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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 362 | Septiembre 2011
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Nicaragua

Memories of the betrayed generation

How did those in rival bands facing each other on the battlefronts in the 1980s survive? How have they coped with that drama? What did the war give them or take from them? I searched out eight former combatants and war wounded to interview. I’m a long overdue listener to their testimonies, in which I heard commitment, humor and pain. Disillusionment, too. These are the memories of a generation that today feels betrayed.

William Grigsby Vergara

An extensive group of Nicaraguan adults survived the ten-year civil war that pitted members of the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS), including guys just fulfilling their two-year wartime draft obligations, against the Resistance, the counterrevolutionary (“contra”) forces financed by US President Ronald Reagan that operated out of military bases in Honduras.

The fathers and elder brothers of us children who are part of the “lost generation” are the ones who fought this war. Many anonymous heroes lost years and parts of their body for their country. Many others gave their lives.

I went in search of eight former combatants and war wounded from both sides to interview and came back with eight brave testimonies in which they recalled the difficult situation that put them in check years ago. I wondered what these warriors felt, pitted against each other in the generation that preceded me: were they all forced to go to war or did they go of their own free will? How did they survive that drama? What were the most difficult moments in the mountains that provided the backdrop for the firefights? Was there time to laugh in spite of the death surrounding them, which forced them to stay serious and alert? And these days, do they feel betrayed by their old leaders or do they see any positive aspects of having taken part in that pitched battle consigned now to history?

I went looking for their answers, hoping the veterans could respond in an encouraging way, at least to the last question. Here are the two sides, the two voices. Here History sits like a little girl on my lap and I listen to her talk…

Noel, 45 years old:
“No war can bring anything good”

“I was born in Santa Teresa, Carazo. I’m from the patriotic military service (SMP) generation. I was at school when the national military service law was passed in 1983. I was finishing my third year of high school. Already all of us students were the first to sign up for anything: cleaning campaigns, vaccinating dogs, health campaigns, follow-up on the literacy crusade, which was still new... Although I didn’t want to go die doing military service and had never touched a gun or knew what it was, I ended up going in a conscious way. Yes, it was a conscious decision.

The most dramatic moment I experienced was the first fight in the mountains with my buddies. A lot of them had been at school with me. We had all been accepted into the first battalions of border troops in the San Fernando area. Later they moved us up to the Honduran border where we spent four or five months. During that time there wasn’t any fighting. Later on they moved us to the Chachahua area, between Quilalí and Wiwilí. I experienced my first encounter with the contras up in those hills. It was terrible. I was incredibly nervous during the whole skirmish. Several friends died during the fight, including the platoon commander. We found the body of one friend, who we’d nicknamed “Somoza,” bayoneted. They’d torn out his heart and other organs. It was a horrific sight that still haunts me.”

“I lost my left leg”

Another dramatic moment was when I stepped on an anti-personnel mine. I nearly lost my life. Sandinista militiamen were covering the border from Nueva Segovia to Jinotega. Each group of us had an area assigned to defend. Ours was in Baná, close to the junction of the Coco and Poteca rivers. On that occasion we’d managed to push the contras back across the river into Honduran territory and kept on advancing until we’d crossed the border and gone a couple of kilometers into Honduras. We had to fall back to our original position due to aerial bombardment, but we didn’t know the contras had left some anti-personnel mines around, one in a watering place, another up some creek and so on.

When it was time for us to retake the area with the BLI [Irregular Combat Battalions], they chose me to lead them, support the scout squad and retake our previous position. Anyway, we stopped marching because I wanted to climb a bit higher to see from the hilltop and be able to direct the squad better. After going four or five meters, I stepped on the mine.

I only remember hearing an enormous bang. I was thrown into the air and fell down and had no idea what had happened. I was stunned, I wanted to stand up and couldn’t. So I dragged myself forward another ten meters until I could shout for help to get me out of there. I lost my left leg, a third of the way above the knee and I’ve used a prosthesis since 1987.

