The Subversion of the Church in Nicaragua: An Interview with Miguel Bolanos Hunter

Miguel Bolanos Hunter fought with the Sandinista rebels when he was in his teens and so impressed his comrades that, when a position in the Sandinista security forces opened up, his Sandinist superiors overruled Cuban security officials to place him in counterintelligence. Mr. Bolanos’ services to the F-2 section — which gathers intelligence on foreign diplomats — involved him closely in operations against U.S. nationals and others in Nicaragua, especially in the churches. Through family and Sandinist connections he knew a great deal beyond his own work in F-2. His superiors thought so highly of him that they sent him to Cuba for further training. By then married and father of a newly born son,  Bolanos resented the Marxist-Leninist indoctrination courses in Cuba. It was, he later said, one thing for him to be fated to live under slavery; it was another to assume responsibility for condemning his infant son. Managing to have his wife and son leave Nicaragua to visit family, Bolanos himself made a dramatic escape by commandeering a small plane on an intelligence flight.

In June, 1983, Don Oberdorfer and other reporters from the Washington Post interviewed Bolanos exhaustively for thirteen hours; their vivid account appeared on June 19, 1983. Their account is reprinted in Encounter (Dec. 1983). During the autumn, Penn Kemble and Kerry Ptacek of the Institute on Religion and Democracy interviewed Bolanos for many hours. A transcript checked by Bolanos appears below.

BOLANOS: I first became involved in the Sandinista movement in the last months of high school, by handing out some papers and propaganda. Then in 1977 I left for the United States to attend Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Somoza regime had reached the point that it was a criminal regime. Young people were being killed indiscriminately. A couple of other Nicaraguans and I decided to build a Solidarity Committee at LSU. Then I went to Texas and built another one in Austin. We also created Solidarity Committees in other parts of the South.

We sent all the money and other aid we collected to the headquarters in Costa Rica. And we received our directions and propaganda from Costa Rica. What we were creating became the National Network in Solidarity with the People of Nicaragua.

 

IRD: Was the network in the United States an independent movement?

BOLANOS: It was like that in the beginning. But by 1978 the Sandinistas realized the value of the Solidarity Committees in the United States. So they placed a couple of key people from the Sandinista organization in charge of the solidarity network in this country. They were under orders from the Sandinista Directorate.

IRD: At this time, what were your expectations about what would replace Somoza?

BOLANOS: Another kind of government, not another dictatorship. I didn’t know anything about Marxism in those days. You know, I knew who Marx was, and Lenin, but I never read anything about them. A lot of people like me who joined the Solidarity Committees just wanted to overthrow Somoza. They were not Marxists, or FSLN supporters, or anything like that. We were motivated by patriotism, a humanitarian feeling.

IRD: How was it possible that so many decent Nicaraguans accepted the Sandinistas as an alternative to the Somoza dictatorship?

BOLANOS: Most of the democratic sector in Nicaragua were aware of the communist presence among the Sandinistas, but the Sandinistas were the only ones who had weapons and were committed to overthrowing Somoza through armed force. They managed to appear as a revolutionary movement that only had a few figures who were communists — not all of them were.

By the end of the Somoza regime, this idea had been carefully sold to the people in Nicaragua. Others were afraid of dealing with the Sandinistas, and were threatened. We would tell them, “If you don’t go along with us, you won’t live that well in the future; you won’t be in the same class in the future.”

One time, shortly before Somoza fled, Commander Walter Feretti came from Costa Rica to Managua to deal with the opposition leaders inside of Nicaragua. About 15 days before the last offensive broke, he gave them an ultimatum: to join the National Front, or be prosecuted in the future as Somoza supporters.

IRD: Tell us something about when you were with the guerrillas in the mountains — later on.

BOLANOS: I was with the guerrillas along the southern border of Nicaragua for about six months. We were in charge of mapping that area for the last offensive.

IRD: Did you have strong support from the people of the area?

BOLANOS: No. The peasants were the same with us as with the National Guard. If we went to a house and asked for food, milk or whatever, they would give it to us. But they would do the same for the National Guard. (They were neutral.)

IRD: Were most of the guerrilla leaders from educated backgrounds, or were they community leaders from the towns or the country?

