Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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The International March for Peace in Central America
December 10, 1985 — January 24, 1986

Nicaragua — At the Honduran border

Return to Introduction and La Marcha Table of Contents.

  Saturday, December 28.

After our gear was picked up from our campsite outside of Somoto, we were driven to the abandoned town of El Espino. There we unloaded, donned our backpacks, and set out for a short march to the border. My notes indicate that Torill was in Honduras at the moment, attempting to negotiate passage for us. If she was successful, our Honduran counterparts would be waiting for us at the border.

(On my first trip to Nicaragua in 1983, it was here at El Espino that I gave my genuine U.S. Army-issue canteen to a Sandinista Army sergeant as my expression of solidarity with the Nicaraguan people.)

This picture shows two armed soldiers. I am certain that there were no more than a couple of others, if any. No soldiers accompanied us to the border at any time, as I recall it. None of us were worried about being attacked by the contras, and we didn't want an armed escort in any case.

  Something has stopped us in our tracks.

  Welcome to Honduras.

The "Cobras", making sure that none of us sets foot on sovereign Honduran soil. The Cobras were one of those military units the U.S. media loves to label "elite." They were accused of serious human rights violations against the activist Honduran left.

Photo by Sonja Iskov.

  We displayed Old Glory—really Old Glory.

We will not enter Honduras today.

  In spite of our disappointment, we are in high spirits as we return to set up camp at what will be be our home for the next 6 days—Escuela Olman Flores E. Sonis (Somis?), serving the small village of La Playa, not far east of El Espino.

  La Playa proper must have been somewhere else, because I don't recall any concentration of homes or shops in our neighborhood here.

Beyond the schoolhouse is a very deep ravine, at the bottom of which is the river which served as our source of water for the duration of our stay here. I don't recall ever boiling my drinking water; I think I relied exclusively on my trusty iodine tablets.

Nor do I recall seeing any of the local women washing clothes in the river—a common sight in the Central American campo. Perhaps the revine was too deep and remote for comfort.

My tent is the small red one, below-left of the documentary van. A truly great little tent, now hopefully being enjoyed by some Wisconsinite after I left it behind years later on a southern shore of Lake Superior. A very cold, very wet drizzle had set in—harbinger of a real storm, as it turned out—and I finally couldn't stand shivering in my less-than-adequate sleeping bag. So, I just packed up my gear, got in the car, and headed for a motel without looking back. Not one of my proudest moments.

  The following photos, mostly undated, show our activities over the next several days. We returned to the border every day.

  The obelisk marks the border.

Here I am standing precisely on the line.

  All the world is watching.

We staged at least one sit-in every day, facing the Cobras.

  As we had done at the Howard Air Force base in Panama, each of us requested permission to enter Honduras. Here Margaret shows her passport to the Cobras.

I'm clearly on the Honduran side of the line here. Maybe they thought I was a reporter, and not really part of la marcha, because I was not whisked away to have my genitals electrocuted as taught in Torture 101 at the School of the Americas.

Had I been, it is certain that John Negroponte, then Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras, would not have lifted a finger to get me out of jail. Negroponte's office was instrumental in running Reagan's contra operations in Honduras, and it is a virtual certainty that the ambassador's intelligence officers passed along to such outfits as the Cobras any information on Honduran leftists that came their way. This experience certainly recommended him to President Bush, over other candidates, for the new cabinet-level postion of Director of National Intelligence. He was confirmed April 21, 2005.

  Harald displays the Norwegian flag to the Cobras in the hope that Norway's peaceful spirit will inspire them to allow us into Honduras. No luck.

Harald was the primary driver of la marcha's small "executive" van, which carried a modest amount of medical supplies and other handy equipment. Thanks to Butch Turk for for correcting my initial mistake in identifying Harald as a Dane holding the Danish flag.

  We were greatly privileged to be accompanied by two Argentine women, members of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, whose loved ones were "disappeared" in the Argentine dictatorship's really dirty war against progressives and leftists.

Here one of the mothers requests entry. The photo on the identification card is probably of her daughter. The caption says:

"Exigimos aparicion con vida de los detenidos desaparecidos" — "We demand the appearance alive of the disappeared."

A documentary featuring testimony of the mothers & grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo on the repression of the late 70s, "Only Emptiness Remains," is available from The Cinema Guild.

