Translation and Commentary by Nan McCurdy
Omar Cabezas’ book about being a Sandinista guerrilla fighter in the mountains of Nicaragua in the mid-1970s, La montaña es algo más que una immensa estepa verde [The Mountain is More than Just an Immense Green Steppe], is incredibly moving and made this reality so real for me when I read the book in 1984. It was published in 1982 and translated to more than 20 languages. In English it is called Fire from the Mountain.
In one of the chapters, Cabezas writes about getting to know Moisés Córdoba who tells him about his father who fought with Sandino. Cabezas asks to meet his father and in the last chapter this takes place.
To see a one-minute video in Spanish from the early 1980s of Leandro Córdoba talking about his meeting with Omar Cabezas go to minute 1:15 of Sin Fronteras here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67LH5nbxBl8&ab_channel=SinFronteras
The following are translated parts of the last chapter of Omar Cabezas’ book. In October 1975 Omar had already been underground with the FSLN for a year.
I’m going to call Gilberto to go to Los Planes [a mountainous area outside of Condega], and to look for Moisés Córdoba, and to tell him that that very night we would be at his house. Don Gilberto had told him that we had been at his house, and that we had been in La Montañita. Everyone was getting used to our presence, as if they felt that it was not so risky anymore or that it was risky but that they were not going to be killed that day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe they wouldn’t kill them at all… they were opening up and then we became friends. I had already started to joke around with them, to get in with them, to win their affection.
We arrived that night at a hut that had already been chosen for us to camp. The next day, there they were with hot beans, the tortillas that they had brought from the village, and then they brought us a chicken … and of course we started to talk a lot with Moisés; and I asked him to bring his father, the old Sandinista who was sick and, besides, was a man of about eighty years old. So, while he went for his father, I did something else and made contact with other comrades that Moisés had introduced me to.
Moisés, because of his father, was less afraid than the others or he was more aware of who we were; he was clearer about what it was all about, because long before we arrived, his father had already told him about Sandino’s struggle.
So, I visited about three little houses in those valleys and the more people I got to know,the more my political work grew. And the Córdoba’s were, let’s say, the most prestigious family in the valley; and the fact that they introduced me to them helped the other people to be less afraid; because if the Córdoba’s, Leandro’s sons and daughters, were in “it,” then it was permissible for the others to get involved.
I would spend the day on the rock at the edge of a ravine, and at dusk I would go to their houses. In the huts at night, between cups of coffee we would discuss the economic problems they had, and through the conversations my friendship with them was getting stronger; when I consolidated a relationship, I wanted to translate that relationship and give it political content and vice versa to make the political relationship contribute to cement a personal relationship.
The first thing we asked them was if the land they lived on was theirs. The answer was always no, it belonged to “the rich people” or they would laugh as if you were joking… or they would lower their heads… because for the peasants the land was a dream. A dream of their parents, a dream of their parents’ grandparents; so, if you asked them if the land was theirs, they laughed at you. It made them laugh, because the land had never been theirs, nor their parents’, nor their grandparents’.
And we directed the conversation towards why the land was not theirs. The landowners, or the parents, or the grandparents of the landowners, had been gradually taking the land away from the peasants, so that the generation of peasants that we knew told us that their great-grandparents had had land and they had told their grandparents about it and the grandparents had told their parents about it. That is to say, it was already a generation of landless people that existed. The landowners had appropriated the land through a process of violent, or legal, eviction; there in the Planes de Condega, where Moisés lives, there were about seventy-five manzanas; there were, let’s say, twenty-five houses.
They had given a good name to this process: “We were enchiqueraron,” they said. They had “enchiquerado,” they had been “reduced,” “made smaller” and they had been surrounded with barbed wire. Then those peasants worked the land for the landowner, they took care of the cattle, and those who were “enchiquerados” had to plant on land lent to them by the neighboring landowner; with part of the time they had left over, they planted on the lands the landowner rented to them. Then, when they harvested the crop, they had to sell it to him.
