NicaNotes: 33rd anniversary of my survival of a US train assault in California

By S. Brian Willson, Managua, Nicaragua

September 1, 2020

I first came to Nicaragua in 1986 to study Spanish and to learn about the Nicaraguan Revolution. I came back three more times in 1986 and 1987 to document the criminal conduct of President Reagan’s so-called terrorist “Freedom Fighters”, trained, armed and funded by the US people through their Congress and President. Upon doing research, several of us discovered that most of the weapons – mortars, assault rifles, pistols, land mines, grenades, rockets, small arms ammunition, etc. – coming to El Salvador and Nicaragua, originated from the Concord, California, Naval Weapons Station (CNWS). We acquired copies of the shipment orders (Bills of Lading).

In addition, we gained more information after young Nicaraguan soldiers shot down with a surface-to-air missile (SAM), on October 5, 1986, a US CIA C-123 weapons supply plane north of San Carlos, Nicaragua, twenty miles from the Costa Rican border. One of the four crew members, mercenary Eugene Hasenfus from Wisconsin, USA, parachuted to safety before being captured. The three other crew members were killed in the crash. It was Hasenfus’ tenth air supply drop of weapons to awaiting Contra terrorists.  The plane was carrying thirteen thousand pounds of military supplies, including sixty AK-47s, fifty thousand rounds of ammunition, grenades and their launchers, jungle boots, and water packets originating from Brooklyn, New York.  I and two other US military veterans were able to interview Hasenfus for several hours in his Tipitapa prison cell gathering many additional details of the US arms shipments.

The US continued to relentlessly fund the criminal terrorist war against the Nicaraguan people despite it being in violation of both international and US Constitutional law, and a ruling of the World Court. Thousands of people were murdered and maimed. The US Congress and President have never been held to account for these vicious crimes, enjoying virtual immunity. Thus, some of us US citizens chose to act in direct efforts to stop the US murder policy being conducted in all of our names as US citizens.

Thirty-three years ago, on a bright sunny September 1st, 1987, I went to the Concord, California, Naval Weapons Station (the Pentagon’s largest storage arsenal on the US West Coast) at about 11 am, with two other military veterans, along with about 50 supporting witnesses.   We took our positions to begin our permanent human blockade ON the Station’s railroad tracks.  Everyday, locomotives hauled boxcars full of various armaments from the interior storage bunkers on three miles of tracks to be loaded on ships in the Sacramento River. Destination: To murder peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua, 3,500 miles further south.

This US Navy base had a history of citizen civil disobedience. It had been used during the unpopular US War against Viet Nam to send armaments to Asia and many civil blockades had attempted to interfere with the movement of those weapons. There was an official protocol for the military to call local police to make arrests before moving the weapons train forward at its legal speed limit of only 5 mph. We had notified the US military authorities in writing, and in person, several days in advance of September 1, and again on that day, of our plans for beginning our veteran’s blockade. The large sign posted within a few feet of the location of our human blockade warned of the penalties for interfering with the movement of munitions: one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. We expected that sooner or later we would be arrested and imprisoned.

There was a contingent of armed US Marines who protected the base grouped some 30 feet from our position.  And there was mumbling from them about “we hear there is going to be violence today”. We said, “No, we are nonviolent”.

Near High Noon, the first weapons train became visible some 700 feet or so down the tracks. The other two veterans and I took our firm positions between the rail’s two tracks, to wait for our arrests.  I was sitting in a lotus position, the other two were crouched but firmly planted on their feet.  Our many witnesses were observing along the outside of the tracks, including one friend with a video camera who was to document our treatment by police during the arresting process.  As the train came closer and closer, it appeared that it might be accelerating above its 5-mph speed limit, but that seemed extraordinarily unlikely in light of official protocol and violation of security requirements operating this dangerous munitions train.

But, as fate would have it, the train was accelerating, and as it got closer and closer to our human blockade, it was clear it had no intention of stopping.  Our autonomic nervous system urgently responded with adrenalin, and our bodies moved accordingly. One veteran jumped at the last second to the left off the tracks. The second veteran, 67 years old, jumped straight up in the air and grabbed onto the railing above the cowcatcher platform where two train spotters were standing in phone contact with the operating engineer at the rear of the locomotive. As I had been sitting, I tried to bolt to the right off the tracks but was too late and my body went completely under the locomotive and its trailing boxcars.  The train continued for another 500 feet before it stopped and was surrounded by dozens of armed US Marines.

Shocked colleagues attend to Brian after he was run over by the weapons train in 1987

I spent one month in the hospital recovering from my injuries – double leg amputations below the knee, fractured skull with destruction of right frontal lobe, two broken elbows, broken right wrist, many cracked ribs, broken right shoulder blade, damaged right kidney, and many skin abrasions, including 100 stitches inside my mouth. I needed facial reconstruction including re-attaching my severed outer left ear. I left the hospital with two prosthetic legs and a walker.

