The Book of Jorge Manuel
“In 1966, the KGB placed Jorge Manuel Quijana y Jaén’s group on the U.S.-Mexican border, with bases in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, and Ensenada. The targets included American military bases, missile sites, radar installations, and the oil pipeline from El Paso, Texas, to Costa Mesa, California.” www.wordnik.com
So with two days free, you’ve crossed the border, made your Tijuana tour and made your trek down to Ensenada, rolling into town early enough to get a hotel, have a couple of tacos at the main taquería near Housong’s Cantina and still make it to a barbershop in the late afternoon. The same one you used to go to so many years before, when you stayed a whole summer and made so many shorter visits to the town and the house of your suegra — your mother-in-law, gone so many years before like Jorge Manuel. The two barbers working are old timers, and maybe they cut your hair years ago, but they don’t seem to remember you any more than you remember them — though of course time changes us till we’re almost all unrecognizable.
Just as the barber draws me up and finishes his questions about the cut I want, the other barber’s client pays his fee and leaves, so that barber 2 is now free to take the chair next to me. It’s all kind of listless and the air in the shop is dead in spite of the fan. I’m a bit tired from the ride and food and maybe set for dosing as the barber cuts, when as he does his final size-up of my bald head, I feel him pawing around a bit more than normal, and I sense him sensing something. “Hey” he says to me in Spanish, “have I not cut your hair before?” “Yes,” I say, “I think so — several times, but many years ago.” “Yes,” he said, marveling like Balboa looking over the straits of Darien, feeling different parts of my head with the tips of his fingers, which seem to have a memory of their own. “Yes, are you not the son-in-law of Dr. Quijana?” “No,” I tell him, “the son-in-law of Ariana Quijana, Dr. Quijana’s sister.” “Well, you don’t say!” the second barber exclaims. “Yes — only Ariana’s been gone for several years and he after her,” I add. “And claro, I’ve been divorced from the daughter for years.” “No!” says my barber, almost as if it were a personal misfortune “¡Qué lástima! — what a shame!” he exclaims, as if the divorce were only yesterday. “And what brings you down here now?”
It’s true that for a while I came down once every few years, almost every time I visited my family in L.A., always ready for the pain of nostalgia, always thinking of my past life with two successive wives in Southern California and the other side. I usually just buzz past my suegra’s home, past the school my son attended, and maybe past the store Ariana and her sister Mela ran for some years — even past where Jorge Manuel had his office, house or bookstore, and then, if I’ve the energy or time, la Bufadora blow hole. But this time I’ve stopped at the barbershop and the barber’s actually recognized me. I don’t answer the question asked, but the barbers don’t seem to mind — they’re lost in a kind of reverie of remembering.
“La doña Ariana was one spirited old girl, always here and away to el D.F. o el otro lado — to Mexico City or across the border,” says the second barber, “But Doctor Quijana — he was really a figure in this town.” “Where were they from again?” asks my barber. “From Nicaragua, I think,” says the other, “both of them were mixed up in politics — but we don’t know what.” “Yes,” I add, “they were exiles from Somoza,’s Nicaragua and Jorge Manuel Quijana had fought against the Somozas and gone to Mexico City for some years, and then came down here to Baja, marrying an Ensenada woman and settling in the town with a long time-to-time absence when he traveled to who knows where.” “He never stopped working for the Revolution,” said barber 2, “and I heard he even went back when the Sandinistas won — when was it?” “July 1979,” M answered, remembering back to so many times. “A revolutionary that Dr. Quijana — a revolutionary in Ensenada,” said barber 2, and both barbers laughed. “A little crazy,” said my barber, laughing a bit, “but he made a real stir here. A doctor, a psychiatrist, a teacher at the prepa, and then there was his bookstore, where the kids could get their schoolbooks and anything they wanted about the Sandinistas or the Communist movement.” “He was one in a million here in this town,” said barber 2. “One for the books,” said my barber, “they don’t have people like him any more, and there was hardly no one like him even then.” “Yes,” said barber 2. “He turned lots of heads here, even that mexicano waiter —” “Víctor Tirado López,” I interject. “Claro, el Doctor taught him all he knew and Víctor even became a comandante in that revolution,” Barber 2 reflected. “My god, Dr. Quijana had his way with words — he could talk any one into anything. And if you wanted to talk politics, he could talk both your ears off.” “Well, don’t take off mine,” I replied, mainly in jest, but also not a little worried about where all this nostalgia might lead him, his scissors or his head.