BOLANOS: Well, they did have a couple of peasants and a couple of workers that are now commanders, but they are still under the control of the commanders who recruited them 15 years ago and who come from bourgeois families or are well-educated.

IRD: How about the rank and file of the guerrilla fighters, the base of the guerrilla movement, were these people peasants or workers?

BOLANOS: Not peasants. Some were from the bourgeoisie and from the middle and lower-middle class. Most came from working class backgrounds, but they were not workers. The real workers had families and jobs, they were not thinking about fighting. Most of these young Nicaraguans that joined the Sandinistas didn’t work; they had drug records or were thieves or members of a gang. They were delinquents. For example, even in the worst days of the war we had people stealing our belongings. Or one would threaten to kill another for a cigarette or something.

Religion and the Revolution

IRD: What did you find to be the attitude of the guerrillas toward religion?

BOLANOS: Archbishop Obando was sort of a hero for the guerrillas — the rank and file. But the leaders knew what Obando meant for them and what he would mean in the future. For the young people who joined the Sandinistas, Obando was a very respected figure. All the churches, not only the Catholic Church, but the Protestants, wanted to overthrow Somoza.

IRD: Were you a believing Christian?

BOLANOS: Yes, I believed in God. I prayed during the war; in those moments you remember your Catholic roots. My family is very Catholic. I went to Catholic schools. And I still believe in God just as strongly. But for a time I forgot God, as I learned Marxist theory. At the time, it was hard to notice the change.

IRD: Why?

BOLANOS: In the mountains, we were given a view of religion that blurred the differences between Christianity and Marxism. There was a Sandinista there who was the second in command of the column in that area; he used to be a Jesuit. He wasn’t a priest anymore, but he arranged to have Ernesto Cardenal give the Mass on Christmas Eve, 1978.

It was the strangest mass I ever experienced. Cardenal said that we were Christ and the revolution was God. We were the saviors of Nicaragua. He said that it was a Christian duty to be a guerrilla.

He spoke of his own ideas about Marxism and the new society in the daily political training meetings in the mountains. I asked him privately how he combined God and Marxism. He explained that he really believed in history. He didn’t believe in God anymore. He wasn’t confused. He confused the people. That was one of my first experiences with one of the priests that backed the Sandinistas.

IRD: Do you know the name of the former Jesuit?

BOLANOS: Yes, Sanjines; now he’s a captain in the army. He was what in the 1970s they called a progressive priest. A lot of the Nicaraguan commanders are from the bourgeois class, and they used to attend the Jesuit School where a number of these priests taught: the Colegio CentroAmericano in Managua. There people graduated as guerrillas. Everyone in Nicaraguan society used to know about this problem, how progressive priests influenced these students.

Ernesto Cardenal was one. His brother, Fernando Cardenal, used to teach in that school. Sanjines and Fernando Cardenal are responsible for some of the Sandinista commanders becoming Marxists. They introduced them to that ideology. When Somoza found out about this, he had Sanjines, who was a Spaniard, kicked out of the country. A year later, Sanjines resigned from the Church and became an open Marxist in Costa Rica, working for the Sandinista organization. He used to say that Paradise is on earth and not in Heaven, and that Hell was also on earth. As a Sandinista, you were Jesus Christ, and God was the revolution, because the revolution would give everything to the people.

IRD: Would it be correct to describe someone like Sanjines as an adherent of liberation theology?

BOLANOS: No. After the Sandinista victory, I went to his house a couple of times to talk about how religious ideas should be used with Christians who were working with us as security agents; for example, some of the LaSalle brothers believed in liberation theology. But for us, the Sandinistas, we didn’t believe in any theology. It was only a matter of using it in the revolutionary process to divide the church.

And while we used these priests and their theory of liberation theology for this purpose, we also realized that in the future it could be a threat to us. That is why we had to recruit a lot of the priests that were leaders in this line of thought, to compromise them and ensure their future loyalty.

We were even thinking about introducing Sandinista young people into seminary to become priests. They would have to sacrifice themselves for 10 to 15 years to become a Catholic priest, but would be Sandinistas in the future. We were thinking about that because we were already doing it in other churches, such as the evangelical churches, where it was easier to become a minister. We had young evangelical people that were not in the ministry at that moment, but they would be in six months or a year, with good direction.