The war didn’t bring me anything positive. I don’t think war can bring anything positive to anyone. But it wasn’t until 1996, when Arnoldo Alemán won the elections, that I began to see that the great cadres of the revolution were morally no longer what they used to say they were. The pacts, the alliances behind people’s back, the illicit accumulation of wealth and other abuses said one thing while they were saying another and they brazenly contradicted each other. I discovered that there was a lot of demagoguery, with no congruence between what they did and what they said and that awakened me to a sad reality. I felt betrayed. I still feel betrayed today and can no longer defend a mafia installed at the height of power.”

Alexis, 39 years old:
“The war took our youth away”

“I was born in Quilalí, Nueva Segovia. In 1986 I joined the ranks of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Why? We had a coffee farm at the time they started confiscating property. They evicted us from the countryside and put us in some resettlement camp. I voluntarily decided to join the Resistance because the Sandinistas had taken all my family’s land. I was fifteen when I joined up.

The most dramatic moments I experienced were during “Operation Olivero” in 1987 and “Operation Danto 88” the following year, when the Sandinistas went into Honduras in a huge, powerful sweep they ended up winning. There were always difficult situations in the mountains. The suffering was appalling. Hunger, fatigue and exhaustion were our daily bread. We didn’t have enough medical supplies to heal wounds or cure sickness. When you caught a bullet it was easy to get gangrene and die, because there was nowhere they could take you to get wounds taken care of.

The hardest thing was being in combat, terrified of losing your life. As human beings we’re all scared in battle. Both sides are scared. At those moments you just ask God to get you out alive, it’s the only way to get through it. God, mainly God, is the only hope you have when bullets are flying all around you.
There were happy moments too. Mostly when you came out of a battle unbeaten, without any dead. There were also moments of feeling good with the rest of your buddies. Or when a relative sent you a letter and you’d write back saying you were fine and how much you loved and missed them. Even though the happy moments were few, they did exist.

Something positive the war brought me was discipline. Military training strengthens you and gives you courage. Our leaders were peasant like us, with the same outlook, and we had a feeling of brotherhood, an esprit de corps and enormous trust between us.

We shared a lot, we saw ourselves as brothers at all times and helped each other, especially when sick or wounded. The civilian peasants supported us well, with information, medical supplies, food and acting as couriers. That was one of the main aspects of support to the contras: couriers. You’re nothing if you don’t have information in war. Whoever had information had power. And the peasants gave their lives to bring us the information necessary to win the war.

I’ve got good and bad memories of those times. The good side is that now we live in a free country where there’s no war and now we’re parents with different social attitudes. We got training and now we fight for better development for everyone. The bad side is that many fell by the way.

When I was demobilized in 1990 I went into the National Police force. Some 150 of us got police training in Chontales, and as police officers we managed to go back and finish our studies. It was good because we had interrupted our education during the war and lost our youth, we wasted it all. The war took our youth.

I was in the National Police for 18 years. I retired three years ago and these days we get together with our brothers in arms in the Nicaraguan Resistance Association (ARNIG), named for Israel Galeano (Comandante Franklin), led by Comandante Chaparra, as Elida María Galeano is known. We talk about those years and we carry on struggling: now for legal land ownership and tenure, for our rights as veterans. It’s taken till now for the Sandinista government to give us an answer. We also fight for pensions for the war wounded and mothers of the dead. Today, after that dark episode, our motto is: If together we destroyed, then together we’ll build.”

Lucas, 56 years old:
“A house is the only positive thing I got out of it”

“I was underground with the FSLN from 1977, while the revolution was being hatched in the mountains, before the triumph. I was born in Matiguás, Matagalpa. In 1980 I was called up as an instructor for the guys doing patriotic military service, beating back the armed wing of the contras.

