Contra Rank-and-File Feel Betrayed, Remain Ready for Battle
JINOTEGA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Platoon leader Ivan and his Contra loyalists relax on a hillside, but they cradle M-16 rifles in their laps and wear hand grenades on their camouflage uniforms like medals, ready for battle should Sandinista guns break the silence of the countryside.
A pact between leaders of the Contras and Nicaragua’s new United National Opposition government calls for the rebels to lay down their weapons.
But the rank-and-file rebels have no intention of doing that.
″If they signed that pact, they made an error,″ said Ivan, whose real name is Monico Gonzalez Rivas. ″Here in the mountains you feel things in your own flesh. Here is where we’re going to decide.″
Ivan and his men see the pact, signed Friday in Honduras, as a death warrant because it makes no mention of what had been a top Contra demand: that the Sandinista military also disarm to make way for the formation of a neutral army.
″I see it as something very difficult, this thing of giving up our weapons, because they would have to order our coffins at the same time,″ said platoon member Filadelfo Lopez Castro, whose nom de guerre is Filiberto.
Ivan and his platoon can afford to rest at least for a while in the rolling farmland 10 miles north of Jinotega, a provincial capital and important Sandinista military post.
Peasants in this region strongly favor the Contras, who they feed and protect.
Andres, an area ranch hand who asked he not be further identified for fear of the Sandinistas, strongly opposes the plan to disarm the Contras.
″If they make the boys disarm, then all of us might as well take to the hills. The piricuacos (an Indian word meaning dogs) would wipe us out,″ said Andres, referring to the Sandinistas.
Ivan, 25, has fought the leftist Sandinistas for eight years, seen them sign successive regional peace pacts and enjoyed the unexpected thrashing the Sandinista Front suffered in the Feb. 25 elections.
″All these treaties, it’s us who have made them sit down to negotiate,″ said Ivan. ″If we’re taken out and the Sandinistas keep their weapons, they can stage a coup against UNO at any time.″
Ivan’s view that the Contras will help assure the democratization of Nicaragua is not reflected in the latest negotiations between UNO and the Sandinista Front.
After a month of meetings, negotiators on Tuesday announced they had agreed to a protocol for tranferring power on April 25, when President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro is to be inaugurated.
The document calls on the Contras to respect the demobilization pact and return to civilian life. It also says the Sandinistas will turn control of the army and police over to UNO and that the forces will be non-partisan.
Officers now in the army and the Interior Ministry are Sandinista Front cadres who have undergone extensive political indoctrination.
″In a democratic country you can’t have an army that belongs to a party,″ Ivan protested in an interview a few hours before the protocol was announced.
A few miles away, another Contra combat unit came down from the bush to a tiny shop by a dusty country road where they mingle with local people.
Patrol leader Caminante, a pseudonym of Juan Antonio Garcia that means ″Walker,″ says a call by the United States for the rebels to dismantle or face a cutoff in the U.S. aid they have received since 1981 doesn’t matter much.
″We’ve got the people behind us, and as long as we have that we won’t starve,″ he said.
Invisible, the nom de guerre of Caminante’s second-in-command, Jose Alfredo Altamirano, says the Contras held talks with UNO representatives in the days after the elections.
″We told them what we think. But one thing is what they tell us here and another what they do over there,″ he said, referring to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Enforcement of the accord in Tegucigalpa for disbanding the Contras depends on the will of the rebels to voluntarily give up their weapons.
The Contra’s top military chief, Israel Galeano Cornejo - or Commander Franklyn - did not sign it. Instead it was signed by his negotiator, Oscar Sovalbarro, Commander Ruben.
There has been speculation that this indicated there was a split within the rebel forces.
″You tell me that Ruben signed the agreement. Fine. Did Franklyn sign it? No? Well, there you go,″ Ivan said.