Ninth Year (1979): After the Revolution: A Month at Sangarro
Wednesday, July 25: Left San Jose, Costa Rica by plane at 6am, arriving Tegucigalpa, Honduras at 7:30am. Took a bus to the border at Las Manos, Nicaragua arriving at 11am. The border was pandemonium -- Nicaraguans of all types returning home -- cars, trucks, piles of household goods, crowds, revolutionary slogans in the air, dozens of young people with black and white scarves and automatic weapons, smiles, confusion. Finally I arrived at the front of the long line and offered my passport to the young man asking how much time he could give me. The militiaman stamped my passport with bravado and said, "We don't sell time anymore. This is a free Nicaragua. Stay as long as you like." So I entered Nicaragua for the first time in nine years without having to face the residency hassle and not knowing whether or not to be happy about it. I squeezed onto an old crowded bus; a group of militiamen and women gave us a push to get started; and we rolled, free of charge, toward Ocotal.
The business district of Ocotal was deserted and all stores boarded up. No gasoline was for sale. The only vehicles on the streets were loaded with Sandinista troops; men and women, mostly very young, heavily armed, and reveling in their victory and comradery. There were a dozen command posts spread throughout the city mostly housed in former mansions of wealthy landholders. I talked briefly with an old man who came from our area in the country, the father of our neighbor described before as jailed and molested by the Somoza Guardia. He said it was now against the law to drink alcohol, prostitute, or overcharge for food. He looked quite dapper in his high boots, broad hat and white beard. A boy on the street corner informed me that I had been talking with a hero of the revolution - one of Sandino's original men.
At one command post several hundred people were lined up with baskets. "The people were waiting for their free ration of meat," I was told. "The 'muchachos' (young Sandinista soldiers) bring in a cow or two everyday and butcher them for the poor." Radio Sandino was everywhere -- revolutionary music, news of the whereabouts of militiamen, announcements of the latest regulations, slogans of triumph.
I stopped by Bob and Nubia's. He was a lumberman we had met when they lived in San Nicolas near Santa Clara. They now had a house in Ocotal and she was a teacher. Nubia very upset because she has no teaching materials. All the books had been burned to prepare for the "new education." Bob was afraid that the "asshole kids" running around with weapons would find his double-barreled shotgun. I offered him $100 for it and he gladly gave it up.
While looking for a ride out the Jalapa road, I talked with a few militia. A young girl, with a 45 automatic on her hip and an automatic rifle slung over her shoulder, talked excitedly about the new role of women. A young man was on his way home to visit his mother whom he hadn't seen or heard of for two years. He talked about his battle experiences, the victory over oppression and the new Nicaragua. It was a long wait for a ride as there was no traffic, but finally an old U.S. army truck passed on its way to pick up tomorrow's beef. They were picking up everyone who wanted a ride, either to travel, or just to ride out and back on the mission.
Not far from town the truck came to a stop at a Sandinista checkpoint. I quickly told the girl with the 45 that I had a shotgun in my duffle bag for protection at my farm in the mountains. When the young checkpoint soldier asked to see my pack, the girl said, "He's OK, he's with me," and the truck rolled on.
Santa Clara seemed normal but with an atmosphere of tension. Everyone
is occupied with the problem of getting food and no one has been into
the mountains for over a month. More disturbing is the news that small
groups of Somoza soldiers had passed through the area fleeing for Honduras.
I'm going to stay the night at Abran and Christina's and will make the
journey up the mountain to Sangarro in the morning.
Food is scarce here. No work. No money. No patrones have come by for weeks. Beans and corn are expensive. Nothing else is available - no rice, no soap, no oil or manteca (lard).
There's only one radio station -- "Voice of the Frente." It's filled with revolutionary music and slogans and government directives. Tonight it announced, "No confiscation of property allowed without Junta approval."
July 27: Today I heard several shots and three bursts of machine gun fire. At the time I was on top of the ridge between Sangarro and Laguna Seca. I was riding Mulita, bringing my stuff up the mountain from Abran's, and using Manso as my pack horse. The firing definitely came from the direction of Las Cabezas up near the Honduran border.
Raphael now has the rifle, Moncho the pistol and I have the shotgun. If Guardias should come (and shoot first) we plan to catch them in a cross-fire between the house and barn and hope that makes them run. Ha, Ha! But it feels good to have a heavy weapon and a plan!
Six Sandinistas visited Don Abran today and got a promise of a cow from him to butcher in Santa Clara. They were taking a cow to town from San Nicholas. It seems the Guardia ate the poor people's chickens. The Frente eats and shares the rich people's cows! The soldiers said that patrols were being sent into the mountains to rout out Guardia, especially in the area of Amparo!
I encountered Narsiso in the road tonight, drunk as a skunk.
Don Jose is almost out of corn and beans and money.
Raphael came back from Honduras with shoes for himself and the baby and a pound of manteca. His kids do look great.
I worked at cleaning the garden today before making the trip to Abran's. Abran didn't seem to mind giving up a cow. I believe he is scarred shitless.
One of the Sandinista girls that visited him was a relative and muy inteligente.
Turns out too, that one of Nubia's brothers was a Sandinista. Bob remarked, "I had no idea how many of the people were in on this thing - probably over half the people in Ocotal."
Abran is turning all of his milk into cheese and selling it locally because there is no secure transportation to Ocotal.
July 28: Raphael has always been kind of rough on Emiliano in his dignified Indian way, but today, when Emiliano came to get his milk, he was downright condescending and cross. "We can't sell you milk anymore. Some days you come and some days you don't and besides there isn't enough now for our cheese." I worked out an exchange of one pound of milk for one pound of beans from Emiliano's coming crop. I'm not sure what either party thought of the exchange.