I was an instructor for four years up to 1984. The hardest year was 1982. On December 16 I lost both legs in a battle in San Fernando and the army discharged me. I was only three months away from leaving the army when that skirmish in San Fernando happened. We were based in Somoto, in battalion 3009, and were sent out as reinforcements. The FSLN didn’t have enough people in the area to win the battle so they chose 80 of the 170 men we had as reinforcements. Unfortunately, I was among them. We left around one in the morning and during the fight, they riddled my legs in a hail of bullets. No, I don’t want to talk about that fight, it still messes with me badly when I bring it to mind…

Before that I lived through other dramatic moments in Puerto Cabezas, the Río Coco, Waspám, Leimus and La Tronquera. It was hard out there, really hard. During the rainy season all those regions were waterlogged. We had to sleep in hammocks in the swamps, with our feet in stagnant water, covered with gnats and mosquitoes… It was horrible, we were there nearly two years.

But there were happy moments too. In the mountains you live with your buddies; your family’s far away, but each year there was a week’s permit for families to visit us. Hardly anybody was known by their name, we all called each other by nicknames. Yeah, it was hard being in the army. Our commanders demanded a lot of discipline from us. We had to get used to being ordered about.

After the war they gave me a house. I was privileged because not all war wounded were given one. At least I got that: my little house. It’s the only positive thing I got from the war.

As party militants and now war wounded, the FSLN’s leaders have abandoned us. I hear they’re handing out pigs and chickens but they don’t even give us a wheelchair. But despite everything, I’m still fighting. We didn’t betray the FSLN; they, the leaders, betrayed us. Ortega is still a leader but an ill-advised one because he doesn’t act like he should. We war veterans have asked for help with pensions, but they haven’t increased them by as much as a córdoba for four years, since they won the elections.

Now they only give handouts to peasants. They’re using Band-Aids to cover gaping wounds and handing out trinkets here and toys there so people will vote for them. They want to win the elections without offering long-term solutions. The government’s current policy? Food today, hunger tomorrow.”

Isidro, 40 years old:
“You were one side or you were on the other”

“My family had a coffee farm when the fighting and the first land confiscations started. I was born in San José de Bocay; I’m a northerner.

Early morning one day in 1983, guerillas from the Resistance arrived while we were harvesting the coffee. They rounded us up and told us: “You’ve got to join up to defend the homeland because Nicaragua belongs to all of us and we’ve all got to do our bit to defend her from Sandinista oppression.” That was the story they fooled everyone with and I was just 13 when I swallowed it.

I was the youngest in my family. I’d heard talk about the war but I didn’t know what it was. That day, as we were walking along with soldiers at our side they told us: “Any deserters, we’ll blow their heads off right here.” They sowed terror among the peasants and they also cut your head off if they caught you and suspected you of being a Sandinista.

They took us to Honduras and trained us there for four months in the Honduran military bases in order to come back to Nicaragua later on to fight. We were in a really difficult situation: you were on one side or the other. We peasants couldn’t choose for lack of information. We didn’t know how to say if the decision was in our interests or not. We were manipulated, they sent us off to fight; we had no choice. As peasants we’re strong practical people. My father and mother always taught me to be humble and that helped me a lot in getting through the war.”

“We were 300 and 60 survived”

“I lived through different dramatic moments in the mountains and I was scared during all of them. We experienced casualties all the time, the fighting was very intense. You carried the wounded away when you hadn’t even eaten and didn’t have much ammunition to defend yourself either. These things wear you out physically and morally. Also you don’t see your family, so you think about them all the time. You don’t have any communication with your family and are completely disconnected. Nevertheless, you have to be strong and endure and get energy from where you don’t have it.

First we operated in Nueva Segovia. When the Sandinistas would give us a thrashing and push us back across the border, we’d regroup in Honduras. Once we’d done that we used to go into Jinotega, later into Matagalpa. We used to wander about like crazy ants, with no fixed route, we had no clear destination, nor could we make plans because the only thing left was to follow orders and try and save your skin.

There were happy moments too. You strike up friendships with your buddies and when you do manage to rest, you find release in telling jokes and laughing with the others. That way you calm down. They taught us that we had to be united and share everything among ourselves, but there were rogues who’d get one up on you, or steal your water and things like that, but all this happened among us and it even makes you laugh when you remember it. But they were very hard times. If you were to ask me if I’d go to war again, I’d tell you that I wouldn’t go even if I were crazy. Nor do I wish it on anyone or recommend that anyone to get involved in it.