And of course, they had to buy the salt, the machetes, the marmalades, the pills, in a commissary that the landowner had there.
We would take the peasants’ hands, very thick, very strong, very rough hands, and we would ask them: “and those calluses, what are they from?” They answered that those calluses were from the machete, from working on the land. And we asked them that if those calluses came from working the land, why was the land not theirs, but the boss’s?
We were trying to awaken the peasant to the dreams he had. We wanted to make him see that although it was a dangerous dream because it involved fighting, the land was their right, and we began to cultivate that dream. Through political work, many peasants began to allow themselves that dream, that is, to begin fighting for land.
There were other peasants who did not live there, but were “rancheros”: that was the name given to those who had a little plot of land within the extension of the hacienda’s property. They were given a small piece of land and there the peasant would build a hut in two days with just sticks and straw. So this comrade was doubly exploited, because even though those who were “enchiquerados” were exploited, the problem was that the “ranchero” was also living on the landowner’s land. That is why the land was a great permanent dream of the peasants.
And we were always raising the question of the struggle for land. Sometimes it broke our hearts, because you found that the peasant loves the land and has more sense of the land as an element. Just as a sailor cannot live without the sea, or a pilot dreams of flying, the sailor identifies with the sea, or the pilot with space, the peasant develops a certain identification with the land … The peasant is able to develop a certain unity with the earth, he develops a series of very particular feelings, very characteristic with respect to the land. The peasant sometimes talks about the land as something sacred, as if he were talking about his mother… and of course, he was fond of the little piece of land that the landowner gave him to produce … he cleaned the land, he tilled it, he sowed it, he planted it and he harvested it…it is a very special relationship of affection. So, the farmer, in addition to needing the land to make it produce in order to live off of it, has the particularity that he loves it as a material element of his existence.
We never promised land reform to the peasants, we never promised them! We invited the peasants to struggle and fight to achieve agrarian reform. We invited them to fight for the land, of course, for the peasants that was too great a temptation! How could they put up with that and not fight for what for him is mother, wife, livelihood, affection, feeling, secret relationship, as is the land? It was very difficult for the peasant to give up this fight, especially when the feeling and the idea of the class struggle is awakened in him.
The peasant not only manages to develop feelings, but the senses, the sensorial questions, he develops them more with respect to the land. You see, he has more tact, his touch is finer with the land, his sense of smell is developed in function of the earth. He tells you: “burnt earth, sown earth, burnt soil, sown soil, soiled soil, wet soil,” … the greatest crime of the dictatorship was to deny land to the peasants, because denying them land was like keeping the dead living there wandering. The peasant without land is like a zombie, he is taken out of his element. Without his element he is torn apart.
That is why farm animals, wife and children, and land is a whole element, it is his indivisible universe. That is why I tell you that the peasant who has no land is an incomplete man, he is a man without a soul. The soul of the peasant is the land, it is the element that gives him life, that moves him because he wants it not only to harvest and to live off the land but he also falls in love with it, he has an intimate relationship with it, and the woman and the children are part of that same relationship.
After a lot of talking, at about nine o’clock in the evening, I went back to the hut to go to bed; of course you never fall asleep immediately, you’re always thinking, listening to the noises of the night, sometimes the barking of the dogs at the ranch, listening to a little bit of music, you put on Radio Havana, and that little bell of the entrance signal of Radio Habana-Cuba, you hear “El Momento” at ten o’clock at night, or I would put on “Equis” to listen to a little music, I would think of my family in Leon….
In the morning Moisés appeared with breakfast, he always arrived alone, but that time I heard that Moisés was accompanied, I knew the sound of his footsteps as he walked. One more or less identifies people by hearing the thump of the footsteps, the rhythm of the steps; I perceived that they were the steps of Moses but slower, and I saw that someone was coming after him. We became concerned; Andres and I got down on our knees with the pistols, and the grenade, but when I got a good look over the little rock I noticed that an old man was behind Moisés, and I said to Andrés: “Could that be Moisés’ father?” Indeed, Moisés says to me: “Juan José [Omar’s nom de guerre]… this is my papa.”
