1. Look what I found at the record store :-)

    This 1980 double LP tells the story of the FSLN from its formation until the victory of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution in 1979; it commemorates important events like the 1978 assault on the national palace, as well as fallen heroes like Luisa Amanda Espinosa. I already have it on digital, but I couldn’t resist picking up this rare physical copy.

     

  2. 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.

    SPANISH:

    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.

    ENGLISH:

    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.

    SOURCES:

    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”.

     

  3. CARLOS MEJÍA GODOY Y LOS DE PALACAGÜINA - LAS MUNICIONES (NICARAGUA, 1979]

    "I am the armor piercer, I am the guide,
    I’m forever an expert of the night
    The happy firefly of the guerrilla,
    I am the compass of a tough bullet.”

    Carlos & Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy's 1979 album Guitarra Armada may not have been a musical perfection; the rhymes were often simplistic, the singing sometimes subpar. Still, this remains one of my favorite albums if only for its incredible historical significance.

    Recorded shortly after the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s (FSLN) overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and its arrival in Managua on July 19, 1979, the album features a collection of songs which had dispersed among the revolutionary forces during the course of the popular insurrection, which had begun on a national scale in the final months of 1978 as a result of both the assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, editor of La Prensa, that January and the FSLN’s assault of the Presidential Palace in August.

    Despite this bold action, in 1978 the FSLN was a small, weak, and divided organization. Its leader, Carlos Fonseca, had been killed in action two years earlier, it was split into three factions, and by the beginning of that year had a membership of likely less than 200 militants, including its rural guerrilla army of 11 people.

    But as the insurrection took hold in previously inactive sections of the population, the FSLN took note that, despite the courage and audacity of the people, most had little to no military training, either in tactical maneuvering or in in the use of arms. Weapons manuals were not widely available, and would not do much good anyway: around half of the Nicaraguan population was functionally illiterate.

    The Mejía Godoy brothers Carlos and Luis Enrique, both members of the FSLN, took it upon themselves to try something creative. Given the small size of the Frente, it did not have the capacity to teach everyone street fighting or weapons use. So the brothers began writing and recording songs with the intention of creating easily dispersible and memorizable tracks with full instructions in military training. This song, called The Munitions, was written to instruct participants of the insurrection on the purpose and use of different kinds of ammunition—standard ammunition, incendiary bullets, tracers, and the fragmentation grenade. Four singers each take on the perspective of a particular ammunition and sing about their qualities in different battle scenarios. [Unfortunately I do not have the album booklet and can’t recognize any of the women singers except that of Mexican folk musician Amparo Ochoa, who takes on the perspective of the standard bullet.]

    This creativity and ability to respond to the moment was immensely helpful in allowing the FSLN (reunited into a single organization in January of 1979) and the Nicaraguan people to defeat Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard, one of the most disciplined and best armed military forces in Latin America, and to begin a revolutionary process based in new institutions of popular power.

    You’ll find an English translation below, done to the best of my abilities. Enjoy!

    SPANISH:

    Compañero, estas balas fueron recuperadas en la caida de Matagalpa. O sea, son balas que sirvieron al enemigo. Pero ahora que las tenemos nosotros, ya no son las mismas. Sabes por que, compita? Porque estas balas nos estan sirviendo ahora para conquistar la libertad.

    ESTRIBILLO:
    Echele borona compita Venancio, de las municiones écheme un sermón
    yo prefiero hermano, que por separado, haga cada bala su presentación.

    Yo por ser la común y ordinaria, me siento en un nivel muy inferior
    Soy la bala certera endemoniada, henchida de eficacia y de rigor
    Cobriza como un indio americano, por ser de furia voy a lo que voy
    desde que salgo al viento, voy buscando el mero corazón del opresor

    Yo soy la munición por excelencia, sin despreciar a nadie en esta lid
    mis posibilidades en la guerra explican el porque yo estoy aquí
    Como incendiaria grito “siempre lista!” y como perforante rauda voy
    Yo soy la rojinegra sandinista, yo soy por vocación la munición

    Yo soy la trazadora combativa, anaranjado vivo mi color
    No tengo propiedades expansivas, pero hago lo que puedo en mi fulgor
    Yo soy la quiebra placa, soy la guía, baqueana de la noche siempre fui
    Luciérnaga feliz de la guerrilla, soy brújula del recio proyectil.

    Yo que puedo decir de mis valores, si ni siquiera tengo proyectil?,
    Es como sin tener mecha ni llama, quisiera ser antorcha o ser candil
    En mi viudez de cápsula vacia, va el alma del hermano que cayó,
    lanzando en el umbral de su partida una granada de fragmentación.

    ENGLISH:

    Compañero, these bullets were recovered during the fall of Matagalpa. In other words, they are bullets that served the enemy. But now that we have them, they are no longer the same. Do you know why, comrade? Because these bullets are now serving us in the quest for freedom.

