DEATH TO SOMOZAISM!
p “Somoza is a sonofabitch, but he’s ours "
p Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“General Sandmo, for several years head of the anti-governmental rebel movement, has been killed in Nicaragua.”
p Pravda, 24 February 1934
p The Sandinista raid of 22 August 1978 has no likely precedent in guerilla warfare. A tiny force of 25 men captured in downtown Managua a building where at the time were more than 2,000 civil servants, parliamentarians, armed guards, and visitors, and held them hostage for more than two days before the dictator complied with their demands and they left the country in triumph.
Particulars of the raid and information about the brave men who undertook it have been reported in periodicals around the world. After interviewing some of the people directly involved, and excerpting from notes they jotted downright on the heels of the event, I was able to log the entire affair. Here, now, is the record.12
Tuesday, 22 August 1978,
p Republic Square in Managua, capital of Nicaragua. Fronting on it is a two-storey massive building occupying a whole block, with ten pompous columns—five on each side of the main entrance. This is the National Palace; it houses the National Congress, with Senate downstairs and the Chamber of Deputies upstairs. On the ground floor is also the Central National Tax Office, while the upstairs eastern wing is occupied by the Ministry of the Interior and the western wing by the Ministry of Finance.
p The lower house is to discuss this day the national budget. The session, in the upstairs Blue Hall, began at 11:50 a.m.
p 12:20. Two light-green trucks outwardly very much like the vehicles Somoza’s "National Guardsmen" used roar up simultaneously to eastern and western side entrances. Outside the eastern entrance a dozen people jump out, among them a woman, clad in National Guard uniforms. Their leader, Comandante Cero, raps out to the two policemen posted at the door, "Appartense! Vena e jefe!" (Make way! Here comes the chief!).
p Comandante Uno comments: "We worried whether we would reach the Palace, as Managua was then constantly patrolled by roving ’special anti-terrorist squads’, which we call by the acronym of BEGAT for Brigadas Especiales Contra Actividades Terroristas. These squads often stopped cars, buses, and trucks to check freights and papers. However, our two vehicles managed to get through.”
p 12:25. The building is fully in the hands of the guerillas. In five minutes, all guards and police are disarmed. Three officers and one National Guardsman are killed. Of the attacking force, only one person is slightly wounded.
p Comandante Uno comments: "The guards thought Somoza had arrived, as in such cases his bodyguards usually shouted, ’Make way! Here comes the chief!’. We caught them napping. Once inside we immediately blocked all three entrances with the massive chains we had prudently taken along. Comandante Cero shouldered the main mission of capturing the Blue Hall where the deputies were in session. With four 13 comrades, I was to occupy the Ministry of the Interior. In the Minister’s private office, in the furthermost corridor of the eastern wing, we seized Jose Antonio Mora, the Minister of the Interior himself. Comandante Dos took hostage five Deputies who happened to be in the bar.”
p 12:35. Several minutes later, somebody in town knowing the number of the telephone on the chairperson’s desk, phones having heard about the gunfire. Comandante Cero picks up the telephone and says, "National Congress, free territory of Nicaragua".
p Comandante Uno comments: "In the Blue Hall there is a direct telephone link with Somoza’s private residence. It is also on the chairperson’s desk, behind which was Somoza’s cousin Luis Pallais Debayle, when our comrades burst into the Blue Hall.”
p 12:37. A National Guard patrol, commanded by a captain, fires at guerillas at the entrance to the Blue Hall. Comandante Cero tosses a hand grenade at the patrol. The captain is killed, the soldiers throw down their guns, and gunfire ceases.
p 12:40. Radio Managua reports mysterious events in the National Palace, near which heavy gunfire is heard.
p 13.10. One of the 18 newsmen in the building, a Radio Managua reporter, telephones his office that the National Palace has been seized by Sandinistas, that they have taken deputies hostage and are demanding the release of political prisoners and a $10,000,000 ransom.
p 13:20. Dictator Anastasio Somoza orders the National Guard to fire on the Palace. They surround the Palace and shatter semi-basement and ground-floor windows. The guerillas reply with sporadic submachine-gun fire.
p Comandante Uno comments: "When we broke into the Palace, we had only five submachine guns, 20 rifles, and some 50 hand grenades. We procured more by disarming the police and National Guardsmen. Then, though many of the deputies were armed, they did not fire a shot, but at once surrendered their pistols.”
p 13:30. Several Nicaraguan radio stations confirm the Palace’s capture by a group of 20 or more members of the 14 Sandinista National Liberation Front, wearing the olive-green uniforms. They also report National Guard units sniping at the Palace windows.
p 14:20. Comandante Cero orders Luis Pallais Debayle to telephone Somoza’s Montelimar Hospital-Bunker and tell him that the guerillas want him to order the firing stopped. Otherwise, the Sandinistas will execute hostages, one by one, at twohour intervals, until Somoza decides to negotiate.
