RIGHT TO LIFE1
A. General Considerations
This chapter deals mainly with the events which began on September 9 with the attack by the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) against several National Guard detachments. Naturally, this does not imply that note has not been taken of the numerous complaints received by the Commission of violations of the right to life prior to that date and which are being processed according to the normal process. Moreover, given its special seriousness, the disappearance of numerous peasants in recent years is also considered.
It has been decided, for reasons of clarity, to divide this chapter into the following categories:
1. Deaths during combat and serial bombings.
2. Deaths and other incidents involving Red Cross personnel.
3. Deaths during the so-called “Operation Mop-Up”.
4. Deaths after the cessation of hostilities.
5. Disappearance of peasants.
B. Deaths during Combat and Bombings
After the start of the armed struggle on Saturday, September 9, several days of intense combat took place in the major cities of Nicaragua. As happens in every armed conflict of such magnitude, both sides, the National Guard and the Sandinista Front, suffered loss of life and a considerable number of wounded.2 The losses occurred as a result of street fighting, and the employment of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery by the National Guard.
The Commission deplores the loss of any human life, notwithstanding the circumstances. But, at the same time, it is evident that with regard to this fundamental right to life, the contending parties have the duty of respecting the unarmed population which is unable to protect itself. Such duty, as will be explained in this section, was not observed by the National Guard.
Moreover, the Government of Nicaragua assumed the solemn obligation of respecting international norms of humanitarian law, especially those set forth in the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, signed on August 12, 1949, which is also applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character,3 and which Nicaragua ratified on December 17, 1953.4
Before its arrival in Nicaragua, the Commission received numerous allegations of a large number of deaths and injuries and significant material loss among the civilian population due to the indiscriminate use by the National Guard of serial bombardment and heavy artillery. In order to investigate these very serious allegations, shortly after its arrival the Commission visited the cities most affected by combat—Estelí, León, Masaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega.
The Commission closely inspected different neighborhoods in each of these cities, speaking directly with people who lived there and visiting their homes. Through the abundant and irrefutable proof in its possession, it was able to confirm the magnitude of the destruction caused by serial bombardment and heavy artillery.
The Commission is totally convinced that the Nicaraguan National Guard not only used its firepower indiscriminately causing a great number of casualties and tremendous suffering to the civilian population, but that it also ordered the people to remain inside their homes before the bombing, without even allowing them to evacuate, thus violating a basic humanitarian norm.
We quote from some of the numerous cases received, to illustrate this affirmation. It is important to point out that the Commission investigated a large number of these cases by visiting the sites where these events took place.
In Chinandega, the Special Commission received the following testimony:
It was Thursday, September 14, when the airplanes began to strafe our houses in Barrio La Libertad. My husband, my 5 year old daughter and I were crouched in a corner of our house, crying and thinking that we would die right then and there because the bullets and shrapnel were destroying our small wooden house. We decided to go out and seek shelter in a safe place; we left by the kitchen, my husband with our daughter in his arms. A plane flew very low, it seemed as if it was coming straight at us, and fired some rockets which hit my daughter's shoulder and my husband who was carrying her. Everywhere I looked I could see the heart and intestines of my child; she was in pieces, destroyed. My husband, who had already lost his arms, took about thirty steps, with blood spouting every where, until he fell dead. He had a wound in the chest; he had a part of a still-smoking rocket stuck in his leg. The left leg was bare to the bone.
I wanted to lift my child but she was in pieces; I didn't know what to do. I ran and I got her little arm and I tried to put it on her, I tried to put everything that was coming out of her back in but she was already dead. She was my only daughter, and I had a difficult time having her; and I used to dress her up for parties and spoil her. I don't know what I'm going to do, I'm going to go crazy.
A September 28 report from a parochial school in the city of León states:
Day 13, Wednesday: In the morning, an airplane of the Nicaraguan Air Force (FAN) strafes León and in the afternoon the city is bombed with rockets from the Fortín de Acosasco, which dominates the southwestern part of the city. The number of refugees is over one thousand; even the chapel is used.
Day 14, Thursday: At 5 a.m. the first child is born in the dispensary. At mid-morning a female student of the “Manuel Ignacio Lacayo” school is killed in her own house by a bomb dropped from a FAN helicopter; like the many other dead from Subtiava (a neighborhood in León) she is buried in the garden of the house. Around 2:30 p.m., a reconnaissance aircraft announces that the National Guard is going to carry out a “military operation,” that no one should open their doors to the “bloodthirsty communists” since the National Guard will not be responsible for what might happen. At 5 p.m. the bombing, the artillery, the endless shooting, and the fires begin. Electricity is cut off and we are left without water. People sleep crowded together. The crying children lend a pathetic note.
A well-known professional association from León presented a document to the Commission which in part states the following:
On Thursday the 14th, early in the morning, we heard on the radio about the suspension, decreed by the government, of all constitutional rights and the implantation of the State of Siege. The army announced through loudspeakers in an airplane and a helicopter that people should remain in their houses with the doors locked and not allow strangers in because the National Guard was going to fight. There had been rumors that the President was going to order the bombing of the city but no one had believed such rumors since we didn't consider that a person could do such a thing, that an army would bomb its own people; nevertheless, at around 9 in the morning, several helicopters and planes, it's impossible to say how many, flew over the city and to the surprise and terror of the people of León, the impossible happened. The airplanes and helicopters suddenly dived and started to drop shrapnel, bombs and rockets which spread panic among the civilian population. While the civilians remained inside their houses, innocent victims of the massacre, the insurgents moved to more secure places. For many more hours, the National Guard continued the destruction and genocide of this unprotected city. After a brief period of respite, at noon, the stunned population was victimized by another bombing which started around 4:30 in the afternoon and ended around 7:30 in the evening. The moon illuminated the city and facilitated the continuation of the bombing during the first hours of the night.
