the city completely in the hands of the FSLN, the Civil Defense Committees found more energy and played a critical role in organizing the city. They began to reactivate the companies that produced food and anything else that would help the population.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas
When the Guard left the command post, I cried. I felt so happy and I cried and cried, and I also started thinking about those who had fallen..., about those who were determined to wipe out this command post and never saw it happen...."
—José Brandino Raudes
We thought we were losing The retreat to Masaya was organized between June 25 and 26, and we left Managua the 27th. The Sandinista forces in these columns of thousands of people were led by the Internal Front's General Staff.... In all, there were six columns that had been defending Managua, in the zone of the eastern neighborhoods.
Retreat from Managua, June 27
Those of us in the center column managed to advance during the night of the 27th and early morning of the 28th, but when the bombing by the National Guard began in the morning, we stayed there, near Veracruz.
I remember we stopped at about eight; we couldn't travel because the planes spotted us.... We toured the length of the column and it was huge, an enormous beast.
We didn't have any communication, either with Masaya or with the rest of the columns. We saw that they were bombing one of them, but not until later did we know that it had been part of the vanguard.
In the afternoon it began to rain; about three or four. So we began to move again, hoping to get to Masaya by nighttime. We had already sent on the wounded and a good part of the people in trucks. All those who came and couldn't walk had gotten in the trucks.
We took the highway for the last few kilometers, then cut off on the old Masaya road, a dirt road.... We didn't go by Coyotepe. The people there could see us because they were waiting for us, but there was no fighting; they threw a few mortars at us, but in the end we entered calmly, at midnight. Part of the forces had already arrived; those of the vanguard and also the rearguard had gotten there in the morning; we from the center got there last.
— EPS Subcomandante Rafael Solís, 28 years old
I remember June 27... at about eleven at night... they came to tell us that the compañeros from Managua were coming. They began to arrive and we had to kill two or three cows that night. The compañeras got up and worked all night long. All the following day and the subsequent days, everything was disorganized because of the huge quantity of people who came from Managua, which was not expected. Nonetheless, the compañeras stayed with it, they never backed off. Although that work wasn't in the trenches, it was vital for the trenches.
—Octavio Caldera, psychologist, 29 years old
June 27 was the historic retreat. We were here in the hospital, treating wounded. At about nine or ten in the morning the first wounded began to arrive. A truck driven by a compañera came bearing 50 wounded.
The hospital was inundated with wounded and at that moment we got depressed, because we thought we were losing the war. That sensation invaded me, but I held it off. I only shared it with one compañero and he felt the same. Later we realized that it wasn't so. The fighting spirit of our people remained high.
The thousands of combatants from Managua were received with great hospitality in Masaya.... Day by day the city was getting more organized and they got the old electrical plant working...; there was also drinking water and thus the city began to be minimally functional.
—Rommel Martínez Cabezas
A few medics continued working in the hospital. The majority left. We were without a director because he left the city and the country. The administrator left too.
I don't know, really, how we managed to feed the people who took refuge there, hundreds of wounded who came from Managua and those wounded from bombings by planes and mortars.
Many young people died here. We buried them in the backyard of the hospital. The people buried their dead in the patios of their houses.... You couldn't get to the cemeteries because of the barricades throughout the city. Today they are still exhuming bodies to bury them in the cemeteries. Many youth from Managua are buried here in Masaya.
Here in the hospital... I don't know why more didn't die because we didn't have any way to sterilize the instruments.... The compresses were simply washed and boiled. I don't know how so many people survived.
Once two planes came here, destroyed. Some Panamanian compañeros came to help us: they brought medicines, weapons and the like to help the insurrection. That help was really courageous.
—Luis S. Palacios Ruiz
I cried thinking about my son who had died and who had dreamed of the weapons coming...! "The arms will be here in just a few days," he would say to me. And so it was. Eight days after his death they came. I saw them drop in Bosco Monge. I was just arriving there, at about five in the morning, when the plane dropped the boxes. I told the ranks of boys who were there, in line: Some objects fell. "They're weapons," they told me. Ay, blessed be God, little papa, I said to him, that was what we were waiting for. "Yeah," he said, "there's the other plane." Because they arrived one right after the other, and I said, There comes another one! No, since I've got a bad mouth, I said, Here comes another son of a bitch! "It's one of ours," they said, "bringing more arms." So I stopped with my kid and my pan of cheese that I was taking to sell, to see them, to see the bags fall. I saw it all. I never once thought we would lose.