IRD: When you say “we” do you mean State Security?

BOLANOS: Yes, State Security.

IRD: So, you know of people who were recruited to penetrate these evangelical churches and move up in the leadership?

BOLANOS: Yes. One was part of the Directorate, the staff, of an evangelical church. He wasn’t my agent; he was the agent of another section, F-4, that is in charge of working specifically against the churches and the religious groups. But I met him. He was a very influential figure in the evangelical establishment in Managua.

The Role of State Security

IRD: You, too, were involved in State Security, weren’t you?

BOLANOS: Not right away. The first month after the triumph, I collected the weapons that Somoza had left in the capital city. The next two months and a half, I was an assistant for the Vice Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff of the Army, and after that I joined the Security apparatus on January 1st, 1980.

IRD: Why did you join Security?

BOLANOS: There was one incident that changed my mind. I was jailed by the Sandinistas in October of ’79 because I still had-some guns in my home. The militia came to my home and took the weapons that night. I found out what happened. So I went to the police headquarters to ask for my weapons, but neither of the two commanders knew me. They thought that I was involved with the Maoist armed groups that were hitting the Sandinistas in those days. They decided to keep me in custody. I was there for four days. Eden Pastora came one day, and I heard him, so I called out, and then he took me out and they called some more commanders that I knew — like Walter Feretti, the head of Security in those days. When he identified me, they apologized. But then I started feeling afraid of my own people, the Sandinistas.

IRD: So this incident influenced your decision to join Security?

BOLANOS: Right. I understood that Security had the real power in the country. Nobody followed Security around; Security followed everybody else around. In Security, I would never be subjected to this kind of mistake again. Security had become the dominant force. The thing is that it’s all the same. I was reading the other day a book by a Soviet army defector, and he was plain about the role of the three powers in the Soviet Union: the party, the army and the KGB. It is the same in Nicaragua: power rests on this tripod.

My first job in Security was in Section F-7. After two-and-a-half months they placed me in the counter-intelligence section. When that happened, I went to Cuba for four months of training. By then we had started to receive training from the Soviet bloc, to consolidate and improve the Security apparatus. So we’d have to go out to Cuba or Bulgaria. Everything was well organized. The Cubans had everything planned before overthrowing Somoza, including how to handle 8,000-10,000 Nicaraguans in different areas going to school in Cuba. That’s a lot of people.

Security Vs. The Church

BOLANOS: I was trained for counter-intelligence: department F-7 of State Security. F-4 is the department in charge of the Catholic Church and all the other churches that have means of threatening the Sandinistas. They also work against trade unions, political parties and private enterprise. From the beginning, the FSLN’s main enemy was the church — religion.

IRD: What was your position in Security; what was your responsibility?

BOLANOS: When I made the transfer to Security, they had a couple of Cuban advisors in the personnel office who rejected my application, probably because of my bourgeois background and the fact that I had studied in the U.S. for a couple of years. But Walter Feretti was in charge of Security, and he told them that I had to be working for Security the next day, you know, as an order. And I was working there the next day. But the Cubans had me placed in a less sensitive section. That was the section in charge of creating the informer network in the neighborhoods and creating the Divine Mobs, as Tomas Borge called them.

IRD: Why did he call them the Divine Mobs?

BOLANOS: Why? Because he was an expert in combining mystical, religious ideas with politics. He called them Divine Mobs, because he said they were the people in charge of saving the other people’s souls from the enemy, that is, the devil, or the counter-revolutionaries, or the Yankee devil. The mobs are formed by the CDS block committees, which are modeled after the Cuban block committees. All of their members are part of the informer network. State Security controls them. State Security sets them up. I built a lot of CDS committees myself around the neighborhoods. I selected the people that were going to be the leaders.

IRD: Some U.S. Church officials speak of these block committees as institutions of local democracy.

BOLANOS: Well, yes, that’s the image that the Sandinistas try to present of them, but it’s not the truth. They do vote sometimes, but everything is under control. The votes go for what the Sandinistas want, because all the leaders, all the people in the neighborhood that are in charge of these committees, are Security officers. They are paid by Security. They work in Security — every day they have to punch a card in the Security office.

These same informants and block committee members are also the mobs. The mobs don’t act by themselves. They have to be directed by Security and the order must come from higher levels, the commanders.