The Commission was able to confirm that Estelí was the city which suffered the greatest material damage. But, above all, it was at the human level where there was the most devastation. The Special Commission was able to confirm that a large number of people from Estelí, especially members of the Bar Association, Medical Society, Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, Dental Association and firemen, priests, journalists and workers, were dead, wounded, imprisoned, in asylum or in exile, harassed or threatened with death.
In a document presented to the Commission by a professional association, the events in Estelí are narrated in the following way:
On September 11, Martial Law is imposed and constitutional rights are suspended. All communications are broken. The National Guard command post is surrounded. The population erects barricades in the streets. The Air Force (National Guard) goes into action, bombing the Calvario, San Antonio and José Benito Escobar neighborhoods, killing many civilians. The city is still in the hands of insurgents. The confrontations leave an estimated 40 people killed. The civilian population begins to loot some stores.
Fleeing the destruction caused by the bombings, a large part of the people seek refuge in first aid posts located in the more solidly constructed buildings. The Red Cross is constantly harassed, several corpsmen are wounded, ambulances are machine-gunned. The wounded are forcibly taken to the National Guard and then shot.
On the 17th there is no electricity or water, and the city is completely isolated; food and medicine are scarce.
The exact number of unburied dead in the streets and houses destroyed by the aerial bombings and tanks is unknown.
It is estimated that the National Guard in Estelí during that period was made up of at least 1,200 men, with heavy weapons and tanks, plus the permanent support of six National Guard combat planes.
On September 20, there are hundreds of dead in the streets and in houses. The National Guard has the city surrounded and prohibits any going in or out. Some families are able to escape by leaving the destroyed city by means of paths to the mountains.
The National Guard ordered the population of several neighborhoods to abandon their houses so they could be searched. Witnesses say the systematic looting that the Guard carried out before finally burning down their homes.
After the heavy attack of the previous day several buildings are completely or partially destroyed, among them the Bank of America, the El Calvario Church, the Inmobiliaria building and many other houses hit by the bombing. Numerous civilians are wounded or killed.
In spite of the heavy serial attack, there is still strong resistance. More people try to find a way to abandon the burning city. The National Guard plans to attack the hospital and the Nuestra Señora del Rosario School which is being used as a shelter for more than 4,000 people, mostly women, children, the elderly, and Red Cross personnel.
The National Guard “officially” declares that there are more than 90 dead among the civilian “attackers”. Entrance to the city is forbidden to all journalists who do not have an order signed by a high-ranking member of the National Guard.
A group of priests, doctors, educators, professionals and ranchers of Estelí signed on September 18—before the events had ended in that city—the following statement:
After knowing the results of the first day, that the dead and wounded were not mostly insurgents but civilians who could not be attended to, we tried to send an S.O.S. to the outside world to avoid more bloodshed on both sides. We were completely isolated and with only the internal communication of a telephone which was still working, we spoke with the Departmental Commander. We wanted to bury bodies and to tend to the different needs of the people, something which had been ignored. Ham radio operators, who had been able to cooperate to some extent, had sent a few messages to the world before they were censored.
On Monday the 11th, Tuesday the 12, Wednesday the 13th and Thursday the 14th, there was fighting within and around the city between the two groups, with the National Guard using tanks and heavy weapons against all houses suspected of sheltering rebel fighters.
On Friday the 15th, Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th early in the morning, Air Force planes began to fly over the city, and minutes later they started an aerial strafing, while the National Guard, it seems, advanced on land. The aerial attack intensified on the population which was looking for shelter. The people had been placed in improvised first aid stations, since the houses in the city, due to their zinc or tile roofs and brick or wood construction, are completely inadequate to protect their inhabitants from the land and air attacks to which Estelí has been subjected.
Knowing that a large number of the dead and wounded were civilians, not part of the fighting groups, some were cared for in improvised first aid stations, clinics and the hospital, all of which were operating with great difficulty. The Red Cross and volunteers have had to give aid under great risk, because there has been no truce and the neutrality emblems of the Red Cross have not been respected. Members of the National Guard have gone so far as wounding volunteers, machine-gunning ambulances and shooting the wounded.
Some complaints of individual cases received by the Special Commission in the city of Estelí state the following:
Mrs. Reyna Gutiérrez, who had two infant twin sons, was a humble woman of no means, completely removed from political matters. She had her children in her arms when she was machine-gunned by the plane. This woman was approximately 30 years old, very poor and lived in a wooden house, helpless and without food.
Mrs. Ana López was also killed with a bible in her hand, begging God for clemency, and there she was hit by a bomb from the airplane that bombed this city eight hours a day, with the intention of killing all the people.
I was sheltered in a neighboring house, which was attacked by rockets from the government planes. Mrs. Ruth Games de Valencia was wounded by a rocket and operated on in the hospital where they extracted part of a rocket that weighed one pound, two ounces. Her two young girls were also wounded. Her husband was wounded in the forehead.
A nurse who was also wounded was taken by the Red Cross to Managua.
My house was burned in the presence of my husband and children. We begged the guard not to burn it down but he answered that he had orders from his superiors to burn “this fucking town”. We took the car out and then the tank and the machine guns turned on it and the car burst into flames. Thank God we are alive because we dragged ourselves and we crawled under the flames; our jeep was also set on fire. My husband is fleeing from town to town because there is a warrant out for his arrest because he is a militant of the F.A.O. (Broad Opposition Front), but he doesn't approve of the armed struggle; his struggle is civil resistance. My family and I only have the clothes on our backs. I'm now living in the house of a good-hearted friend and she gives us food. My house was on a corner near the Cathedral.