—Irma Sánchez, market seller
The saddest thing I remember about the war was when they dropped a 500-pound bomb on San Jerónimo Park. I was with a group of friends in the San Sebastián Park... about six in the evening. There was this great crash, a huge explosion. It even lifted my pants legs up, and we were eight blocks away.
So we went running to see how we could help. We got there and the only thing I saw were three bodies from here up, just the chest; all the rest was blown away. They say more died, but that was all I could see. I noticed that one of the bodies was a woman, because it had long hair; the other two were male, just cut right in half. That was what impressed me the most, it was horrible to see what that bomb did.
—Ernesto Rodríguez Zelaya
When I was a prisoner in Coyotepe, it was horrible to see how the Guard was killing my people. I realized it when they dropped a 500-pound bomb in San Jerónimo.
I was mopping near the controls when I heard the Guards say, "Hawk 2, Hawk 3, let the nacatamales fall right on the San Jerónimo Church. Drop the nacatamal, please! Over and out."
So, half mopping I ran to where I could peek out at the city. I was looking from there when they let this huge thing drop.... The Guards were shouting: "Now they'll see who the National Guard is!" Then you could hear this huge explosion: Kaboom!!! Coyotepe itself shook. And the Guards all laughing away....
—Armengol Mercado Castillo
When the tactical retreat from Managua arrived here in Masaya, it meant more combatants and more weapons, so that meant increasing the outer defense of the city.
When the compañeros from Managua came... it was decided to put a large group of compañeros across from Coyotepe. The second position was behind Coyotepe; we were thinking of surrounding the Guard. We put another block on the highway to Granada and another toward Catarina.
The Guard from Granada virtually couldn't get in, nor could those from Jinotepe because of the blockade at the Catarina cutoff. It was really difficult for them, but they still had passage through the Tipitapa-Masaya highway.
So we put together a unit... designed to cut the highway to Tipitapa... but the enemy spotted us. I saw more planes then than the day of the Managua retreat.... Suddenly three helicopters arrived and they began to throw bombs and barrels.... the fire lasted from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon. We couldn't do anything.... They rocketed and mortared the whole zone. Luckily we didn't have any dead that day, though it seemed as though no one would come out of it alive. The few trees in the zone were all destroyed.
The civilian population was desperate; they were even saying that if there were any dead it would be our fault. So we had this pressure from some of the people and had to leave because we noticed lights. The enemy was advancing. At about eleven at night, we retreated to Masaya and arrived at about six the following morning. I'll never forget the number of planes, never in my life had I seen so many together.
—Guillermo Sánchez, "Pancho"
When the Guard's bombardment from Coyotepe was at its peak, they mortared the barracks we had in a two-story concrete house on the corner in Barrio Loco.... I think that was July 13.
The Guard were in INCA and then they were also in the ice factory for several days. We tried to get them out of the icehouse, but they didn't leave.... We even hit them with a little cannon that came from Costa Rica; it was a 75 mm cannon that we shot off one night across from the INCA, which was a huge factory. The icehouse was taken around the 16th or 17th of July.... When the Guard got the news that the dictator had gone they unleashed a tremendous combat, all morning long. They retreated, they had some casualties and they left the icehouse, but they continued in INCA.
When they gave out the news that Somoza had left, we were incredibly happy. The tyrant had finally gone. We were joyous because we were going to have a change in our lives and our politics; another system would govern us. The revolution was our great hope.
—Manuel Rayos Alvarado
It was one big party It was a tremendous joy for all of us. If the San Jerónimo festival is famous because it attracts thousands of people, this was like ten San Jerónimo festivals put together, because there wasn't a single person who didn't go out into the festive, joyous streets.