In my group we were 300 soldiers and barely 60 of us survived, with the blind and the limbless. We all used to think we were going to win the war, we all had that mentality, but in the end you’d realize that neither winning nor losing made any sense. They manipulated us. It was a mafia.

All those people who got us involved played a tremendous trick on us. While they were in Miami making millionaires of themselves financed by the war, we were dying up in the mountains. They didn’t fire a single shot and became great men with bank accounts, fancy vehicles and farms. And what of us? We went barefoot to war and barefoot we returned.”

“We were all betrayed,
every single one of us”

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best not to get involved in politics. If someone talks to you about politics and you don’t know what that person’s doing behind your back, you’re acting blind. That’s what happened with us. They recruited a heap of politically blind people. These days the peasants who went to war are abandoned and nobody sees them anymore. We lost the time and youth we had.

We were young and we didn’t manage to get an education. Now all of us who were combatants are around 45 or 50 years old and they won’t even give us a job. The best part of our lives was cut short. I feel betrayed by a bunch of con men who recruited us to the Resistance. In reality, we were all betrayed, every single one, the Sandinistas as much as the contras. We were all Nicaraguans and we wasted our time in an appalling war.

No to war: that’s my recommendation. All us Nicas have to be united and look to the future so our children can get an education and one day be better off than we are. The new generations mustn’t make the mistake we made. If someone asks me, I’ll give them my advice: No to war. It’s not fair that as Nicaraguan families we’re still insecure because of the few who are in power, because in the end it’s the families of this country that pay for the big guys’ political errors.”

Carlos, 46 years old:
“I’ve got the warrior in my blood”

“I’m from Managua’s eastern neighborhoods. When the war started I was 15. I lost my left leg out in Pearl Lagoon in a contra ambush.

I carry the warrior in my blood because I’ve got two brothers who fell in combat. One died in San José de las Mulas when the contras massacred 23 young people in 1983, and another died in the national liberation war in 1979. The famous ‘Macho Negro’ got him. He disappeared and we never saw him again. It’s like the Mejía Godoy brothers’ song says: his grave, the grave of my disappeared brother ‘is the whole country.’

I experienced various dramatic moments during the war. One is engraved on my memory. We were in the Pearl Lagoon basin: Orinoco and La Cruz del Río Grande.

We were on a mission and it had been raining since morning. The region was really wet and out there the countryside is pure mud, swamps and mangroves, because it’s close to the coast. We were heading towards El Tortuguero, walking all day until in the afternoon a river blocked our path. In reality it was a brook swollen by the rain and overflowing. We were a platoon of 30 men. The river was so strong and full of water that we had to chop down a tree with an ax to cross it. While we were chopping down the tree, which took some time, the river got higher and higher. The first squadron got across and then the second with more difficulty. When my squadron, the third one, arrived, we got hold of a rope and tied it to a tree right on the edge to get to the bank, but things went seriously wrong. We were going across hanging on to the rope, but with our weight the rope came loose and the platoon leader, who didn’t know how to swim, turned over with his backpack and went under. I grabbed him by the hair but I went down under the current too. As I was taking my backpack off so I could get out of the water I found a ‘divine branch,’ which I grabbed hold of and managed to get out and pull out the brother who was drowning us both. I’ll never forget that dilemma. To be honest, that’s where I shit myself the most.”

The mountain makes the man

“I think the war did bring me something positive. I hold the belief that the mountain makes the man because you learn to share with your buddies, in solidarity with them. If I went to a place where there were peasants, I’d split a tortilla in two: “Here, brother, half is yours.” Being in the mountains instills real values in you, true friendships; out there you know who’s who. No, no it’s not a problem. There were leaders who sold out. I know leaders who used to send their troops off to fight and they’d go off and party and drink liquor while you were off firing rounds. But there were other leaders who’d muck-in with the soldiers and were consistent and would say to you: “Are you going to walk? Let’s walk. Are you going hungry? Let’s go hungry. Are you going to eat shit? Let’s eat shit.” I was lucky; I had leaders who were resolute.