p 14:25. Pallais Debayle is again told to telephone Somoza in his bunker and transmit the guerilla proposal that Managua Archbishop Miguel Obando Bravo, Leon Bishop Manuel Salazar Espinosa and Granada Bishop Leovigildo Lopez Fitoria, in Managua for a church conference, come to the Palace to mediate. Somoza agrees.
p 14:35. All three mediators arrive. Sporadic shots are still heard near the Palace.
p 14:45. The guerillas appoint Gomandante Dos their chief negotiator. She hands the clergymen the list of Sandinista demands to the dictator. They are:
p 1. That all radio stations report the latest Sandinista communiques and the 50-page text of the Sandinista National Liberation Front Manifesto, setting out Sandinista aims and tasks and nailing the Somoza dictatorship’s criminal anti-popular policies.
p 2. That all political prisoners on the list, transmitted to the mediators, be released. Though it is known that 20 on the list are no longer alive, murdered in Nicaraguan torture chambers, the dictator repeatedly assured relatives that they had been misinformed. Now the dictator could once again be exposed as a liar.
p 3. That all 25 guerillas, all released prisoners, and also the chief hostages seized be allowed to leave Nicaragua unhindered.
p 4. That a $10,000,000 ransom be paid as a contribution to the anti-dictatorship fund.
p The clergymen telephone these demands to Somoza. 21:00. In his first reply, Somoza asks a 24-hour truce. 23:30. Archbishop Miguel Obando and Bishop Lopez Fitoria leave the Palace to transmit to Somoza personally the 15 text of the Manifesto and list of prisoners. Bishop Manuel Salazar stays behind as guarantee that the army will not fire at the Palace.
23:45. With four of his men, Gomandante Gero locks Deputies Luis Pallais, Ralph Moody, and Juan Pallasios in a distant room. If the National Guard attacks the Palace at daybreak, these three hostages will be executed first about which Somoza is notified by telephone.
Wednesday, 23 August
p 00:50. Obeying guerilla order, several deputies run up the red-and-black FSLN flag in the midst of the meeting chamber.
p 01:45. The guerillas discover a National Guard intercom and now hear the commands issued to National Guard units surrounding the Palace.
p 02:25. Archbishop Obando and Bishop Fitoria return. They are accompanied by two more mediators, the Ambassadors of Costa Rica and Panama.
p 04:00. The mediators leave after negotiations with the guerillas to see Somoza. The guerillas hand over National Guard casualties to Red Gross representatives and also release several pregnant women and children, inside the building since its capture. In the Blue Hall, where most of the deputies and other important hostages are confined, the situation is calm.
p 06.50. Comandante Cero tells the hostages that according to an intercepted radio message, National Guard units are redeploying. He warns that his men will execute the parliamentarians unless Somoza answers by the guerilla-set deadline of 9 a.m.
p 08:30. The mediators return and notify the guerillas that negotiations with Somoza are making little headway. They bring another note from him, threatening reprisals, though it clearly shows that Somoza has conceded to some demands. Thus, he writes, "I agree to furnish guarantees that I will not obstruct departure of the guerillas to the country of their choice, provided I first receive its consent to accept them. I also agree to release the prisoners listed, should they be among the prisoners within the jurisdiction of the Nicaraguan 16 authorities. The guerillas and the afore-mentioned prisoners must depart this night, after the release of the hostages held".
p 10:25. Gomandante Gero announces a last deadline for Somoza, and says that if within three hours there is no reply to the Sandinista demands, they will break off all negotiations. The mediators leave.
p 13:20. The mediators return. Archbishop Obando says, "We think the main obstacle has been overcome.” They bring a third note from Somoza, agreeing to the toughest demand to have all radio stations transmit the Manifesto of the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
p 16:00. Somoza demands that the guerillas and released prisoners leave the country three hours after the FSLN Manifesto is broadcast. The guerillas refuse and say they will leave Nicaragua in the afternoon of 24 August. Somoza offers a $500,000 ransom. The guerillas agree, but call for the scrupulous implementation of all other demands.
p Comandante Una comments: "Well aware of the dictator’s perfidy, that he might stoop to any vile deceit, we refused to leave the captured Palace on the night of 23 August. To drive out in the dark to the airport would offer Somoza the opportunity of trying to make away with us on the way, or while enplaning. We also wanted Managuans to see Somoza’s ignominy with their own eyes, and to realise that it was not only essential, but also possible to wage a successful fight against the dictatorship.”
p 16:30. Radio stations begin broadcasting the FSLN statement exposing Somoza’s crimes, and exhorting Nicaraguans to join in the struggle against the dictatorship. Also broadcast is the list of political prisoners whose release FSLN is demanding.
p 18:00. Nicaraguan radio stations end the broadcast of Sandinista documents. Political prisoners held in Managua are told to prepare to depart. Prisoners held in inland jails and concentration camps are brought into the capital.
p 18:30. A Nicaraguan representative contacts General Omar Torrijos, President of Panama, to enquire whether the Panamanian government will send a special plane to bring out the guerillas and the released political prisoners. Torrijos 17 answers in the affirmative. Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez decides to send a Hercules G-130 transport to Panama to subsequently take off with the Panamanian plane for Managua.
