A week before the Sandinistas took Managua, Patricia Vaca Narvaja took her first step in Nicaragua. She did it at dawn to avoid being arrested. She had taken off from Costa Rica in a Cessna plane along with five other Argentines with whom she was living in exile in Mexico, where she would return three decades later as Argentine ambassador.
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Patricia was 24 years old, was part of the Peronist organization Montoneros and was three months pregnant when she decided to travel to Diriamba, a city a few kilometers from the capital, to provide health care to the fighters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
The left-wing guerrilla took control of the country on July 19, 1979 and put an end to the more than 40 years of Somoza dictatorship. “I had to experience the entrance of the FSLN columns to Managua. We were able to parade alongside all of them. It was moving to have been able to be part of that process,” says the Argentine.
Patricia, like so many thousands of other young people, was part of the internationalist brigades that landed from different parts of the world to support the only victorious left-wing revolution in Latin America after the 1959 Cuban one.
“We came to Nicaragua to accompany the protagonists of that revolution, to show solidarity with them, with the hope that this victory would radiate in the region and mark the end of the dictatorships in Latin America.”
“Shit! I have no idea how a cow is milked,” was the first thing Luis Nieto Pereira thought after a Sandinista peasant asked him for a bucket full of milk. That was one of the first experiences that this man from Galicia, born 62 years ago, current spokesperson for Podemos in the city of Madrid, had to go through while he lived in a rural area of southern Nicaragua in 1983.
Luis, a teacher graduate from a European working class family, was one of the many young foreigners, nicknamed by Nicaraguans as “sandalistas” – because of the use of sandals – who came from Europe to work with the Sandinista Front.
“I feel part of a generation that from a very young age opted for the anti-Franco struggle. Then the Transition arrived and it did not meet our expectations. Some went home and others, as is my case, we looked for another place to fit in,” says this A leader who went from the Galician Popular Assembly to Sandinismo while recalling the reasons that led him to make the decision to travel to Central America without a return ticket.
The experience in Nicaragua served him, among other things, to put an end to some prejudices. One of them: religion. “I, who in Spain have always been a downright atheist, when I arrived in Nicaragua I discovered the priests in the trench, saying that if there is a piece of bread, first the peasant. That’s when I said: but what happens here!”.
Internationalism in those days became a political banner for those who considered local perspectives too narrow. But also, the Nicaraguan case is the successful example. The revolution that had achieved its immediate objective: to end a dictatorship.
Luis exemplifies with a memory of a night of celebrations the diversity of origins of the brigadistas. “Let’s see … the comrades from Germany, step forward!” One of the Nicaraguan leaders shouted to the crowd. The group of German brigade members responded and received applause as a reward. Then it was the turn of the French, later the Swedes and the Spaniards too: “The Spanish comrades, a step forward!” Was heard. Nobody moved.
It was not that Spaniards were lacking but that none of them recognized themselves that way. It was necessary that they began to name one by one the communities of Euskadi, Catalonia, Andalusia so that they would take a step forward. “Nobody understood anything. So there we had to explain a little what was happening in Spain”, remembers Luis.
From Chile to Nicargua
Two weeks before the last coup in Chile that ended the presidency of Salvador Allende, in August 1973, José Miguel Carrera arrived in Havana with a scholarship from the Cuban government to study medicine. The end of the Popular Unity Government surprised him on the island. Allende’s death, in addition to causing a political hecatomb in the Communist Party, altered José Miguel’s life.
It was in April 1975, on an anniversary of the battle at Playa Girón, when Fidel Castro proposed to the Chilean students that they give up medicine to start receiving military training. “Many of us stopped studying and became members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba,” says the Chilean.
Miguel was a member of the Communist Youth of Chile where the idea of internationalism was always present. The decision seemed right to him, that way he could return to Chile and regain the country from the hands of Augusto Pinochet. “I was happy to prepare to go to fight in Chile against the dictatorship. That was our dream: to return to Chile.”
But already as a second lieutenant of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, the story was different. In May 1979, José Miguel met Fidel Castro. It was in a military school, near Havana, where the Cuban leader scribbled on a blackboard the military strategy to enter Nicaragua from the south in front of a small group of Chileans, among whom was himself.