The Triumph, July 1979
—Noel Ortega Morales
When Somoza left I felt great joy, and, at the same time, disappointment. Joy because Somoza had gone. There was unbelievable tumult. But disappointment because in the morning they gave the flash that Urcuyo* was staying. I asked a woman, What do you say, Miss Mary? "Twenty-four hours," she said. "That isn't a man with pluck; I give him 24 hours tops."
*Francisco Urcuyo Malianos, Somoza's president of the Chamber of Deputies, who was left behind to hand over power to the new Junta, announced on orders from Somoza in Miami that he would serve out Somoza's term until May 1981. In fact, Urcuyo lasted 43 hours as President, until the National Guard fell.
The day of the triumph there was a huge bunch of people in the barrio and later all the muchachos came in. It was one big party, all day long. We all just danced, everybody forgot even to eat.
Since we had promised that when the revolution triumphed we were going to get out the Bull-Deer, we took him out. We also took out San Jerónimo and every last one of the saints.
All of Masaya took to the streets, all the saints were taken out, the people dressed up in costumes, drank and did whatever they felt like. It was a huge fiesta in Masaya.
—Ernesto Rodríguez Zelaya
It was an emotional day in Masaya when the combatants of the Southern Front passed. To see that army, that multitude of youth passing in trucks, pickups, cars, whatever.... It took two hours for that group to pass through. It was marvelous. The people, how they shouted, what enthusiasm when the Southern Front passed through!
—Luis S. Palacios Ruiz
On July 19, I went to Managua to the gigantic gathering. You couldn't even guess how many people were running around giddy in the Plaza of the Revolution, and that was with tremendous transportation problems. There one could feel, could see, that the FSLN had a huge influence over the Nicaraguan people; that sympathy for the FSLN could be seen everywhere.
—Julio César José Ruiz
We were very happy that day, really emotional, and not for nothing: The FSLN had won! Behind us were dark days, days of fighting in which many martyrs, many heroes had given their lives to free our people, to inherit a free country without any intervention by imperialism.
We went to the plaza with the people's fighters. All with our arms around each other, one huge bunch of people shouting slogans. That highway was a sea of people: the combatants went along one side, trucks along the other, busses, people, it was one big tumult. The people cried with joy.
—Peasant student, 28 years old
This victory of the Nicaraguan people is one of the greatest feats a people could accomplish, to defeat a government like Somoza's with its National Guard, trained in crime, with all possible help from the United States.
No one believed it possible at the beginning; we felt that the Guard was an all-powerful and invincible institution. But this triumph shows... that when a people are determined to be free there is no force, however powerful, that can stop their desire for freedom. The soldiers in the ranks of [repressive] armies are mercenaries who defend a regime because they're paid to; unfortunately, they are of the people too, they're workers, landless peasants, oppressed, directed by ambitious and corrupt people from the middle class.... All to defend the interests both of the local bourgeoisie and of their foreign masters.
It was said that [the National Guard] was the best army in Central America, the most disciplined, the best organized. Nonetheless the people, without a lot of military training, defeated it. This shows that someone who takes a stand and fights for an ideal and a just cause, one single combatant, is worth a hundred of those mercenaries. It also proves that the muchachos were right. They made the biggest sacrifice—to offer their lives, their youth.
With the revolutionary triumph, the people must continue demonstrating the heroism that made this possible. They need to realize that a revolution isn't just armed struggle, but that the most difficult moment comes when we have to create, rebuild the economy of a country in such wretched conditions as we have here.
We're starting virtually from scratch, with a huge international debt, with enormous needs in the country. So these generations have to be ones of sacrifice, we have to think that the future will be for our children and that we each have to make our own contribution in our daily lives.
We have to learn that although we are now a free people, this freedom isn't complete. Until we have ended poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, sickness, until children don't die of curable diseases, until we reach a high level of development... only then can we say we’ve reached the limits of freedom.
—Luis Palacios Ruiz
I keep thinking that there has to be a counterrevolution. In my view, every revolution engenders a counterrevolution and, naturally, that consolidates a revolution more.... In other words, I think that we Nicaraguans shouldn't fear a counterrevolution, because if it comes to pass I have the absolute conviction that we will triumph again.
—Noel Ortega Morales