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Nicaragua: Minus Zero

2 minute read

A revolutionary hero departs

He was the most popular figure of the Sandinista revolution. In August 1978 he led the takeover of the National Palace in Managua, a daring assault that marked the beginning of the end for the forces of Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza. After the Sandinistas seized power, the movie-handsome guerrilla became an almost legendary symbol of the successful struggle. Whenever he appeared in public, crowds would break into spontaneous applause for the man they called by his nom de guerre: Comandante Cero (Commander Zero).

But last week Eden Pastora stunned the Sandinista leadership by resigning as Vice Minister of Defense and leaving for Panama. The ruling directorate tried to talk Pastora into returning. Three directorate members appeared on national television to plead with the revolutionary hero to “undo” his action.

The trio also read a letter, allegedly written by Pastora on June 26, suggesting that he would carry on the struggle in El Salvador or Guatemala, fighting in “the trenches where the duty of an international combatant leads me.”

But Pastora’s first remarks to the press on arriving in Panama suggested that revolutionary fervor may not have been his only motive. Panama’s daily La Republica, whose editor met with Pastora shortly after his arrival, reported that the Nicaraguan had left following a “break with [Interior Minister Tomas] Borge and the Reds” over the presence of “many military observers from Cuba in Nicaragua,” along with increasing numbers of Cuban and Soviet “political units.”

That explanation was not implausible. Pastora is not a hardened Communist; nationalism, rather than Marxism, has always been his creed. Moreover, he is more soldier than politician, and thus may have become impatient with the rather low-level administrative job in the military he was given by the victorious Sandinistas.

One thing was certain: whether the flight was prompted by ideology or a personal disillusionment, the Sandinistas had lost their nation al hero on the eve of their second anniver sary in power — an event that will be celebrated July 19 under the cloud of his departure.

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