“At that time we had no idea what Nicaragua was. I knew very little. I had ever heard of Sandino but we didn’t have much idea. The next day we started forming groups to go there. Fidel Castro told us that our The task was to contribute to the triumph of that revolution, “says José Miguel.
Already in Nicaragua, on the border with Costa Rica, José Miguel joined the guerrilla. “In our case, unlike other internationalists, we were career military men and that is why the Sandinistas had a lot of respect for us and consulted us.”
In his days in the country, he had a fundamental task: to train young people who came from other countries who had no military experience and who ended up injured or killed quickly due to lack of preparation. José Miguel’s task was, at that time, to create a military school for the guerrillas. And that’s what he dedicated himself to while he was in Nicaragua.
“We learned that you can fight successfully,” says José Miguel. For hundreds of young leftists of that time, Nicaragua functioned as a sedative for past defeats and a way to repair the broken illusion.
“We had idealized that with the Transition we would make a change of country and suddenly we realized that it was not going to be like that. Instead of leaving, I thought about where there could be another place where I could channel the fight for equality and the change of model. At that time, that place was Nicaragua, “says Luis.
Although the internationalists who arrived there did so driven by the most diverse interests, the political commitment of each of these people began in their country. That was a common element.
“These brigades were a way to confront all the dictatorships that were deployed in the region. We wanted to be in solidarity so that we could later replicate the end of the dictatorships on the continent as a feat of revolutionary brotherhood,” says Patricia.
But for some, as in the case of Luis, at that time there were already indications that the story might not end well. “In Nicaragua, I went from theory to practice. And there you start to see things that you don’t like, authoritarian elements. But at that moment you say ‘we are in the revolution, we are all wrong.’ Then, over the years, you He says that these things should have been dealt with at the time and not let them get to where they are arriving. ”
Among the elements that Luis looked at with distrust was the marked difference between the leadership and the rank and file. “Commanders who said ‘we are at war’, but then one would see that at certain times they were not all the same, nor did they have access to the same things. There was an idolatry of the peasantry to their leaders that led no one to dare to do anything review”.
Patricia detected, in the midst of the triumph celebrations, that the complicated was just beginning. “And now how does it continue? That was the question many of us asked ourselves at that time. They had succeeded, but the most difficult part was beginning: how to manage that revolution.”
The present of Nicaragua
“The revolution is not made for these revenges,” says Luis who heard a Sandinista leader say when, during the first government of Daniel Ortega, in the 1980s, he prevented one group of peasants from shooting another because they had gone to the opposite side.
“That was the revolution. But what we see now is that those revolutionary leaders are accusing other comrades of traitors and creating vigilante brigades to kill them, I can’t believe it,” says Luis.
The readings about what is happening in Nicaragua differ according to the stories. Luis lives it like a drama. “When we were in the revolution, we never believed that such a person, with a first and last name, could do what they are doing.”
For Luis, some things have their roots in the past, such as when the Sandinista Front lost the elections in 1991. “At that moment, a Sandinista elite began to take shape that was distancing itself from the revolution. I already lived in a different house and had a different car; the material conditions are shaping you. A Sandinista elite with a verbiage of the revolution that does not coincide with practice, “says the now spokesperson for Podemos.
“Authoritarianism already existed, some human rights violations already existed, some separation between the Sandinista elite and the people already existed. But we hid all that because we were making the revolution. We did not understand that making the revolution also implied a change. of values, a new man. There a Sandinista elite was formed that was distancing itself from the people, “he says.
On the opposite side is the reading of José Miguel. The Chilean, adopted by Cuba in the mid-1970s, returned to Nicaragua for the 2016 elections and has no criticism of the current government. Daniel Ortega’s latest movements are associated with an external variable: the United States. “The United States does not like Nicaragua, which has shown dignity. Historically they have tried to crush that country,” he says.
For Patricia, the situation is more glassy. “It is a shame that all these values and ideals that we saw there are not developing well at this time. But the decisions have to be made by Nicaraguans. The resolution of the conflict must be through dialogue and vote.”
To the question about the lack of guarantees, competitiveness and transparency that the general elections of next Sunday, November 7, present for the opposition, Patricia responds: “The people always find a way to express themselves, be it with a blank vote or the decision of not participate in an election “.