Viva! Ch1


By Peter Edington


A young women pauses on the steps of an airliner. She raises a machine gun and announces to the TV cameras, "We are not supermen, we are mothers of children, nurses, peasants, whose lives sum up all the exploitation of our people."

"Viva!" covers much more than a people's struggle for freedom. It is the story of love and revolution within a family.

The Villanueva family:

The father, Rodrigues. Wealthy, conservative, naturally supports the Somoza regime.

The mother, Olivia. Once bohemian and artistic, rejected by her husband after the caesarean birth of her second son, Rafael, leaves her sterile.

The brothers,

- Older brother, Miguel. Right-hand man in his father's business. Intuitively supports Somoza, loves the high life, jealous of Rafael's girlfriend.

- Younger brother, Rafael. Poet and intellectual, university student, in love with Julia.

Julia Larios - Daughter of a lawyer, lives next door and has grown up practically a sister to the two Villanueva brothers but now jealousy threatens the childhood friendships.

Book One opens

Sandinista guerrillas have stormed the house of President Somoza's chief minister, Chema Castillo. Thirty-four people from Managua's richest families are taken hostage. Among the assault team of teenagers is Rafael, now an experienced fighter, known only by his nom-de-guerre, the Poet.

1967, before Rafael became a Sandinista: His two best friends from university, Sergio and Anna have been killed, along with 600 other men and women, by Somoza's National Guard at an anti-government rally. Witnessing this fundamentally changes him, his relationship with his parents and with Julia. Marxist friend, Daniel, persuades him that the only way to oust the brutal dictator, Anastasio Somoza is by public insurrection.

The revolution will need money so Daniel proposes to rob a bank. Rafael is against it but is implicated by association when Daniel is arrested. He knows that, like Daniel, he will be imprisoned and tortured. He must flee. He takes Julia to his father's villa and tells her he will join the guerrillas in the north. They make love for the first time and they swear fidelity.

So begins Rafael's life as an outlaw. His father disowns him and makes his mother promise never to speak of him. His brother,Miguel, sees his opportunity to move in on Julia.

Rafael's guerrilla column is routed and Rafael is seriously wounded. He would have died but for a peasant family who shelter him – even though the National Guard is ransacking farms and massacring thousands around them. Recovered enough Rafael returns to an underground Sandinista group in Managua. But each week another activist is arrested or killed.

Olivia learns that her son is back and meets him, with Julia, at the villa. They can't accept his dream of an armed insurrection that could leave him and thousands like him dead and Julia is torn between her love for the passionate Rafael and the security that Miguel can offer.

Chapter One

Book One
The siege at the house of Chema Castillo
Chapter One

The Mansion of Chema Castillo, Managua

10.30 p.m. Friday 27th December 1974

Ambassador Thomas Sheldon shook the businessman’s hand. "Rodrigues! It's been a great pleasure meeting you here tonight." He turned to Rodrigues’ son. "And you too, Miguel!"

At twenty-nine, Miguel Villanueva was the youngest man at the party but his hawk-faced good looks and expensive clothes had already attracted interest from many of the women there that night. His oiled black hair hardly moved as he gave the ambassador an almost Teutonic bow. Heavy gold cufflinks caught the light from the chandelier as he shook the American's hand. "My pleasure, Mr. Sheldon."

The white-haired ambassador moved his attention to Miguel's wife. "Señora Villanueva, it has been a real pleasure." He held the elegant hand overly long and said, "I'll watch out for your husband, Señora, he is on his way to great things. People like Howard Hughes don't often ask for advice but I know he was particularly interested in Miguel's recommendation over the casino complex last year." He kissed Señora Villanueva's hand and turned back to Miguel. "With friends in the right places, young man, the sky's the limit! I look forward to seeing you both in Washington, one day."

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of their host, Chema Castillo - government Minister and close confidant of the absent President Somoza. Somoza had chosen Senator Castillo to throw this exclusive party in his absence to honour the departing Ambassador.

Castillo’s English was faultless, which was as well since Thomas Sheldon had never considered it necessary to learn Spanish. "Thomas, I cannot say how sorry we will be to see you go," he cried. "It has been such a pleasure having you here with us in Managua.” He summoned a servant to bring the ambassador's overcoat and draped it over his guest’s shoulders. Four years as United States Ambassador to Nicaragua had thinned the old American’s blood and he was easily chilled, even in the relative warmth of a December evening in tropical Central America.