We learned that the FBI had investigated me and one of the other two veterans as “domestic terrorist suspects” since 1986. A local Sheriff investigation claimed a fear that we were planning to hijack the train, and that the three-man train crew was ordered that day to NOT stop the train. A formal Navy investigation concluded that the train was accelerating to 17 mph, more than three times its legal speed limit.  At the time of impact the crew could see us for at least 650 feet, but they never attempted to brake the train, which was what I expected (naturally) per protocol and legal regulations.  I had no intention to play chicken with a 200,000-pound locomotive.

The US never apologized, and no local, state, or national agency ever brought criminal charges against the navy or its train crew.  After a three-year series of motions and countermotions, a court settlement was reached.


Current US intervention in Nicaragua

On July 31, 2020, we learned that the US has launched a new brazen, criminal and arrogant plan to overthrow Nicaragua’s government. A well-orchestrated plan financed by the United States to launch a coup d’état in Nicaragua over the next two years was leaked in a document from the US embassy. US official are fearful that President Ortega and the FSLN will win the 2021 scheduled elections.  The document’s title is RAIN, Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua, and indicates an intention to contract a US company (Blackwater or its successor?) to take charge of carrying out the coup. The plan’s criminal purpose is to “destroy public order” and “do other violent actions” before, during and/or after the 2021 elections.  The funds to implement this plan are or have been allocated through the United States Aid for International Development (USAID) which is also the US institution that has provided the most money openly in recent years to the Nicaraguan opposition for coup activities. USAID will fund these destabilizing activities, using local partners: public opinion analysts, media, businesspersons, NGOs, students, and social networks to orchestrate false news reports. USAID provided millions of dollars to fund the 2018 US-attempted coup operators against Nicaragua.

The new coup government must immediately submit to the policies and guidelines established by the United States, including persecution of Sandinistas, dissolving the National Police and the Army, among other institutions. The document seeks to aggravate the COVID 19 pandemic, which is well under control at present despite US sanctions, unlike in the United States. The opposition already received more than US$31 million from the US between the end of 2017 and May 1, 2020.  The document also details the participation of the US Embassy in Managua, currently under leadership of US Ambassador Kevin K. Sullivan, who will be in charge of executing a series of diplomatic actions such as the creation of a commission to delegitimize the ousted government while legitimizing the new government imposed by a coup d’état.

A group of US citizens and Nicaraguans would like to meet with Ambassador Sullivan, to ask him to denounce the RAIN coup plan, or any other plan to destabilize the Nicaragua society and government.   We also want to remind him of the laws being violated by current US foreign policy against Nicaragua.  These laws include the United Nations Charter [Article 2(4)] which reads as follows: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” and US laws including the War Powers Resolution, the Foreign Assistance Act, the Neutrality Act, and the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) which make any United States military and paramilitary intervention in the affairs Nicaragua illegal under domestic law.



By Nan McCurdy

Brian Willson Receives Nicaragua’s Highest Honor

On September 1, 2020, Brian Willson was honored as a peace hero by Nicaragua’s National Assembly with its highest honor, the Order of General Jose Dolores Estrada, Batalla de San Jacinto, Great Cross Level. Willson was given the award at a special session presided over by Assemblywoman Loria Raquel Dixon who said that Willson was a pacifist who was a living example of humanity. José Dolores Estrada is a Nicaraguan national hero famed for defeating a detachment of William Walker’s filibuster army at Hacienda San Jacinto in 1856. Afterward, faculty and students at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua—Managua also honored Willson.

Radio La Primerisima, Sept. 1, 2020; Sept. 1: ,

IDB Recognizes Nicaragua’s Disaster Risk Management Work
Nicaragua is among the first countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the best disaster risk management, according to a study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The evaluation made by the IDB in the region places the countries between good, low and incipient, Nicaragua manages to stand out among the nations with a good score, thanks to the policies implemented by the Sandinista Government. Natural disasters and climate change are disrupting the provision of infrastructure services: in the last 50 years, natural disasters have tripled in Latin America and the Caribbean, and damage to roads, buildings, machinery, equipment and crops has shot up from US$7.4 billion to US$102.7 billion, the IDB notes. The multilateral agency adds that climate change will increase the frequency and magnitude of some types of natural disasters in the region, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods. The IDB says that historically, most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have focused on emergency response instead of preparedness. See graph with country rankings here: Radio La Primerisima, 30 August 2020

Loans for 2,200 Women Entrepreneurs
The government sponsored microloan program “Zero Usury” allocated US$640,572 in financing to 2,200 women in 77 municipalities of the country last week, for the installing and expansion of small restaurants and miscellaneous stores in urban and semi-urban areas. The financing is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model that the Government is promoting throughout the country. Nicaragua News 27 August 2020