To be sure, the doctor wasn’t all talk. Sitting in the barber chair, and hearing the barbers, I couldn’t prevent a kaleidoscope of memories from returning to mind. There was that constant string of visitors, mainly Nicaraguans from Mexico City or San Francisco who were his guests even though almost all of them stayed at the house of his sister Ariana. There was that Jewish nica, Herty, who worked in an L.A. factory, but came down several times and finally got arrested for trying to smuggle arms into Mexico and then on to the land of Sandino. Then came that visitor who seemed to represent the Frente Sandinista — the Front, staying at Ariana’s house for some days as Jorge Manuel arranged a big meeting for him. And then came that extremely tall intellectual Nicaraguan just back from Paris, spouting revolutionary ideas in one taquería or another.
And then there were wild nights with his male buddies at the El Gran Chaparral restaurant-bar, and the big fights which followed with his Ensenada wife. And there was that love affair he had afterwards with that crazy woman more macha or “machistic” than any soldadera or campfollower, always with her big dogs and rifle, always showing off her big breasts and thighs — with her husband sleeping on the porch, while she and the doctor had their good sweet time in the matrimonial bed. Off they went to Nicaragua with the Revolution, but some time later they came back — who knows what happened out there, but it didn’t work, and the happy couple returned not too happy and with their tails between their legs. And then they seemed to go crazy back with the husband.
There were lots of shouting and the dogs screeching and even some cheating, I heard. And one day, the Dr. packed his bags and went back to Ariana’s house — she already back from the great revolution, and he now settling in, bitter but resigned and intent on writing that book he finally finished and self-published but would hardly be able to sell, about Nicaragua and imperialism. He published it in Tijuana with the help of a mysterious doctor friend living there. But how indeed could one market the book even at the one good bookstore in Tijuana — let alone in Mexico City, Managua or any place else where there might be the slightest interest in it? Some former students, clients and patients in Ensenada could be induced to buy the book by the well-respected doctor, but stacks sat on the shelves of his bookstore, and who knew what happened to them? The truth is, I did find out what happened to those books, as I later found out about many things I did not grasp in those days in Ensenada, so many years ago.
How can one account for the impact that some one has on your life? Ever since I began living with Elena, we would go as often as possible across the border with Carlos to visit Ariana in Ensenada. And almost every trip involved time with Ariana’s brother, Jorge Manuel. At first the relation was cool enough. Elena had something against him, something, perhaps not sexual abuse but some unkindness or inconsideration committed against her as an adolescent, so that as much as she appreciated his politics and wisdom, something in her held back. I didn’t have this history, but I was a gringo, and Jewish at that — sufficient reason for him to treat me with the greatest distance. On the other hand, my growing interest in Marxism and revolution, my willingness to ask him questions and debate with him or just listen for hours were enough for me to gradually win him over as we talked well into the night about somocismo, sandinismo and the international revolutionary tide.
I soon realized that he’d fought in the Bocay area of Nicaragua in the early 1960s. He let on that he had studied and maybe trained in Russia for more than a year and also had taken a non-tourist visit to Cuba — and some one (I can’t remember who) rumored that he was a Soviet spy somehow appointed by Carlos Fonseca Amador or Khruschev himself to coordinate Sandinista and broader international affairs along the border area extending from Ciudad Juárez to Tijuana, including his seemingly improbable home base of Ensenada. And I knew too that he was known for recruiting Víctor Tirado, who, giving credit to Jorge Manuel, was to emerge as the only Mexican among the nine comandantes of the Revolution, though perhaps through his contacts elsewhere and not in Ensenada. And I found out I can’t remember when that Tirado may have been a busboy or waiter, but he was already a member of the Mexican Communist Party at the time Jorge Manuel recruited him for the FSLN.