Raphael says that Emiliano said that I'd never come back. Emioiano proposed that Matilde would help him, and in turn, Emiliano would help Raphael. "He really wants this farm!" said Raphael. Meanwhile Raphael is in top shape with food and cash which almost no one else has.
We have the understanding that the far end of the farm is Raphael in exchange for his work. In August, Raphael along with his sons, Moncho and Payo, are planning to plant a postrera (late season) corn and bean crop.
Emiliano reacted to my proposal that my truck be used cooperatively very positively. He interpreted the idea to mean that I'd loan it to him whenever he needs it. My idea is that three families decide on its use and me, as philosopher-king, decide if their decisions are wise. Santa Claus is heading for trouble!
Wonderfully strong revolutionary ideas from Comandante Ortega S. were broadcast this A.M. including reference to Gringos "who supported Somoza to the last moment and now serve only to undermine the revolution". It wasn't mentioned where these remarks were delivered. Many references were made to Cuba. According to The Voice of America, two Junta leaders went to Cuba to celebrate the anniversary of the Cuban revolution. That was the total content of the VOA news concerning Nicaragua.
Our neighbor up the road a piece, Don Jose, has been sick and looks gaunt as hell. Plus he's stuck with the responsibility of caring for an epileptic, crippled teenager, a sixteen-year old, very pretty daughter, and a twelve-year old son. His eyes brightened with the violin I gave him last night, which I had purchased for him on the street in Octoal.. He thanked me graciously and said that it would be OK if I "robbed" his daughter!
Passed by a fellow from Santa Clara. He had an official permit to travel! He said that no one is allowed to travel without authorization. Twice a week they are giving away meat in Santa Clara. Everyone is on a list and receives according to family size. His family is seven and he gets four pounds. That's a lot more than he was ever able to buy.
July 29: Last night, running from a rainstorm, I sprained the hell out of my bad ankle. Had to hobble back to the house in a driving rain. Felt I should have somehow contributed such effort and pain to the revolution.
The news today is heavy on the threat of an invasion from the North, led by "El Chiguin" (Somoza-Potocarrero) "now in Honduras" and Bravo in Miami.
Some perceptive thoughts from Raphael today -- "With the freedom which we have had, we have lived by the law of the pig. We need discipline. And with the freedom that the rich have had, they have been able to manipulate the pigs."
It is now against the law to give personal loans. Only the bank can loan. Loans and rum may have been the two mainstays of the old system.
Raphael - "In the past there has always been the tiempo muerto (dead time), when there was no work, and the tiempo bueno (good time) when there was the work of cleaning the coffee (machete and hoe work) and picking coffee. You know what we really want is for pay to stay the same and prices to go down so that there is enough to both eat and buy clothes. And a piece of land! The workers dream has always been for a piece of land. Back in Sandino's time, my father said, 'What every man needs is the amount of land which he can work'."
Raphael - "None of these owners work the land with their own hands except Don Camilo and Don Juan.
Raphael - "All of the kids from San Fernando and Salamji who joined the Frente were poor people. Don Tomas's kid came back. He was afraid."
Raphael - "We need supervisors up here. This side has never obeyed the laws."
Raphael - "Fernando and Mauro have been the most piggish. Ortezes the best." Herreras OK also."
Imagine the complexities involved on the human side of this map -- the family ties and interrelationships and each farm with its long-term and short-term relationships with laborers.
The first vehicle to pass in two-weeks passed today carrying Espiere and Raphael Herrera.
Two cows were taken from Amparo today to butcher in San Fernando.
Radio - "Within a few days every Nicaraguan can pick up their solidarity package from their local defense committee."
Raphael - "no kind of help has ever gotten up here."
July 30: Raphael has been thinking hard on his land and talking about it with Licha and Moncho. His first step is a big postrera bean crop; second step is planting coffee seedbeds. The plan is that they all build Moncho's house. In time, he helps Payo and finally they both help Raphael.
Government mandated prices on basic foods were announced yesterday. Anyone not obeying this mandate is subject to two years in jail!
Today I discussed the need for a local government Junta with Raphael, reminding him how power always stays in the pueblos and not with campesinos. He agreed, but then said all the people who lived up here were muy humilde (humble/fearful/timid). He estimates there are one hundred adults living on the coffee farms on up the mountain. Upon reflection, he said that he thught that he, Don Jose and the caretaker of Chepe Peralta could serve on such a committee.
Radio - All butchering must now be done outside of the city (before the butchers threw the guts in the river and fouled up the water and dogs would drag the remains back to the houses). No butchering may be done without authorization of the agricultural ministry.
Radio - Announcement from Tomas Borge: "The celebration of Santo Domingo is to be minimized." He explained that this festival was an opportunity for Somozistas to harm the people and because it has been subverted by purveyors of vice - drinking, gambling and vagrancy. "The festival will be allowed next year, in a new context. We will have a great festival in which the people participate."
Raphael also thought of Doña Tomasa as a junta candidate. Raphael
is going to spend tomorrow talking to the key people to see if they are
willing to participate. He asked me for my advice on what to say and we
wrote up the following:: 1) Our Camelias zone has always been outside
of the functioning of the government; 2) We need a local junta for the
purposes of: conducting a census, communicating our needs and administering
aid, for example, "the solidarity packages," and for forming
a defense committee against possible invasion from Honduras and helping
implement all aspects of the revolution.
We discussed the possibility of butchering for our local population, need of education, and the use of my truck for the junta and community needs. Raphael is really afraid of seeing Emiliano and clan getting their hands on the truck!
