The Underground in Nicaragua in the time of Daniel Ortega

50 years ago, Oscar René Vargas saved Daniel Ortega. As if it were a déjà vu, many of those who suffered exile and the undergorund during Somocismo, reedit their situation today with the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega

50 years ago, Oscar René Vargas saved Daniel Ortega. As if it were a déjà vu, many of those who suffered exile and the undergorund during Somocismo, reedit their situation today with the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega

As if it were a déjà vu, many of those who suffered exile and the underground (‘clandestinaje’) during Somocismo (the state of Nicaragua under the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza García), reedit their situation at the moment with the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.

Mothers ask for their children captured by the National Guard of Anastasio Somoza in 1978. An image that has been repeated forty years later. PHOTO: La Prensa / Archive / Courtesy Instituto de Historia Militar

Oscar René Vargas is one of them. He saved Daniel Ortega’s life once. It was in November of 1967.

- payin the bills -

In that November, the “guardia somocista” (Somoza national guard) unleashed a fierce hunt in response to the murder of Sergeant Gonzalo Lacayo carried out by a Sandinista command, among which was Daniel Ortega and Vargas.

They we were out for blood.

Following a lead, on November 4 they (national guard) came onto a house in Monseñor Lezcano and captured four Sandinista guerrillas: Casimiro Sotelo, Roberto Amaya, Edmundo Pérez and Hugo Medina.

Only Perez had participated in the execution of Sergeant Lacayo. They did not care. The four of them were executed on the shore of the lake.

- paying the bills -

The next day, the Somoza newspaper Novedades reported four guerrillas killed in combat against the national guard.

A few blocks from the house where they captured four Sandinistas who later executed, Daniel Ortega and Iván Turcios were hidden and oblivious to what was happening,. Oscar René Vargas and his brother Adolfo rescued them shortly before the national guard reached the safe house.

In some private conversations, Ortega has acknowledged: “Oscar René saved my life”.

Today, however, Oscar René Vargas is in hiding in a safe house, fleeing from the man who he saved his life that time. He returned to his underground days.

As Somoza

“The generalized repression applied by the Ortega-Murillo regime, resembles the repression unleashed by the dictatorship in 1956, after the attack against Somoza García, when his sons unleashed a repression against all opponents and made up charges against many people. In those moments, the generalized repression of the Somoza dictatorship took prisoners of all those they could. However, never, as far as I remember, were the relatives ever taken prisoner. Much less, did Somoza go against the Catholic Church,” says Oscar René Vargas, a sociologist and veteran Sandinista.

Deja vu

In October 1977, Dora María Téllez entered from Honduras with a guerrilla cell whose purpose was to take the border city of Ocotal. Daniel Ortega was also in the cell. An unexpected incident caused the guerrillas to clash with the national guard shortly before reaching Ocotal, on the San Fabian ranch. It was a deadly ambush for the national guard. Téllez, 21, was handling an M30 machine gun. Ortega, 31, led with other commanders, from a hill about 300 meters from the farm.

- paying the bills --

The raid was part of an ambitious plan of the ‘tendencia tercerista’ of the Sandinista Front called “Ofensiva de Octubre” (October Offensive) that aimed to take several cities and from there to advance, in a generalized insurrection, that would overthrow Somoza and allow the installation of a provisional government. The plan failed militarily, but it turned out to be a good propaganda coup to show that the guerrillas who, until then lived in hiding, were alive and active.

Dora María Téllez, on the left, participated as a guerrilla of the Sandinista Front in the takeover of the National Palace on August 22, 1978. Here along with another member of the commando: Walter Ferreti, alias Chombo. La Prensa / Archive

Now Téllez fears for her life. She has received multiple threats from the regime led by her former comrade-in-arms. In the official propaganda she is made out to be the grand leader of the social rebellion against the regime. The police has mentioned her several times as responsible for “vandalism terrorism” that, according to them, the country suffers, and in more than one video made from the dungeons of El Chipote prison, some inmates have appeared repeating, with an obligation on their face, the official libretto that holds her responsible as the leader of “criminal activities”.

The fear is not only to fall prisoner, but, says Téllez, that someone murders her in the streets as happened to Carlos Guadamuz in 2004.

As if it were a déjà vu, Dora María Téllez again hides, as she did 40 years ago, from a regime that wants to kill her or imprison her.

Forty years later

The ghost of exile and the undergound camps out again in Nicaragua. One hundred days after the rebellion, the Asociación Nicaragüense para los Derechos Humanos (ANPDH) – Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights – reported the disappearance of at least 718 people throughout the country.

“These are kidnappings executed by unauthorized armed groups known as parapolicias,” the report said. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) described this hunt as the “third phase” of the repression in Nicaragua.

Many former fighters against the Somocistas have seen their days of persecution, threats, imprisonment, torture and exile come back to life.

Almost 40 years ago, “Alfredo” – a resident of Masaya who for security reasons asked us to call him that -, lived the insurrection in Monimbó. He says that what is happening now is like watching the same movie over again.