All I learned of my new uncle led me to admire him and see him as my own guide and even father in revolution. Of course mine wasn’t blind admiration. I was used to bearded and slim revolutionaries and Jorge Manuel was a large man, with a large stomach along with a Stalinesque haircut and moustache, which raised doubts about his ultimate attitudes and values. In fact, he cultivated Stalinist convictions. He railed against Trotskyists, Maoists and other revisionists. He spoke of how Stalin had saved the Soviet Union, Communism and the world, even if millions had had to die in the process. He defended the purge trials as part of the struggle against Jewish Zionist or crypto-Jewish bourgeois elements out to destroy the Bolshevik party from within. He defended the Stalin-Hitler pact as the necessary path to give Mother Russia the chance to organize a just society in the long run. He noted how the Russians had saved millions of more Jews from dying in the camps, only to be repaid by unthinkable Jewish aggression against “our Palestinian brothers.” Now the Vietnam struggle and the uprisings throughout Latin America (the Cuban Revolution surely, the recent revolt in Mexico City however repressed, and of course, the emergence of Allende and the Unidad Popular in Chile), were preludes to the emergent revolutions in Nicaragua and before long, all of Central and South America.
Jorge Manuel spoke of his participation as doctor and revolutionary (another Che) in the early sixties as the FSLN took form; he spoke for the need for a hard line in Nicaragua, how the brilliance of Carlos Fonseca stemmed from his using the nationalist icon of Sandino as the front for Marxist-Leninist view of revolution. “Be careful of those who speak of Marxism without Lenin, of those who try to separate Lenin and Stalin as if there might be fundamental differences between them.” He warned us of even our Marxist professors and was genuinely scandalized when we spoke of having invited Herbert Marcuse to a session of our Marxist study group at the university. “Don’t let these people who speak of sexual and cultural revolutions (good things of course in the long run) divert you from the primary task of building socialism in our time.”
I was the eager disciple of all these discourses even if I took at least some of them with more than a grain of salt. I even hid some of my doubts because I really wanted to hear him speak on and at least give us his take on, or maybe resolve the many questions that lay before us. My goal was to learn all he had to teach even as I followed my own line of academic Marxist criticism, studying the Frankfurt School, Sartre and Goldmann with well known Marxist professors. And all this had to stand up against these discussions and debates that took place some sixty miles south of the border mainly in the rickety wooden house on an unpaved street in the waterless barrio of Piedras Negras, in Ensenada, Baja California.
All my lessons from Jorge Manuel came on his many visits for lunch or dinner. Ariana always cooked enough so he’d have food if he arrived. She always had a bed ready for him if he decided to stay over night. During one summer, he stayed over several times, a sure indication that there was trouble at home, that his wife was tired of his using most of his great store of energy and money to foment Marxism and Sandinism in this sleepy fishing town so close to the border and so far from Nicaragua. Ariana sometimes took sides with the wife. “She wants money to send their daughter to a good school. She wants their son Chepe to have a good treatment program because there’s something wrong with him, he’s not all there. And here’s Jorge Manuel,” she’d go on. “He’s got his psychiatric cases, he’s got his job at the prepa, and he has bookstore — and none of it brings in half the money he could bring in with a regular medical practice.” And then she’d go so far as to admit, that in spite of his Marxist-Leninist purism, he also spent lots of money on wild nights at El Gran Chaparral or at lascivious parties with prostitutes at one hotel or another in the area.