IRD: These people are sometimes described in the Sandinista press as representatives of the Christian Base Communities.

BOLANOS: When they are using them against a religious target, that’s what they call Divine Mobs.

IRD: But aren’t there some base communities that aren’t controlled by Sandinistas?

BOLANOS: Yes, there are. For example, my sister works in one of those neighborhood church committees — what the Catholics call their base communities. Most of these base communities aren’t involved with the mobs. The mobs just use their name. Whenever you have a demonstration in a religious matter, the mobs use religious slogans. It’s just like a secret agent changing disguise.

IRD: Do you know something about an incident in which a bishop was attacked in a church that had been seized by Sandinista mobs?

BOLANOS: Yes, Archbishop Obando had ordered the transfer of a progressive priest, Arias Caldera. When Monsignor Obando tried to move him to another parish, the Sandinistas placed the mobs around the church. The Sandinista media gave this conflict a great deal of attention. Monsignor Obando was threatened in the media. The mob asked to talk directly with Monsignor Obando to have it clear. But because these people weren’t real Catholics, he didn’t talk with them. Most of them were not even a part of that parish. They were all members of politically organized mobs, but in that particular parish there weren’t enough people for the mobs. The committees are weak. So they had to bring in mob members from other neighborhoods who pretended to be from that parish. Some agents of the F-7 State Security section — the one that controlled the mobs — received commendations for that action. I knew a couple of the officers involved who were in charge of another area on the other side of the city. I told them, “I saw you on T.V. What were you doing over there? It’s not your sector.” They said, “Well, you know, I had to bring some people from my sector to make this demonstration bigger.”

When Monsignor Obando refused to talk to the mob, they bolted shut the doors of the church, and occupied the church. They slept in the church and did various things that profaned the building. When Monsignor Obando found out, he sent Bishop Bosco Vivas to recover the tabernacle from the altar. When Bosco Vivas arrived, the mob beat him and knocked him to the ground.

The Sandinistas have made a hero out of Arias Caldera — the priest Msgr. Obando wanted to transfer. They named him the “Bishop” of what they called the Popular Church. Now he is used by the Sandinistas in demonstrations to tell the people to join the militia, because it is their Christian duty.

It reminds me: Somoza also had a Bishop on his side, who is now a refugee in Miami because he was a captain in the Somozan army. It’s a lot the same now, except that people say, “Now we don’t have another Somoza, we have nine Somozas.”

And now also a “Bishop” to bless the army, the Sandinista army.

The People’s Church

IRD: The Sandinistas say that they are for religious freedom. What is their real feeling about religious freedom?

BOLANOS: They are trying to confuse the people. The Sandinistas recognized that genuine religious freedom would involve so-called “bourgeois” democracy.

IRD: What was the attitude of the Sandinistas toward Oban-do and the Catholic Church and how was your strategy developed?

BOLANOS: Well, the Sandinistas wanted to separate the Catholic grass roots from the influence of the head of the Catholic Church. So their idea was to create another church, to divide the Catholic Church into what they called the old, oligarchic Catholic Church and the new, progressive church — what is called the People’s Church. The People’s Church included the four or five pro-Sandinista priests, some ministers in the evangelical churches and some theologians who were not priests of the order.

IRD: Would it include the Antonio Valdivieso Center?

BOLANOS: Yes.

IRD: How about The Evangelical Committee for Development in Nicaragua? — referred to as CEPAD in its Spanish acronym.

BOLANOS: Well, Security did have some influence in CEPAD; other CEPAD leaders were working very hard against it, but we had figures in CEPAD. One priest, who was in charge of the Jesuit School in Nicaragua, was my agent for three months; he is still in my files. But he only attended open meetings of the CEPAD Board. Gustavo Parajon, who was a member of the Directorate of CEPAD, informed us about everything that CEPAD talked about in the closed meetings. He recorded them.

IRD: Most of American church money to Nicaragua goes through CEPAD.

BOLANOS: I know. We had to have very important figures in CEPAD to make sure that money was used in our interest. Gustavo Parajon , the head of CEPAD, is a loyal Sandinista. He is a top Sandinista supporter in Nicaragua. And some of that money that he gets through CEPAD is being used to develop the People’s Church.

