In commemoration of the 34th anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution today, July 19th, 1979. (I wrote most of this a couple of years ago, and it’s just been sitting in my drafts folder… I hope you like it!)
"What’s the confusion?" asked the sergeant,
"Could it be that this bastard is the notorious Cadejo?"
If there is one thing the Sandinistas took really seriously, it was the honoring its heroes and fallen comrades.
The double-LP Canto Epico al FSLN, from which today’s song comes, features, among its 35 songs, 12 homages to martyrs of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional dedicated to Casimiro Sotelo, Pedro Aráuz Palacios, Eduardo Contreras, Julio Buitrago, Luisa Amanda Espinoza, Carlos Fonseca, Leonel Rugama, José Benito Escobar, Camilo Ortega, Germán Pomares, Edgard Munguía, and the topic of today’s post, my all-time favorite revolutionary, Rigoberto Cruz… better known as Pablo Úbeda.
Úbeda was one of the earliest members of the FSLN, having been a participant in the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Youth (JRN) of 1959 and the New Nicaragua Movement (MNN) of 1962, two of the predecessor organizations to the Frente. Unlike the primarily student-based FSLN membership, Úbeda was a worker, and thus valuable in his ability to both relate to, and blend in among, the general population.
He participated in the FSLN’s first guerrilla action in 1963 commonly known as Raití-Bocay or the Río Coco and Bocay Operation, a spectacular failure that, for a short while after, pushed the group away from armed struggle and toward reformist politics. The analysis to later come from FSLN leader Carlos Fonseca stated that the failure at Raití-Bocay was due in large part to an incorrect choice of locations; the town of Raití was largely populated by Miskito Indians who spoke little Spanish and often had little interest in the guerrillas. Because their relationship to the land (and to the rest of Nicaragua) was different from mestizo peasants, the FSLN was unable to relate and win over supporters that could assist with intelligence and supply lines, nor did its presence inspire a pool of potential recruits. In addition, Sandinista commander Víctor Tirado López notes, in his essay El FSLN, un producto y una necesidad históricos, that the operation demonstrated an overemphasis on armed struggle without undertaking corresponding political work, that it showed that links with the peasantry must be strong rather than fleeting to create a solid guerrilla base, and that the long-established Nicaraguan tradition of preparing armed ‘invasions’ from across the Honduran or Costa Rican borders could not be successful (1).
It is worthwhile here to refer again to the writings of Carlos Fonseca in order to lay the groundwork for understanding Ubeda’s contribution. In Fonseca’s 1969 declaration, Nicaragua Hora Cero (Zero Hour), he points out that this defeat, along with the general decline of the Nicaraguan popular movement around 1963 (2), shattered the FSLN and thrust it into a period of quasi-reformism. While the Frente still maintained that armed struggle was the only way to achieve victory, “the reality was that for a while the practical work to continue preparing for armed struggle was interrupted. In addition, it is true that after the defeat in 1963, our movement emerged seriously conflicted, but didn’t know how to find the proper way to overcome this internal crisis.” (Obra Fundamental, pp. 152-153) Fonseca doesn’t argue against the period of recuperation, but rather notes that the FSLN failed to use this time to collect resources or train new combatants for a renewed attempt at waging war against the veiled dictatorship of the Somoza family.
During this time between 1964 and 1966, the FSLN engaged in quasi-legal organizing with an organization known as the Republican Mobilization in urban areas, attempting to develop a broader anti-Somoza front.
Ubeda, however, was one of the few members to remain in the mountains during this period of strategic confusion. As a leader of the Frente’s clandestine work during its brief above-ground phase, his assignment was to develop contacts with potential allies and collaborators and to seek out the prime location for the resumption of armed struggle. In the process, he became an organizer of some of the first peasant unions in Nicaragua, alongside fellow Sandinista Bernardino Diaz Ochoa. The work of Ubeda is summed up quite succinctly by Tomás Borge, commander and founder of the Frente, in his 1985 essay Marginal Notes on the Propaganda of the FSLN:
Three consecutive years of underground work visiting everyone, hut by hut, household by household, ravine by ravine, from Pancasán passing through Peñas Blancas in Jinotega and following the Tuma River until he arrived on the Atlantic Coast where he traveled the long footpaths through the mining areas… Without his organizing work, Pancasán would never have been possible.