The planes also burned the houses. The Guard also went around with gasoline cans and started fires. It was horrible. All of us were sick with nervousness. We lived horrible days. Twenty-one days of anguish and terror, without water, electricity, or food. The Guard arrived at the house where we were sheltered and started to search. It's incredible that the Guard took the jewelry right off of me.
C. Deaths of Red Cross Personnel
On September 14, the Nicaraguan Red Cross sent a convoy with medicine and food from Managua to Chinandega in answer to a request for help from that city. The convoy was made up of an ambulance with medicines, occupied by Dr. Lepoldo Navarro, Secretary General of the Institution and Director of the Medical Department, and two members of the permanent staff, and a pickup truck—unit 38—with food, occupied by two volunteers, José Dolores Estrada Granizo and Marvin Alberto Flores Salazar. Both vehicles were identified with Red Cross emblems and flags.
The Nicaraguan Red Cross of what happened during that trip:
The necessary authorization from the President of the Republic for the mission had been obtained. I received a photocopy of this document and at 14:00 hours we started our trip toward León. We took the old road and experienced no delays. At approximately 15:15 hours we arrived at the crossroad of the Leon-Chinandega highway, approximately at kilometer 90, where a National Guard patrol prevented us from going through. The officer informed us that we could not go any further because “the situation is uncomfortable”. I showed the Government authorization and the officer told me that despite the authorization it was impossible to continue as he had recently received order to the contrary. I instructed unit 38 to follow me and I started back to Managua.
At approximately kilometer 78 of the León-Managua highway I encountered a military convoy made up of three large jeeps of the National Guard, with personnel and weapons. I told the driver to slow down and the convoy went by. Moments later, the driver told me that he had lost sight of unit 38, which had been right behind us. I called the unit three times by radio and when I didn't get an answer, I told the driver to stop and I ordered him to return to León to see what had happened. After some two kilometers we saw our unit parked on the highway with the windows broken and splattered with blood. We stopped 30 meters away and there was nobody in the pickup.
I though that the military convoy had taken them prisoners so I decided to return to Managua and report what had happened.
When we started toward Managua, at approximately 200 meters from our machine-gunned pickup, a helicopter appeared and shot a burst of bullets. I ordered the driver to slow down because I thought that the aggression was directed against us. The helicopter swept by once again and strafed two more times making the leaves in the nearby trees fly. I immediately got out and signaled with a Red Cross flag. The helicopter continued to fly in circles over us, but without shooting, until a National Guard patrol from León made up of two vehicles and approximately 20 National Guardsmen arrived. They got out and aimed their weapons at us and ordered two members of the patrol to get in the ambulance with orders to shoot the driver and then the old man (Dr. Navarro) at the least sign of hostility and told us that we were under arrest and would be taken to León. When we passed in front of unit 38 I asked the driver to slow down and we could see that the volunteers were in the front seat, dead or wounded, one on top of the other. The driver said that both were probably dead.
At that time two patrols from León arrived, stopped us and ordered the vehicle searched. One of the members of the patrol said that a Lieutenant had been shot and wounded by our vehicle while another said that he had been killed. A search turned up only food and medicine.
We were authorized to return to Managua and one of the enlisted men said softly that “it had been a big mistake”. I asked if we could take to Managua our two companions who had already been confirmed dead and when we received consent, we proceeded to move the bodies of the volunteers José Dolores Estrada Granizo and Marvin Alberto Flores Salazar, whose head was destroyed by the bullets, from the pickup to the ambulance. We decided to leave the pickup on the road until further orders, and we started toward Managua reaching our base at approximately 17:30 hours without any delays, where we found a great commotion due to the events.
The Commission has in its possession several photographs of the pickup and the bodies of the corpsmen. These photographs show more than 70 bullet holes, some of them of high caliber, in the pickup. The bodies were very mutilated.
The Commission also has a tape recording of this incident in its possession, and which it deems sufficiently important to transcribe in its entirety due to its relevance. The dialogue of two people, Colonel Humberto Corrales, Chief of Staff and Major Anastasio Somoza, son of President Somoza and Director of the School of Basic Infantry Training (EEBI). Major Somoza was at that time in the city of León, commanding his troops and in charge of the mop-up operation in that city, according to information received. The dialogue:
Col. Corrales: Listen, I'm calling because there is a “hangup” and I want to know what happened, so I can know that to invent.
Major Somoza Aha, what's the hangup?
Col. Corrales: A helicopter attacked a Red Cross pickup, the one I told your command that was going through, then they returned to Managua, in a convoy in which one part was going to León and the other to Chinandega. When they were returning a helicopter attacked them and killed two in the Red Cross pickup. You hadn't been informed about that?
Major Somoza: What we were told was that ambulance N° 18 of the firemen, right?, had been stolen by those people.
Col. Corrales: Yes, but no, but the ambulance was not number 18 or anything, but it was the pickup, Tacho, a Red Cross pickup.
Major Somoza: What happened there was that the people came from León, came from Managua, right?
Col. Corrales: Yes.
Major Somoza: And then, I had heard the thing about the ambulance, that was going to Managua, then they saw the two vehicles together and then they opened fire, they didn't hit the ambulance, they hit the pickup.
Col. Corrales: But I reported that that convoy was going, Tacho?
Major Somoza: I knew nothing.
