NicaNotes: Masaya in flames – five years afterwards

By John Perry

[John Perry is based in Masaya, Nicaragua, and writes for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, London Review of Books, FAIR and other outlets. Here he reports on an interview with Randall, a “historic fighter” from Nicaragua’s revolution against the Somoza dictatorship, about the attempted coup in 2018 and how the violence affected his neighborhood.]

“Peaceful” protesters in Masaya on the first day of the coup attempt, April 18, 2018

During the attempted coup in Nicaragua in 2018, Masaya was one of the cities most affected by the violence and by the widespread use of roadblocks to control the streets, many manned by armed youths. The violence began on April 18 and lasted until July 17, when police and Sandinista volunteers moved in to clear the roadblocks. Overall, in Masaya some 36 people died during the coup attempt, including three police officers (and two more were trapped and murdered after the coup attempt ended). Randall, the subject of this article, lives in Monimbó, the neighborhood or “barrio” where the violence in the city began.

Randall is one of Masaya’s “historic fighters,” a veteran from Nicaragua’s revolutionary war against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. Now 63 years old, he has lived in Masaya, one of Nicaragua’s largest cities, for more than 40 years. His old house, of comfortable size and built traditionally of adobe with a tile roof, is in the center of the historic neighborhood of Monimbó, which was the part of Masaya that served as the center of operations in the 2018 coup attempt against the Sandinista government.

Randall began our discussion by remarking that at the beginning of 2018, before the coup attempt, Nicaragua was prosperous: the economy was growing, people had jobs, new businesses had opened, and the future seemed secure. He emphasized how frustrated he felt when he realized that some people were out to destroy the country’s economic prospects.

Randall explained that he understands with hindsight that preparations for the attempted coup began years earlier: he thinks that some local people were being trained and prepared for the coup perhaps as much as five years beforehand. Randall remembered that, in the months before the coup began, he was struck by messages given as part of the sermons in the local Catholic church when the parish priest started to refer to political matters. He recalled in particular that Bishop Silvio Baez (who was to be a key figure in the coup attempt) made an explicit call in one sermon for a “higher level of democracy” in Nicaragua; Randall said he had no idea at the time what they were talking about or referring to, but it soon became clear.

Another sign that subsequently seemed important was that suddenly, prior to April 2018, people started to buy camouflaged or military-style clothing, and he recalled at one point hearing someone comment in public, “We’re going to put an end to this shit.”

Before the coup attempt began, in early April, Randall said that “calm reigned” in the neighborhood. But money was already circulating in preparation for the coup. People were starting to buy food in anticipation of what was coming. Randall heard that one of the local leaders of the breakaway “Sandinista Renovation Movement” came to advise some residents of the neighborhood to leave town, and they left (in anticipation of the “debacle” that was coming). At that point Randall began to realize that combat centers were being set up in various parts of Masaya, including Monimbó.

Randall described the opposition marches that took place immediately after April 18, led by opposition leaders such as Dora Maria Téllez (who was seen, before and after April 18, “walking freely in the streets”), Mónica Baltodano, General Noguera, Fernando and Carlos Brenes (ex-soldiers), Roberto Samcam and others. They began to set up bases, for example, in the car park of the hotel Rinconcito del Amor and then in the INATEC technical school, which soon became a torture center. They also occupied the cemeteries as bases. It was from Masaya that responsibilities were divided for different parts of the region – Masaya was the center of operations. Randall mentioned two people from the area who were in charge of bringing in and distributing weapons, not only for Masaya but for the surrounding areas (one of these people now lives in Spain).

The Maria Magdalena Catholic Church, in the center of the barrio, was used as the main warehouse to store weapons and supplies.

On April 18, around 7:00 p.m., the opposition launched an attack against members of the Sandinista Youth who were in the historic “Comandito”, a small house that had been used as a command center during the revolutionary war and had become a symbol of the revolution. The opposition was armed with mortars, stones and weapons and the young people who were there were forced to flee. In Nicaragua where, as Randall said, “peace reigned”, it was an incident that nobody thought could possibly happen.