Our local martyrs are Don Secundino Zamora and his two sons, all hard working upright people, shot in cold blood by the Guardia.
Today I put in seven hours of "revolutionary work" hoeing in the garden. The farm is now bearing peppers, mustard, tomatoes, leeks, bananas, plantains, figs, avocados lemons, pineapples and mangoes.
Reflections:: I'm not much for fanaticism and yet the forces of evil here seem so great that armed fanaticism seems the only hope. Economic and cultural imperialism from America, coupled with patronism here, seem to be the cause of the corruption. The worker class is a mess - machoism, drunkenness, dishonesty, depreciation of each other and the humidle thing, which seems strongest in the Indians (fear to the core). I didn't anticipate that the "revolution" would attack these problems head on. I'm amazed and excited. The threat of counter-revolution, led by the patrons, playing on the vices of the poor, seems almost inevitable. The revolution seems indeed to be taking on the character of a class war. Can the leaders keep the worker class with them? Raphael is the kind of worker who may make the difference. But I think he is rare. Have hope. Where did all these Sandinistas come from! But this local junta idea bristles with threat to the patrones and danger for those participating. Yet, the leadership must get grass roots support. It seems worth the risk.
Radio - The Junta spoke at length this evening stressing mainly the critical
nature of the current situation and the temporary necessity of so much
mandated order and control. It was announced that the large farms in Leon
have been turned into worker-cooperatives.
Raphael is afraid of the people in San Fernando. He says the Junta there represents the same old power structure families -- Ortez-Hererra. He reinforced the idea that that is the nature of the entire town. In the past, aid never got out of the hands of these families. The rich took what they wanted, gave to the less well-off of their families and sold what was left to the non-family poor. The priest (Padre Jiron) was an accomplice and bandido in his own right. Raphael proudly said that he had never bought from any of them (that he could read that these were gifts from the American people and not to be sold) and that his former wife called him a Communist for not respecting the Padre.
I figured that a night's sleep and reflection might have tempered Raphael's enthusiasm for the Junta Local project, but he reminded me of it and asked for help in drafting a letter of explanation, which translated reads as follows:
Camelias, San Fernando, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua
In this farm laborers community of Camelias we wish to form an authorized
local committee to help the poor. For example, for a school, food and
health, most importantly for the children. We seek the help of all of
you in helping us make this a better community. 1) We wish to conduct
a census to determine exactly the number of permanent residents (we believe
there are over 100) and to know better the needs. 2) We also would like
you to help us with a head of beef and with food. 3) And according to
a local resident (Gregg Millett of the finca "Sangarro"), if
we have an authorized committee, there is the chance of requesting and
receiving assistance from a community much like ours, (Monteverde) in
And away he rode on the mule!
Raphael mentioned this morning that he has no confidence whatsoever in Emiliano. "He is dishonest, he is tied in with and dependent on the San Fernando clan and his woman is no good (is not standing behind him like a women should but keeps running off leaving him to fend for himself)."
I put in eight revolutionary hours hoeing and planting in the garden. My ankle is walkable today.
Raphael came back with a smile and twenty-five signatures! (I thought he'd gone to get three or four of the potential leaders.)
I wonder if these folks know what they're doing? I wonder if I know what I'm doing? I wonder if I know what they're doing?
Some questions for Raphael:
Raphael said that the people here have always been afraid to talk and they are not afraid now. So and so said that the forty Sandinistas that passed asked if that was the regular food that Don So and So gave them? "Yes and he said that it would be different after the revolution. And not one of them has showed up yet and we haven't been brought food for twenty days (with 7 kids!)."
Raphael casually told Licha about So and So who had a baby two days ago and both mother and child were in bed sick with the father running around in the mountains looking for some medicine. And So and So with two feverish kids and So and So's baby with fever and diarrhea. There's a lot of misery hiding in these mountains and a lot of people who know how to act miserable too, trying to squeeze something out of their patron.
Raphael mentioned again strongly that everyone wanted the Sangarro farm to be the place of butchering and distribution. "No one trusts anyone." "You're are a total outsider and known to be fair." We decided that Don Jose was another person people might trust.
Raphael felt my presence with him in Ocotal was absolutely necessary. He said, "to me they'll just say 'Eh, man what do you want' and run him out the door'." Let's see if things have changed!
We'll bring a Frente member back with us if we can.
Doña Marcelina went to Santa Clara today to buy at the new prices and nothing was for sale. "We'll let stuff rot before we'll sell at these prices." "You should have denounced them," Raphael said. She said there were only civilians in town.
Raphael met two patrons today, Don Tomas and Chepon and both were quick to ask him what he was doing. He lied to them both.
I suggested to him that as soon as we get off the ground I should go and talk about the project with those that I know and solicit their help. He thought that sounded good.
August 1: It was a dawn to dark day - four hours on horseback, three hours in the back of trucks and several exciting hours in Ocotal.
We went straight to the Command Post for Political Affairs. There are some fifteen command posts now in Ocotal, each one in a former rich family's home. Twenty feet from the front door a young girl militia politely helped us. At the door a young militiaman showed us into the front office where a young secretary asked of our need. We started to explain and gave her our petition when the Commander (thirtyish, serious, neat, with automatic rifle in hand), came in and asked if he could help. Raphael made a short speech that we were organizing the poor in a forgotten area so that we could get help and maybe butcher a cow. The Commander winced and leaving the room said that if we'd be patient they'd get to our area, and in the meantime, we should go to work and not look for gifts.