"I'm sorry to go, Chema," Sheldon replied, "but you know how it is.” The ambassador raised his hands in mock surrender. “When duty calls…"

"Indeed," Castillo joked and the two of them shook hands, though the Nicaraguan knew only too well the true reason for Sheldon's removal. With the recent impeachment of his sponsor, President Nixon, and the arrival in the Oval Office of a new broom, Thomas Sheldon was being swept out of his sybaritic niche in Managua, to be replaced by the new administration's own man. Like the rest of Somoza’s government, Castillo hoped the replacement would be as sympathetic to their ways as Sheldon had been. “You will always be welcome," Castillo added, "and be sure to come back soon."

"Chema. I surely will," Sheldon said, adding his free hand to the handshake. "And you and your good lady must visit with me next time you're in America."

Castillo smiled warmly. "Of course we will." But he raised an admonishing finger. "In the summer! Those North American winters of yours are too severe for us Latin-Americans!" They laughed and the host signalled discretely to the servant. "Call His Excellency's car."

The circle of richly dressed men and women who gathered around the departing ambassador probably accounted for over half the wealth that lay in Nicaragua and Sheldon took care to say a few words to each as he took his leave. The last man he spoke to had a look about him that was reminiscent of the country's president, Anastasio Somoza. Though perhaps more lightly built, the family resemblance was there. It was probably something to do with the eyes, Sheldon thought as he held out his hand. "Noel!" They clasped hands. "It has been a privilege working you."

Noel Pallais Debayle, first cousin to President Somoza Debayle, acknowledged the compliment, "And you, Thomas."

"I'm really sorry we never got to finalise those proposals for your development program, but I'm sure my replacement will be see them through. He's a good man, Ambassador Theberge."

"I'm sure it will be a formality." Noel Pallais Debayle returned Sheldon's two-handed grip. "Have a pleasant flight back to Washington."

"Thank you, Noel," he said and the two men released each other's hands. "Be sure and give my regards to President Somoza."

"I will," Pallais Debayle said. "But you might see him before I do. He is in Miami at this moment and I believe he hopes to go on to Washington to meet President Ford."

The ambassador nodded thoughtfully. Gerald Ford and Anastasio Somoza must have met already while Ford had been vice president but, now he was President, Sheldon could see that the Nicaraguan would be anxious they should meet again. He would need to gauge for himself the strength of Ford's commitment to the special relationship which had existed between the White House and Nicaragua for the forty years of the Somoza family dynasty. "Of course," Sheldon replied. "I expect I will see him there." He turned and waved a hand to the gathering at large. "Thank you for the party, everyone. You all take care of yourselves."


The girl's voice, normally huskily Spanish, was made harsh by the nervousness that pervaded the echoing dark in the back of the big Chevrolet van. "Are you sure the ambassador is still in there, German?" She had pronounced his name 'Herman', the letter G being said that way in her language.

Street light filtered through the windscreen of the van, accentuating the strain on the faces of the dozen or so heavily armed youngsters who sat or crouched in the back on the uncomfortable, ribbed metal floor.

German Pomares smiled without taking his eyes off the house across the road. "I am sure," he said.

"Then why hasn't he come out yet?"

Pomares dropped the cigarette on to the small heap of ground out butt-ends at his feet. As comandante of the raid he sat in the front of the van. "It's early yet." He extinguished the cigarette with his foot.

"But he might have left already." Her voice was rising a little. "We could wait here for ever!"

Another girl's voice, sharp and authoritative snapped from the darkness. "Shut up Maria. He's in there." Maria could see the other woman's eyes as pale lights in the darkness. "How could he have left without us seeing his limousine? Just relax!"

Maria couldn't relax. Her knees trembled. She wasn't sure if it was from sitting cramped in the stifling van like this for the last two hours, or from raw fear.

"Yes but..." she started to say and a new voice spoke near her.

"Maria." He spoke so quietly, his breath on her cheek, that only she could hear him. "There's nothing wrong with being afraid." She could feel her knee trembling against his leg and she forced it into stillness. Her lips parted to speak but his eyes held hers with such unquenchable conviction that her words died unspoken. She studied him more closely. She hadn't seen him join the group. He was nothing special to look at, dressed as they all were in black mechanics overalls, but there was something about him that was different. She didn't know his real name but here he was in the van, pouring his strength into her with those eyes.