Many infants were orphaned when both of their parents were disappeared. It was a common practice of the dictatorship to sell these infants, through phony adoption agencies, to well-to-do Argentine families who could not conceive. A documentary was made about this practice as well, but I forget the title. Many of the families who adopted such children were devastated when they learned the truth.

Jodi stands to the right, Grethe to the left.

  Here we all show our passports, to no avail.

  Blase presides at an ecumenical Sunday morning service on December 29th.

  Torill has rejoined us after her unsuccessful efforts to get us into Honduras. Here, in the Nicaraguan customs station destroyed by the contras, she fills us in on the details. Margaret, the American woman living in Costa Rica, stands to Torill's right, perhaps acting as translator for our Central American friends.

Torill said that we were front-page news in Honduras and that newspapers and important people were pressuring the government to let us in. We are exposing the authoritarian nature of these U.S. allies. [One word from Negroponte, and we would have been allowed in, of course.]

My notes indicate that some of our more aggressive marchistas were again chafing under the restrictions imposed on us by the Sandinistas, although I have no record of it.

Blase gave us an upbraiding: "Please ask yourself if you have a problem with authority per se. I feel sad about some of the comments made about our Sandinista hosts. If you can't handle authority, you will have to be expelled from the march." It must have worked, because my notes do not show that anyone was expelled.

  We entertain the troops. Bob Hope would have been proud of us.

Jim Staal, also with the Danish General Workers Union, recalls that our juggler, whose name I don't have, dropped one of the balls, which rolled across the border. He crossed into Honduras to retrieve it. This bold action apparently fightened the Cobras, because they all trained their M-16s on him until he returned to Nicaragua.

  Impromptu dancing was a favorite way of passing the time. Here, Grethe and a Dane whose name I don't have provide the music. Richard from Wisconsin reclines on the pavement.

  Monday, December 30.

While we slept at La Playa the first night, the Cobras decided to have some fun with us. Knowing we would be back, they sprinkled the roadway with irritating hairs from the seed pod of a local plant—the pica-pica.

Here, a few marchistas open our regular morning meeting with another impromptu dance—appropriately named the Pica-Pica.

My notes show that we are preparing to leave for Managua today; somewhat reluctantly. I think that CONIPAZ, our Nicaraguan support group, has to return to Managua. Then CONIPAZ decides that it is ok for us to stay at the border without them. We will stay at La Playa for at least another night. The Spanish delegation will see that we are fed. People are getting sick.

  Tuesday, December 31st.

At our morning meeting we decided that most of us will stay at La Playa for an unspecified period.

Six marchistas leave to join Katharina and Daniel in Tegucigalpa, to meet our Honduran counterparts. The Honduran committee was not allowed near enough to the border even to wave to us. Blase is in Managua trying to charter a plane to take us into El Salvador. Some of us are taken to Somoto, too sick to continue.

The Sandinistas sent a water truck for our ablutions. Until now we had relied on water carried up in pails from the stream at the bottom of the deep ravine beyond the building. The truck was greatly appreciated, especially since we knew that every such gesture by our Sandinista hosts was made at no small cost to the Nicaraguan people.

This evening, New Year's Eve, Carlos Mejia Godoy's brother brought his band to the school to entertain us, and some of us also went to Somoto for a party. The beer ran out quickly, but the rum continued to flow. I am completely mystified as to why I have not a single photo of the New Years Eve festivities.

  Some local kids. Date uncertain. Janet in the background.

These may be the children to whom I gave some money to buy rice. It took them three days to return with it.

  Wednesday, January 1, 1986

Today we went swimming. I don't have the name or location of this river.

Honduras is definitely out of the question, and we are not sure whether we will be allowed into El Salvador. Nevertheless, Ron and Katherina are now in the northern Nicaraguan port of Corinto, trying to charter a boat that will take us to El Salvador, or to Guatemala, or to Acapulco if Guatemala will not let us in. In fact, Guatemala immigration has denied us entry.

The Salvadoran committee has asked the march to send a few people to be with them as they create their own March for Peace. We decide to send 10 people to El Salvador. This was risky business for those who went. I was not one of them, and will present what information I was given by Sonja Iskov, along with her photos, on the El Salvador page.

On an earlier page, I said that I had earlier assumed the role of creator and enforcer of certain toilet protocols necessary to prevent the overloading of old sewer pipes in southern Nicaragua.

Yesterday I had gathered together a crew to handle our portable toilets: Tom (Norway?, Sweden?); Tom (USA); Geir; Unud(?); Live; Kirsten; Dean; Steven, Richard.