It came to the point where Jorge Manuel was there at the house almost every time we came to town, and he seemed to be living more there than anywhere else. And that’s when I became aware of what Elena already knew — that Ariana’s house was a kind of safe house for Sandinistas traveling between Mexico City and California. It was a hideout for Sandinistas on the lamb, it was even a point of Sandinista recruitment. How many times did people I never knew come to the house for a meeting and then Jorge Manuel announced he was driving them to Tijuana to take a plane to D.F.? How many times did Herty Lewites, the Jewish Nicaragüense, spend a night or two in the house on a trip down from L.A. where he worked in a factory, and somehow transported information, money and who knew what else to Ensenada where, a few days later, some one from Mexico city would arrive to convey whatever Herty brought back to D.F. and then probably on to Nicaragua? Herty was almost an every two week regular, the food and a bed waiting for him as it was for Jorge Manuel. And then it wasn’t only Jorge Manuel but Herty who joined the talks, though with him it was Nicaragua Nicaragua, with hardly a word about the world beyond, as if being Jewish meant he had to push his Nicaraguan nationalism more than any one else — to show that his true love was Nicaragüita and not the Zionist home of our mutual tribe.
In the spring of 1972, just a few months after the earthquake, Herty’s visits grew more frequent, and more than once I went up to Tijuana with Jorge Manuel to connect with him in the parking lot of a night club just south of the city to transfer all or half of the packages marked medical supplies and books which he had in his trunk — with Herty returning back across the border in the first case or, in the second case, taking Jorge Manuel in his car while I drove Jorge Manuel’s on the old road to Ensenada with me knowing almost for sure in either case that what we were carrying were really weapons and ammunition. Sure enough, one night we received a call from Jorge Manuel’s Tijuana friend saying they’d nabbed Herty carrying arms just after he had crossed the border and he was now in TJ’s infamous jail. By the time we got to the border town, Jorge Manuel’s friend had succeeded in bailing Herty out — don’t ask me how.
We met up with Herty at the Sanborns off Avenida Revolución just past the Jai alai frontón, and Jorge Manuel immediately reprimanded him. “This shipment wasn’t authorized, no one cleared the way.” “I know,” Herty answered, “but the opportunity came and the window was small. I tried to make calls time and again, but no one answered. And then, I know now I was wrong, but I tried to do it anyway for fear we’d lose it all.” “It’s that the revolution demands our risks and sacrifices,” he said “The earthquake is giving us the opportunity we’ve wanted. Somocista spoils are spoiling them.” “Yes, yes,” Jorge Manuel said, with some weary impatience. “And meanwhile your case may cost us money and worse — it may cause us to lose our border connection; it may cost the Revolution more than you or I can imagine.”
We made our way to Ensenada; and some days later, a young Nica arrived at the house sent from Mexico City and clearly with some authority even over an older veteran like Jorge Manuel. I wasn’t privy to their conversations, but Ariana clued us in. “He’s the younger brother of one of Fonseca’s comandantes, a little wet behind the ears and full of himself, but we’ve got to show him respect any way, because he’s from the central committee,” she said. “He’s come to get Herty off the charges, but he told Jorge Manuel that after that, Herty was going to be out — because he’s too high strung and unpredictable, too impulsive, with no sense of discipline or proportion.”
I gathered Jorge Manuel was defending his Jewish friend — that could hardly be lost on me — but the decision had already been made. The young Nica was arrogant and with less a sense of perspective than most of us. He hardly said anything to me except that he hoped we would continue to support the Sandinistas. We assured him we would, and then he was gone. A few days later, Ariana prepared some sandwiches for Herty — because he was apparently free to go back to L.A. “Looks like I won’t be coming here any more,” he told me mournfully. “But look me up when you come up from San Diego. I’ll still be working to free Nicaragua whether I’m here or there.” I promised we would keep in touch; he said goodbye to all of us, Jorge Manuel giving him a big embrace, and he was off.
During the summer, a new figure appeared on the scene — the tallest Nica I’d ever seen, a young good-looking revolutionary, age maybe 24, named Noel (though we understood it was a Sandinista code name) who had just come back from Paris, where he’d taken classes, he told us, with Louis Althusser, one of the great Marxist figures of the period, an anti-humanist, an anti-Hegelian and perhaps the most sophisticated apologist Stalin and the CP ever had (he later capped off his career by killing his wife, if that tells us anything). Elena and I spent hours with Noel walking around Ensenada, going out to Estero Beach and the Bufadora.