Destruction of the historic “Comandito” in Masaya, April 18, 2018

Soon the opposition started using larger homemade weapons, such as mortars that could fire a round as far as two street blocks. They brought in truckloads of chemicals and explosives to make munitions. Later, of course, they started using conventional firearms. It was quickly obvious that these were not just political protests, but an attempted coup. Those fighting hoped to take advantage of a decision by the government (during the “national dialogue” that had been set up in an agreement between the government and the Catholic hierarchy) to order the police to stay in their police stations.

Randall related one of several violent incidents that affected him personally during the three months of the coup attempt. It was June 18, he was walking with his son past one of the local cemeteries; they planned to free the chickens they kept in their yard, which they could no longer feed (it had become difficult even to buy normal food supplies). Opposition thugs accosted them, identified them as Sandinistas, tied them up, forced them to kneel and started to beat them with heavy metal tubes.

Those attacking them carried bundles of rope, cut to lengths to use when tying up people they captured. They told Randall and his son that they were going to kill them. Randall says that he replied that they had not come there to surrender as captives, that they were proud members of the Sandinista Front, and that if they died those who killed them should not assume that only they would die, that five or six of the opposition would die as well. At that moment they thought they were finished. A woman who was part of the group came out of a small store nearby, carrying a syringe containing a yellow liquid, which Randall and his son imagined must be a lethal injection. But instead, she made an announcement, without any further explanation: “The man says, ‘release them both’.” They were then released, and were able to return home.

Randall explained that the roadblock where they were captured was outside the cemetery on the south side of Masaya, where people returning to the city from outlying areas passed by on their way home in the evenings. If those trying to pass the roadblock were discovered to be government workers or Sandinista sympathizers, they were likely to be stripped naked and painted with blue and white paint. They would then be forced to run in this state down the hill towards the center of Monimbó, where (Randall said) people came out of their houses with water and towels to help the victims wash and to cover themselves. This happened on many occasions, to both men and women. Those carrying out these humiliating acts raided hardware stores to steal the paint they used. Randall said that in a two-story house located on the corner opposite the St. Sebastian Catholic Church, people were tortured and could often be heard screaming. At another nearby house, women who had been kidnapped were raped.

One day, a local opposition member named Chilo Marimba was passing by one of the streets with a group of delinquents. Outside one of the houses was a group of children playing Nintendo. He mistook the device for a camera, and accused the family of trying to take pictures of them. He then attempted to evict them from the house. There was another example nearby of an attempt to evict people from a house, where the people stood their ground, armed with machetes. But the opposition managed to seize several houses and, of course, said Randall, many were ransacked or set on fire, such as that of Dr. Alejandra Ortega (a well-known doctor from the Masaya hospital, unrelated to President Ortega).

On June 30, at around 8 pm, a group of about 17 armed thugs broke into Randall’s family home. They were carrying AK47s and a variety of other weapons. Among those who entered was “La Loba,” one of the local leaders; Chino Juan; another known as “El Burro” of the Porroncones gang; and several others whom he recognized even though their faces were covered. Some of them have been deported, but many of them still live in the neighborhood. They started firing their guns into the roof because they were looking for Randall, not caring that there were children and women in the house. They left, assuming Randall was not there.

Randall spoke briefly about the torture and murder of 23-year-old police officer Gabriel Vado (killed on July 15 on the outskirts of Masaya). The opposition attackers captured him, tied him up, beat him, wounded him with machetes and, when they finally set his body on fire, he was barely alive.

At the end of June, the opposition thought that Monimbó was ready for insurrection, but, in reality, the people had turned against them. They realized that they were delinquents, drug addicts, and criminals. Randall described one of the local youths involved in the violence as coming from a broken and violent home, and that the opposition leaders were looking for people with violent backgrounds, who had dropped out of school early, who were drug users, because they could use them as cannon fodder for their violent attacks. Most of those involved were people with anti-social backgrounds of some kind, who could easily be manipulated by the opposition.

