In Nicaragua, a return of the contras?
A former commando known as 'Comandante Jahob' says he is rearming a group of contras to oppose the reelection of President Daniel Ortega. Former contra leaders and ex-military intelligence tell the Monitor it would be a mistake for the military to dismiss the threat.
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Former contra leader Luis Fley, better known as “Comandante Jhonson,” told the Monitor that Jahob is not a common outlaw, but rather a highly trained solider with strong political convictions and lingering resentment toward the Sandinistas, who killed his father – an evangelical preacher – and brothers during the war in the 1980s. Mr. Fley says Jahob – who is now 47 – was trained in covert operations by the Argentines and Americans in the 1980s, and is probably working to “build a social network with collaborators in the mountains.”Skip to next paragraph
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Scars of war could reopen
Retired Gen. Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla hero who later worked as head of the military’s state intelligence in the mid-1990s, warns that Jahob could find fertile ground to develop a following in the mountains.
“The wounds from the military conflict in the ‘80s still hadn’t finished scarring when Ortega returned to power (in 2007). And instead of working to heal those wounds, Ortega did just the opposite: he is reopening wounds by polarizing and dividing the population,” says Mr. Torres, who is now a member of the left-wing dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
The former general warns that Jahob’s movement could grow if he proves to be a strong leader and if people think Ortega is repeating the oppressive Sandinista policies of the 1980s.
Though Torres says it’s too soon to predict how Jahob’s adventure will end, at this point it is “important to not magnify this, nor minimize it.”
For many of the older ex-contras who demobilized 21 years ago, returning to armed conflict is unthinkable. Yet many were just teenagers when they handed in their guns. They are now in their 30s or 40s and – in the words of Torres – “still have energy.”
War unwanted among many civilians
But many who experienced the battlefield horrors in the 1980s say a return to armed violence is unacceptable.
Former contra commando “Comandante Jehu,” a close friend of Jahob, says his comrade simply wants to work and live in peace. Jehu, who sits in a wheelchair after being crippled during the war in the 80s, says Jahob has no intention of returning to armed struggle, but was forced to go on the run because he was being “persecuted” by the Army for a murder he insists he didn’t commit.
“Jahob is not rearmed, he’s just hiding because he feels cornered,” Jehu said. “There are no conditions for a guerrilla war here. People don’t even have enough money to buy food, much less guns.”
Jehu says Jahob’s threats have been exaggerated by Managua politicians trying to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. He says Nicaragua’s political right wing fantasizes about a Rambo-like character that declares war on Ortega, while the left wing fantasizes about war as an excuse to crack down harder on society and cancel next year’s elections.
But the majority of Nicaragua’s poor who fought in the civil war – people like Jahob – know that war doesn’t fix anything, Jehu insists.
“War is horrible,” the disabled veteran says. “Those of us who fought for 10 years have no desire to return to war.”