IRD: Did you, State Security, have contact with him? BOLANOS: There wasn’t any religious figure in that position that didn’t at least have an indirect contact with Security.

The Literacy Campaign

IRD: The literacy campaign, which CEPAD helped to organize, is often pointed to as one positive accomplishment of the new government.

Bolanos: The good thing about the program is that 12% of the people learned how to read and write a little bit. But it was not as successful as they said it was. It was more successful for them in another way: in getting Sandinista ideas to every person in Nicaragua. It was more of an ideological project than an educational program.

IRD: Most of the foreign teachers in the literacy campaign were Cubans. Was that fact related to the ideological objectives of the campaign?

BOLANOS: Well, yes. The Cubans were 85% of the foreign teachers. But they were very good at explaining the relation of Marxism to each part of the literacy manual.

IRD: Was there any indication that the Cuban teachers were involved in some internal security functions for the Sandinista government?

BOLANOS: Well, yes every Cuban teacher had a duty, as did every other Nicaraguan informer. And the Cubans had security personnel that came along with the teachers, as with any other delegation from Cuba. During the literacy campaign, the Cubans were treated as just another informant or security agent for the area in which they were working.

IRD: You realize that a good part of U.S. church money for Nicaragua went to the literacy campaign.

BOLANOS: Then they paid for a massive ideological brainwashing of the peasants; if they gave the money, then they are responsible.

IRD: U.S. churches emphasize that they didn’t give the money to the Nicaraguan government, but to CEPAD.

BOLANOS: CEPAD was working directly with the government; it was like a government commission. If the government needed some money for anything in the literacy campaign, they could ask CEPAD for it. But CEPAD couldn’t control where the money was going.

IRD: Did you have any indication that some of the money that came in for literacy might have been used directly in security work?

BOLANOS: Yes. For example, the literacy campaign was integrated into Security’s plans. We took advantage of all these people who were going to areas outside of our network of informers to leave a network built by the time that they were finished. We moved a lot of security men around the country, along with the literacy workers. We had one conference with the Sandinista Youth — which contributed 60% of the literacy workers — on how to recruit informers. The Sandinista Youth continues to work with Security in this way.

IRD: So the literacy campaign, just to summarize, may in some degree have taught people to read and to write?

BOLANOS: To some degree and for a low percentage of the population.

IRD: But it also served to consolidate the control of the government?

BOLANOS: Exactly.

IRD: In fact, could Security have created a national network of informers at that time without the literacy campaign?

BOLANOS: No.

IRD: Do you know much about Fr. Uriel Molina? He is the director of the Antonio Valdivieso Center, which you mentioned earlier. This organization is very widely publicized within U.S. religious circles.

BOLANOS: I can tell you he is a well-regarded figure among the Sandinista leaders. He might not be an agent recruited by State Security. Not all religious matters are now handled by Nicaraguan Security, because we do have some cases that need the help or the participation of high leaders to convince certain religious people. So, they are recruited by the Sandinista commanders indirectly; they haven’t officially signed up with Security, but they do have a file. Tomas Borge is the one who used to take care of these people.

IRD: Is it possible that some religious or academic people would look on State Security as the police, and that it would be embarrassing for them to work directly with Security? Might they prefer to work with somebody they thought was an important revolutionary leader?

BOLANOS: That is the idea. But, you would be surprised at how many are delighted to cooperate with Security. If you are a State Security officer and you want to know something about somebody that is in the religious movement, for example, you can ask Uriel Molina. And he, knowing that you are State Security, will tell you what you want to know in the best way he can.

IRD: Fr. Molina has also traveled in the United States. You mentioned that the Central American Historical Institute is also a part of the so-called People’s Church. They have a U.S. office in Washington, at Georgetown University. What were the origins of the People’s Church in Nicaragua?

BOLANOS: It was an idea of Ernesto Cardenal, and then Gaspar Garcia Laviana. These three or four Sandinistas had the idea and then built the institutions. For example, Cardenal lived on an island in the Lake of Nicaragua and he had his revolutionary workshop there and he held masses there, his own weird masses. He was already mixed in the Marxist theory, and almost all the people that attended that school are now communists and members of the Sandinista Party.