By this time the secretary had read our petition and the Monteverde letter and said, "This is very interesting. May I type a copy?" While she was typing the Commander, who was being bombarded by all types of people, came back in. Raphael blurted out, "We don't just want help, we want to make a census and form a local committee." "You do?" asked the Commander, "Do you know how to read?" "Yes I do," answered Raphael with considerably more calm. "You do!" exclaimed the Commander, then I'll show you how to do it." So he laid his rifle across the chair and sat down next to Raphael and started drawing up a chart. While he was doing this, three different people tried to get his attention: first, a boy who wanted to visit his mother; second, a man who was complaining that his saving account had been confiscated; third, a former Ocotal Mayor who wanted to form a help-the-poor committee. Calmly he told each of them to wait until he was finished with this man.
After the commander's orientation to Raphael (and it did seem to me that he was ignoring my presence in the room), they signed our petition with authorization to conduct the census.
Raphael said he needed me but that it was different, unimaginably different. The girls with the guns - that was one thing. But the man hunkering down and explaining something to a humble one, and in the process, brushing aside a rich man - that was a change to the core.
Ocotal was a bit busier -- more people, a few more vehicles and more shops open, but little food and no one selling at official prices. Many people are to be seen just coming back with all their stuff. But Raphael says that the whole mood is different. Everyone is happy and no one grumbling.
We named the committee, "Comite de Reconstrucion de Las Camelias" and went to the bank and opened a savings account. Then we went to the post office and got an apartado. The bank account and the post office box are in the committee's name with Raphael and my names being the responsible parties.
I sent a telegram to Elizabeth and the Monteverde Committee requesting $100 to start a process of self-help. All of a sudden we felt we had risen to an official rank. I think Raphael was impressed with the savings account book and the PO box key.
I had lunch with Bob and Nubia. Nubia had worked all morning carrying books out of the school to the Frente bonfire. Order from Managua - all Somoza-Yankee school material is to be burned. "We will begin with the needs of our pupils." Nubia was fuming - "What do they think I'm going to use for material when school begins?" For Bob it was almost a victory, "demonstrating the stupidity and Communism of the other side."
Elizabeth and I had often looked critically at the all-electric homes portrayed in the AID materials and the "parts of a plant" lesson, etc. - all quite alien to the campesino children who could be shown to be quite stupid and backward. These were kids who have mastered a hundred different work skills and who know what trees are good for posts, plows, axe handles, etc., and who can identify thirty kinds of firewood and their burning characteristics. Still book-burning does smack of demagoguery.
Bob says that the responsible people are starting to get organized and are infiltrating the ranks of "these looney's." And that now it's the Frente faces that are known, with the enemy hidden amongst the masses. He wants to leave but doesn't figure that at 62 he has a chance to make it in the U.S. He'll wait till Christmas to decide.
According to Filimon, a new Commander has arrived in San Fernando from the ranks of the poor. People complained to him that the meat had been going first choice to the usuals, with some poor going without. He immediately had two cattle butchered from Fernando's herd and supervised the rationing. They say Fernando is pushed out of shape!
This Commander is well known to Raphael. Five years ago the kid said to Raphael, "I'm not going to be a master of letters, but I am going to be a master of arms and courage (huevos) in the overthrow of Somoza. They say he joined up six months ago and was aid to a commander in Sapoa. They were attacked and the commander wounded. The fellow grabbed his machine gun, rallied the men and beat off the attack. Two days later, as the commander died, he passed his position on to the aid! A beautiful story which has made the rounds in San Fernando. Raphael is anxious to make contact with him after the census and about our weapons.
According to Raphael, ten years ago all of the poor were against Somaza and for the Frente, but that only in the last year to six months, did people move in mass to take action. Comandante Cero's takeover of the assembly seems to have been the real turning point of the revolution.
Maestro Lewis in San Fernando is in a state of near shock. He hasn't left his house since Somoza's overthrow. He worked his whole life as teacher in government schools and was a hard ass as a patron on his three small farms. He says he is still stunned, "Never in my wildest imaginations did I think these people could overthrow the might of Somoza." To me and Raphael and Filimon, he gave an academic lecture on Communism, emphasizing the loss of personal liberty and free enterprise. I made a brief rebuttal. Then he defended the necessity of patrons and said that the power had gone to the masses but that it would quickly move in one way or another to new patrons and he stressed the stupidity and irresponsibility of the poor masses.
Most of the way back up the mountain we talked of what had happened and our next step. Raphael especially chuckled that, even now, no one in San Fernando knew that we had Frente authorization. "Why even when the soldiers finally get up here looking for Somozistas, they'll find people with the signature of their Commander and will surely let us keep our weapons!"
On the way back we also heard that the mandador of Amparo said that the Frente had come and asked him to stay on without pay (they would bring food), to round-up all the stock for inventory - and said that all of Mauro Vilchez' land now belonged to the State!
August 2: A neighbor came by to borrow a horse for hauling up corn. I refused because we are using two of them and Manso has a bad saddle sore. I reflected on being seen as the patron for the whole community.
Raphael says he wants my help with the census. Positive side: more understanding
of the community. Negative side: over involvement, exposure and the patron
scene. Raphael says the rich are going to damn us all anyway so it's just
a matter of who's willing to risk being damned. A real challenge will
be to help our committee get a strong link with the outside and to get
the committee itself feeling responsible. Raphael is surely thinking of
the former problem in wanting contact with the right people in San Fernando
and Ocotal and avoiding the wrong people.
From there to Doña Marcelina's -- strong matron of a household of ten. She was formerly united with Don Jose and his four children but a disagreement last year put them in two households a stones throw apart. Her thirty-year-old daughter agreed to be the third member of the committee. Raphael choose her because she has "strong ideas," "is not afraid to speak," and "likes the Frente." He likes Doña Tomasa too but she is so busy with children and "her man was the local representative of the Guardia."