"You're the one they call The Poet?" she whispered and she saw his teeth, white against his Fidel Castro beard as he shrugged.

He lifted his head as if he didn't quite understand why they called him that. "The Poet, or Rubén," he said. They were talking in voices so low that they were almost inaudible and yet she was aware that the whole van had fallen silent, listening.

"And are you a poet?"

"Not really, not now, but I used to quote Dario's poems all the time. It helped me when I was afraid."

"And is that your name? Rubén?"

He shook his head. "That was Fonseca's joke. He gave me it as a nom de guerre, after Rubén Dario."

"He gave you it?"

He nodded, his eyes still holding hers.

"Fonseca?" Maria's heart quickened. "Carlos Fonseca?"


Her eyes widened in the gloom of the van. "You fought with Carlos Fonseca?" Her voice carried the awe an eighteen-year old Sandinista street-fighter felt for anyone who had fought alongside the founder of the Frente Sandinista. "What was it like?" she asked and the whole van waited in silence to hear his reply. Pomares lit another cigarette and cupped it in his hand.

The Poet did not answer. Instead he called out suddenly, "Are you afraid, Juan?"

Juan, the youngest member of the team sat up - every eye in the van unexpectedly fixed on him. He shuffled his feet "Me? Afraid of them?" he spat. "No!"

"Good," said Rubén the Poet and Maria saw his teeth flash white as he grinned. "Then go and knock on Señor Castillo's door and tell him we are tired of waiting out here." He squeezed the girl's knee as he went on in Juan's terrible English. "Hey, Chema. Hif you wouldn't mind sending out the Gringo Ambassador we haf a message for El Hombre!" - El Hombre was their nickname for the President.

Laughter rippled though the darkness till German Pomares hissed at them from the front seat. "Stow it, Rubén!" He was nervous too. There had been little enough time to get things right, it was only twelve hours since he'd heard the news of the farewell party on the radio and it had been touch and go getting the weapons and the assault team arranged in time. But his plan was simple. As soon as Thomas Sheldon, the US ambassador, was clear, the van would rush the gates of the mansion. In the confusion that followed, his team would enter the house and secure it against any counter-attack by Somoza's troops. The temptation to take the house while Sheldon was still inside had been immense but even in their wildest dreams, the leadership of the FSLN knew that it would be suicide to take a US ambassador hostage. The Americans would see to that. Instead they had decided to wait till he left. There would still be enough of the Somoza clan inside the house to achieve their objective.

So they just had to wait. The American was in there, he knew that. The radio had been quite clear. Chema Castillo's party would be Sheldon's last engagement before he left for the airport and the American's plane would not leave until after midnight. He checked his watch for the tenth time. Twelve minutes to eleven. "He's in there," he said quietly. "I know it."

Silence fell in the waiting van.


"Your car's here, Thomas." Chema Castillo said as he put an arm around the ambassador's shoulder. The tall Nicaraguan shepherded his guest towards the door. "Thank you for coming tonight. We wanted you to know how much your friendship has meant to us - the government, President Somoza," he gestured expansively with his free hand. "Everyone in Nicaragua benefits from the continued friendship of the United States."

The door was opened unobtrusively by a servant and the two men stood at the top of the steps that led down from Chema's magnificent front door. In front of them, the paved driveway swept away between palm trees to a high wrought iron gate - the only way in or out of the grounds. A black limousine with a miniature Stars and Stripes flag flying on the bonnet glided silently towards them and stopped.


"There's something happening!" Pomares could see headlights at the front of the house. "Everyone ready!"

There was general movement as the occupants of the van reached for their weapons. Rubén and German Pomares each had an M-1 carbine, as did Fernanda, the girl with the pale eyes, and two or three of the other men. The rest made do with assorted handguns.

"Got the grenades, Rubén?" Pomares asked quietly and the Poet patted the webbing haversack on his shoulder.

"Yes, I've got them."

"Good. Everyone got your emergency pack?" There was silence. Each one of them carried their own cotton bag with emergency equipment - nylon rope, a plastic bag to store water in case the supply was cut off, a torch, vitamins, medicines, glucose.