Maternal Wait Home Opens in Los Chiles, San Carlos
The “Arcadia Gutiérrez” maternity home was inaugurated in the Los Chiles Community, San Carlos municipality, Rio San Juan Department, which will benefit hundreds of women. Funding is from Taiwán and the Nicaraguan government. Pregnant women, midwives, and municipal and health authorities inaugurated the beautiful and comfortable Maternal House with 16 beds, which will serve pregnant women from 26 communities around Los Chiles, San Carlos, and will house 350 women a year; they will spend the last few weeks of pregnancy to assure being attending by professionals. This strategy prevents maternal and newborn deaths. Radio La Primerisima 30 August 2020

New Maternal Wait Home Inaugurated in Morrito
With support from Taiwan a new Maternal Wait Home is being inaugurated September 2 in Morrito, Rio San Juan Department. The small town on Lake Nicaragua was the site of one of the worst massacres by the US-led opposition on June 13, 2018 when government opponents killed four police officers and a school teacher and kidnapped nine police officers. The heads of this operation were tried and sentenced to 30 years, but then awarded amnesty in June 2019. On September 2 a maternal wait home will also be inaugurated in San Pedro de Lóvago, Chontales, which was the coup command center for eastern Nicaragua.  Having women from remote villages spend their last week or two of pregnancy to assure a hospital birth has saved many women’s and babies’ lives since 2007. Informe Pastran, 2 September 2020.

New Women’s Police Station in El Tuma-La Dalia
The National Police will inaugurate a new women’s police station on Sept. 3 in the Matagalpa municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. It will provide attention to 40,000 women and accompany them in their respect for dignity, for women’s rights. The week of Sept. 7 the Police will inaugurate another women’s police station in Santa María de Pantasma, Jinotega, to serve 24,000 women. Informe Pastran, 2 September 2020

Nicaragua’s Corn Islands among Eight Paradise Beaches in the Region
Corn Island and Little Corn Island near the South Caribbean coast stand out among the eight most paradisiacal beaches in Central America and the Dominican Republic, according to an August 31 article in the Diario de Viajes y Turismo Expreso. The Corn Islands are located 70 kilometers off the Caribbean coast, the nearest city is Bluefields, with regular flights from Managua. The 10-square-kilometer Great Corn Island and the 2.9-square-kilometer Little Corn Island make up the Corn Islands, a paradise with bright white sand, vibrant turquoise waters and a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere, the language is English. The magazine says that in the past, the islands were a refuge for pirates, and today you’ll find a mix of backpackers and surfers here. It is a paradise for beach lovers, who can snorkel, lay in a hammock under the coconut trees and eat fresh lobster.  Radio La Primerisima, 31 August 2020

Jobs Returning to Free Trade Zones
2,500 jobs have returned after 9,000 were lost in the free trade zone companies as a result of the economic slow-down with COVID 19, according to Alfredo Coronel. The vice president of the Free Zone Commission explained that this is due to new orders from the US market and the confidence that investors have in the companies in Nicaragua. “The United States represents 98% of the free trade zone exports in the textile sector and recovery has begun,” said Coronel. Radio La Primerisima 1 September 2020

Nicaragua has Best Covid 19 Recovery Rate in Region According to Forbes
During the week of August to 25 to the 31st, there were 114 reported cases of the coronavirus, 119 people recuperated and four people died. Since March 18 there have been 3,773 reported cases, 3,458 people recuperated and 141 deaths which gives Nicaragua a mortality rate of 1.75 per 100,000, the lowest in the Americas. Nicaragua also has the highest recuperation index in the region of 91.25%. Guatemala has 83.13%, Panama – 71.39%, El Salvador – 51.89%, Costa Rica – 36.68%, Honduras – 16.19%, and Belice – 7.11%.; Juventud Presidente, 1 September 2020; Forbes, 1 September 2020

600 Health Fairs This Week
This week MINSA is carrying out 600 Health Fairs throughout the country as part of the program “Hospital in my Community”, serving 1,150 communities, 65,500 people, 47,000 medical consultations, 4,500 consults with specialists, 9,000 dental care consults, 3,900 natural medicine consults, 8,000 ultrasounds, PAP’s, HIV tests, and at least 500 electrocardiograms as well as health care promotion talks. Informe Pastran, 2 September 2020.

Head of IACHR Altered Resolutions about Nicaragua to Suit the US
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro reported receiving 61 complaints from people of different kinds of abuse including sexual harassment against Paulo Abrão, Executive Secretary of the of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR – part of the OAS). Twelve people who claim to be victims of Abrão sent a complaint to the Commission in which they describe Abrão’s labor and personal abuses against them, and they criticize the entity for minimizing their claims and for defending him. They also ask that a new secretary be selected who has independence, high moral authority, experience and a recognized career in human rights. Accusations against Paulo Abrão include that he frequently made changes to IACHR resolutions on countries like Nicaragua to please the United States and to be overtly cruel to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Now there is serious consideration being given to criminally denouncing him, by individuals and by the Latin American foreign ministries. This, moreover, invalidates the IACHR resolutions against Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba as biased, partial and subject to foreign interference. Informe Pastran, 1 September 2020