Nicaragua’s top military brass is categorically denying the existence of a rearmed contra group in the mountains of Nicaragua, following what was essentially a declaration of guerrilla warfare issued earlier this month by José Gabriel Garmendia, known as “Comandante Jahob.”
“The war has ended; there are no conditions for armed groups to operate here,” said Gen. Julio César Avilés in comments to the press this week.
Avilés said the man known as Jahob is a common criminal suspected of murdering another ex-contra known as “Piraña.” The general said Jahob is trying to avoid justice by hiding behind a false political cause.
But those who know Jahob, a former contra commander who specialized in sabotage and ambush during the 1980s, claim he is the real deal.
Former contra commander Luis Fley, better known as “Comandante Jhonson,” told The Nica Times this week that Jahob is not an outlaw, rather a man of conviction who still feels “strong resentment” towards the Sandinistas for killing his parents and brothers in the 1980s. He said Jahob was well-trained by the Argentines and the CIA.
Jhonson said that after disarming in the 1990s, Jahob tried to reintegrate into society and got a job working in Managua for ENACAL, the state-run water and sewagecompany. But his troubles started again after President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007.
Jhonson said Sandinista labor unions made it impossible for Jahob to continue working at ENACAL. So he left his job, and three months ago allegedly returned to the mountains. The former contra commander said Jahob, whom he estimates to be in his late 40s, reportedly now has 140 armed men under his command dispersed throughout the mountains near the Honduran border.
Gen. Avilés said the army has learned that Jahob has also been crossing over into Honduras in attempts to make contacts with “other delinquent groups” north of the border.
Jhonson, however, said he thinks Jahob and his rearmed guerrillas are mostly focused on working to “build a social support base with collaborators” in different mountain villages in Nicaragua. He said he expects that Jahob will continue to train and prepare his men for an eventual guerrilla campaign in the event that President Daniel Ortega refuses to step down after his constitutional term limit expires in January 2012.
But others think Jahob might be planning to act much sooner.
A man in the United States claiming to be a former contra known as “Chacal Negro” claims he worked closely with Jahob in 1985 and knows what he’s up to now. Chacal Negro warns that his ex-comrade is “very capable at covert operations” and is planning to target only a handful of top politicians to “clean the heads of state.”
The Nica Times was unable to verify “Chacal Negro’s” true identity (he says he’s a former National Guardsman who trained as a U.S. Army Ranger) or his claims to familiarity with Jahob’s rebellion. But much of what he knows about Jahob was confirmed by other contra leaders.
“Jahob will strike in the next three of four months,” Chacal Negro predicted in a phone conversation from the United States. He said all the weapons that Jahob needs are already hidden up north. “Part of our training was how to store and hide weapons so that they will last 70 years,” he said.
Other ex-contras who rearmed in the 1990s are also warning about Jahob. Mario “Pajarillo” Espinoza, who led his own rearmed contra group in the 1990s – the Frente Norte 3-80 – said Jahob is a dangerous man with lots of training and combat experience. “He is a complete man, with lots of military and ideological training,” Espinoza told The Nica Times this week.
Espinoza said last year that the old contra group known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) and other former members of the resistance had started reorganizing in the northern part of the country. But he insisted that they were unarmed (NT, Nov. 20, 2009).
He said this week that his FDN organization, of which he’s president, has nothing to o with Jahob’s armed group, which Jahob claims is FDN.
Estelí’s Catholic Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata has also warned of the presence of rearmed groups up north. But Comandante Jhonson said the groups Mata warned about were smaller and short-lived movements hat have already been disbanded. Jahob, he said, is another matter altogether.
The only comments Jahob has given to the press so far have been to popular opposition radio journalist Santiago Aburto who interviewed Jahob earlier this month for the opposition Radio Corporación in Managua.
Armed Sandinistas last year raided Aburto’s station, Radio La Ley, in the northern town of Sébaco, confiscating the equipment and forcing him off the air (NT, July 3, 2009).
In the broadcasted interview, Jahob said his group is rearmed and ready to “fight against the dictatorship and the pacto (the power-sharing pact between Ortega and opposition leader Arnoldo Alemán).” He claims his movement is a continuation of the FDN’s struggle of the 1980s.
Jahob called the Nicaraguan army and olice “dogs” at the service of Ortega, whom he called a “tyrant.” Jahob said his group is fighting to remove Ortega from power “with bullets.”
Jahob denied his involvement in the murder of his former contra comrade Piraña. He said the police have been unable to solve the murder, so they are trying to pin it on him. Jahob also said the military has offered him money and land to demobilize, but he insists he will remain in the mountains training with an unrevealed number of men.
“I have the capacity to do this and they are not going to catch me very easily; I am going to be in the mountains the time that is needed (to ensure) the well-being of Nicaragua,” Jahob said.
Nicaraguans Reject Violence
Former Nicaraguan Defense Minister Avil Ramírez says a guerrilla war makes no sense in Nicaragua anymore.
Despite Jahob’s criticism of the army and police, Ramírez defends their institutional structure.
“For the first time in our history, the Nicaraguan Army has no owner or political affiliation, like in the past with Somoza’s National Guard or the Nicaraguan Popular Army,” Ramírez told The Nica Times. “For that reason, an armed movement against the government lacks logic because struggling against a constitutional military is not going to change the path of the country, or help preserve its democracy.”
Plus, Ramírez notes, Nicaraguans are tired of violence and war, and would not support such an armed adventure at this time.
Other rearmed movements that popped up in the 1990s and 2000s have all been disbanded, he said.
“The great majority of Nicaraguans don’t support President Ortega, but they also reject violence and war as a way of resolving political conflicts,” the former minister said.