San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Comandante Cero: Don’t Count Me Out

MANAGUA – Despite being dismissed by pollsters and pundits, legendary guerrilla leader and presidential candidate Edén “Comandante Cero”Pastora claims it’s too soon to count him out of the November elections.

Pastora, a fiery 69-year-old, is running for the country’s top office on the ticket of Alternative for Change (AC), a minority Evangelical party that changed its name to drop the Christian reference when the revolutionary hero was named its candidate last May (NT,May 12).

Though Pastora currently ranks last in all the major polls, with less than 2% of the intended vote, he insists Nicaragua’s political landscape should not be viewed as a paint-by-numbers.

“The media tries to misinform; they pretend to be apolitical, but they always have their parties and preferred candidates,” Pastora told The Nica Times during a recent interview in his humble Managua home.

“To the media, Edén doesn’t exist,” he continued. “The politics of a consistent and uncompromising revolutionary bothers them, so they ignore (me) completely.” However, Pastora maintains, “honest” Nicaraguans – many of whom he claims are still in the “undecided voter” category – will come to realize that his campaign is their best option.

“I know that in the next three months the country will come to understand Edén and Alternative for Change. We’ll do just fine,” he said.

A Career of Impossible

The 2006 presidential election is not the first quixotic endeavor Pastora has taken on with confidence.

On Aug. 22, 1978, Pastora’s legend was born. Using the code name “Comandante Cero,” Pastora led a small Sandinista commando force in a daring takeover of the legislative NationalPalace.

That event – captured in a famous photograph of a dashing Pastora holding an AK- 47 over his head victoriously – marked the Sandinista’s grand unveiling to the world. More importantly, it showed Nicaragua that the Somoza dictatorship could be brought down, which it was the following year.

Eleven months later, as the head of the southern-front Sandinista rebels, Pastora’s guerrilla group was the first to enter Managua in July of 1979.

But his charisma and widespread popularity was viewed as a threat by the then-virtually unknown Sandinista political leaders in exile in Costa Rica – including future President and party leader Daniel Ortega –and Pastora was largely cut out of the ruling directorate.

Pastora then returned to the southern jungles in the early ‘80s, this time as a rogue Contra leader who represented a thorn in the side of both the Sandinista government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Today, Pastora still considers himself a Sandinista. Even Ortega recently referred to him as “our comandante,” and invited Pastora back into the fold of the Sandinista Front.

But Pastora, whose only electoral experience was a humiliating defeat in the 2004 mayoral contest for Managua, is again on a mission to change the politics of Nicaragua.

Next Tuesday, Pastora will publicly unveil his campaign’s government platform on the steps of the old

National Place

to commemorate the 28th anniversary of his rebel takeover.

“I have faith that this country wants a change,” he said. “I know that the only candidate who can guarantee change is Edén. I have faith that this country wants an honest candidate, and I have demonstrated to be honorable and honest.”

Pastora says that a government led by “Presidente Cero” would be one that fulfills the unkept promises of the Sandinista revolution in 1979, in terms of health care, education, housing and agrarian reform.

“It would be a government of national reconstruction,” he said. “A government that is truly for national unity. A government that would call on all parties and political leaders to build a national plan for 20-25 years.

“Nicaragua’s problems are so many and so big that one party alone, or one leader alone, cannot resolve them,” he added.

Thoughts on Ortega

In the event of an Ortega victory in November, Pastora thinks it would be unlikely that things would go back to the way they were here in the 1980s.

Pastora said Ortega, who is leading in the polls, is trying to convince others that he is a changed man; the Sandinista leader’s problem – Pastora said – is that many people don’t believe him.

“I think Daniel will try to come to an understanding with the North Americans,” Pastora said. “The question is whether the North Americans would be willing to come to an understanding with Daniel. And with this (current U.S.) government, it will be much more difficult.”

Pastora added: “I think that internally Daniel can’t do the same as before. He doesn’t have the army, he doesn’t have the police, he doesn’t have mass organizations, he doesn’t have mass media, and he doesn’t have the political capital that he did in 1979, when he spoke for the heroes and martyrs of the Sandinista revolution.And he doesn’t have the same international support that he had in ‘79.”

Pastora said he thinks Ortega would try to lead a “more conservative government” to win over certain sections of the Nicaraguan population.

Return to Edén

If Nicaraguans want real change, Pastora argues, they need to vote for him.

“If it is true that the people want an honest man, if it’s true that people want a change, then they need to stop voting for the same thing they’ve always voted for in the past. They need to vote for us,” Pastora said.

“But if this is not true, and if the people vote for the same thing as always, then they’ll get the government they deserve.”


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