Col. Corrales: Listen, I called Riviera personally and told him: Inform Major Somoza because we must advise the Guard posts, they got as far as the entrance of León without any problem, Tacho?
Major Somoza: Yeah, there I turned them back.
Col. Corrales: That's it, that is to say everyone knew, I informed Captain Riviera to inform you that those people were going, so that you could inform the Guard posts that they were authorized.
Major Somoza: The Guard posts didn't shoot at them, the ones who shot were...
Col. Corrales: No, I know, but now I want to know what happened? Why did they shoot? Because they have called me, and they have stuck me with this fucking hang-up.
Major Somoza: Just simply tell them that in León, right?
Col. Corrales: Yes...
Major Somoza: They had stolen the ambulance.
Col. Corrales: Yes...
Major Somoza: You got the report that they had stolen the ambulance of the firemen.
Col. Corrales: Yeah!
Major Somoza: And that then the firemen's ambulance was going to Managua and then they were caught by the patrol that was coming here, do you understand?
Col. Corrales: Sonofabitch, hello (interruption)
Major Somoza: Right? Then when they saw the ambulance go boy...
Col. Corrales: Then, what I'm going to tell them is that the patrol didn't think they were coming back so soon and so quickly.
Major Somoza: Because the patrol didn't know who they were, what happens is that when the León Command sent the news, saying that an ambulance had been stolen and had been taken over by a group of guerrillas.
Col. Corrales: All right. (English).
Major Somoza: Do you understand?
Col. Corrales: Okay.
Major Somoza: When the patrol found it, do you understand, they let the ambulance through and since the vehicles were together then they hit the one in the back?
Col. Corrales: Okay.
Major Somoza: Do you understand? You say that the ambulance was stolen with two dead guards, then León broadcast that, and it was heard by the patrol that was coming from there to here?
Col. Corrales: Yes.
Major Somoza: And then, thank God, they didn't hit the ambulance, but the pickup in the back was screwed, do you understand?
Col. Corrales: No, but in the pickup that was from the Red Cross, two died.
Major Somoza: That's correct, that's why the ambulance went through and when they saw the ambulance go by they said, there it goes! And then the forward part of the convoy shot at the one in the back, and then, the pickup accelerated, ambulance that is, and then they opened fire, do you understand?
Col. Corrales: Good.
Major Somoza: It was the patrol.
Col. Corrales: All right. (English)
Major Somoza: It isn't the helicopters that are attacking, but ones that the León Command reported by radio that they had stolen an ambulance. Was the pickup blue?
Col. Corrales: Yes, it was blue.
Major Somoza: Okay, because they also said that there was a blue pickup that was carrying people from the guerrillas, do you understand? Now I know that it was a blue Datsun pickup?
Col. Corrales: Yes.
Major Somoza: But they didn't hear Datsun or anything, they heard about the ambulance.
Col. Corrales: That's correct.
Major Somoza: They put two and two together and bang!
Col. Corrales: I'm going to call Mr. Chevalley right now?
Major Somoza: Tell them then, that I'm very sorry but, don't tell them that I'm very sorry, all right?
Col. Corrales: No, not me, I don't have to say who it is. I have to say that I spoke with the operations commander.
Major Somoza: Exactly, no? and tell them, that the León Command broadcast the news.
Col. Corrales: Okay.
Major Somoza: That a blue pickup and an ambulance were going.
Col. Corrales: Because they have been bugging me from the moment it happened and I told him, look, I can't because everyone is fighting here, right? I can't interrupt the network because of what happened; I promise you to have an investigation and tell you exactly what happened. You can be completely sure that there must be something very strange for something like that to have happened, see?
Major Somoza: No, we already made friends with the Red Cross, but tell them that the guerrillas insist on using Red Cross ambulances.
Col. Corrales: Okay, perfect.
Major Somoza: Do you hear?
Col. Corrales: All right, Tacho (English), listen, I wish you luck, be careful and don't go fucking around, do you hear?
Major Somoza: Forget it, today my girl stopped nearby.
Col. Corrales: Well then, don't be a fool.
Major Somoza: Okay.
This dialogue essentially confirm the account of the Nicaraguan Red Cross and moreover, that the National Guard was well informed about the existence and itinerary of the Red Cross convoy. Therefore the attack is inexcusable. The version of the events invented by Major Somoza in his dialogue with Colonel Corrales is another example of the lack of respect of the National Guard for the Red Cross, its members and its humanitarian activities.
The Commission also has reports on two volunteers wounded in Chinandega who were denied medical attention. Likewise, the Special Commission was informed that in January or February 1978 a Red Cross ambulance that was carrying a sick child, his mother and a volunteer was machine-gunned by Guards from the Fortín de la Pólvora. Also it was informed that Public Health and the Vélez Páiz Hospital in Managua have ambulances that have a painted Red Cross Emblem and that in the barrio OPEN N° 3 government ambulances with the Red Cross emblem were used to transport soldiers, thus creating suspicion and confusion in the population with respect to the Red Cross. In Estelí a wounded person that was being attended to by the Red Cross was killed while on a stretcher. In Diriamba the National Guard beat up four volunteers and stole the money they were carrying.
D. Deaths immediately after the bombings during the so-called “Operation Mop-up”
When the bombings were over, the National Guard carried out a military operation, which has come to be known as “Operation Mop-up,” designed to annihilate the last pockets of resistance. According to complaints received by the Special Commission even before they went to Nicaragua, the National Guard during this phase carried out a cruel attack summarily executing numerous non-combatants, for the mere fact that they lived in neighborhoods or small hamlets where members of the Sandinista Front had fought. Among some of the places mentioned are Monimbó in Masaya, Subtiava and Fajas William in León, El Calvario in Estelí, and Colonia Venerio in Chinandega.