    CHORUS:
    Sing it, comrade Venancio, give me a sermon about our munitions
    and I’d prefer, brother, that they each give me a separate presentation

    I, being the common and ordinary one, feel like I’m on an inferior level
    I am a damn accurate bullet, bursting with efficiency and rigor
    Copper like an indigenous American, in my fury I go where I wish
    from the time I enter the wind, I search for the heart of the oppressor

    I am the most excellent bullet without belittling anyone in this contest
    my potential in war explains the reason that I am here
    As an incendiary I shout “always ready!”, and as an piercer I am swift
    I am the Sandinista red-and-black, I am a munition by profession

    I am the combative tracer, bright orange is my color
    I don’t have expansive properties, but I do what I can with my glow
    I am the armor piercer, I am the guide, I’m forever an expert of the night
    The happy firefly of the guerrilla, I am the compass of a tough bullet

    What can I say of my value if I don’t even have a projectile?
    It’s like not having a wick or flame, I’d love to be a torch or candle
    In my empty-capsule widowhood goes the soul of a fallen comrade,
    launching a fragmentation grenade on the eve of his departure

     

  4. Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, considered along with his brother to be one of the voices of the Nicaraguan Revolution, sings Un Gigante que Despierta [A Waking Giant], inspired by the people of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.

    The Atlantic coast region of Nicaragua, now known officially as RAAN/RAAS (North/South Atlantic Autonomous Region), is culturally distinct from the Pacific side of the country, with many of its residents speaking either English or the indigenous languages of the Miskito, Suma, and Rama Indians. Unlike the west, the Spanish never conquered eastern Nicaragua and it experienced more contact with the British instead.

    The song celebrates the cultural difference, at a time when the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front—of which Mejia Godoy was a member—was in a sharp conflict with sections of indigenous peoples in the northeast.

    This Friday the 19th of July marks the 34th anniversary of the revolutionary victory of the FSLN over the pro-imperialist pitiyanqui dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Viva el pueblo nicaragüense! Viva el Frente Sandinista! Viva la memoria de nuestros mártires heróicos!

    LETRA:

    Por esta tierra pasó el pedernal y la miel pasó
    El oro, el jade pasó, pero nada se quedó 
    Solo quedó el duradero residuo de las lenguas
    miskitos, sumos y ramas que junto al criollo se quedó 
    Donde no hubo ciudades, ni templos ceremoniales quedó
    solamente se quedó la yuca y el pijebaye quedó 
    entre blasfemias y rezos del inglés y del español
    un país distinto al mío nació en mi propio corazón.

    Un gigante que despierta en la costa
    Un gigante que ya nada detiene
    A la a la a lalalalalala.

    TRANSLATION:

    Through this land passed flint and honey,
    gold, jade, but nothing remained
    except the enduring residue of the language
    of the miskitos, sumos, and ramas, along with creole
    It lasted where there were no cities, no ceremonial temples,
    only the yucca and pijebaye remained,
    amid prayers and blasphemies in English and in Spanish,
    a country distinct from my own was born right in my heart.

    A giant is being woken on the coast,
    a giant that nothing can hold back,
    A la a la a lalalalalala.

     
  5. Feliz cumpleaños al Comandante Carlos Fonseca, líder máximo de la Revolución Nicaragüense y fundador principal del Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. Fonseca, asesinado por las hordas somocistas en 1976, hubiera cumplido 77 años de edad hoy.

    Está canción, escrita por Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, aparece por primera vez en el álbum Canto Épico al FSLN en 1980, un álbum lanzado meses después del triunfo de la revolución en julio de 1979 que relata las entonces casi dos décadas de historia del Frente y su lucha contra el imperialismo.

    Patria libre o morir!

     
     
  6. Y Regresaron los Muchachos - Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy

    "Si cumplimos con este juramento, seremos hijos dignos de Sandino!" -Comandante Tomás Borge Martínez

    23 de agosto de 1980, regresaron los muchachos de alfabetizar a todo un pueblo [nicaragüense] que empendría el comienzo de su liberación ya no con las armas, sino con el papel y los lápices. Honor y gloria a los Héroes y Mártires de la Cruzada Nacional de Alfabetización. El vídeoclip fue realizado por el Periodista Carlos Suárez Aguiar.

     
     
  7. La Ceiba | Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy y Grupo Mancotal | A Pesar de Usted | 1985 | Nicaragua

    "Desde la tupida cumbre de Kilambé, la ceiba decidió bajar; milenaria mujer, compañera eterna del cedro real!"

    Originally featured on the 1980 album Canto Epico al FSLN, La Ceiba is a homage to the ceiba pentandra tree of Nicaragua, which provided cover to the Sandinista guerrillas during their 18-year struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. Its initial release had it positioned as the first of eight songs paying respect to various trees found in the Segovia forest of northern Nicaragua, the historic region that also played host to Augusto C. Sandino’s war of resistance against the US Marines.

    This is a super fun song that uses a typically pastoral Nicaraguan lyrical style, which somewhat anthropomorphizes elements of nature; here, the ceiba is conceptualized as an aged woman and companion of the cedro real, which I believe is more commonly known as thecedrela.