Randall explained that on the day this part of Masaya was liberated (July 17), the national police and volunteer police started to enter the barrio very early in the morning. He said that most of those who entered from the east met no resistance until they reached the part of the neighborhood where he lives, because those who were at the roadblocks simply fled when they realized they were outnumbered. But at nearby roadblocks, those manning them fired back at the police and volunteer policemen who, he said, responded with shots in the air, warning the criminals that they were about to be attacked in force. At that point this section of the opposition also fled, throwing their weapons onto rooftops, down sewers and other places where they were later discovered.

By that date, after three months of violence, most people were delighted that Monimbó had been liberated and that the coup attempt was over. Randall summed up his feelings: “We were all living a long-running nightmare in which criminals were in control of the neighborhood. At last, it came to an end.”

By Nan McCurdy

Iranian Delegation Led by President Raisi Visits Nicaragua
In her greeting to the visitors, Vice President Rosario Murillo said, “It is an honor to receive the distinguished delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, headed by President Dr. Ibrahim Raisi.” President Raisi and President Daniel Ortega both addressed the nation on the night of June 13 in Managua. Both mentioned that the Nicaraguan and the Iranian revolutions were twin revolutions, overcoming US-backed dictatorships in 1979. President Raisi said that Iran hopes to increase development cooperation with Nicaragua. He also said that sanctions are used by certain countries as an instrument to break the people.

The Iranian delegation is composed of the ministers of health, oil, culture, and economic diplomacy, as well as legislative deputies. It also includes Dr. Yamile Alamuddin, Iran’s first lady, who has a doctorate in psychology and is an expert in Islamic education. The First Lady met with students and communicators at the Casa de la Soberanía Padre Miguel D’Escoto where there was a presentation of two books with the participation of academics, university leaders and ministers. At the meeting with the President of Iran, the Nicaraguan Minister of the Family, the Minister of Youth, the Rector of the National Council of Universities (CNU) and the Ministers of Education, Science and Technology were also present. Vice President Murillo said “We are honored and pleased to receive this important fraternal delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” [The delegation arrived on June 13 and left for Cuba on June 14.] See more here:  (TN8TV, 13 June 2023, Radio La Primerisima, 14 June 2023)

Nicaraguan Exports Increase in First Quarter 2023
On June 8 the Inter-American Development Bank published its “Trade Trends Estimates Latin America and the Caribbean-2023 Edition: First Quarter” Report. It noted that Nicaragua exports totaled US$1.13 billion between January and March 2023, 5.8% more than the same period in 2022. “Nicaragua and Costa Rica are the only Central American economies that registered export growth during the first three months of the year. In the case of Nicaragua, this is mainly due to an increase in imports by the US market, as well as greater export of sugar, automotive harnesses, and gold,” the IADB report states. (Nicaragua News, 9 June 2023)

High Rating Improves Nicaragua’s Status in World Market
The indicators highlighted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on the growth of exports during the first quarter of 2022 allow a better qualification of Nicaragua before multilateral organisms, highlighted deputy José Figueroa, Vice Chair of the Economic Committee of the National Assembly.  He said that the result highlighted by the IDB corresponds with other indicators such as the growth of the economy. “It is very important that an organization such as the IDB highlights [the growth of exports] because others such as the Food and Agricultural Organization have already highlighted it, especially food production, and the increase in exports that will allow Nicaragua to position itself in a better way in the international market,” he explained. He said that this is only the beginning, because Nicaragua has been diversifying its markets and when the Free Trade Agreement with China is approved export growth will be greater and the indicators will be more positive. (Radio La Primerisima, 9 June 2023)