From there to the Sanchez clan -- a half-mile through heavy coffee foliage on a trail too steep to traverse on horseback. Finally the wet, dark path breaks into a sunny, brown, spot where various members of the extended family of twelve are peeking out from behind skirts and doorways. The old lady greets Raphael warmly and begins to moan loudly about the aches in her bones. Segundo comes out to greet us with the stub of a hand left over from his machete fight with his brother two years ago. One of the young women, with a bold, pretty face atop a square body draped with what is nearly a sack, confidently gives us all the names. Raphael says that Juan was once fairly rich, and that they all still work hard, except when they're drunk. And that's their problem. Everyone of them loves alcohol. "If they get hold of even a melon, they'll turn it to drink, and that's where all their money goes."
About now I'm feeling like a Yankee social worker and wondering just what the hell do I think I'm doing? Raphael lifts my spirits a bit on the way to the next house by looking himself a bit shaken and saying, "Some of these folks are pretty rough."
Two days riding over a five-mile square area turns up thirty-five households containing nearly two hundred permanent residents. There are ten babies (one-year old or less), twenty-five preschoolers, twenty-seven elementary school age children, and nineteen, from ages eleven to twenty. There is one mother who, fifteen days ago, unassisted, had her first baby. And both she and the baby are with fever. There's one gaunt child who's had diarrhea for a month. Most households are short on corn and beans because many patrons have not been by for two months. Still, everyone has bananas and there are many apparently very strong people almost all of whom greeted us very warmly.
Raphael clearly adopted his pitch to the particular case. At one extreme, toward those he felt to be overly allied to their patron, he emphasized the possibility of help from Monteverde. With those he felt trust, they exchanged views of how abandoned this area had always been and how little the patrons cared. To one man he even said, "This committee is going to govern both the poor and the rich." He always saved the news of the Sunday butchering until last, saying that it was in celebration of the formation of the committee. Everyone willingly gave their names and greeted the butchering news with a smile. Everyone here knows that the San Fernando people are eating meat and those who have tried to get some have failed -- "not being on the local census list." One old women, on the Honduran boarder, seemed relieved by Raphael's counseling that it was absolutely a lie of the Guardia that the Sandinistas were going to take away all of the children." "If they take away my children," she said, "I will lay down and die."
The women at Chepon's, on the border, said that in the last year the Guardia had been there four times and the Sandinistas twice. All had eaten at her kitchen but only the Sandinistas had paid. Raphael said he feels the Sandinistas had a permanent encampment up toward the area of Volcano of the Clouds. Zamoras may have been working to supply them.
One of our last stops, furthest up the mountain and on the boarder, was to Adolfo Vilchez's. Doña Benita was at the stove with a child at her skirts (it seemed the same as my first visit there some six years earlier). The oldest girl had a baby and the youngest had been recently stolen away. Adolfo was cursing his patron and planning a trip to try to find corn.
Of all these households, only four are semi-supporting operations - mine, Juan Sanchez, Porfirio and Emiliano. Five own their own houses on a little piece of land but depend upon a patron for work. All others are totally dependent on a patron. In this sense there is no community here. The social lines run from the household here to the patron in San Fernando. There is no community enterprise such as school, church or recreation area. From time to time little stores crop up in one of the households, which seems to encourage socializing amongst the men. Currently there are no stores and most people seem to be spending considerable time trying to get provisions going to Honduras, San Fernando, Santa Clara and each other's houses. The Committee is, I believe, the first community enterprise in the history of this little area. And Raphael realizes that the Committee, both by its very presence, and by getting complaints and going to authorities, has the potential power to make patrons obey the laws, something which he says, they have never done before.
"Would you Raphael, rather have three manzanas of land or work for a good patron," I asked. "For my children," he said, "I'd rather be independent, because one never knows if they will get along with the patron."
News of Raphael's son Moncho came yesterday - that he had severely gashed his hand with a machete. "Why didn't he get his butt back up here," lamented Raphael. And at twelve o'clock last night his other son, Payo, came in with Licha's little sister from Honduras. She is probably fourteen years old, very pretty and strong looking. She was "stolen" away from her mother just like Licha. Both Payo and Moncho's women were here at the farm two-months ago and both left, one with two children. Payo went to Honduras to work and to get another girl. "This girl should be better for him," said Raphael. "She will grow up in his ways." "His other one was too independent." "And it will be good for the sisters to have each others company."
In the ten miles between our farm and San Fernando there are only two houses, both belonging to the Amparo ranch. We bought at the far mountain end of that ranch. We lived here several months before realizing that any people even lived beyond us. Our eighty acre farm is mainly grass and pine mountain country, but the far end of the farm changes to a cloud-type forest area This is the vegetation which extends on to the border and predominates in the coffee area of Las Camelias. In this decade the population of Las Camelias has probably doubled and the coffee planting has increased every year, especially after the 1977 high coffee price year. Meanwhile not a single new household has appeared on what is now the State farm of Amparo.
August 7: We rose at 1am on Sunday morning, Licha served us coffee, and by 2am we arrived at Don Jose's. Three men were waiting hunkered around a small fire in the corral where we had tied the heifer the day before. Two more men soon arrived and Raphael assumed leadership by sharpening the long killing knife. With the first light of day the work was finished - meat and bone piled on banana leaves, special pieces -- the head, stomach, intestines, bucket of blood, lungs and air pipe -- placed around here and there. There is something very ritualistic about the whole process. It starts with the gathering together in the dark and the killing of the large beast. There is nothing automatic or antiseptic about the killing. It is a genuine stabbing, usually followed by occasional gougings, until the blood and the life have finally drained from the beast -- which moans and thrashes until death. Then the butchering follows a standard pattern, here done all on the ground using the cow's own skin as the ground covering. The work proceeds from the outside in until all that is left is the great bulge of innards lying upon one rib cage and the backbone. The work is heavy and skillful and intense. And then, with the light of dawn, it is done and hot coffee and fried meat appear in the corral, as out of nowhere, and we relax as we share the bounty.
