By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"What I don't understand," says Shade, "is why there isn't more interest in the story. If someone finds graves of people killed by the military governments in Argentina or Chile, then the whole world demands an investigation. But here, I can't even get anybody to donate a used jeep and a few tanks of gas."
Meanwhile reporters interested in their own exclusive clandestine-cemetery-dig story need not worry that they've been scooped. Shade knows of at least twenty more burial grounds.
The killing hasn't stopped, oh no. Gringos of all ideological stripes like to think they taught Nicaraguans how to slaughter one another, but the killing started long before the first European set foot in the country, and it will continue long after the last one has gone.
When Violeta Chamorro was elected president, it seemed there was no further rationale for the civil war. Some 20,000 contras handed in their weapons to United Nations observers in return for promises of land and security. They got neither. What little land was delivered was too remotely located to farm. (In order to buy their silence, a number of contra commanders were given pickup trucks, houses, or small businesses.) And the army and police remained in the hands of the Sandinistas. Even though the army has shrunk by two-thirds, it still numbers 21,000 -- three times its size in the days of Somoza.
That army has continued to settle scores from the civil war. Americas Watch has documented more than 50 murders of former contras so far this year. The most publicized murder was that of Enrique Bermudez, the former contra military leader who was shot in the back this past February in the parking lot of the Inter-Continental Hotel. His body was flown back to Miami and buried in a Kendall cemetery, not far from where his wife and three children still live.
And while other slayings of former contras occurred before and since, the still-unsolved murder of Bermudez galvanized the men who had fought under him; there was no doubt in their minds about who pulled the trigger. If the Sandinistas could so brazenly kill such a high-profile figure in such a public place, then no one was safe. Ex-contras had been engaged in confrontations with the Sandinista army since late last year, but now they began to get serious, retrieving caches of weapons that they had hidden just in case disarmament didn't go well. On April 30 they launched their first attack, ambushing a Sandinista military construction crew near the Honduran border. Since then, there have been at least thirteen attacks by the so-called recontras.
Six groups of recontras are operating in the northern provinces along the Honduran border. A seventh is forming in the south. So far only about 1000 men are carrying arms on a full-time basis. But the numbers are misleading. When recontras took the town of Wiwili and held it for two days in mid-July, the entire population helped feed them and bring them intelligence about advancing Sandinista army units. The recontras could easily add thousands more soldiers, but they learned from their last war, when their recruiting outstripped their logistical abilities. "We could have five times this many men tomorrow morning," a recontra leader who calls himself El Indomable -- the indomitable one -- told a visitor recently. "But when you have that many soldiers, you're a bigger target, and it's harder to find enough tortillas for them in a single village. We don't need a lot of men. Yet."
El Indomable (his real name is Jose Angel Moran) is the most militarily aggressive of the recontra leaders, a tall, cadaverous man who speaks in the hollow cadences of someone who has nothing left to lose. He doesn't. In December, a Sandinista army patrol machine-gunned his house. He wasn't home, but his pregnant wife was killed. El Indomable and the other recontras want the army freed from Sandinista control. They might settle for less -- perhaps a removal of local military commanders with particularly odious human-rights records -- but so far the government hasn't been willing to discuss that seriously. El Indomable isn't surprised.
"Here in Nicaragua," he observed recently, "the only dialogue we ever have is with bullets."
Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras, to be published in the spring by Brassey's. He lives in Coral Gables.