    The lyrics are embedded so that you can follow along!

     
     
  8. A video I just made… Nicaraguan revolutionary folk singer Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy sings about Gaspar Garcia Laviana, a guerrilla priest from Asturias who joined the Sandinistas in fighting the Somoza dictatorship. I embedded the translated lyrics along with some details on lyrical references. Enjoy!

     
     
  9. This song is a constant reference point for me when I explain what I mean when I say that revolutionaries need to be politically agile and willing to learn how to “swim in stormy waters.”

    In Memorandum Militar 1-79, Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy sings some helpful tips on tactics and strategy mean to be disseminated during the 1979 Nicaraguan insurrection which ultimately overthrew the Somoza dynasty. Since most of the population was illiterate at the time, the Sandinista Front had to find innovative ways to train people to defeat the substantially better-armed National Guard. The Mejia Godoy brothers were like “hey, why don’t we make some songs teaching people how to field strip rifles and shit?” They did, and it was a massive contribution to only the second successful revolution in Latin America, and one of the only revolutions in history to come to power largely via urban insurrection.

    The lyrics are built into the video so that you can follow along!

     
     

  10. "Aún pequeños, juntos somos un volcán."
    — Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy
     
  11. Nació el Niño Negro is a well-known Nicaraguan folk song from the culturally-distinct Atlantic coast, written by David McField and performed by Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. Its very simple lyrics attempt to draw a parallel in the origins of the Sandinista National Liberation Front [FSLN] and the African-descended people of the southeast region near Bluefields, many of whom have non-Spanish names and speak English or a variant of Jamaican patois.

    Fun fact: David McField is the current Nicaraguan ambassador to Jamaica.

    Unlike west and central Nicaragua, the Atlantic coast was colonized by the British and remains largely isolated from the rest of the country. Despite the Atlantic coast regions occupying nearly half of the national territory, they contain barely over 10% of the population. This historic separation caused significant problems for the Sandinistas in the 1980s, whose attempts to transform politics in the region created conflicts, particularly with the indigenous people scattered in the northeast.

    LYRICS

    Nació el niño negro [the Black child was born]
    en una barraca [in a little hut]
    En una plantación [On a plantation]
    nació el Frente de Liberación [the Liberation Front was born]

    Aleluya, pan para los pobres [Hallelujah, bread for the poor]
    Aleluya, para los ricos [Hallelujah, for the rich]
    cabuya con tenedor [cabuya cactus with a fork]

     
     
  12. "Convirtiendo la oscurana en claridad, Josefana va, por la costa va. Con un sol en su cartilla de enseñar, Josefana va, por la costa va."

    Nicaraguan musician Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy, along with is band Grupo Mancotal, perform their song Josefana, which is about a brigadista in Nicaragua’s 1980 literacy campaign. In this song, Josefana travels all the way to the Atlantic coast to teach the rural population how to read and write. It’s got a very danceable rhythm and a very upbeat message, so I think you’ll dig it. Enjoy!

     
     
  13. Nicaraguan band Los de Palacagüina perform Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy’s song Un Gigante que Despierta [A Waking Giant], inspired by the people of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.

    The Atlantic coast region of Nicaragua, now known officially as RAAN/RAAS (North/South Atlantic Autonomous Region), is culturally distinct from the Pacific side of the country, with many of its residents speaking either English or the indigenous languages of the Miskito, Suma, and Rama Indians. Unlike the west, the Spanish never conquered eastern Nicaragua and it experienced more contact with the British instead.

    The song celebrates this difference, at a time when the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front—of which Mejia Godoy was a member—was in a sharp conflict with the indigenous peoples of the northeast.

    LETRA:

    Por esta tierra pasó el pedernal y la miel pasó
    El oro, el jade pasó, pero nada se quedó
    Solo quedó el duradero residuo de las lenguas
    miskitos, sumos y ramas que junto al criollo se quedó
    Donde no hubo ciudades, ni templos ceremoniales quedó
    solamente se quedó la yuca y el pijebaye quedó
    entre blasfemias y rezos del inglés y del español
    un país distinto al mío nació en mi propio corazón.

    Un gigante que despierta en la costa
    Un gigante que ya nada detiene
    A la a la a lalalalalala.

    TRANSLATION:

    Through this land passed flint and honey,
    gold, jade, but nothing remained
    except the enduring residue of the language
    of the miskitos, sumos, and ramas, along with creole
    It lasted where there were no cities, no ceremonial temples,
    only the yucca and pijebaye remained,
    amid prayers and blasphemies in English and in Spanish,
    a country distinct from my own was born right in my heart.

    A giant is being woken on the coast,
    a giant that nothing can hold back,
    A la a la a lalalalalala.

     
     
  14. Nicaraguan legend Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy's 1981 album, Un Son para mi Pueblo [Songs from the new Nicaragua], featuring his group Mancotal. Download here.

     
  15. Front and back cover of Nicaraguan folk singer Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy's 1972 album, Este es mi Pueblo.

    Click the link to go to PERRERAC’s free album download page. No registration, no nonsense.