The old man starts to laugh and shakes my hand very softly, like peasants do, and I can see that he is a skinny man, not very tall, with curly hair, black, toasted, wrinkled, it was like something that had been kept for many years and that suddenly it comes out, you see that the one that is there is something that was new, that was young and that spent so much time in storage that it deteriorated.
Don Leandro was young but he spent so many years, who knows where it was kept, and suddenly, bam! I found him when he was already old, without teeth, wearing his best clothes, they were very humble, but that day he arrived with the best clothes he had.
And I said to him: “Aha, comrade, how are you?”
“Very sick, it’s just that I’m already old,” he says, “and you should see the pains I have in my stomach, I can hardly see, and I only walk with this stick. If I go to the cornfield I work a while, and I get tired, and I have to go home. I’m in pretty bad shape.”
And then he asks me, “Where are the guns?”
“Ah, this is a .45,” I tell him.
“And the other guns, what did you do with them?” he asks.
I thought, when he asked me about the other weapons, that he knew that we were FSLN guerrillas, that we were in different columns, that he suspected that we were the same ones from Macuelizo.
I answered him that I was careful not to carry a long gun so people wouldn’t see us and realize that we were in that area. That sometimes we had to walk around with just a pistol.
“But these guns are good,” he told me.
I didn’t understand that he was thinking of me as part of his old Sandinistas, General Sandino’s old Sandinistas; so he was asking me about their weapons, about the other guns, as if to say, the guns we were walking around with yesterday, where did they go? For him, that moment that was saved in his mind and it was as if forty years had passed in an instant. It was as if he was asking, where did they leave the Enfield or the Mauser or the Thirty we had?
Then he told me with a gift of sapience and a lot of security: “Those animals are good; they shoot well. Once General Sandino sent me to find and bring some tortillas to Yalí.”
Well, so he starts talking, and I say to myself: what a beautiful thing; it’s as if I am touching Sandino; it’s as if I am touching history…and right there I realized what the Sandinista tradition meant. It was reaffirmed, and I saw it in flesh and blood, in practice, in reality.
And he continued talking, telling more anecdotes: he was Sandino’s courier… and he talked to me about Pablo Umanzor who had also been with him; he told me about General Estrada, Pedro Altamirano, José León Díaz, Juan Gregorio Colombo, of Juan Gregorio Colindres … he had been with all of them. As he was telling me about it all, it was as if he was seeing it right now, he was there, remembering details, and I wanted to have a tape recorder at that moment, because it was so beautiful what he was telling me.
And then he said to me: “Look, Juan José, I am going to tell you something, I can’t accompany you anymore on this campaign, because look at me, I am already an old man. I’d like to go, but I can’t do it anymore. I can’t stand another campaign. But I have a lot of children and all my grandchildren: these boys here,” and he pointed to his son, Moisés, “I’m going to entrust them to you so that they can go with you, because here we all have to make an effort, and we can’t let them [the Somoza National Guard] end this struggle.”
But he is telling me that we must not let them finish it as if it had never been interrupted, as if it was a continuation of what he had lived through with Sandino… and then I felt good, but I felt a little bit sad because I was looking at him and I felt a little bit sad because I saw that sometimes things did not work out, the Guardia [National Guard] repressed and killed; those were hard times, I thought to myself, these people are brave, or they are ignorant, or they don’t know what they are getting into … I said to myself… how is it possible… that they are killing a lot of people near Ocotal – it was on all the radios that the National Guard killed comrades, that the Guardia went around with helicopters, with planes, with thousands of soldiers, how is it possible that they killed all those people and this man is committing himself to a project that, apparently at this moment, was nothing more than a dangerous, though just, adventure.