The happiest moments came when I’d get a letter from a loved one, my granny or my mom. Every time they said mail was coming I’d be happy. Every time they said a buddy who’d been wounded was alive, that was another moment of happiness. Life in the mountains was about clashing. If you didn’t clash you were going wrong, because it meant there was no sense being in the mountains. If you were clashing it made you happy. Clashing meant fighting, combat, shooting.

I’m a Sandinista, but not one of those who put little flags on their cars, because now everyone’s a Sandinista, everybody puts a T-shirt on and waves a flag in your face and says: I was in the mountains. And they grab you and want to brag. But I’m Sandinista because it’s hard to be one, not because I’m an opportunist, as I’ve had the opportunity to get things and I didn’t take anything, because it’s not my style, see?

During [President] Enrique Bolaños’ time and the 16 years of Liberal government, our pensions for war wounded were $33 a month. It only took for Comandante Ortega to get in and they put them up to $63. Now they give me $130 and an amount like that isn’t unwelcome at all. Moreover, as veterans we’re let off paying for our housing and we get discounts on our water and electricity and many more benefits. There are fellow fighters who can’t even walk and their pension is around $216 dollars. And compared to what they used to give us, that’s not bad at all.”

Comandante “Papilón,” 60 years old:
“They’re still getting rich off us”

Most of our people got involved in the Resistance voluntarily. Nobody got paid, at least unless they were leaders or people in the high command; they did draw salaries.

I remember the first military raid we made on January 2, 1983, as being very dramatic. There were no reinforcements at that time. Comandante Renato told us: “We’re not coming back” because the Sandinista army was so big and we were very few. In other words, they were testing us to see if they could give us the help they gave us later on. At that time two main forces went in, the “Jorge Salazar” and the “San Jacinto.”

There were happy moments too. In military training there’s always a strong commanding voice training you, but this commanding voice must be encouraging and charismatic to people and joke from time to time to make everyone laugh. On other occasions you’re in training and march along singing and stop feeling tired and get into the music you’re singing. That’s how you get over the bad moments. The world’s armies call your inseparable friend your “hook.” In our language we say “bond.” It’s that person that if you went to the bathroom, he’d go with you, and vice versa. That’s how close we were between combatants, like nail and grime.

I was one of the founders of the “Jorge Salazar” counterrevolutionary force. I was one of the pioneers and appear in a book published recently by Adolfo Calero Portocarrero, Crónicas de un Contra (Tales of a Contra).

The book’s on sale but I don’t get a single cent from the sales. They’re still getting rich off us, because they put me in that book without my consent. They put a photo of me in it and some things I said, but they didn’t consult me once. What happens to those profits? They’re still getting rich. They were always all right and they’ll always carry on being all right. They simply used us and threw us at the mountains. They were the ones who led the surrender and sold us out.

When we demobilized in 1990, they gave us a pair of pants and a shirt and that was it. We turned in our weapons without any sort of assurance. Later, after the demobilization, there were grudges and some rather ugly things happened in the camp.”

Who speaks for us?

“If we start to analyze where all the money for the contras came from, we’ll end up with our hands in the air. These days they look at us as if we were nothing. Why don’t they support our people’s projects? Perhaps not the old ones like us now, but our families. We started our own families after demobilizing in the nineties. It was the moment when we finally began to make our own lives. Now we’ve got children and we want them to finish their education, because we couldn’t.

What pensions do they give us as war victims? What’s happened is that they don’t assess you as a war victim; they rate you according to your social security card. In those days, as well as being a combatant you had insurance because you were an active contributing worker or professional. Now they assess you according to that card and not as a war victim. It’s not fair, it shouldn’t be like that. They continue doing what they like with us. It would be significant if they supported us. Not even the US government, which was the one that sent us to war and has now abandoned us, is supporting us. Who speaks for us? The gringo government should be supporting us. In the north there are peasants from our side, who were contras, who earn US$1.30 a day flogging themselves to death and die like that, with no support or help, with nothing.