I assume that we were doing our best, but for some unnoted reason, I again had to give my fastidious co-marchers a stern talking-to:

"People who use the toilet are responsible for its maintenance. This means that monitoring the toilet is everyone's responsibility. If you see that the toilet is full, get someone to help you move it out, and replace it immediately with a spare at the end of the building.

"Then take the full toilet over to the large pit 40 feet to the north of the building and set it on the ground. Send someone to look for me immediately upon replacing the toilet. Your job is then finished."

I'm sure that my scolding had its intended effect, as my notes don't show that I had to assert myself again.

  Date uncertain, but after the 30th.

Our Spanish co-marchers kept their promise to feed us. Jaime, I think, serves Theresa from Canada.

  Thursday, January 2.

Some of us enact a skit representing the four days we have spent so far. On day 1, marchistas on the right approach the "Cobras" on the left, whose sticks represent guns.

The plan was to leave for Managua today, but that will not happen.

  We reach out to the Cobras, in the spirit of peace and friendship.

  The Cobras are unresponsive, so we stage a peaceful sit-in.

  Finally, we win the hearts of the Cobras.

We return to La Playa about 3:30 p.m. There had apparently been a disagreement between two members of CONIPAZ, one of them arguing to the effect that we should not have been allowed to stay without them. We will leave for Managua tomorrow.

  Friday, January 3.

Many of us slept out last night under perfect weather. We leave La Playa for Somoto in the morning.

Steven, Tom, Richard and I spent the morning cleaning up the latrines and burning our waste in the pit mentioned above. It wasn't pretty.

Later, I feel Ollie's pain that he had somehow lost the roll of film with the picture he had taken of the four of us marching to the buses, military parade style, shovels on our shoulders. As I remember it, we boarded the buses to a round of applause.

We reach Somoto about noon, and after lunch leave for Managua. On the way, the jeep breaks down, and while we wait for it to be fixed, Grethe plays the accordion for some dancing. Mida in the foreground, Hanne in the background. (The jeep never does get fixed—we decide to leave it behind.)

We buy food off the street in Esteli, leave again for Managua at 3:45. p.m., and arrive back at UNAN at 6:30.

I show no particular march activity on the 4th and 5th. Much of that time I spent walking around Managua with the two Stevens, Tom, and Richard. We bought great food off the street, enjoyed Nicarguan beer (Victoria was my favorite) and generally revelled in the "preferential option for the poor" that could be seen everywhere in Managua.

  Monday, January 6.

7:30 a.m. We are demonstrating at the U.S. Embassy. A few of us from the U.S. delegation met with our employee-in-charge that day, a Mr. Sweeney.

Unfortunately, after 20 years, the shorthand that I used to record the exchange is mostly unintelligible to me, except for Mr. Sweeney's final assurance to us: unlike the Soviet Union, America was not in the business of overthrowing governments. It took some effort to keep from laughing out loud at that one, but we managed. More on this later.

  The preceding picture was taken from the top of this billboard. It's clear that the Sandinistas had a sense of humor—they could not resist confronting our diplomats—and the spooks who used the embassy as cover—with Sandino's response to Marine Captain Hatfield, who had apparently threatened to send his troops against Sandino if he did not surrender.

I welcome a more accurate translation of Sandino's response:

"I received your communication yesterday and am familiar with it. I will not surrender and I await them here. I desire a free fatherland or death. I am not afraid, and I rely on the patriotic ferver of those who accompany me.

"Fatherland and liberty, A.C. Sandino"

My intuition was recently confirmed by a reliable source living in Managua. After Violetta Barrios de Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua in 1990—defeating Daniel Ortega with the message to the Nicaraguan people: "vote for me and the U.S. will stop killing you"—one of her first acts was to order the billboard dismantled.

I hope it lies in sections in a Sandinista warehouse somewhere, to be resurrected if the Nicaraguan left regains power there. Then might the billboard again be raised facing the newer, state-of-the-art super-fortress now under construction nearby the old embassy, which itself is "infinitely more fortified" than when we were there.

  Tuesday, January 7.

Ollie joins the Buddhist monks for a day-long fast. We always drew a crowd wherever we were.

This concludes this section. To continue with the Nicaragua portion of La Marcha, return to the Introduction.

Return to Introduction and La Marcha Table of Contents.

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