"Well...?" Pomares snapped

"For God's sake German, we've got our emergency packs, OK?" Fernanda spoke abruptly from the darkness.

"OK," Pomares agreed. "OK." He was under control again. "That's good. Masks on!"

In silence they each pulled a nylon stocking from their pocket and dragged it over their head so that they became indistinguishable from each other, anonymous - all identical in their black overalls. Anonymous except in one thing - a red and black bandanna tied around their upper arm. Red and black - the colours of the Sandinista Liberation Front, the FSLN.


The chauffeur stood by the open door of the limousine while Ambassador Sheldon gave a last farewell wave to the gathered aristocracy of Managua. Amid assorted wishes for a good flight, a safe arrival or a peaceful retirement, the Cadillac drew silently away and the wrought iron gates swung open.


"Wait for it," Pomares said quietly. The engine was running. The driver had the van in gear. "Let him pull out onto the road first."

The heavy gates were open. The limousine dipped decorously across the pavement ramp. The chauffeur powered the big car away, between the tall trees of the street-lit avenue.

Pomares banged the dashboard with his fist. "Go!" He yelled. "Go!" and the van lurched forward, smoke pouring from its rear wheels, screaming tyres tearing the heavy heat of the night. "Come on!" he shouted.

Alerted by the sudden onrush of the van, the guards who had opened the gates now threw themselves against them, desperate to close up the only breach in the ten-foot high wall that secured the house.

"Keep going! Keep going!" Everyone in the van was on their feet and shouting, weapons slung across their chests, bracing themselves against the violent lurching. They staggered as the vehicle smashed into the gates and Rubén glimpsed a security guard dragging a pistol from its holster as he leapt clear of the speeding van. Someone cried out as a bullet shattered one of the backdoor windows and whined off the steel roof over their heads. The girl with the pale eyes thrust her carbine through the broken glass and unleashed a long burst of fire. The guard fell to the ground. Rubén turned to look ahead. Ornate palm trees and foliage flashed past in the headlights as the van careered up the long drive to the house. Suddenly they were slowing down. He had the sliding side-door open before they stopped and dropped to the paved drive, doubled up, running, his carbine in front of him, eyes on the steps up to the house. The van slewed to a halt and the other twelve fighters were with him.

They were at the top of the steps.

"Stand back!" Pomares ordered and Rubén ducked aside as the door burst open under a hail of automatic fire.

"You know where to go!" the Comandante yelled and eight of the guerrillas threw themselves past him moving quickly to the rear of the house. As he ran, Rubén was aware of the running footsteps of his comrades dropping away as they peeled off to left and right to secure rooms with doors to the outside that could leak quick-witted guests into the night and away. Alone, he reached the servants' quarters at the back of the house. He was in the kitchens. Everywhere, terrified servants screamed and ran about. He had to take control. Raising his carbine he fired into the ceiling and shouted the words he'd been ordered to use.

"This is a political operation. Hands on your heads and against the wall. This is the Sandinista National Liberation Front. VIVA SANDINO!" He fired again and suddenly it was over. Suave waiters in white aprons and sweating cooks in white hats fell over each other in their hurry to obey his instructions.

There was another burst of gunfire from the body of the house and he heard German Pomares uttering the same words he had used. In front of him a girl with black hair and terrified eyes cowered on the floor, sobbing.

There was a movement beside him and Rubén swung the gun instinctively.

It was Fernanda. The nylon stocking hardly altered her voice and certainly did nothing to disguise her figure.

"All right in here?" She asked as she came further into the kitchen. Rubén had taken a position with his back into a corner where he could watch his hostages and the door at the same time, knowing he could not be attacked unexpectedly from behind.

"Fine. You?"

She shrugged. "I think so. What about her?" She gestured with her carbine to the sobbing girl.

"She’s OK. I can handle her."

Fernanda took another quick look around the room. "I'll be back soon," she said and was gone.

Rubén lowered the barrel of the M1 and looked towards the cowering girl. The helpless terror in her eyes reminded him of another girl he'd once known - a girl who'd watched a soldier place the muzzle of his gun against her brother's temple as he lay on the hard pavement of a Managua street - a girl who had seen her brother's head jerk as his brains exploded, red against the black tarmac. In his dreams he still heard her screams as the soldiers dragged her to their van.

"Get up, kid," he said. "I'm not going to hurt you."


Chapter 2