IRD: We all know that Somoza was no good, but did Somoza ever say to a church, “You have to appoint this particular priest,” or “You have to follow this policy in your own internal church matters”?

BOLANOS: No, he never went into that depth. He had a curiously respectful attitude toward the Nicaraguan Church. He did kick out of the country a couple of foreign priests, like Sanjines. But he never really tried to dominate the Nicaraguan church.

IRD: Can you describe the Father Carballo incident? The one where an important priest was supposedly caught in a tryst with a woman and was publicly humiliated by the government?

BOLANOS: Oh, yes. Father Carballo is the director of the Catholic radio and he was also in charge of public relations for Monsignor Obando’s office. The incident was completely fabricated. I mean, the husband wasn’t the husband, they weren’t making love, they were just having lunch. Everything was fabricated. The girl was an agent of Security. Everyone was part of the plan.

IRD: The girl was an agent of Security?

BOLANOS: Yes. She had been a mistress of some of the Sandinista commanders. Thomas Borge could be there one day and Walter Feretti the next. She had been the wife of Carlos Mejia, who is one of the popular singers for the revolution, and had two or three children by him. She is maintained economically by these commanders.

A State Security officer named Raul — I don’t know his last name — enlisted this girl, Maritza de Castillo, in the operation. He had her start going to the parish of Carballo. Then she sought counseling and advice on a regular basis. Finally, she started inviting Carballo to her house to have lunch to talk about her problems. That was the setting for the plot. The mobs and the media were next. The media was covering a mob demonstration that was marching to the Argentine Embassy, which is about two blocks away from Maritza’s house. Near, but in fact, not really on the way there. They had to make a detour to go to Maritza’s house.

At 12 noon, the mob started moving toward the Embassy; everything was synchronized, so that at 12:05 or 12:10, the false husband came into Maritza’s house and started beating Carballo and ripping off his clothes. Maritza undressed herself. He then fired a couple of shots as the signal for the people in front of the house, but they were late. When they heard the shots, they came running, but they got there late. Carballo wasn’t out yet, but the mob waited, like they were in line for a movie.

The man who was beating him was a Security Officer from the F-7 section. He lives in San Judas, in a neighborhood south of Managua, and his real name was published later as the former husband. But he wasn’t the husband. They chose him because he was very big, very strong; Carballo didn’t have a chance against him. But still Carballo was able to resist being dragged into the street. You could hardly see him. You couldn’t see him naked.

IRD: He fought back.

BOLANOS: Yes, he fought back. He was trying to stay inside the apartment. But the drama wouldn’t be over until everyone outside could see that it was Carballo. So three or four men from Security dressed up as ordinary policemen were ordered in. They went to the house and finished what the F-7 officer couldn’t: they dragged Carballo out completely naked. They got Carballo by each arm, and Carballo was trying to pull them back to the house. He was saying, “Take me into the house,” because he was completely naked.

IRD: If this had been a situation in which an enraged husband or boyfriend actually came back and found two lovers naked, would the police drag one of them naked into the streets of Managua?

BOLANOS: No. Never. So it couldn’t have been anything but a staged plan to bring him out for the show, to finish the film. They carried Carballo up to the jeep on the street about 50 yards away so that the TV cameras could get a good view. You could identify the false police jeeps used by State Security by their license plate numbers. This was one of the three jeeps that they had. Everybody in the Security office was watching this thing on TV, you know; we were saying, “Hey, look, that’s one of our jeeps.”

IRD: So, do you think it was obvious to the great majority of Nicaraguans that this was a set-up thing?

BOLANOS: Yes. They may have had some success making people suspect that the priest was involved in something improper, but the way that they handled it counter-balanced it in the people’s minds. Everybody complained about the way they treated the priest. The people were saying, “How can the police do this?”

The Pope’s Visit

IRD: What can you tell us about the way the Pope’s visit in March of 1983 was arranged?

BOLANOS: From the beginning, everything was designed to gain political advantage for the Sandinistas and against the anti-Sandinistas. But they had an alternative in case the Pope wouldn’t let himself be used in this way. In that case, they would make the Pope’s acts appear counter-revolutionary.

IRD: Thomas Borge, in an interview, said that it is normal for the Pope to bless a government, not endorsing it but praying that it will govern wisely, and so forth. Could it be the Sandinistas were hoping to take something as casual and perfunctory as that and turn it into a papal endorsement?