We don’t hold any grudges against the other side, against the Sandinistas. They’re not our enemies any more. The war’s over now and unfortunately it was between us Nicas ourselves. I’d like it if NGOs from this country and from the countries involved in demobilization, the UN and the OAS, put together projects to change our lives. What use is it now if the government gives us deeds to a property, 21 years after the war and demobilization? The demobilized are still trying to pressure the government into giving them property titles. Previous governments didn’t do it. And if they give us titles now, why don’t they give us funding to be able to farm the land? We have… but we don’t have.

Now we’re run-of-the-mill citizens; that’s what we’ve become. But we were knights of the war and we still are, despite the fact that we’re now rather bulky. We’ve always kept our word and our position but they continue to ignore us. It hurts.

Did the war bring me anything positive? Short answer: nothing. I don’t think any war brings anything positive to anyone. Not one.”

Roger, 44 years old:
“War makes you grow up quicker”

“I joined the Sandinista Popular Army voluntarily when I was 16. I was born in Matagalpa. I went to war following the revolutionary feeling that inspired so many after the triumph in 1979. It was a project that favored most of the poorest in Nicaragua; that’s why I did it.

My first impression of the war was the cruelty of the combats where my first buddies died. To see so much blood, so many dead and wounded had a big impact on me. But these same images filled me with courage to carry on waging war for a free Nicaragua. I felt like I was in one of those US films on Vietnam. You go to the mountains and you’re in a totally different world from the calm world of the city. It was something completely new to me.

I was assigned to the “Farabundo Martí” Irregular Combat Battalion. That’s where I got my first military experience. There was hand-to-hand fighting with the contras. As a young boy I had joined the “Luis Alfonso Velázquez Flores” movement and later the Sandinista Youth. I took part in the coffee harvests too. All to defend the revolution.

There were sad and happy moments. When we were resting we used to tell jokes and remember the girlfriends we’d left behind in the city, the boys who liked to party. We also talked about what we were going to do if we got out of the war alive. These days I remember it all nostalgically, but also with relief. Relief because I did get out alive. The war brought me many positive things. I learned to value life more and to care for people. We were kids running around, and going to war at that age makes you grow up much quicker.

The relationship between the leaders and us was very fraternal. There was total communication and that was the basis for living together in the mountains. As well as being physically and mentally well prepared, you had to be well informed. It was hard. Sometimes we had to sleep without changing our clothes or washing for weeks. We used to sleep with our boots on and swarms of jungle insects around us. How to survive? By your own principles. The relationship between us, “the compass,” was friendly. Out there, the person who didn’t cooperate died of hunger. That’s why the spirit of total unity was important among us. Once a year they used to give us two weeks off to visit our families. They were two weeks that felt like fifteen years.

Twenty-one years have passed since we Nicas were killing each other in the mountains, each one defending what we thought was right. Looking back, all in all I think the struggle was worth it. I see it as positive that the war ended and young people these days can enjoy this reality. The specter of war no longer exists.”

“The FSLN got corrupted”

“I was wounded twice in combat. Many were wounded like me. And unfortunately we also wounded brothers on the other side, whom those days we saw as enemies. War is the worst there is for anybody. I don’t wish it on anyone. And that’s with the fact I returned from the war unscathed, but I’ve got friends who lost an arm, an eye, both arms, both eyes. They’re cripples or are in wheelchairs and can’t tell the same story.

These days the Sandinista party is different. I took an active part in the FSLN’s campaigns up to 1990. These days I’m still a militant but I consider that times have changed. That’s why I withdrew to carry on my studies and look for a job on my own. This government lacks initiative. It doesn’t value a person’s education. I’ve got two degrees. I got a technical degree in agronomy in León and later agronomy engineering from the National Agrarian University. Then, a master’s degree in project formulation from the Central American University (UCA) and recently, in February I graduated as a business administrator from the University of Social Sciences (UCC). And all for what? The government doesn’t value the capacity of educated people.