As has been mentioned in other parts of this report, the Commission visited all these places, speaking with the residents of the affected areas and contacting relatives and neighbors of the people whose deaths have been denounced. Likewise, it visited different sites where all evidence confirms the fact that in those places there are shallow mass graves.
All the proof gathered by the Commission has led to the conclusion that the Nicaraguan National Guard's actions during the phase called “Operation Mop-up” were marked by complete disregard for human life, that they shot numerous people, in some cases children, in their own homes or in front of the same and in the presence of parents and siblings.
There follows an account, by way of example, of some of these complaints.
In Matagalpa, where the insurrection started at the end of August, during the height of “Operation Mop-up” one or several combatants of the Sandinista Front, who were fleeing members of the National Guard, entered through the main door of the Hotel Soza of that city, and immediately went out the back. Shortly afterwards the soldiers arrived, and the complainant, the only survivor of the events, gives the following account:
On August 30, at approximately 11:30 in the morning in Matagalpa, some thirty soldiers shot their way into my house, known as “Hotel Soza,” and said they belong to the EEBI, and ordered all of us in the house towards the back, with our hands in the air, in the direction of the principal room in the house. In the house there was my elderly mother, Tina Arauz de Soza, my brother-in-law Harold Miranda, the maid Nubia Montegro, and a guest, Alfredo Lacayo Amador, and the undersigned. As they were coming out they were also being machine-gunned. I was behind my mother and I jumped to the neighboring house and I was able to hide in the trash bin, hidden by the body of my mother.
I spent the whole day hidden in the trash bin, that is 24 hours, hiding behind some rotten beams a few feet from the soldiers who continued shooting to break down the doors. I could hear them shouting “there were five, where is the other one?”
And I could see how my mother was butchered after they machine-gunned her, opening her abdomen with a bayonet. My brother-in-law had his genitals cut off and put in his mouth.
They took my mother's clothes, my brother-in-law's watch and even the keys to his car. And from the house they took about 8,000 Córdobas ($1,143) that my mother had hidden under a mattress. After having looted the whole house and not finding any guerrillas or weapons, a member of the guard said, “We screwed them for the fun of it.”
I was able to leave that day helped by some friends who brought some nurse's clothes so I wouldn't be recognized. A few days later an order of massive arrest was received by the Commander of Police of San Dionisio, where my father was, against the whole Soza family.
Before they came to get us, my father took us to another place.
In Masaya the Special Commission received the following testimonies regarding “Operation Mop-up.”
On September 9, 1978 the Sandinista Front entered the town of Masaya, and completely took over the city. On September 11 the National Guard came with a tank to bomb the house. It was rendered completely uninhabitable; in that same house Mrs. María Sequeira and her 1-1/2 year old son, which she had in her arms, lost their lives. After bombing the house and killing Mrs. Sequeira, they immediately went to a shop belonging to Mrs. Sequeira, a bar, drinking all the beer.
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On September 11, members of the National Guard dragged Mario and Alcides López from their house at two in the afternoon, and beat them. They took them away and the following day they were found about three blocks away, shot to death.
They took all their clothes and the little money they had. They weren't armed, they were only in their houses with their wives and their six small children, protecting themselves from the shooting that was taking place.
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At 4:00 p.m. on September 11, 1978, Gloria María went approximately 200 meters from her house to look at some smoke that was rising from the city of Masaya and stood there with her child and her husband. Her house is located 4 kilometers from Masaya.
I saw that she was shot by a well-equipped soldier who was difficult to see in the field due to the green color, she was shot in the knee of the right leg, a little higher, then, while on her back she begs God for mercy for her son and begs them to take her to her husband—who is running desperately to help her. The same EEBI murdered, in the “Mop-up” operation ordered by Somoza, answers her: “I'm going to send you where Pedro Joaquín is” and shoots her three times in cold blood; in the right breast, in the chest at the sternum and in the navel. Once dead she was dragged from her property and sent to the morgue. The National Guard hindered her burial at 3:00 p.m. on September 12, 1978.
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On September the 12th at approximately 9 in the morning, Manuel, 43 years of age, accompanied by his three sons, Omar (24), Salvador (14) and Mauricio (13), left their house to seek shelter. They were carrying white flags and the women were coming behind them; when they were on their way they were grabbed by members of the National Guard, among whom there were several orientals whose speech could not be understood. They shot at them without asking anything and they all fell (they were carrying a white flag trying to leave Masaya to a farm due to the fighting; behind the four came the rest of the family also with a white flag).
Omar and Salvador died immediately. Mauricio fell in a ditch wounded. Manuel, when he fell, was only wounded in the legs and when the guards approached, he covered his face with his hands and begged them not to kill him, but they shot him right then and there, severing his hands and part of his arms. The rest of the family who was behind saw the whole thing. That day they (the women) weren't allowed to get the bodies. The next day they did get them and found more than 300 cartridge shells there. They took them to their house and they buried them in the garden.
From the previously quoted report from a professional association in León, we transcribe the following paragraphs:
On September 15 the National Guard announced a “Mop-up” operation in the city and forbade the citizens, some of whom never left, to open their doors and leave their houses. It is painful to realize that although there were some deaths in the previous combats, a greater number of unarmed civilians died in the malicious bombings, whose just name we will not find in a dictionary, but even after the bombings, when the National Guard already controlled the city and the rebel groups had fled, the army unleashed a repression that must end and which up to now has produced a greater number of deaths than the other two stages and much property damage which, like the bombings, we consider completely unnecessary.