BOLANOS: Yes, but there was more to it than that. They wanted more than a blessing of the government. They wanted to make the Pope pray for the militias that are fighting in the mountains against the anti-Sandinistas. This would make the calls to join the militia seem to have the approval of the top leader of the Church.

IRD: Were you involved in Nicaraguan Security’s attempts to manipulate the Pope?

BOLANOS: I was assigned to a command center for the actions of that particular day; we controlled everything; we were aware of all of the Pope’s movements.

The F -7 people and the F-4 people were most directly involved; they told the mobs what to do in the square, even where they would stand. They had to prepare the defense committee members on how to go to the square, what slogans to use and what to ask the Pope. The F-4 people, because they are in charge of the churches, briefed the members of the defense committees that confronted the Pope the day before. All their agents in the different churches had their own assignments for that day.

IRD: But how could you control the large crowd in the square?

BOLANOS: The government said that for the sake of the Pope, everything had to be disciplined and orderly. So it was ordered that everybody had to go with their neighborhood defense committees. So if you were a Catholic, you couldn’t go by yourself to the square; you had to go with the Sandinista defense committee in your neighborhood. Security met with the Ministers of Transportation to talk about when the buses would leave the neighborhoods, and who would get to go. The local director of the Sandinista committee controlled the buses in the neighborhood. The Transportation Ministry told the bus drivers to be subordinate to the Sandinista committee in each neighborhood.

IRD: How were the non-Sandinistas managed in the square?

BOLANOS: The members of the Divine Mobs were mixed with the real Catholic people from the neighborhoods around the country. The Catholics were the majority, but the mobs had their slogans ready. They had the placards. The Catholics wouldn’t act in opposition to the mob, because they could be hit or even killed by this mob and nobody would say anything.

IRD: They went with people from these block organizations?

BOLANOS: Right.

IRD: So, in fact, these people were with neighborhood security agents that often knew them personally?

BOLANOS: Right. Even in the square in the same moment, the mobs could act against these people and nobody would say anything to them. And the mobs knew this. Security told the Sandinista committees, “Whenever you have a problem with one of these reactionary Catholic people, you just beat him. Don’t let him take advantage of the situation because the Pope is here.” So they had approval from the authorities to use violence.

IRD: How about the area right in front of the platform? We saw demonstrations taking place there in television reports here.

BOLANOS: There was one group that didn’t go into the square with the other Sandinista committees; they were in three or four hours before to place themselves in front of the stage. These were highly trusted defense committee members and about 150 security officers from the F-7 section, the ones that controlled the mobs. They were led by the Second Chief of Security, Commander Manuel Calderon, dressed as a civilian. He gave the orders at the time that they were needed. That was when the women of the Heroes’ Mothers organization — whose sons were said to have been killed in combat — and some men from the mobs went up to the stage. They took the microphone right out of the Pope’s hands to demand that he pray for their heroes.

IRD: How did they get on the stage?

BOLANOS: They climbed the stairs. The security people guarding the stage were just part of the plan; they knew that those people were coming on orders that came from Manuel Calderon. If these people had gone up on their own, they would, of course, have been stopped. The security forces were spread all over the stage. When a group of five or six Catholics tried to climb the stairs to help the Pope, Lenin Cerna, the Head of Security — he’s also an alternate on the National Directorate — took a machine gun from one of his body guards, pulled the bolt back and told them that if they went any farther he would shoot them.

At one point, there was so much shouting and chanting from the crowd that the Pope couldn’t continue. The mob leaders already had taken the microphone, and they were allowed to speak through a huge sound system that the government had purchased for this event. You could hear from many kilometers away, and the 400 people in front of the stage were only five or six yards away from the microphone. So all this screaming from these people was magnified by the microphone. You could get confused and think that the screaming was coming from all over the square, because all the committees were chanting the same slogans.

IRD: Was it possible to take in placards with different slogans from those of the Sandinistas?

BOLANOS: Well, some Catholics tried to, but they were stopped in the streets, because they were coming along without the committees, so they couldn’t reach the square. You could see them on the streets around, but not in the square. A lot of Catholics decided to pray in parish churches the day before the Mass. They would stay at night in the church and then go very early to the square, disobeying the order of the government to go with their committee. So the mobs surrounded these parish churches and wouldn’t let these Catholics leave the church until the Pope’s Mass had already started. By then the square was filled by those under disciplined political leadership.

