A mysterious Rambo-like rebellion against the Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega may have come to a violent end in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, where a rearmed contra leader known as “Comandante Jahob” was reportedly gunned down by unidentified individuals disguised as farmers.
José Gabriel Garmendia, a former US-trained special forces commander who last year launched a one-man insurrection against the government using his old contra code name, allegedly died in the mountains of Jinotega early Sunday morning after being shot. Unconfirmed media reports claim he was killed by Nicaraguan soldiers or intelligence officers who had infiltrated his camp.
The bullets that ended Jahob’s life would have been the only shots fired during his eight-month insurrection.
Reports of Jahob’s death at the hands of soldiers has led some Nicaraguans to draw a parallel to the death of former rebel hero and Sandinista namesake Gen. Augusto C. Sandino, who was murdered in 1934 by the National Guard.
That comparison, which causes Sandinistas bristle, has given Jahob’s one-man rebellion a relevancy in some people’s imaginations that it never had in real life.
“They have only made him into a martyr,” says Jahob’s former childhood friend and ex-brother-in-arms, Felix Pedro Cruz, who still goes by the code name “Comandante Jehu.” “His death will serve to unite all the divided contra movements into one.”
Still, Mr. Cruz said he’s not convinced Jahob is dead. He says it’s not the first time rumors of his death have been reported by the media. However, a wake held for Jahob Tuesday afternoon in Estelí seems to indicate that this time, it’s for real.
Cruz’s claims about his former friend’s uprising, which he says was backed by 3,000 armed men – something analysts insist is nearly impossible – also shows how Jahob’s rebellion had already become larger-than-life for those who supported him.
For a rural anti-Sandinista segment of the population, Jahob represented a charismatic and brave figure who challenged Ortega’s power grab and promised to strengthen Nicaragua’s democracy.
Ortega and the top military brass attempted to downplay Jahob’s rebellion, accusing him of being a common delinquent with ties to drug traffickers and coup-conspiring Honduran military officials.
Mr. Ortega blamed Nicaragua’s opposition media of fanning the flames of war by “converting a delinquent who appears in the mountains into a guerrilla leader,” and, “Saying marvelous things about him and defending him.”
But the president’s concern about Jahob only added to his lore.
In an interview several months ago, former contra leader and Ortega ally Roberto Ferrey acknowledged that there is “lots of propaganda and fantasy” surrounding the figure of Jahob. But he warned that Jahob’s adventure would end badly for him if he started to think he was “a hero in an action movie.”
But if it turns out that Jahob suffered an action-hero’s death, the story could end badly for Ortega, warns retired general Hugo Torres, former head of military intelligence.
“The formation of Jahob’s legend and fantasy had not matured fully – it was still in the initial phases,” Mr. Torres says. “Whether or not he becomes a legend could depend on the circumstances of his death.”
If Jahob was killed by one of his own men, his nascent hero status will die with him, Torres says. But if the Army confirms that Jahob died in a shoot out with soldiers, his budding status as a legend in the mountains could grow.
“In Jahob’s declarations, he said he was trying to rescue democracy from a dictatorial regime,” says Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader and Ortega dissident. “People admire those who challenge power. Time will tell if Jahob is converted into a legend or a myth or an example that others try to follow.”