Raphael wanted this thing to be really well organized - "not a bunch of confusion and yelling, griping and stealing." So after coffee, and after giving generous rations of the best pieces to each of us who had done the work, we divided everything into thirty-five piles with a separate pile of the leftovers and special pieces to be distributed to the larger families. "This is more than one pound per person." "This is more than these people could ever buy." "Most of these people have never even tasted prima posta (meat off the hind quarter)."
Macaria appeared. Don Jose and Raphael washed up. As if on cue, a person came with sack in hand. Don Jose took a place at the gate and served as official greeter. Raphael sat down in a chair next to the meat with papers in hand. Macaria stood behind an improvised table from which the meat was to be dispensed. To each person that appeared, Raphael, with calm dignity, read the letter to Monteverde that we had written the day before:
To the Community of Monteverde, Costa Rica
We have great hope; that with the termination of the war here in Nicaragua,
and with our new government and the great support of the FSLS, we will
be able to, with time, patience and effort, develop our community with
a good level of health, education and human welfare. If you can help us
in this task we will remain thankful.
All people seemed pleased with the letter and signed it (or in most cases Raphael signed for them) and then went over to the table. Raphael would call to Macaria the number in the family and she would decide which pile and how much extra meat, if any, to add to the portion. "Did you see," Raphael asked me, "how Macaria knew just the right amount of meat to give each family?" "There are some things that a woman knows best!"
By 9am thirty-five of the thirty-six Camelias households had carried away their meat. The variety of people was again striking. Don Camelio and his type are pure indians from the mountain range extending from Telpaneca to Totogalpa. Raphael explained, "And see how different are the Sanchez women? That type of indian comes from Mozonte." And sturdy, barefooted Doña Tomas's daughter, "visiting" from Managua, came in medium heels, painted face, sleek silk pants and spoke with Raphael for thirty minutes about the importance of the revolution and a better life for people like her mother in Camelias. Also "whites" and "darks" and "washed darks" and browns of Spanish type. And my place in all of this was ten feet from Raphael, bloody and dirty, sitting under a tree sipping coffee and chatting with most of the people who came by and thanked me for the gift.
The afternoon of this same day I went with Raphael and Payo and we measured their house lots and farm plots and discussed the terms of work for the land exchange. I looked carefully at the great gulch, which cuts through this piece of land. It contains about twenty gigantic pines up to two meters in diameter and sixteen meters to the first branch. The gulch also contains a great number of other types of trees and bushes. Its banks are too steep in my opinion to be farmed and it protects a lovely stream, which at places tumbles down rocks and forms pools. The head of the stream, however is further up the mountain on the "State" land (Amparo) and before reaching "my" land, it does pass through potentially good coffee land.
Sunday evening I fell into a mild depression considering the problems of fencing and protecting this area and the governments possible reactions to this private preserve. If they want the wood they'll take it. If it is to be a watershed area and preserve, it needs to extend all the way to the water source. Also, involved in my deliberations was the some ten acres of pine between the "preserve" and Raphaels's farming land and the fencing of this too. Then I thought too of having both Payo and Moncho as "mozo's" while they pay off for their land and the inevitable patron expectations that they would end up with.
By the time I went to sleep I had resolved the problem. All of the land on the other side of the existing fence, which runs along this side of the "preserve" would be Raphael's. That's the "preserve," the pasture and pine, as well as, his house lots and farm plots. He could decide how to handle his sons and family. The government could deal with him relative to the pines. And I would forfeit my little dream of the preserve. All of this I would trade to Raphael for his work already done during the difficult period of the war.
Upon waking the plan was still satisfactory to my mind and had relieved
my depressed state. I discussed it with Raphael and he accepted, slightly
stunned, and saying that for his part he would remain my faithful caretaker
whenever I needed him, even though he had his own farm.
Rumor has is that our mountain road is going to be repaired and a large army post and training center is to be established in Camelias. Still no militiamen have been here, although about two vehicles a day now pass. According to Emiliano, gasoline is now for sale in Ocotal at fifteen cordobas a gallon.
The San Fernando Comandante stole away the daughter of a patron and went to Managua. "He had to take advantage of his position," mused Raphael, "What time gives, time will also take away."
Payo's "little girl" dutifully serves him his meals and helps Licha in the kitchen. Meanwhile Licha serves Raphael and me. She and Payo don't touch or speak nor does he look at her. Yesterday afternoon he perfumed up and went visiting Maria at Don Jose's.
Radio today announced that butchering for export would begin in Managua and that low internal prices for meat would be maintained. The Frente was criticized for killing too many cattle. Still the radio is mostly FSLN revolutionary and only news of the U.S. that I've heard involves the anti-government remarks of the U.S. Congressman Murphy. Voice of America says that sixty percent of all Nicaraguan aid is coming from the U.S.
Emiliano told me horror stories today about the state of prisoners coming out of Somoza jails. He said, "Somoza was even worse than a communist."
The pay in Honduras now is $1 per day with food and Don Jose is working occasionally for $2.50 per day without food. Basically there is no paid work available here yet.
I spent yesterday wrting up the census, hoeing and macheting in the front pasture -- cutting down brush and trimming lower branches off the young pines. I'm not in too good shape and my hand, arm and back feel the effect of only three hours work. Anyone that says "these people are lazy," just ought to sample their work.