He had read the same books we were reading so we could talk about Marxism, and all the theories of Althusser day and night in coffee shops and even a few bars, as well as in the little apartment we’d built against the wall of Ariana’s house, where we had our own kitchen and living room area. By ten p.m., Jorge Manuel would join us for large scale debates about the world socialist movement, the growing perils in Chile, and of course that Marxist Nicaraguan revolution with its Nationalist façade.
Here the talk got really intense as Jorge Manuel defended the core line of Fonseca’s approach to revolution, while Noel argued that we can’t fall into Kautsyism, we can’t wait for conditions to ripen, we have to ripen them through action directed at the weakest links in the system. Back and forth they argued, as Noel attacked his older friend for sticking to outmoded and unscientific positions that failed to take into account all the Althusserian dynamics of over-determination, displacement, condensation and “the last instance” leading logically to the possibility of structural fissures and leaps in the political ideological or cultural spheres of a social formation.
In the midst of his Althusserianism, however, Noel betrayed some trace of lingering Marxist humanism, arguing that Stalin had betrayed the revolution and the working class, that the Sandinistas had to maintain their organic connection to the workers even as they worked through the contradictions posed by a traditional peasantry, the ethnic and political differences represented by the indigenous and afro-Caribbean populations, and so on and so on. For Jorge Manuel, these matters had to be dealt with as Stalin did, seeing them as superstructures to be obliterated by victory in the class struggle, and not letting the revolution fail because of bourgeois concerns of humanism, respect for ethnic differences and the like. Some of these problems could not be played with they had to be met head on. “Stalin knew you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs,” he said emphatically.
Just then, a situation surfaced which tested their views, when Noel realized that Rudolfo, or Dolfi, Elena’s cousin who we’d deposited in Ariana’s house some months before when he failed to adjust to life in San Diego, was a member of the MAP (Movimiento de Acción Popular-Marxista-Leninista) — a group which had broken with the Sandinistas some time before. What’s more, Noel realized that Dolfi knew the nature of the place where he was staying.
Noel stormed into our apartment where we were talking to Jorge Manuel, and sure enough a huge dispute broke out. “You told him about the house, right? And you didn’t bother to find out who he was! He belongs to the MAP and now he knows what this house is, and he even knows who I am!”
I immediately went into a state of semi-shock because I suddenly realized that Dolfi and his older brother, Rafael, had conned me into thinking that the MAP was part of the FSLN. Here I had been risking my life, hauling weapons and clandestine compas from one end of Managua to another — all for a group I thought was one thing when it was another. And yet, as non-plussed as I was by the deception inflicted on me, I somehow couldn’t blame Dolfi, who was just past adolescence and had always treated me with affection — he was a sweet and ever-silent young man who had blindly followed his brother’s lead.
On the other hand I was surprised that Jorge Manuel hadn’t become aware of Dolfi’s MAP affiliation, thinking we implicitly vouched for him, seeing him, I guess, as some kind of generic anti-Somocista relative, and somehow letting him know things he should not know. Now, facing Noel, he remained totally silent and perhaps even ashamed for having been careless. “There’s no name for this,” Noel continued. “You could be signing my death warrant. You knew I was preparing for a mission and you told this — this enemy everything he might need to know.” “I’m sorry, you’re right, I screwed up,” said Jorge Manuel. “But don’t exaggerate the problem. He’s a good kid just under bad influence. I’m sure I can talk him into keeping quiet.” “If he’s such a damned good kid, he’s going to feel the obligation to tell his comrades. Don’t you see where that puts us?” “I’m sure we can find a way.” “Look Jorge Manuel you and I both know there’s only one way to deal with this — he’s got to be eliminated.” I felt myself stiffening now looking at these two men I’d grown to admire. “Come on, Noel, don’t go to extremes here! This is a problem, not a crisis!” “Not a crisis! You know my life and those of our compañeros may be at stake — maybe the whole revolution.” “So we should take him outside and kill him?”
