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Former Contra Now Favors Peace Table Over Guns With AM-Nicaragua

April 28, 1988

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ One of the first men to take up arms against the Sandinistas now is an ardent supporter of talks between the government and the rebels to find an end to the 6 1/2 -year-old civil war.

″The solution is a negotiated agreement that will allow people to exercise their democratic rights,″ said Fernando ″Negro″ Chamorro in an interview Wednesday.

Sandinista and Contra political leaders meet for the second time in Managua Thursday to continue negotiations aimed at acheiving a definitive cease-fire to the conflict, which has claimed 26,000 lives.

″I do not regret having laid down my arms to return,″ said Chamorro, 54. ″I have seen and felt our people’s anguish and desire for peace. We must stop the bloodshed.″

Chamorro, who has relatives in both the government and the rebel opposition, accepted a government amnesty and returned to Managua in January to join the opposition Conservative Party.

Chamorro once fought alongside guerrillas of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the revolution that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. But he grew disillusioned with the direction of the leftist government and joined the rebel cause in 1981.

The former rebel fighter described the U.S.-supported Contra insurgency as crippled by internal factionalism and too dependent upon the decisions made in Washington by the movement’s financiers, particularly the CIA.

At first, he recalled, ″there were only about 60 or 80 of us training in Honduras and we would come in and out of Nicaragua. We had no guns.″

He said at the end of 1981 the rebels started getting some help from Washington and from Argentina. The Argentines came to train them, but left during the Falkland Islands war against Britain in 1982.

Chamorro said CIA and Reagan administration officials consistently favored former Somoza-era military leaders, including Col. Enrique Bermudez, the current Contra military commander, over former guerrillas who fought in the 1979 revolution.

He said his rebel group was expelled from Honduras because of disagreements with CIA-supported Contra leaders. Chamorro’s following went to the southern border with Costa Rica and joined forces with those of another former Sandinista - Eden Pastora.

″For a while we got plenty of aid. We were getting cash, something like $650,000 a month. At one time we had close to 6,000 men in arms,″ he said.

But as Pastora fell out of favor with Washington, outside assistance dropped. Many of Chamorro’s fighters abandoned his group to join the others. Chamorro’s force dwindled to fewer than 800 fighters.

Bermudez had spent time in Washington and he was a friend of Honduran military strongman Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, Chamorro said. Alvarez was a strong regional ally of Washington before he was stripped of his rank and expelled from Honduras in March 1984.

The Contra efforts were further plagued by the fear that the military would get rid of the political leadership and the large amounts of Soviet military aid to Sandinistas, he said.

″The U.S. aid never matched the aid given the Sandinistas by the Soviets. We are talking rifles against cannons.″

Chamorro said he believes the peace talks must promote a political opening in Nicaragua

″I think peace is the only solution,″ he stated. ″I think the talks must lead to a situation where the government opens up and we moved toward elections in total freedom.″

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