We are now consuming two pounds of beans and six pounds of corn a day - five adults and two children. Payo, perfumed, is off today to "find Moncho."
An old lady and her young granddaughter, from the mountain Bayacun, passed
by today to see if they could be named in our Camelias census. She and
Raphael exchanged many comments on the total lack of concern of the patrons
of that area for the people. Raphael surprised the old lady with his detailed
knowledge of the area. "I know all the little corners of this whole
area," he laughed. He told her to send one person from each family
tomorrow and we would include them in our census.
Although Rafael repeatedly says how help never gets outside of the Hererra-Ortez clans of San Fernando-Salamaje, there is no binding love between or within these clans. For example Abran Hererra now has a road through his farm, which bypasses the worst parts of the main road up here. He has a padlock on the gate and only he uses it. Last year Emiliano had to pay Abran for the right to pass on his road. Porfirio has no decent entry to his property because Don Tomas won't let him pass on his property. There seems to be little cooperation in use of vehicles or in road maintenance. The one who wants in most has his workers repair the road. Many will turn around and go home waiting for someone else to do the work. Maybe the revolution will force a bit of class unity.
This afternoon six "heads of households" representing 23 people from Bayacun came by to be marked on the census.
Payo and Moncho came back - Moncho with a very sore hand gashed at the index finger and knuckle
The radio is playing "Mary-do-ya-wanna" - which is a bit of loosening up!
August 10: On the way down the mountain yesterday, carrying our census to Ocotal, I observed the first concrete external change to enter the area so far. A cat and grader are working their way up the mountain. Six men were watching the work, one of them Benito Hererra. "Well," he said, "This is the first time in forty-five years that this has happened." One way or another the road has been repaired each of the last eight years in November just before coffee picking, but this year the "State" is paying for everything. The September rains will surely wash it out again and we'll see how the State is feeling in November. No bridge or culvert work is being done.
They say that lots of roadwork is being done here and there around our area. A year ago, about one hundred pieces of heavy equipment were brought in to start a new road between Ocotal and Santa Clara. That's when the heavy fighting began and the equipment was left idle. The FSLN has dispersed the equipment to such areas as ours. The Ocotal-Jalapa road was surely needed, but the plan involved extensive surveying and tremendous amounts of earth moving. We shall apparently, for the moment, attack simpler problems, of which, there surely are many.
The equipment operators stopped working at 10am, which was the traditional Friday hour to start the weekend. Lumber is piled next to the half-dozen bridges on the Ocotal road. Three men were observed working.
The little dusty pueblo of San Fernando seemed as usual. Eight men were hanging out in the park and a dozen kids were on the corner playing with their tops, with a couple of them selling rosquillas.
Don Alfonso told us that we had to get travel permits from the command post. There, the young daughter of the previous postmaster and telegraph operator was working the desk. She gave us the permits.
The buses are now running, due to the arrival of gasoline in Ocotal. The trip cost us the prewar four cordobas. The driver told me that things were getting organized now -- the State was running the buses, setting rates and paying the drivers. "Hell, he said, "everyone was going vago being able to ride for free."
In the ten miles between Mozonte and Ocotal we were stopped three times by militiamen. Two times the driver's papers were examined and once, all of us that were standing, had to get out and the bus was boarded and people just looked over. Travel permits were not requested. The militia were all young and carrying short automatics, shotguns, clip rifles and pistols.
In Ocotal there are several more command posts and I probably saw one hundred FSLN soldiers. There presence is everywhere and none are working, just toting arms. I take it back, two were working putting up a Sandinista Flag in front of a new command post - the old Savaedra store. I really don't enjoy writing this, but then we are early in the revolution, and this is the north bordering Honduras and there's much propaganda about Somoza's son and escaped Guardia hiding in the area. In the park several young soldiers were playing with their guns - tinkering, oiling, pointing them at each other. Then across the park came a girl in tight black pants, western type ammo belt across her shoulder and pistols at her sides. WOW!
We went straight to the Political Command Post with our data. The Comandante was gone so the secretary assigned us a young militiaman. It was the first time I have encountered any revolutionary idealism since the young militia in the truck on the way to the farm three weeks ago. He was amazed by our census, saying, "You mean you did this yourselves" and gave us a rap about the need for such initiative adding that "Yankee's are pretty good at that." He did seem impressed by Rapael's involvement and speaking up about our "forgotten area." He set up a Wednesday meeting for the whole committee and promised that they would send up someone for an orientation. We were both pleased by the attention, the future involvement of the whole committee and the chance for a stronger contact with the Frente.
Raphael went to visit his sister and I went over to Bob and Nubia's.
As I called my approach from the street, Bob started calling Nubia for
help with the baby he was feeding. His voice was charged with fear. He
was most relieved to see that it was me.
Nubia served us lunch and I enjoyed three shots from the bottle of Gibley's
Gin that Bob had secured that morning. He has decided that I'm pretty
pink and screwed up and hopes that I can soon get things straightened
out. "You should stick closer to that wife of yours. She's a lot
smarter than you and you wouldn't catch her talking like a Communist!"
Two workers soon showed up and through the screen he questioned how much
time they'd worked and what they'd done. He treated them badly. He asked
me if I'd noticed the new revolutionary workers - one shoveling and twelve
watching. "These stupid, fucking people can't even read. You think
they can run anything?" "And Helen is going to have to learn
all that shit about Sandino in School." And, from the kitchen, Nubia
commented, "And she probably won't get to take English classes. Why
she'll be a pig if she can't learn to speak English!"