Construction of Deep-Water Port in Bluefields Is Strategic for Development
Presidential delegate for the South Caribbean Autonomous Region Johnny Hodgson described the importance of the construction of a deep-water port in Bluefields for all of Nicaragua. “This project is part of the Development Plan and the Caribbean Coast Development Strategy that will have a social and economic impact for all of Nicaragua. One of the most important things is that it does not generate public debt,” he said. He added that this month the construction of 7.2 kilometers of road to the area where this port will be built will begin followed by dredging works. “The execution of this project will last four years, with an investment of US$500 million, which is expected to generate many profits,” he detailed. “I see many of you working on this project, facilitating the entry of these huge ships to our Caribbean Coast and facilitating the export of our products,” he told students at the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU). The Regional Autonomous Council of the Southern Caribbean Coast (CRACCS), through the Natural Resources Commission, voted to approve the Deepwater Port project. Presidential Delegate Hodgson made his remarks as the main speaker at an academic conference at BICU with the theme “Challenges and Opportunities in the Creation of the Deepwater Port.” (Radio La Primerisima, 9 June 2023)

Almost 2.5 Million Children Served with “Healthy Schools” Plan
The Ministry of Health reported that, in the National Plan “Healthy Schools” as of June 8, 2,480,500 attentions had been provided. According to the latest bulletin, 467,782 children have had their blood pressure measured, detecting 659 alterations; 449,502 children had their visual acuity checked, identifying 5,283 with alterations; and 395,785 talks were given to students, parents and teachers on personal hygiene. Likewise, 386,076 language evaluations were performed, detecting 4,166 with speech disorders; 385,457 hearing evaluations were performed, detecting 3,825 with disorders; 215,113 lice identification checks were carried out, delousing 63,127.  A total of 180,785 demonstrations of good toothbrushing techniques were given and 22,543 children had cavities repaired and filled. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 9 June 2023)

Literacy Census Underway
On June 10 the Ministry of Education and the National Association of Educators, launched the 2023 National Educational Coverage and Literacy Census. The purpose of the census is to update illiteracy and school attendance information and improve access to education at all levels through programs such as Rural Education, Inclusive Special Education, and Over-Schooling-Age Education. Education Minister Lilliam Herrera noted that “Nicaragua went from an illiteracy level of 12% in 2007 to 5% in 2022 and achieved educational coverage of 80%. This data shows that as a country we are capable of eradicating illiteracy. Over the next twenty days this important census will help to gather essential information so that our education system can continue to guarantee full access to education as a right for all Nicaraguans.” (Nicaragua News, 12 June 2023)

Most People in Nicaragua Are Fully Vaccinated Against Covid-19
The Ministry of Health reported that 15,328,476 doses of vaccines have been administered to the population over two years of age since the beginning of the COVID-19 National Voluntary Vaccination Program. 99.9% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine; 94.7% are fully vaccinated; and 45.4% have received two booster shots. (Nicaragua News, 8 June 2023)

Center to Boost Coffee Production Opens in Nueva Segovia
The Center for the Development of Agricultural Technologies named after General Ramón Raudales, General of the Army Defender of National Sovereignty, opened last week in Dipilto, Department of Nueva Segovia. This center will work with producers to help high-altitude coffee plantations increase crop productivity through research on varieties with higher yields, natural inputs for fertilization, production systems in association with forest and fruit trees, and methods for post-harvest and processing. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 11 June 2023)

Greater Access to Technical Training
The National Technological Institute (INATEC) reported that US$3 million has been invested to improve and expand the Masaya Departmental Technical Center, ensuring greater access for 6,415 students to free, quality technical training in six areas and three complementary courses. Funding for the project came from the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 8 June 2023)

San Carlos Port Modernization Project Underway
US$700,000 will be invested by the Nicaraguan Port System in the remodeling of the San Carlos Port in the department of Río San Juan, according to Virgilio Silva, executive president of the institution. Silva emphasized that, as part of the work, a berthing area will be built for the boats that will mobilize tourists to San Juan de Nicaragua, El Castillo, and Solentiname from San Carlos. Silva mentioned that a two-story building, a restaurant, kiosks and administrative offices will also be built. He said that this work will complement the boardwalk modernization project of the San Carlos’ mayor’s office. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 June 2023)