A few months ago he saw again the population overturned in that brave neighborhood, as in February 1978, and now he is fleeing to save his life because there is an arrest warrant for him, and hooded paramilitaries have come to his house to look for him.

Three phases

The executive secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, classified the phases of the repression of the Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua in three stages.

First phase: It lasted until mid-June, and was expressed in a “traditional repression with the excessive use of police force directly against the protesters”.

Second phase: According to Abrão, it includes the so-called “Operación Limpieza” (Operation Clean-up) that the Ortega regime developed, with the purpose of eliminating the tranques (roadblocks) through the use of paramilitaries and police against the civilian population.

Third phase: Consists of the use of State institutions, the Police, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Judicial System, to criminalize the protesters. It also includes the approval in the National Assembly of an anti-terrorism law, which, according to the United Nations (UN), could be used to persecute peaceful protests.

“There has been a process of transformation of the most crude, most explicit repression, a process of bureaucratic repression, using the institutions themselves, the justice system to arrest people, promote actions and judicial processes against them,” Abrão said.

Like the repression of 1956

Oscar Rene Vargas remembers those days, when the national guard chased him because a partner gave them away during an interrogation. “For security, my brother and I were in different homes. In the house of people who had no known political militancy, but in silent opposition, to the Somoza dictatorship.”

Then he went into exile.

50 years ago, Oscar René Vargas saved Daniel Ortega when an operation by the National Guard was about to catch him. Now Vargas flees from whom he saved his life, because the rest of the caught 50 years ago were executed. La Prensa / URIEL Molina

“Having lived that experience, we have applied the same logic of seeking refuge today. The most important thing is to have patience and discipline. Be clear that time is indeterminate. Because there is no end date to the current situation of generalized repression, we must be prepared to remain in hiding.”

According to Vargas, the repression of the Ortega-Murillo regime only resembles the repression of 1956, after the attack against Somoza García.

“At that time, the generalized repression of the Somoza dictatorship took prisoners of all those they could. However, never, as far as I remember, the relatives were never taken prisoner. Much less that Somoza lashed out against the Catholic Church,” he says.

“Currently, I am hiding again to avoid the blind and indiscriminate repression of the Ortega-Murillo regime. There is no specific charge against me, but that is not necessary, later they make it up.”

It establishes a fundamental difference with the repression of before and now.

“In the Somoza period, I understand it because we conspired to overthrow by force (of arms), now it is a civic and peaceful struggle,” says Vargas.


Dora María Téllez, commander “Claudia” in the guerrilla, believes that what is now is not an underground, but “hiding”.

“The underground experience was inherent to those who opted for armed struggle and it was a different experience in the mountains than in the cities,” she says.

One of the injuries that Ortega’s tyranny has caused young people is to have forced them to go through the experience of killing their friends, the persecution, the obligation to hide. ” Dora María Téllez, ex-guerrillera

“It was very difficult because then it supposed a very high level of isolation, scarce communication and with many complications and a very high risk for each. There were few safe houses and the movement was quite problematic because of the risk of being detected. The underground at that time was structural, a state in which you could spend many years,” she explains. “The difference now is that all people who own a cell phone can have communication like WhatsApp or say something in their social networks.”

“Alfredo”, now 57 years old, who began being a runner of Commander Hilario Sanchez in the insurrections of Masaya, says he did not imagine, at his age, living this again a situation of persecution. “I am accused of terrorism and related crimes by another dictatorship that crossed the line of legality and acts the same as the dictatorship we fought decades ago,” he explains through whatsapp messages.

He is hiding. In “refrescamiento,” he says. But his intention is to return to the fight soon. “To the civic struggle,” he clarifies.

Dora María Téllez says that she takes security precautions “because Ortega has unleashed his fury against me. They invent that I am in places that I have not been in in years. ”

In 1977, the year she participated in that guerrilla cell with Daniel Ortega, Téllez was tried in absentia for the crime of “conspiracy to commit a crime” and sentenced to seven years in prison. She remembers, however, that the public defender, a military officer, did his best to defend her. “Now there is no law at all,” she says.

“I think one of the injuries that the tyranny of Ortega has caused, has forced young people to go through the experience of the killing of their friends, the persecution, the obligation to hide, the feeling that their youth has been interrupted, in a tremendous way. I, who lived before similar a situation would not have wanted, never, that the youth of today, live it. ”

The foregoing is a translation of the article “El clandestinaje en Nicaragua en tiempos de Daniel Ortega” published in La Prensa Domingo, Sunday, August 12, 2018. Read the original.


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Nicaragua Adopts the Cuban – Venezuelan Model

In early October 2018, Daniel Ortega’s regime installed a state of siege via a Police decree prohibiting civic marches. The OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights warned at the time that Ortega instituted a de facto State of Emergency. He had essentially suspended constitutional rights such as the freedom of assembly and mobilization, free speech, and a free press.

The goal of the state of siege was to wipe out the independent civic protest and to suppress and divide the opposition. Further, they aimed to impose a false normality through repression. With this, they hoped to coopt the large business leaders and reestablish the regime’s political and economic alliances.