In the days after the bombings and coinciding with the desperate exodus of a large part of the population, the National Guard, in its efforts to destroy the resistance, broke and destroyed closed doors of houses, warehouses and stores, and also furniture, looking for rebels or documents and compromising objects. We know several cases of those abuses. But even more painful and enraging is the fact that a true manhunt was been organized, where there are no prisoners but only death for young men over 14 for simple suspicion, or rather fear, that they might be rebels. Horrible massacres have been committed by the military who show up in different places, indiscriminately shooting the male population, leaving widows and unprotected orphans. There are places in which whole blocks have been left without men. Other times, unarmed youths fleeing from the ferocious persecution head for the countryside where they are victims of the deadly action of an informer, respectable citizens are captured with their sons and cruelly tortured. Sometimes when they don't find the right person, they capture women as hostages to force the men to present themselves. This persecution must immediately cease because it constitutes a crime against humanity and is depriving our city of its youth, the necessary manpower for the reconstruction and progress of the country.
A complaint on the mass execution of 22 people in the Barrio Nuevo de Guadalupe of León whose bodies were buried in a mass grave in the place called “La Arrocera,” states the following:
On September 18, 1978, we arrived at Barrio Guadalupe of the city of León at an alley called “Barrio Nuevo”. When we walked down a long street from west to east, we noticed that the neighbors would come to their doors and windows with expressions of surprise and fear, because we think, it was the first time in nine days that they had seen a vehicle go through that street. During that time they had been inside, protecting themselves from the shootings and bombings of the National Guard. We could see in their faces a deep sorrow and fear, and at the time, we could not imagine the tragedy they had suffered.
There were three people in the vehicle. Our trip was to visit Mr. Roger González B., an employee of “Prolar”, to obtain information on the status of the branch office that the company has there.
The house was located in a small alley of about 25 humble dwellings. We were surprised to see Roger's wife, Josefa, about 24 years of age, in a pitiable state of insanity; she was delirious, screaming and repeating incessantly the name of her husband, “Roger...Roger...Why did you go?, I told you they would kill you...”, etc. A man came up and started to tell us what had happened to them. Sure enough: “Friends,” the man told us, “they have massacred us. Josefa is going mad. We have had no water for several days, we don't have food and the worst thing is that we can't go anywhere.”
“Listen: They killed my son along with Roger.” We asked him to calm down and to tell as what happened. He calmed down a bit and told us what he knew: “On Thursday the 14th I was coming from a place called Chacaraseca. On the road I heard shooting and large explosions throughout the city, airplanes and helicopters were flying over León. I was able to reach this house. My youngest daughter and the neighbors told me what had happened and with the help of other neighbors we were able to make a list of the people who were machined-gunned with impunity. Just in this alley there's 22 dead, of all different ages. I know all of them well, they are poor and peaceful people; I'm sure that none of them has ever taken up weapons against anyone, moreover, most of them were parents with the responsibility of looking after their children and relatives.”
That day (September 15) all the people from the neighborhood went out on the street screaming: “The Guard says that they are going to burn everything in this neighborhood, everybody out, leave your houses, the bombing is coming.” Right then and there, several Guard patrols appeared, shooting at the doors and using the rifle butts against the doors that were closed. “Come out, you bastards. We have orders to burn all this,” the Guards kept saying, showing all the hate and arrogance which characterizes them.
All the neighbors came out to the street, mothers with children in their arms and some old people helped by the young. For a moment we didn't know what to do, because we were afraid of crossing the railroad tracks, because on the other side, in the bushes of the empty lots, there was a whole army, with tanks and tractors that made us panic. Nevertheless, we had no alternative and we crossed to the other side of the railroad tracks, rather than being hit by a bomb or the bursts of machine gun fire which the helicopters were hurling against the civilian population.
Suddenly a group of men shouted “Let's go to La Ceiba,” a small country property on the other side of the by-pass. We all went in that direction, approximately 150 of us.”
Suddenly the Guard patrols came out from the bushes and stopped us, saying: “Let's see, you, the men, give the children to the women and separate,” pointing with their guns indicating that the men should separate. They gathered a group of approximately eight youths and told them, “you are going to teat down barricades,” and they took them away. They formed another group of around 25 men, young and old, and made them lie on the ground, searched them and immediately took them towards the grass; they asked them to kneel and just one guard with all the hate and sadism, emptied his deadly machine gun on them.
The names and ages of the murdered young men are the following:
Carlos Hernández 20
Gonzalo Hernández 30
Miguel Centeno 32
Julio Páiz Barrera 27
Flavio Páiz Barrera 18
Clemente Paíz Barrera 23
Pedro Vargas Alvarez 29
Luis A. Martínez Alvarez 24
Hilario Martínez Ramírez 50
Julio Lezama Alvarez 30
Salvador Vílchez Poveda 23
Pedro Vílchez Poveda 17
Ernesto Luna Ruiz 27
Gonzalo Luna Ruiz 25
Porfirio Páiz Altamirano 25
Víctor Torres Pineda 19
Pedro Pérez Padilla 21
Luis Vargas Parajón 24
Roger González Bermúndez 25
Jesús Padilla Reyes 19
Julio Páiz 25
Manuel Coca Salazar 20
Another denunciation also received in the city of León and which, like the others, the Commission investigated, is the following:
At around 4 o'clock in the afternoon of Friday the 15th of September, after the serial bombing which the citizens of León, particularly the Fajas William sector, had suffered, a National Guard squadron approached, led by a tank that was shooting at the houses half a block north of the Fajas William Sector, and behind that tank there were groups of National Guardsmen knocking on the doors so the people would open them and those who didn't open their doors had their houses machine-gunned. They went ton like that until they came to my house, which already had a big hole from a tank shot. When they knocked on the door, I opened it because I was afraid and because they were ordering me to open it saying, “Open, you son of a bitch;” once the doors were opened four soldiers came into my house. All the people in the house gathered in the living room. Then the soldiers ordered the men and women to separate, then they ordered everyone out in the street, men and women, but at the door they stopped the women.