But how is it possible after all of the repression and all of the dead, all of the reverses, not just ours, but also the reverses they experienced with General Sandino, years of work, that we have been in the field for a long time? How was it possible that this man, Don Leandro, after the death of Don Bacho, he was explaining to me that if he weren’t old he would accompany me in the struggle? But since he is old and cannot deal with another campaign, he will ask his sons and grandsons to go with me? Because don Bacho Montoya, according to what Augusto Salinas Pinell had told me, had been killed because of a guy who deserted us and was captured by the Guardia.
The Guardia had come to Don Bacho in the morning, very violently, insulting him, and Don Bacho’s wife, who was making coffee, when a lieutenant said: “old motherfucker, go outside,” the old lady replied to him: “You get out of here you miserable….” And she took the hot water and threw it at the Lieutenant and burned his chest.
And the Lieutenant began to beat them, torturing the two old people, then they razed their ranchito [little house], kicked the fire pit, took off the roof, they took all the clothes off the beds, they broke the wooden bunk bed, they broke the tables, their crates, their clay pots. Then they tied them to a tree and beat them to death.
Then they took the three-month-old child out of the ruins of the house and began to throw him up in the air; when the child was falling to the ground, they put the bayonet through him so that the child would be on the bayonet, and then they took him off of the bayonet, and threw him up again. And there were some Guardias who were there and when they threw the child up in the air they failed to skewer him. It was the feast of the vultures. And Don Bacho, beaten to death. I remember how happy he had been when we first made contact with him; and the life that radiated from him when we saw him go with us to break through the encirclement, he had contained his rage since the time of General Sandino!
That is why, when don Leandro talks to me like that, I think of don Bacho; and it is not that Leandro is irresponsible, but simply that this was the history of the Nicaraguan people; they had a Sandinista history, a history of rebellion against exploitation, against North American domination … they had a historical feeling of rebellion acquired from their confrontation with the North American occupation [for most of 1909 to 1933]. It was not irresponsibility, but the history … the rebelliousness of the people.
Sandinistas were isolated after Sandino’s death and began to educate their children in that tradition, to nurture that feeling against the Yankees who occupied us, who intervened and humiliated us. They were barefoot, extremely impoverished men, but with an extraordinary sense of national dignity, with an awareness of sovereignty; that was the essence of the reality.
I realized that the Sandinista Front was forming its militants in a great revolutionary firmness, a great revolutionary firmness with a great sense of dignity and combat, but that these principles were not new, they were not invented by the FSLN. This was a historical patrimony, a treasure that we were going to unearth. And that was Carlos Fonseca’s greatest success, to retake that history, to appropriate that firmness, that intransigence for dignity and sovereignty. What Carlos did was to take that and give it to the new Sandinistas. What the FSLN was doing at the time with us and what we were doing with the new Sandinistas was nothing more than giving a scientific content to that historical tradition, to that firmness … to that sense of dignity.
And I don’t know how, there, when Don Leandro begins to speak to me in that way, when he endorses his children to me, and talks to me about Sandino and about the Sandinista struggle, all of a sudden, I start to feel like don Leandro is my father, and I realize that he is the father, that Don Bacho is the father, that Don Bacho and Don Leandro are the fathers of the homeland, and I never felt more like a son of Sandinismo, like a son of Nicaragua, than at that moment.
I was a young student who had known Sandino through books, I had come to Sandino through the study of Sandinismo, but I had not yet reached the root, the true fatherhood of Sandinismo, the true paternity of all our history. So, when I met Leandro and he tells me all that, I feel like his son, I feel like a son of Sandinismo. I feel that I am a son of history, I understand my own past, I locate myself, I have a homeland, I recognize my historical identity with what Don Leandro told me.
