San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Pastora: Penca bombing suspect a ‘terrorist’

Former Sandinista guerrilla leader Edén Pastora, known as “Comandante Cero,” said on Monday he would file charges of “terrorism” against a Swedish journalist he accused of complicity in a 1984 bombing at La Penca, near Nicaragua’s border with Costa Rica. The assassination attempt, which targeted Pastora, killed seven, including Tico Times journalist Linda Frasier and two other reporters, and wounded 22 others. 

“I’ll never forgive [him],” Pastora said, referring to filmmaker and former journalist Peter Torbiörnsson, who Pastora referred to as the “only survivor” among bombing suspects. The attack occurred during a jungle press conference on May 30, 1984 during Nicaragua’s 10-year war that pitted U.S.-backed Contra rebels against the Sandinistas. 

The attack had long been thought to be a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operation. But doubts about that theory began to emerge in the murky case. Last Friday, a former Nicaraguan Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press that the Sandinista government was behind the plot.

“I can confirm it,” Luis Carrion, a former Sandinista assistant interior minister, told AP this week. 

In 2009, Torbiörnsson, 69, also said Nicaragua’s Sandinista government was behind the bombing: “It was the Sandinistas who did it, I have no doubt at all” (TT, Dec. 18, 2009).

In 1993, Juan Tamayo of The Miami Herald and three other journalists proved that the bomber’s identity was Vital Roberto Gaguine, a leftist Argentine guerrilla who, posing as Danish photojournalist Per Anker Hansen, had befriended Torbiörnsson and gone to the press conference carrying the remote-controlled bomb in his camera case.

Torbiörnsson, who openly sympathized with the Sandinista revolution, said in 2009 that he had been introduced to the phony journalist by a Cuban Sandinista spy, Col. Renán Montero, but never suspected “Hansen” was a terrorist.

Gaguine is believed to have been killed on Jan. 23, 1989, during an attack on a military barracks in Buenos Aires, Argentine.

Torbiörnsson made a documentary film about La Penca, called “Goodbye Nicaragua.” The film, recently screened in Nicaragua and widely written about in local news media stories, features interviews with two former Sandinista commanders who headed the Ministry of the Interior in the 1980s: former Minister Tomás Borge and former Vice Minister Luis Carrion, both thought to have headed the intelligence operation.

Pastora now plans to file charges of terrorism and crimes against humanity against Torbiörnsson in both Nicaraguan and international courts for his role in the plot. 

“Torbiörnsson and the one who planted the bomb [Gaguine] are the same thing. [Torbiörnsson] planned with [Gaguine] to plant the bomb. … Now [Torbiörnsson] comes to Nicaragua as if it were a confessional, [saying], ‘I regret it’ and asking forgiveness,” Pastora told AFP.

“[The Sandinista government] at that time ordered two international agents, who were Torbiörnsson and Roberto Vital Gaguine, to kill Edén [Pastora] in a commando operation. They didn’t order them to kill Edén in a press conference. … They did that on their own initiative,” Pastora said. 

Pastora said he did not hold President Daniel Ortega and former Interior Minister Borge responsible. 

Pastora split from the Sandinistas in 1981 and fought with the armed forces of the “Southern Front” along the Costa Rican border. The U.S.-backed Contras fought on the northern front and were supplied and trained in Honduras.

AFP contributed to this story.

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