They took the first three young men to a wall on the other side of the street, with their hands over their heads and they killed them right then and there. Then they made three other young men leave, among them my 18 year old son, and when they were coming out the door with their hands over their heads, the soldiers that were in the street Machine-gunned them about their face and chests. Efrain was shouting, “don't kill me.” Miraculously, I was able to save myself and my five year old child whom I had by the hand. Immediately the guards who were inside the house ordered me and the others to stand next to the wall, pointing at us with their machine guns and one of the guards told me that they weren't going to kill me because I resembled his wife, but to tell him where I had the weapons, and I repeated that I didn't have any weapons in the house, and all the people there belonged to the same family even the one they had killed in the door of the house, whose name was Efrain, who was my son.
They then proceeded to search the house and to go through the furniture and every other object in every corner of the house, not finding any weapons and then finally the guard left my house.
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In Estelí, the Special Commission also went to investigate the following denunciation:
Professor Paula Ubeda de Morales, about 40 years old and Director of the Alfonso Cortes School, went out accompanied by a young boy, Omar Rugama, to buy some medicine for her mother-in-law. They were walking along the street when a burst of shots from a National Guard sniper, who was on the tower of the church, wounded them on the legs, they fell and the Guard immediately went to kill them. The husband was not able for several days to obtain permission to go and look for her body to bury her. When they were burying her in her own home the National Guard arrived. They ordered several people who were there, over their anguished protests, first to kneel next to the grave they had just dug and then to throw themselves in it. A woman told them, “But I'm not doing anything. Please have mercy on my little girl.” It was useless. The first one to throw himself in the hole was Mr. H.L., and then the others. They fired their machine guns on the four people, killing among them Fernando Morales, 16, son of the slain Professor they were burying. Nevertheless, Mr. H.L, was not hit and was able to save himself to tell this story because the other bodies fell on top of him. He waited until the guards had left and then went out to look for help and bury the dead.
E. Deaths after the hostilities had ended
At the end of military operations in the cities most affected, a new phase began around September 21, in which the National Guard is charged with carrying out a systematic campaign of persecution and killing young men who are suspected of having some link with the Sandinista Front, or for the simple fact that they sympathize with it.
During the visit to Nicaragua, the Special Commission received many denunciations on the deaths of numerous young men at the hands of the National Guard. According to the complainants, on several occasions those deaths occurred when the National Guard shot at groups of young men who ran in fright at the sign of the approaching soldiers. In other cases, it was alleged that people had been forcibly dragged from their houses by the National Guard at night during the curfew, and in some cases executed near their houses, and left on the street. In other cases, their bodies would be tossed in remote places where it would take some time to find them. Likewise, the Special Commission heard about deaths blamed on the National Guard, which according to the claimants, the perversity of those responsible was shown by the circumstances.
The Commission investigated a good number of these cases, contacting relatives of the victims, many of them eyewitnesses, receiving the testimony of doctors who had examined the bodies, and speaking with people whom the Commission found very credible, such as Bishops, priests, nuns, members of the Red Cross, etc. Likewise, the Commission visited the places where these deaths occurred, in many places seeing the numerous bullet holes.
In the city of Jinotepe, the Special Commission received the following testimony:
A young pregnant woman was walking with her husband and small child. A National Guard patrol appeared and arrested the husband. While he was imprisoned they tore out an eye, they pulled out his nails and tongue, and with a knife they opened up his stomach and they filled it with mud and then they machine-gunned him. The doctor that examined the body (it had been abandoned in the road and later discovered by a relative in the Managua morgue) found that he had more than 50 bullet holes.
In Diriamba, the Special Commission received the following denunciation:
Manuel Jesús Ribera, was a child of 12, very popular and well-loved in the neighborhood, called “the mascot”. During the fighting he helped the Sandinistas, bringing them messages and food but without fighting with them. This fact later caused the Guard to search for him implacably, even killing another child whom they mistook for “the mascot.” As vengeance, the father of the other murdered child looked for him until he found him in the Diriamba market and denounced him to the National Guard. Soldiers of the National Guard found him there on Thursday, October 5, hiding inside a box, and then took him out and machine-gunned him, killing him.
The death of the Ribera child was confirmed to the Special Commission by Commander Lola of the Jinotepe National Guard who, as an explanation, answered that he “helped the guerrillas.”
In León, the following testimony was received:
On Saturday, September 30, at approximately 11:30 in the morning, in the property “Las Delicias”, located in El Chague, a National Guard patrol appeared in two vehicles, commanded by Sargeant Pablo Aguilera and Jorge Luis, who violently arrived at the property, frightening the people in the house. Two young men ran out in panic, thinking that it was bandits disguised as National Guard, owing to the gross and violent manner in which they arrived. This caused the officers and the soldiers to shoot at the two young men, Yader Vanegas Camacho, 18, and Rigoberto Camacho Padilla, 14, who had gone there looking for the safety of a rural area because any young men that fell in the hands of the Guard in the city was considered disappeared. As a result of those shots the young men died; first they had been shot in the shins and then killed in a nearly orchard. The young men were completely unarmed. The Guard stole the little money they had and their shoes. They were practically riddled with bullets since there were bullet holes all over their bodies, especially in their hands. They were killed while completely defenseless and without having committed any crime.
