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Waiting For The Death Truck In Nicaragua

by La Segua

to more on Reagan's shameful legacy

(PNS) -- In the 1980s, as a Nicaraguan child, I had dreams of Presidente Reagan dying of a heart attack in the middle of a speech. I thought his death would bring the war to an end. Then there would be no more low-flying "black birds" (spy planes) breaking the sound barrier several times a day during school hours.

One spring morning in 1981 I saw my mother and some neighbors digging a big hole in my beloved rose garden. "There's a new president in the United States," she said. "And he doesn't like the Revolution. Almost certainly, we're going to have a war. The hole is going to be our refugio (refuge) if their airplanes come looking for us. We'll hide in there."

Later, when the terrible war did come and the United States put up and armed the counterrevolutionary Contras, I dreamt that if Reagan died there would be no more bombed health clinics or hospitals. There would be no more empty shelves in the supermarket. And most important, the "Death Truck" wouldn't drive down my street every week.

The Death Truck was a big military truck, Russian-made, that delivered the corpses of young soldiers. My neighborhood was overwhelmingly Sandinista, hence, many of the youth in my barrio volunteered before they were old enough to get drafted. The truck would drive by slowly, staining the air with the stench of rotten humans wrapped in black plastic bags. Everyone froze while that damned truck drove by. Folks prayed it wouldn't stop in front of their house.

The most disgraceful assignment for anyone in the Ejercito Popular Sandinista (Sandinista armed forces) was to be the young man on the passenger seat of the Death Truck. His job was to notify the family he was delivering a corpse. Before the kid could hop off the truck, somebody's mother, wife, sister, uncle, brother, son or daughter was already on the sidewalk weeping.

"Oh! No not my husband!! God, tell me it isn't so!" I recall my 19-year-old neighbor, seven months pregnant, screaming so loud the sky was gonna crack.

The delivery soldier was required to make a dreadful speech as the black plastic bag was laid on the sidewalk in front of the house. While a Nicaraguan flag was draped on the body bag he would recite: "In the name of the People's Sandinista Revolution, we sadly inform you that (rank and name of person being delivered) has fallen (circumstances of death, i.e. ambush, ground combat, land mine, air raid...) in defense of the freedom and dignity of the Nicaraguan people. In the name of the Ejercito Popular Sandinista, we express our deepest regret and condolences to your family."

The soldier would then salute the wailing mother, wife or whoever was there and hand them the dog tag, some paperwork, and any personal effects the soldier might have had.

Then everyone knew what to do -- collect coffee, sugar and bread among all the neighbors to pull together a wake. The neighborhood carpenter would improvise a coffin with wood that sometimes came off somebody's wall or chicken coop. A man once told me that he made over 700 coffins during the war for young men he had seen grow up.

My black mourning clothes turned gray from wearing them so much. By the time I turned 12, I had five dog tags hanging from my neck. The guys' moms or wives or sisters gave them to me in appreciation for help I might have given in organizing the funeral -- collecting the sugar, washing the coffee cups, or walking long distances to get bread from a relative in a different neighborhood.

There weren't many girls my age in my neighborhood, so I hung out mostly with the boys. After Hurricane Joan left Nicaragua flooded in 1988, all the boys in my neighborhood vowed to serve. My boys all got up on one of those military trucks, with their camouflage pants and green T-shirts, with red bandanas tied to their necks (worn by youth volunteers, ages 16 to 18), and their AK-47s. They waved good-bye and blew kisses. The truck disappeared, and all the women hugged each other and wept.

My boys came home one by one, most of them dead, one without legs, and another insane.

Information that has come out since Iran-Contra arms smuggling scandal has documented how the Reagan administration actively tried to overthrow the Sandinista government. Back then, I could only dream of Presidente Reagan's death. I dreamt his body would be inside those makeshift coffins.

Sixteen years later, he has finally died.

But Reagan would need to die 60,000 more times, to make up for the lives lost during his watch. God forgive me, but I hope hell has a VIP lounge for him to suffer the torture and terror he imposed on us. Our only sin was to be living in Nicaragua.

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Albion Monitor June 11, 2004 (

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