“Noel,” I chirped in. “He’s just a kid, we can work this out…” “You keep out of this,” he said with contempt, but I could see him calming down a bit. “I don’t know how you could do this — you a model for my whole generation. You’ve grown soft here in Mexico, is what. You’ve grown too fat and prosperous speaking Stalinist platitudes but out of touch with all that’s at stake here. That’s why you defended Herty so much that Bayardo’s brother had to come here, to see if you were up to protecting me and my mission. And now, this. Family ties, and the movement’s in danger.”
He then grew silent, his tirade over, his anger and outrage somewhat satisfied by his harsh words. And I looked at them, and all I could see was the kind of irony we found in literary texts: the old Stalinist defending a relative, the New Leftist screaming for blood. And how is it they both let such wishy-washy bourgeois types as Elena and me to hear all this? Why did this discussion take place on our turf? Maybe because Elena and I had unthinkingly or gullibly invited Dolfi, or maybe because they actually needed our presence to prevent them from carrying out the extreme actions Noel’s Althusserianism might require them to do. Finally, the two revolutionaries reached a compromise: Dolfi would be warned to be silent, he would be told to leave the house and go with Noel to Mexico City, where he would meet with FSLN leaders and be scared to death with warnings of what might happen to him and his family if there were even a suspicion that he spoke to his group. Meanwhile Ariana’s house would cease to play its function, and Noel himself would speed up his action plan, leaving Mexico City almost as soon as he arrived and crossing into Nicaragua from Honduras at the first opportunity.
And so it was. We talked to Dolfi and told him that it was our fault he was here and that he must never tell any one about whom he saw or what he learned here. Noel also talked to him, and arranged their plane tickets to the capital. Ariana, Elena and I said goodbye to Dolfi and Noel, and then Jorge Manuel and I drove them to the TJ airport and saw them off. I went with Jorge Manuel to visit his Nicaragüense doctor-collaborator off of the Parque Libertad, but I had no inkling of what they discussed and just waited until he came back to the car; and then we drove back almost in silence to Ensenada. “You see how easy it is to make mistakes?” he said. “I just hope they both get back to Managua alive.”
In 1974, we heard how a figure named Comandante Cero had taken the house of a wealthy Colombian in Managua and won the release of several Sandinista prisoners. This action seemed to go against Fonseca’s norms and those of his group, the Guerra Popular and Prolongada. (the GPP); and indeed, the action may have led to the breakup of the FSLN into three tendencies: GGP, Proletaria and Tercerista or Insurrectionista. That was what some people told me, though I’m not sure. Meantime, Carlos Fonseca was killed on November 7, 1976 and Comandante Cero two days later. We found out his real name was Eduardo Contreras, though in Ensenada, he went by the alias of Noel. As for Dolfi, he made it back to Managua and it’s not clear whether he spoke or not; but there’s some indication that he didn’t because he lived to fight along with his group in the battles of 1978-79. To Jorge Manuel’s chagrin, Víctor Tirado left the GPP and joined Daniel and Humberto Ortega in the leadership of the Terceristas. For his part, Jorge Manuel had moved in with the machista rifle-toting woman with the passive husband, a customs official who was rumored to be using his position to let things flow between Ensenada and Nicaragua and who was also rumored to be gay and quite ok with letting a notable doctor apply treatments to his vivacious and lusty wife.
When the revolution came in 1979, Jorge Manuel made his way to Managua with his Adelita, and they rented a big rancho on the outskirts of town. Almost immediately, as a long-time Sandinista operative, he was assigned to a job in the foreign office. Probably with Víctor Tirado’s help, he was even appointed a short time as Ambassador to Cuba, but his previous history may have made his appointment too much of a provocation to the CIA even under Carter, and maybe too he started throwing his weight around. Whatever the reason, he was soon recalled and reassigned to a miserable little desk in the foreign office he had presumably left behind. There, apparently his ties with the GPP perhaps led to his having a position much less significant than his experience, abilities and long years of loyal service would have warranted.