In Managua the Commission received this denunciation:
On Saturday, September 30 of this year, at around 10:30 at night, José Daniel Jarquín García, 18, single, Pedro ..., 27, soldier, and a neighbor called Manuel Hernández Velásquez, 27, businessman, married and father of six children, the oldest one being nine and the youngest two months old, were drinking at home. All of them were from the same neighborhood.
It so happens that when they ran out of the liquor they had, they decided to get a bottle at the store located almost in front of the house. The three of them crossed Santo Domingo street, which separates the house from the sidewalk in front. While they were knocking on the door of the store, two blue jeeps of the National Guard appeared, which took them to an unknown destination.
The following day, Sunday October 1 of the present year, I went to the Eighth Police Precinct, which is the police station of that area but they didn't give me any news either; therefore, I decided to go to the Central de Policía of Managua where I was told that they weren't there, but that I should look for them in the hospital and in the morgue because if they had been captured after 8 p.m. they were “out”. At around twelve noon I went to the morgue of El Retiro and there were José, Pedro, and Manuel; the person in the morgue told me that, according to the report, the bodies had been found in the Cuesta del Plomo.
The cadavers had been sprayed with bullets. José had a hole in the temple, and he was almost cut at the waist by machine gun bullets and both arms were broken. The top part of his head was completely destroyed and Manuel had his back completely full of bullets.
In Masaya, the Special Commission received this denunciation:
On Monday October 2, at around 5:30 in the afternoon, four people were traveling in a red Datsun pickup towards the village of Veracruz, located 6 kilometers left of kilometer 14, halfway towards Masaya. The driver, Adán Martínez García, 31, married, chauffeur, Humberto Rodríguez Martínez, 20, single, accountant in the office of highways in Batahola; Silvia Antonia Rodríguez Martínez, 17, single, student of the Normal School in Managua; and William Rodríguez, 13, 6th grade student in the Máximo Jérez School. Right at the entrance towards Veracruz a lady asked them for a ride to Concepción (Department of Masaya) to which they agreed. On the way to Concepción and near Ticuantepe the pickup broke down and when they couldn't fix it they left it at a neighboring house and decided to return to their house in Veracruz. It was around 6:30 in the evening. After a short distance they ran into a National Guard Patrol, coming from Ticuantepe towards Concepción, which stopped and, despite checking their work identification and listening to their pleas, arrested them and took them in the direction of La Concha. When they arrived at an isolated hill they stopped and made everyone get out. They put Humberto Rodríguez Martínez against a wall and shot him several times and destroyed his face and one of his arms and also other parts of his body. Afterwards they machine-gunned him. Then they ordered Adán to throw the body in a ditch. Adán agreed but asked them not to kill him. At that moment they shot him, seriously wounding him. Then they shot William, but the bullet just grazed his chin and he pretended he was dead, rolling to the bottom of the ditch, where they shot at him again without wounding him. Adán, who was only wounded, tried to get up and prayed to God in a loud voice. When the guards saw this, they shot him again, mortally wounding him.
When they tried to carry off the young girl, Silvia Antonia Rodríguez, she begged to be killed right there but the Guards took her to an unknown destination. The following day the relatives of the dead youths were told what had happened by William and they went to get the bodies, which they buried in the morning of Wednesday October 4. After a long search the relatives of Silvia Antonia found the body in the El Retiro morgue. The girl had been raped, they cut her hair, her breasts were cut off and she had her throat slashed; all her body was bruised and machine-gunned.
The following testimony comes from Estelí:
In the morning of Wednesday October 4, 1978, in the city of Estelí, José Francisco Rugama Meza, 41 and Alfredo Altamirano Pérez, 25, disappeared after having been seen by their fellow employees being put into a light blue jeep of the INSS (National Institute of Social Security), without license tags, with military passengers. Mr. Altamirano was made to get in directly in front of the National Guard command post and Francisco Rugama near the highway, at 7 a.m. The jeep set off at great speed towards an unknown destination.
Their bodies were found on Monday the 9th of October, 20 kilometers outside of Estelí, already in a complete state of decomposition and partly eaten by animals. There were signs of torture and they had been shot in the head and throughout the body, a fact confirmed by the Red Cross and the medical examiner. The bodies were later incinerated. Their belongings (watch, wedding ring, chain, etc.) and money were stolen.
The Commission also has in its possession numerous other denunciations and testimonies of deaths attributable to the National Guard after the end of the hostilities. In quoting only some examples, the Commission has wishes to point out the magnitude with which this fundamental right to life has been repeatedly violated in Nicaragua.
F. The disappearance of peasants
During its on-site observation, the Special Commission was informed of the fact that 321 peasants, arrested by the National Guard, have disappeared and are presumably dead. That fact, the Commission believes, constitutes a very grave violation to the right to life. Moreover, this situation has not been investigated by the Government or the Nicaraguan judicial system, which hasn't opened any proceedings despite the public and well-known denunciations which have been made repeatedly.
1 Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states: “Every human being has the right to life, to liberty and to the security of his person.”
2 According to government figures obtained by the Commission, the National Guard suffered a total of 52 dead and 156 wounded. With regard to the FSLN casualties, the Commission does not have the necessary information to give an estimate.
3 Article 3 of this Convention states: “In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth, or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
b) taking of hostages;
c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreement, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.”
4 The Convention came into force for Nicaragua six months later, on June 27, 1954, in accordance with its Article 153.