He mentioned earlier that they wanted Gottling to start up the lumber mill but that he wouldn't do it until they let his shipload of lumber out of Corinto. Also Nubia had received a ration of food as a member of an Ocotal zone and teacher - about five pounds each of coffee, beans, rice, milk, sugar and a gallon of oil and soap. She says they've going to start school in a month and between now and then teach the teachers about Sandino and Communism.
Raphael and I reunited and went to try our hand at the Red Cross. There was a semi there unloading twenty tons of rice and beans from Costa Rica. They seemed amazed by our rap but said there was hardly enough for Ocotal and that everyone wanted some. The officials there said that he would like to meet our committee on Thursday and have a copy of our census. We thanked them and added that we hoped the baby wouldn't be dead by then. Then the director said he'd at least give us a sack of milk and sugar. So we went over to the loading dock and got a fifty-pound sack of milk and one hundred pound sack of sugar. As we carried the sacks toward the street, the director ran over and put a vehicle at our service to take us to the bus stop.
Well, we had something for the committee to deal with. Raphael said later, riding up the mountain, "The people will be amazed. Never have they gotten anything, let alone carried up to Camelias.
On the way back we had the same three militia stops. The bus driver smiled at me and apologized for the inconvenience. He said, "They're not like the old Guardia. They're friendly and don't make me afraid."
Back home at dark, Raphael mainly told tales of who was where and what had happened to them in the war. Most interesting news seems to involve who turned out to be active Sandinistas and their deaths or heroic deeds.
Tonight both kids and women are sick with fevers and coughs. Everyone is taking medicine and Moncho is nursing his gash. It's wet and cold here lately and a long way to Ocotal. There's talk about pills, who had the most huevos in having taken the biggest most horrible doses of medicine for this and that, and who had the most horrific wounds and the wounds of friends - talk, talk, talk - a strong country custom around the burning pitch pine stick.
August 11: Raphael, Moncho and Payo are starting to machete the area where they plan to build a house.
Don Tomas brought the sugar and milk and one hundred pounds of corn up today. I explained the project to him and he was friendly and said he'd like to help.
My thoughts are running extremes about what to do and how this little farm fits in. I spent the day macheting in the front pasture and taking in the beauty of the clean pasture, the little farm in the hollow and the great green mountain.
Extensive positive pitch on the radio about our sister republic of Cuba. The broadcast made it very clear that Cuba is a socialist state.
August 12: The committee met early this morning and carefully divided up the loot into forty separate packages. The distribution went about as quickly and efficiently as had the butchering. A representative came from every one of the forty families. Now I know why we wanted to bring something back - the community was expecting us. I felt a bit depressed. We were sorely missing a "presence," the presence of a young, red and black scarfed Sandinista.
Emiliano and I chatted about the future over a cup of coffee. He seems to be thinking in some new ways, e.g., himself doing work. But he figures thirty men would be about right for him and Lazaro for two hundred quintales of coffee.I went down to visit Santa Clara and check for mail. There were a dozen veteran's there and twenty trainees. There was much showing off and boasting and shooting in the air. There is talk of one thousand FSLN soldiers coming through the mountains to chase out the last remnants of the Guardia. I ran into Juan Bautista. I'd sold him a horse a couple years earlier. He said, "Don't worry Don Gregorio, you are a fair man, and your neighbors will vote to let you keep your land and stay.
There was also a telegram from Elizabeth, which said, "School in California (school address) needs a farm manager and Spanish teacher. If interested do something."
August 13: Hoed in the garden. Cleaned the pineapple patch. Sprayed the cattle. In the afternoon I took a ride up the ridge to the big oak tree where Teo had slept while we worked on the stretch of fence there. I spent quite a while looking out across the homestead and the pine ridges. As always, the view was lovely with the soft green and blues of the late afternoon light. Two things were running through my mind - "Your neighbors will vote to let you keep your land and stay" and "School in California needs farm manager and Spanish teacher."
August 14: I asked Don Raphael if there was anything I could do to help him on his land. He said it would really help to get rid of some of those pine trees. And so, the Yankee, who for ten years wouldn't sell his pine trees, took the chain saw and went to work for Don Raphael. By nightfall we had cleared his new milpa - about fifty giant trees were on the ground.
August 15: I spent an hour in the cellar reorganizing the wine and suctioning the wine from a five gallon jug into twenty quart bottles. I always loved working in the cave-like secrecy of the cellar. I worked a bit on the big dam and thought about how to put in an overflow pipe. In the front pasture, I repaired a stretch of sagging fence. In the evening I took a bottle of wine to Don Jose and, back home, had a last sip of wine with Don Raphael. In the morning I would be leaving to check out that job in California, and for the first time, I wasn't sure that we would ever be coming back.
August 16: I accompanied the committee to Ocotal. At the command post all of the officers were in Managua. The young people in charge of the office didn't have time for us. We went on to the Red Cross, which was swamped with people lined up for food. The director was gone and the people in charge said that they'd send our census to Managua for official approval.
We all went to a restaurant and shared a beer and some rice and beans.
The restaurant owner said, "I sold beer to the Guardia as they left
and I sold beer to the Frente as they arrived. You just have to keep it
to two beers per compa or you'll loose your license."
We gave hugs and the committee headed, empty handed, to the bus stop
for Jalapa. I headed over to see Bob. We shared shots of rum and hugged.
His parting shot was, "Any god damn Yankee dumb enough to help these
bastards ought to have his balls cut off." Then I headed to the bus
station bound for Managua.
August 17: I'm on the airplane flying to Miami drinking rum and
munching on a sandwich. When I finish think I'll have a mint, a little
coffee, a glass of wine and maybe some Kalhua!