Thursday, 24 August
p 06:30. Sandinista prisoners are brought from the Modelo jail to Los-Mercedes Airport. A little later, another bus arrives, bringing prisoners from other jails and from the Central Police Office.
p 09:30. The twenty-five Sandinistas, five mediators, and four hostages, namely Luis Pallais Debayle, Jose Somoza Abrego, the dictator’s nephew, Jose Antonio Mora, and Deputy Eduardo Ghamorro, leave the National Palace and ride out to the airport through cheering crowds.
p 10:30. With 58 released prisoners, the 25 Sandinistas, and their hostages on board the Venezuelan Air Force Hercules G-130 transport and Panamanian COPA Airlines Electra plane take off for Panama.
p 13:00. The two aircraft touch down at Tocuman Airport in Panama, where thousands of Panamanians cheer the intrepid Sandinistas who ask Panama for political asylum.
p Operation Carlos Fonseca Amador is a brilliant success.
p “Zero hour”, hour of retribution, is the title of a poem which Ernesto Cardenal Ghamorro, a leading Nicaraguan poet, has dedicated to the great national hero Augusto Cesar Sandino. In Nicaragua today the leader of the Sandinista guerillas is often called simply Comandante Cero. Other commandeis go by the names of One, Two, Three, and so forth, depending on how many are involved in one or another operation. Whatever the case, only the head of the entire Sandinista force may be named Comandante Cero. His real name is Eden Pastora Gomez. Currently 42, he has devoted half his life to fight the Somoza dictatorship. National guardsmen slew his father when he was only seven. He has had three 18 years of higher education at the Department of Medicine of Guadalajara University in Mexico. A strong-willed, brave commander, he has the knack of quickly sizing up people and situations, and his men follow him wherever he may lead them.
p Who are the other two commanders mentioned, Gomandante Uno and Comandante Dos ?
p On the evening of 27 December 1974, in a mansion in Managua’s aristocratic quarter, a reception is in process for US Ambassador Turner Blair Shelton. Among the dignitaries present were Foreign Minister Alejandro Montiel Arguello, Finance Minister General Gustavo Montiel, Minister of Public Works Armel Gonzales, Nicaragua’s Ambassadors to the USA and the UN, and Managua’s Mayor. Their host, Jose Mari& Castillo Quant, is highly pleased with the way the reception is going. After His Excellency Ambassador Shelton leaves, the other guests [stay for a chat. However, a few minutes later, the doors bang open and the muzzles of submachine guns are thrust through the open ground-floor windows. "All lie down with face to the floor and hands behind your backs!" comes the cry. Bodyguards unholster their guns and dash to the door. There is a burst of submachine-gun fire, two of them are killed and several other people are wounded. Realising that resistance is useless, all present hasten to obey the unknown attackers. Several men wearing red-and-black bandanas—the colours of the Sandinista Naiional Liberation Front—drawn up over jaw and nose enter. This is the Sandinista Juan Jose Quezada Unit commanded by Eduardo Contreras Escobar. Taking hostages away the Sandinistas demand that eighteen brother Sandinista political prisoners be released, and that they all be allowed to leave the country unhindered.
p After more than two days of negotiation Somoza yields. One of the 13 Sandinistas involved in this daring raid is 26– year-old Hugo Torres Jimenez, incidentally, the Comandante Uno in the National Palace raid who is sentenced in absentia to 30 years of imprisonment.
p As you may have gathered from previous pages, Comandante Dos was a girl, Dora Maria Tellez. Born in 1956, she 19 spent nearly all her life in the small town of Matagalpa—which, incidentally, is not that small by Nicaraguan standards, as with a population of 45,000 it is one of the country’s five largest cities. Though it has textile mills and several small footwear enterprises, most of its townfolk have one or another connection with farming, as many work sorting, drying, and packaging coffee on plantations in the vicinity.
p Dora Maria finished school in Matagalpa and then entered the Department of Medicine at the University in Leon. She dreamed of returning home a doctor, to work at one of its hospitals, for instance the Monies Gonzales Clinic. However, at the University she made friends with people who had links with Sandinista underground fighters. She began to take an interest in politics, read political literature and took part in several Sandinista missions. After her third year she decided to drop out of college and join the guerillas. From 1976 she has been with guerillas active in the Cordillera de Pilto Mountains, a two-hour drive from the tiny northern town of Ocotal. Her unit is part of the Northern Front, named after Carlos Fonseca Amador, one of the founding fathers of the Sandinista movement, and in fact is termed the Carlos Fonseca Amador Northern Front in all documents. Comandante Cero recruited Dora Maria for her courage, resourcefulness, and readiness to carry out the toughest assignment.
The highly successful raid not only attracted world attention to the situation in Nicaragua, but also served as an additional impetus triggering off an armed uprising, and causing popular indignation to overflow. It was now plain that the inevitable end of the dictatorship was nigh.
|<<||CHAPTER TWO -- SANDINO VS. US INTERVENTION||>>|
|<<<||MEMO TO THE READER||Sandinista Camp Glimpses||>>>|