Of course there was also the chance that his minor position was due to some screw up in relation to Noel’s mission. But Jorge Manuel himself believed that his status and above all the menial way he was treated in his office stemmed from his difference in age and experience from the younger kids who actually fought in the final insurrection. Then too, it might have had something to do with his identification with Tirado and things Mexican in the revolution. One day, after another of many slights, he decided to level with his officemates. “Why,” he asked, “with all my experience and service stemming from the fifties to this day, do you treat me with so little respect?” After the inevitable denials, one compañero said, “You were out of the country to long, you didn’t fight in the war, you talk like a Mexican!” Furious, he answered, “Chingado, soy Nica”— thereby confirming the diagnosis. Some months later it was clear he had no major role to play. The glamour wore off for the girlfriend, and they were clearly drinking too much. So it was that they went back to Mexico, disenchanted by the whole experience of revolution.
Jorge Manuel insisted he would return to Nicaragua, but instead he got ensconced in the girlfriend’s house, kicking out the husband and buying two ferocious dogs to keep every one at bay. Miserable in his return, he began fighting with her and eventually moved back to Ariana’s house, picking up his practice as best he could and spending his spare time writing his book about Sandinismo and the anti-imperialist struggle. But his pleasure and sense of success had to have come in doing the book, even if he could sell so few copies before his bookstore went out of business.
My own marriage went bankrupt in 1981 before the revolution was a year old. Returning to Ensenada in the summer of 1983, I visited the house briefly and slept in the little apartment we’d built some years before. I ate dinner with Ariana and Manuel and we spoke with regret about the end of the marriage and our disappointments with the revolution. I now lived far from the border and felt the urge to explore the city that night. “Be careful out there,” Jorge Manuel said, after he turned down my suggestion that he go out with me. “Ensenada’s not the same when you’re single,” he said.
It was then that he invited me in to his sleeping area. “Here I rest and think about the past,” he told me and I could hear a great sadness in his voice. Sometimes I read my book with pride,” he said handing me a copy he’d already dedicated to me. “Look,” he said lifting up the edge of his low-hanging blanket,” see how the book props up my whole bed and me as well! And indeed I could see that the mattress was resting on piles of the books he couldn’t sell — the books, representing so many dreams and anti-imperialist rants, now serving as the base of his bed and finding some concrete, significant use after all. “Maybe this is where I’ll die, along with copies of my book,” he said laughing, “Or maybe I’ll try again in Managua next year.”
Several years later, I received word that Herty Lewites, who had served five years as Mayor of Managua, died suddenly, just as he and his new anti-Ortega party were reving up their campaign for the presidency of Nicaragua. And in the summer of 2011, a Nicaraguan colleague intimated that Herty had been offed by Ortega supporters to prevent him from posing a threat in the elections. Long before then, Víctor Tirado had resigned from the FSLN and joined others fighting to make a new party; he never returned to Baja California. It was now common gossip that Eduardo Contreras, our friend Noel, had perhaps been assassinated by the GPP for actions which provided the theoretical bases for the Terceristas in the first place.
Jorge Manuel was not assassinated, but he never went back to Managua, and lived out his days in frustration, I was told, thinking about all he might have done to fight against all that destroyed the Revolution from within. Somehow I found out that he had died of a heart attack in his not so beloved Ensenada. Dr. Google makes considerable reference to his relation with Tirado, and above all the claim (even reported in The Wall Street Journal) that he was a Soviet operative working the border for the CP as well as the FSLN under the code name of Prim. There is also one entry emphatically denying the same allegation. In all I could find, I only turned up one faint, ambiguous reference to his book. Maybe he buried the copies to serve as his bed in the grave as they had so served him in his bedroom in the Ensenada barrio of Piedras Negras.
Marc Zimmerman. Professor Emeritus Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS), U. of Illinois at Chicago. World Cultures & Literatures-Modern & Classical Languages (WCL-MCL), U. of Houston. Director Global CASA/LACASA Books.
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