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Revolution in the Family


"In Managua, on the morning of Tuesday, January 10, 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro began the usual drive from his home facing Las Palmas Park to the office of La Prensa in the industrial district on the North Highway. Shortly after eight o’clock, as he passed through the overgrown ruins of what had been the downtown area before the 1972 earthquake, his Saab was intercepted by a Toyota pickup carrying three armed men. They forced his car to stop, jumped out and fired on him through the windshield, then fled. Chamorro was hit about twenty times in the face, chest, arms, and throat. He died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

"As soon as word spread of the shooting, businesses began to close throughout Managua, and tens of thousands of people followed Chamorro’s body home from the hospital for the wake. It was the beginning of a mass outpouring of frustration and anti-Somoza rage."


"The failure of the mediation left the moderate opposition forces in Nicaragua--political parties, the church leadership, and private enterprise groups--dangling in the wind without desirable options. Their choice now lay between throwing their lot in with the Sandinistas or making peace with Somoza. Most were shocked at what had seemed to them a display of impotence on the part of the United States."


"Sometime before the end of May 1979, General Torrijos in Panama had begun to have second thoughts about the trend of Nicaraguan events and to fear that he was losing to Fidel Castro in a high-stakes game. His involvement with the Sandinistas had been like buying a volatile stock--risky, but with great potential return. It was time to cut his losses and try to help his friend Carter. According to Torrijos’ friend Gabriel Lewis, the general had come to feel 'that Jimmy Carter was sort of a priest, with high moral standards and very courageous.' In his heart, Torrijos wanted to be that good, but his approach was different. Ambler Moss remembered: 'Torrijos always wanted Carter to be a partner in an enterprise to get rid of Somoza and put some sort of nice, left-of-center social democratic government in, and he thought: 'If only these gringos had the good sense to rely on my judgment and listen to me I could work this out for them, but they are dumb people and don’t do what I say. I only want to be used.' That sort of thing.'"


"In the months following July 1979, power in Nicaragua seemed to reside in a confusing array of comandantes in fatigues and civilians in shirt sleeves who shouted from podiums in dusty plazas hung with red and black banners, then took off in caravans of cream-colored Mercedes-Benzes confiscated from the old order. Talk masked the absence of government and political consensus. An intricate dance began among all the elements that sought power, influence, and voice. Authority seemed up for grabs, available to whomever dared pronounce himself on a topic. After nearly five decades in which power rested in one last name, there was now no understanding about who had a mandate to do what."


"It took nine months for the tensions over the future course of Nicaragua to erupt into public discord and end the honeymoon between the Sandinista Front and the great majority of non-Marxists who had remained in the country. During a three-day period in April 1980, Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Chamorro resigned from the junta, and La Prensa was closed by an internal dispute over the attitude the newspaper should take toward the policies imposed by the FSLN. The immediate issue for Robelo was the Sandinistas’ effort to expand the size of the Council of State then being formed and give themselves a clear majority. Violeta Chamorro diplomatically cited a lame leg as her reason for resigning three days before Robelo, but she had joined him in opposing the expansion and reapportionment of the Council of State. For both, the issues went deeper and wider."


One day in late February 1981, a few hours after I arrived in Managua from El Salvador, a taxi driver asked if I happened to know whether it was true that the Marines were preparing to land in Nicaragua. It was not so much that the possibility perturbed him; it was that he wanted to be able to plan ahead.

"His question seemed prompted by the near-hysteria emanating from the Sandinista leadership, the result not of the attacks along the border with Honduras but of two major foreign events the previous month that had an overlapping impact in Nicaragua. Ronald Reagan had been inaugurated President of the United States, and guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front had mounted a large-scale, but unsuccessful, offensive in El Salvador.

"In recent days the State Department had issued a White Paper based on captured documents revealing that the Salvadoran guerrillas had been armed for the offensive with weapons shipped from various Soviet bloc and Arab countries through Nicaragua. United States economic assistance to Nicaragua had been suspended in reprisal, including concessionary wheat sales. The Sandinista press was now proclaiming in banner headlines that Ronald Reagan was taking bread from the mouths of Nicaraguans. If this had happened, could the Marines be far behind?"