I felt like hugging him, kissing him; but not only because they were going to feed me and I was going to be sheltered … the magnitude, the dimension was greater because I had found my history through him. I had rediscovered my own history, with tradition, with the essence of Nicaragua, I found my genesis, my ancestors, I felt like a concrete, uninterrupted continuation; I found my source of nourishment; I did not know I was being nourished by Sandino, I had not been able to see my umbilical cord materially, and I discovered it at that moment.
And I embraced Don Leandro with a shiver of joy and emotion, I felt that I was standing on the earth, I was not in the air, I was not just the son of an elaborated theory, I was standing on the concrete; he gave me roots in the earth, he fixed me to the ground, he fixed me to the ground, to history. I felt unbeatable.
As we said goodbye, I shook his hand and he shook mine. I remember that I squeezed his hand tightly with my both my hands and I told him: “We will meet again.
And then he answered me: “Yes, I am already old, but remember that my boys are there.”
Written August to November 1981
By Nan McCurdy
Sandinista Government Has Built More than 500 New Health Units
The Sandinista government in the last 15 years has built more than 500 new health units including hospitals, health centers, health posts and specialized centers, said Dr. Martha Reyes, head of the Ministry of Health (MINSA). Reyes recalled that in 2007 there were only 1,091 health units in Nicaragua, while today there are 1,596. Since 2007, 22 hospitals have been built including 19 primary hospitals, one departmental and two national hospitals; 17 major health centers and 454 health posts. Nicaragua has also built 81 new maternal wait homes. “We also have 51 houses for people with special needs, to attend people with chronic diseases, 188 natural medicine clinics, the national cytology center, three epidemiology laboratories, a clinical center for people with HIV and 33 different projects that include warehouses, the ambulance center and other important structures,” added Dr. Reyes. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 July 2022)
Amazing Increase in Health Budget in 15 Years
In 2006, Nicaragua had 23,000 health workers, including doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff. Today there are more than 37,500 workers, 63% more, said Dr. Martha Reyes, head of the Health Ministry (MINSA). “In 2006 there was a budget of US$186 million and today it is US$509 million, 274% more to ensure good health attention to the population,” she added. In 2006 MINSA spent US$24.4 million on medical supplies and now it spends more than US$160 million, or 556% more. MINSA organizes an average of 900 health fairs every week nationwide in neighborhoods to bring health to the population in remote areas. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 July 2022)
Exports are Up
The Nicaragua Export Processing Center (CETREX) reported that exports totaled US$1.87 billion from January to June 2022, a 20.5% increase compared to the same period in 2021. CETREX Director Xiomara Mena said that the products with greatest demand on the international market during the period were premium coffee – US$503 million; gold – US$494 million; beef – US$357 million; sugar – US$90 million; beans – US$66 million; peanuts – US$59 million. (Nicaragua News, 8 July 2022)
In the Pearl Lagoon Area 95 Families Affected by Flooding
A commission composed of regional councilman Abel Antonio García, communal government president Reymundo Hernández, and FSLN political secretary Héctor Romero visited communities affected by the floods in the South Caribbean Region including Fruta de Pan, Chinal, Cedro, Boca Tapada and Pueblo Nuevo where the damages caused by the overflowing of the Wawashang River were assessed. Ninety-five families were affected in these areas. (Radio La Primerisima, 8 July 2022)
772 Fishery Packages Including Canoes for Caribbean Coast Families
In support of artisanal fishing activities in nine communities in the Tawira, Karata, Prinzu Auhya Un and Prinzu Awala Indigenous territories of Bilwi municipality, the Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture delivered 772 Fishery Packages which include canoes and materials and tools to make lobster pots. The purpose of the donation was to increase the yield of artisanal fishing and to strengthen food security and nutrition for families in the communities. This is part of the Zero Hunger Program that the government is implementing. (Nicaragua News, 8 July 2022)
Ensuring Quality Access to Education
The Ministry of Education reported that US$885,358 dollars was invested to rehabilitate and expand the San José School in El Tortuguero municipality, Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 633 students. The financing is part of the Project for Improvement and Rehabilitation of Educational Centers ensuring access to free and quality education. (Nicaragua News, 6 July 2022)