Nevertheless, looking at the facts, Ortega instead deepened his national and international isolation. In addition, for two consecutive years he aggravated the economic recession and the social crisis. This continued until the negligent management of the Coronavirus health crisis brought him an unexpected political invoice. The mismanaged public health crisis wore down the credibility of his leadership, even among the members of his own party.

The regime now announces the imposition of new punitive laws. There’s a push to allow the use of life sentences for certain crimes. There’s a new law to regulate supposed “foreign agents”, and a “cybercrimes” law, better known as the “Gag law”. With these, the regime is recognizing the failure of the police state. The repression never succeeded in squashing the civic protests. Even without massive demonstrations, the spirit of the resistance remains intact.  Despite the National Coalition’s stumbles and the lack of a united national front, today the resistance is greater and better organized. It now has a presence in all of the country’s municipalities.

In the next two weeks, the regime’s parliamentary steamroller will assure the approval of that combo of punitive laws. These impose severe jail sentences for any and all opposition, a majority who represent over three-fourths of the electorate.

However, in reality, the regime has never needed legal pretexts to repress and imprison. Almost two years ago, the police assaulted the offices of Confidencial and Esta Semana and executed a de facto confiscationThis was done without the backing of any judicial orders. Yet, despite the television censorship, they never silenced us. We continue our truth-based journalism. Meanwhile the independent press – persecuted, harassed and sometimes exiled – now enjoys much more credibility and influence than the official machinery.

The latest Cid-Gallup polls confirm that the majority of the population no longer believes the government’s lies about COVID-19. The express burials and the Ministry of Health statistics on pneumonia fatalities and COVID-19 tests speak for themselves. These facts refute the daily monologues of Vice President Rosario Murillo.  Because of that deception, every day political support for Ortega and the FSLN shrinks still more. His backing among the public employees, both civilian and military, continues eroding.

In reality, the “Gag Law” is aimed at threatening the honest and professional public servants. It is meant to keep them from leaking information to the press and the public regarding acts of political corruption.  Such acts are occurrences that the regime wishes to hide.

The “Cybercrimes Law” also threatens users of social media with jail time. However, the dictatorship will continue losing the battle for the truth in social media. They can’t control the massive exercise of free speech and the use of new information technologies now at the service of citizens.

These punitive laws aren’t a symptom of strength, but rather of the political and moral defeat of a minority regime. Why, then, does Ortega need to impose them against wind and tides?  There are at least three hypotheses to explain this imperious political necessity.  All are based on the regime’s urgency to adapt the Cuban and Venezuelan “model” of repressive authoritarianism to Nicaragua.

First, they intend to make full use of the Constitution and laws as one pillar of their repressive strategy. However, they don’t want these as guardians of rights, but as a means to criminalize democratic liberties and civic protest. Clearly, it’s not a carbon copy, but this strategy definitively reflects the Cuban and Venezuelan “model”. The regime is adapting that model to fit a dynastic family dictatorship with the aim of liquidating the democratic project in Nicaragua.

Expedited by the “Law” he’s mandating, Ortega will now be able to eliminate organizations of civil society. He will also control any eventual adversaries and political competitors, by criminalizing them as “foreign agents”. The Venezuelan experience demonstrates that despite high international political costs, the Cuban “model” can prove effective in giving the regime stability. Through this model, pure and harsh repression can be draped in a “legal” mantle. For Ortega, this translates into an incentive to accumulate political hostages and gain time.

Secondly, the regime intends to take over the agenda of justice and present itself as a punisher of “hate crimes”. The latter would now carry a sentence of life in prison. This, in the end, is merely a defensive act. It responds to the need to assure the Sandinista bases that they’re not the ones under the gaze of justice.

Those accused of true “hate crimes”, crimes against humanity, crimes with no statute of limitations, are in the regime’s inner circle. The finger points to members of the Ortega-Murillo regime who are most directly tied to the repression. However, as in the April killings and the failed official narrative of an attempted “Coup d’Etat”, Ortega will point the finger elsewhere. He’ll try to convince his followers that his own hate crimes can be attributed to the victims.

Thirdly, although the Nicaraguan Constitution proclaims political pluralism, this combo of punitive laws assures there’ll be no competitive elections. With these laws, Ortega has ratified his stance for the November 2021 elections. Given this, it’s illusory to expect some electoral opening from a regime that’s willing to play All or Nothing. Though they risk further international sanctions and a declaration of illegitimacy, they’ll be celebrating the elections with no competition and without transparency.

Will we arrive at the opening of the 2021 electoral campaign without a political reform?  The answer to this interrogative doesn’t depend on Ortega, but on the political opposition.  Ortega has already decided to radicalize his authoritarian model. Meanwhile, the opposition continues to be paralyzed. They’re discussing which electoral box is the safest, in imaginary elections in which they haven’t even been invited to participate.

Meanwhile, the national debate must center itself on determining the most effective strategy. The opposition must work on joining forces, weakening the regime, and altering the balance of power. They must thus force a political reform on the regime, one that results from national and international pressure. First, the reform, with or without Ortega, and later free elections.


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