San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sandinistas Get Blame in Attack

Twenty-four years after a terrorist bomb exploded at a press conference at the Río San Juan jungle headquarters of anti-Sandinista guerrilla leader Edén Pastora, killing three journalists – including Tico Times staffer Linda Frazier – and injuring 22 others, a veteran Swedish journalist who claims to be a survivor has accused various high-level Sandinistas of masterminding the plot.


Peter Torbiornsson, who covered the Sandinista revolution and Contra war for Swedish media in the 1980s, returned to Nicaragua this month after 18 years to accuse former Interior Minister Tomás Borge, currently ambassador to Peru, Renán Montero, former chief of intelligence, and Lenín Cerna, former chief of counterintelligence, for “crimes against humanity,” according to an interview published Tuesday in the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario.


Torbiornsson, who admits to being a former sympathizer of the Sandinistas, said his sentiments were exploited by the Sandinista intelligence machine when a month before the May 30, 1984, bombing at La Penca, Montero, who worked for Borge, asked the Swede for help introducing Danish journalist Per Anker Hansen to contacts in Costa Rica, where Torbiornsson was stationed.


Torbiornsson said he obliged, and that he actually lived for a while with Hansen, whom he says he suspected of being a spy for the Sandinistas.


Hansen turned out to be Argentine Marxist Roberto Vital Gaguine, who later detonated a remote-controlled bomb at the La Penca press conference in an attempt to kill Pastora.


The bomb, which was placed inside a camera case under the table where Pastora and the journalists sat, got knocked over before detonating, exploding in the wrong direction. Pastora was injured but not killed, while others, including Frazier, bled to death on the floor waiting for help that never came.


Subsequent media investigations found Gaguine died in 1989 in an attack on a military barracks in Argentina. But it was never entirely clear whom he had been working for. Those who dedicated the most time to solving the mystery, including journalist Roberto Cruz who was seriously injured in the bombing and dedicated the rest of his life to solving the mystery before dying in Costa Rica five years ago, insisted that Gaguine had been working for both the Sandinistas and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Both groups, though antagonistic to each other, wanted Pastora dead for different reasons.


Pastora also believes both the Sandinistas and the CIA were behind the attack.


“I was a rock in the left shoe of the Sandinistas and the right shoe of the CIA,” Pastora told The Nica Times several years ago. Torbiornsson alleges the Sandinista inner circle, including President Daniel Ortega, knows the truth about the bombing and says his unknowing involvement in the matter is a secret he can no longer live with.


Now, Torbiornsson says, he is telling his story “to honor the truth.”


“Sooner or later the truth has to be known,” Torbirnsson told El Nuevo Diario in an interview the newspaper apparently waited to run until the journalist had left the country.


“I didn’t feel good about myself …I think it is the moment to tell the truth about this.”


The case is still open in Costa Rica, and apparently still a topic that some unknown interests want to keep quiet. During a 2001 photo exhibit of La Penca in the Colegio de Periodistas in San José, the exhibit curator said she got several anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night warning her to take the exhibit down.


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