All Teachers Receiving Training
The Ministry of Education (MINED) announced the training on the use of technological tools for learning, pedagogical strategies of the 2022 National Educational Plan and psychosocial care for students in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, in preparation for the second semester of the academic year which begins in July. Head of Teacher Training Alina Jirón explained that “in preparation for the upcoming semester, the 60,000 teachers in the country will be using the first semester academic results as a starting point for their training sessions that will provide them with the necessary tools to handle the challenges that have arisen during the academic year, guaranteeing quality education for all students.” (Nicaragua News, 7 July 2022)
Expanding Electricity Coverage
The National Electricity Transmission Company inaugurated a 272-solar panel system in Kurinwasito community of El Ayote municipality, Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region benefiting 1,423 inhabitants. The funding of US$569,138 was provided by the General Budget with support from the Export and Import Bank of South Korea and is part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy. Also inaugurated was electricity service in El Horno community, Totogalpa municipality, Madriz department benefitting 289 people. The investment of US$157,139 is part of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER), implemented by the government. (Nicaragua News, 6 and 7 July 2022)
1500 Families Receiving Housing Lots
Beginning July 6, the government is giving 1500 families lots all over the nation as part of the Bismarck Martinez housing program. (19Digital, 6 July 2022)
Second National Disaster Preparedness Exercise Big Success
With the active participation of thousands of people, the second National Preparedness Exercise to Protect Life in Multi-threat Situations was held July 7 to practice dealing with emergencies like meteorological phenomena, earthquakes and volcanic activity. The Minister of SINAPRED, Guillermo González, said that the purpose is for families and communities to practice their skills, knowledge and preparedness in the face of disasters. Preparation is fundamental to face different phenomena such as floods, landslides, mudslides, earthquakes, among others and this is the government’s objective: to preserve life. The drill involved more than 6,000 brigades nationwide, 41,000 brigade members, 350 churches, 120 markets, 268 private sector companies, government institutions, and some 8,000 schools nationwide. In the Carlos Núñez neighborhood in Managua there were different scenarios, followed by self-evacuation, which included rescue of people, implementation of canine technique, and vertical rescue with buried victims after the occurrence of two possible earthquakes, one of 7.9 on the Richter scale and the second of 6.3 which activated the Las Brisas fault. The families of Sector 17 neighborhood, District V of Managua, demonstrated great organizational strengths during their participation which revolved around various events that generated the collapse of houses as a result of an earthquake, the collapse of a house due to a cyclonic phenomenon and the rescue of a person in the riverbed. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/con-buen-suceso-realizan-simulacro-multiamenazas/ (Radio La Primerisima, 7 July 2022)
Credit Continues for Micro, Small and Medium-Scale Businesses
The Banco Avanz and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) announced the renewal of the global credit line for US$8 million in support of the economic reactivation of micro, small, and medium businesses in the productive, commercial, and service sectors affected by the pandemic. This credit line is part of the Program for Financial Support and Technical Assistance to Small, Medium, and Micro-businesses (MSME’s) in Nicaragua being implemented since September 2020. (Nicaragua News, 7 July 2022)
Agreement Signed with China
On July 10 the governments of Nicaragua and the People’s Republic of China signed the Early Harvest Agreement and a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of the joint commission on economic, trade and investment cooperation.
Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, pointed out that the signing of this agreement activates the beginning of the negotiations of the free trade agreement between Nicaragua and the People’s Republic of China. “With the signing of the Early Harvest Agreement between our two countries Nicaragua will be positioned in the world’s largest consumer market which represents a win-win strategy for both countries in this friendly and fraternal relationship of mutual benefit,” said Moncada. This “counteracts the unilateral, coercive measures imposed by the government of the United States and the Western imperialist powers,” he added. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 July 2022)