In 1967, Ubeda was killed, along with FSLN founding member Silvio Mayorga and the rest of his unit, during the Pancasán campaign. While also a failure, the Sandinistas analyzed that this was a failure of a different type than that of Raití-Bocay; whereas the latter had been a failure on all fronts, Pancasán demonstrated a military failure but one in which political groundwork had been successfully laid—in part by the efforts of Úbeda—to maintain the activities of the revolutionary struggle.
We will note in the lyrics that Carlos Mejía Godoy makes various references to Nicaraguan particularities; the opening stanza, for example, refers to animals and plants that I had never heard of before (and which you can read about by clicking the links I provided). We hear about Carlos Reyna, the National Guard, the cadejo, a juez de mesta, three towns, and three kinds of crops useful for hiding.
Anyway, I hope you all dig the song and the little history lesson! You’ll find an English translation below.
(1) On a few occasions before the formation of the FSLN, opposition groups, largely under the hegemony of the Conservative Party, attempted armed invasions of Nicaragua to overthrow the Somoza family’s hold on power. The 1959 El Chaparral guerrilla operation in which Carlos Fonseca participated (as a member of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party) was an unmitigated disaster, and ended up being the last attempt by the mainstream opposition to overthrow Somoza with force.
(2) Fonseca attributes this to the farcical election of René Schick, a Somoza family ally, as president in the 1963 election and the natural decline of the revolutionary energy following the Cuban Revolution, at that point 4 years past.
Se disfraza de espadillo, se disfraza de mozote
y se convierte en pocoyo, conejo, garrobo, cusuco, pizote.
Pablo Ubeda pasó ayer mismo muy temprano,
Carlos Reyna lo encontró allá en el comisariato.
Pero cómo sucedió? Si ayer en la madrugada
el juez de mesta lo vio cruzándose la cañada.
¿Qué será esta confusión? se preguntaba el sargento,
¿no será que este cabrón es el mentado Cadejo?
Lo vieron en Kuskawas, en La Tronca y en Waslala,
ya no lo verán jamás, se lo tragó la montaña.
Lo ayudan los vientos, las siete cabritas
lo oculta el chagüite, lo esconde la milpa.
La guardia dispara contra el cafetal…
y sale Pablito sereno, pajito, bordeando el cañal.
He disguises himself as espadillo, he disguises himself as mozote
and he becomes a pauraque, a rabbit, an iguana, an armadillo, a coati.
Pablo Ubeda passed by very early yesterday,
Carlos Reyna (1) found him there in the commissary.
But how did it happen, if yesterday morning
the juez de mesta (2) saw him crossing the ravine?
"What’s the confusion?" asked the sergeant,
"Could it be that this bastard is the notorious Cadejo (3)?
They saw him in Kuskawas, in La Tronca and in Waslala (4),
but they will never see him again, he was swallowed by the mountain.
He is helped by the winds, by the seven young kids,
he is obscured by the banana stalks, he is hidden by the cornfield.
The National Guard shoots at the coffee plants….
and Pablito comes out calm, covered in straw, walking along the canal.
(1) Carlos Reyna was an early member of the FSLN, joining the Frente after participating in the MNN. He was killed during the 1967 Pancasán operation along with Úbeda, Commander Silvio Mayorga, and a full third of the guerrilla force.
(2) In Somoza-era Nicaragua, a juez de mesta was a middle/upper-class person in the countryside designated to resolve land disputes between peasants. During the Sandinista revolution, jueces de mesta were converted largely into a network of informants for the National Guard, during which time they were also called orejas, or ears.
(3) The cadejo in Central America is a mythical dog known to accompany those who wander late at night. In most countries, it is believed that there are two cadejos: the white, which is considered a benign protector and is compared with the Christian concept of a guardian angel, and the black, which is the embodiment of evil and is the opposite of the white (racist). Pablo Úbeda’s informal title was El Cadejo de las Segovias, the Segovias being a forest in north-central Nicaragua.
(4) Three remote areas northeast of Matagalpa in north-central Nicaragua.
1. Borge, Tomas. “The Patient Impatience”.
2. Zimmerman, Matilde. “Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution”.
3. Baracco, Luciano. “Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation”.