The Miskito Indians

IRD: What about the problem of the Miskito Indians and their Protestant churches?

BOLANOS: The government was trying to install Sandinista defense committees in place of Miskito institutions of local self-government. They were trying to put in place a director from a Sandinista defense committee who would be like the chief of the tribe, and things like that.

IRD: Weren’t many of the institutions of Miskito life set up by the Moravian Church: the schools, the hospitals, and so forth?

BOLANOS: 50% of the hospitals were Moravian. When the Sandinistas started the repression against the Miskitos, the Moravian pastors were in solidarity with the Miskitos. That’s why the Sandinistas repressed the Moravian Church, closing churches and jailing or expelling these pastors from the country. That just enlarged the problem; the Miskitos didn’t have any more ministers or religious assistance, so they started going out of the country and joining the anti-Sandinista groups.

Then the Sandinistas made a deal with some of the Moravian pastors. They also placed some progressive ministers within the combat zones to establish Marxist influence. Whenever a group of religious people goes to Nicaragua, they take them up to the mountain to meet these so-called progressives.

IRD: What do you expect in the future for the churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Nicaragua? Are the Sandinistas going to succeed in subverting the Church or will the resistance continue?

BOLANOS: Well, the resistance is continuing and I think the Catholic Church still has more power than the Sandinistas think, and the bishops know that they have more power, but it’s a matter of how to use it. Monsignor Obando and most others would never say to the people, “Take up arms and overthrow the Sandinistas.” That’s why the churches are at a disadvantage in the face of Sandinista action.

Obando Y Bravo

IRD: What can you say about how the conflict with Obando developed after the revolution? Who is really responsible for that and what were some of the particulars?

BOLANOS: The Sandinistas were responsible. They managed through the security apparatus and the propaganda arm. They had to start the conflict, because of Obando’s positions at the time.

IRD: What was the first thing?

BOLANOS: It was the repression of the press, repression of religious editorials in the opposition newspaper and things like that. That is when they started fighting Obando.

IRD: So Obando became involved, first of all, because of his defense of others who were being attacked by the Sandinistas?

BOLANOS: Yes, he was like a defender of the cause that the revolution had forsaken.

IRD: So, in a sense, the conflict between Obando and the Sandinistas occurred before the Sandinistas wanted it to. BOLANOS: Yes, I think they tried to manipulate him. They offered him good things like being on TV or having him in demonstrations on the stage, because they needed him as a figure on their side. But when they found out that Obando knew about the plan of dividing the church, they started thinking about how to destroy him.

IRD: Obando is sometimes portrayed in this country as an old-fashioned priest of the oligarchy, because North Americans who don’t know much about the church in Nicaragua imagine that he is very much like those church leaders who were close to the oligarchy and very conservative. But from the way you describe him, he is very modern, he believes the church should play a role in helping the poor, and in forming a social policy.

BOLANOS: Yes, I think he is badly misunderstood, because communist propaganda is so strong. Monsignor Obando was in a very poor parish before he came to the Cathedral. The earthquake ruined the Cathedral and now he gives the official mass as the head of the Catholic Church in one of the poorest churches in Managua. He lives very simply, and at his masses you can see that he is not an old-fashioned man. He sides with the poor people all the time. Of course, he still ministers to the rich. They invite him to have lunch; it’s like a big social occasion. They feel very proud about having the Monsignor in their home, to bless their home. But it is the same with poor people; you could see Monsignor Obando going for lunch to a very poor house to eat some chicken soup.

I suppose it is true that the business people who are still in Nicaragua find in Monsignor Obando the only hope of avoiding communism. But so do a lot of other people. He is also the Monsignor for the independent labor unions, he is the Monsignor for the independent media, he is the Monsignor for the private enterprises, he is the Monsignor for the poor organizations. And he is the man, ultimately, whom the Sandinistas fear the most. This is why they concentrate so much attention on weakening and subverting Christianity in Nicaragua and in manipulating foreign Christians — especially North Americans — into thinking they are doing no such thing.

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