I haven’t had an answer from them. Through a friend of mine who works for the State, I sent my CV in to see if they’d give me work. Papers in hand, I’ve confirmed all my previous experience in the FSLN’s ranks, but it looks as though the party is more interested in recruiting people who are subservient than who have capacity and intellectual or academic merits.

I’ve spent a year waiting for the party’s reply and there’s been nothing to date. I’m nothing to them. Positions are filled by recommendation these days. The party’s corrupted. In the old days they’d hold assemblies and you really got to vote and we’d take two days to get a resolution. Now everyone knows beforehand who’s going to be chosen. There’s less participation from the rank and file, it’s no longer democratic; everything comes straight down from the top.”

Comandante “Hugo Chele,” 59 years old:
“They didn’t recruit us, it was what we wanted”

“I was born in La Concordia. I was 26 when I made the decision to go to war. I had a lot of problems in the eighties because I was in business and a cousin of mine worked for State Security and began to question me because I used to meet up with the contras in the Yalí area. So I had to join up with the Resistance in the mountains.

The hardest moment I had was a fight in a place they call Zompopera. We were only 100 men and we ran into nine enemy companies, 910 of the other side’s men. A tremendous downpour soaked us, but I’d managed to drag myself forward towards from a position in the rearguard to where the first Sandinistas were on a nearby hill. Another shower obscured our line of sight and they killed three of the four sentries I’d posted there.

I was squadron leader. When I carried out the assault on the Sandinistas, I took out the first column from the nearby hill where I’d surprised them. Their response was so ferocious that I began to advance, advance, advance to get out of there, because facing that many men was suicide. I advanced from nine in the morning and got out of there at around six in the evening. I managed to escape from the ring I’d gotten into, thank God, but I lost the three men they killed on sentry duty, two they killed during the assault and another three were wounded who we had to carry back to camp to treat.

There were happy moments too in the mountains. When we were at base camp we were happy. We used to have a tape recorder and when we got back to peaceful territory we used to dance and kill a cow and eat it. You’d make your own fun so as not to suffer the war too much. I always used to say to my people that this war was going to be a long haul and we had to be more tactical about out fighting. We were conscious of what we had gotten ourselves into and that raised our morale. We hadn’t been recruited but joined up because we wanted to. Even though the guys and I did everything possible to have some happy times, I don’t think the war brought me anything positive. We Nicas killed each other and loads of people died just to protect four or eight individuals who were in power.

Sometimes I lie down and go through my memories of all the places we were in and I think of how many brothers stayed behind, fertilizing the soil with their blood and those leaders who said they were leaders don’t remember them. I’ll be honest: I feel betrayed. I’ll say it loud and clear: the negotiations and demobilization of the contras was in exchange for nothing.

Our demobilization was shameful. There was money to finance the war, but there wasn’t any for all that happened to us after the war. Our demobilization could have been much more decent, but they sent us packing with a pair of rubber boots and a uniform, that gown that made it look like we were coming out of hospital. It wasn’t fair or honorable for us to end up like that. That’s why I feel betrayed and I’m not scared to say it.”

The betrayed generation

These eight testimonies show us that fear doesn’t have a specific name or side. Both the Resistance members and the Sandinistas felt fear in the mountains where they sweated, bled, risked their lives and died, some press ganged, others willingly, all with the desire to survive and reach peace. It was necessary, although that peace hasn’t been definitive, given that the leaders owe many unpaid debts to these valiant warriors, protagonists of the dark pages of our national history. Without having exact figures even now, it’s been calculated that on the Sandinista side alone at least 25,000 young men in military service, 30,000 reservists and militiamen and a few more than 3,000 regular army members died.

The struggle continues. Their demands continue. Their families call for help and respect for their rights, while it’s up to me as a young person and long overdue listener of these heartbreaking testimonies to express what my Nicaraguan brothers lived through, to speak for them in these pages so their memories find an echo in my generation and we don’t repeat their errors.

That generation feels betrayed by leaders who used it to get where they are now, stepping on them to get to the top. Their voices are a warning: the democracy and justice these men deserve and for which they fought are still an pending task for us all.

William Grigsby Vergara is a Nicaraguan social communicator

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