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Post The Toad Wasn't Laughing: My Stint in a Nicaraguan Jail (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 08/12/19 5:35 AM

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The Toad Wasn't Laughing: My Stint in a Nicaraguan Jail (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 08/12/19 5:35 am)

Gary Moore writes:

WAIS recently has taken me back to a strange time, when I held conversations with a toad inside a windowless cell in a prison atop an extinct tropical volcano. Unlikely, I know. But that time has been evoked by eloquent posts from Moisés Hassan in Managua (June 1 and June 19) and Timothy Brown (July 31) relating to that same Managua.

Managua, Nicaragua, was the epic ruin of a city, ringed by volcanic cones beside its windswept inland sea, that spread out around my captive perch. Not that I could see it. My view was pretty much confined to an iron cot and the welcome addition of the toad, not a bad conversational partner--a large cane toad, Bufo marinus--that apparently had come in through a hole in the roof one stormy night at the beginning of the rainy season, when a puddle was growing on the other side of the cell. WAIS converges here, for I think our colleague Moisés Hassan will recall, from almost that same time period, his being second in command of the State Security system running that prison. By the time the toad and I arrived, I think he had changed positions to become mayor of Managua, seeing there, as I gather it, the same sorts of things that have left all of us--Moisés in the halls of power, Timothy in clandestine opposition, and me with the toad's-eye view--as critics of Managua's moment on the world stage, its Revolution.

My own position was the most absurd. It wasn't that I shouldn't have been out in the jungles, where Managua's pack of hotel journalists never ventured, as I videotaped the silent places where villages had secretly been burned down. No, I think maybe the essence was that if such a mission was to be undertaken, any fool should have known to be more careful about it.

The backdrop, the journey of Nicaragua's then-3 million people into political stardom in the Cold-War 1980s, seems now to reduce to less than a cameo in the 1983 Nick Nolte movie Under Fire--a movie whose theme was Nicaraguan revolutionary illusion--though the film itself was one more illusion, gloriously false, as it criticized other people's illusions.

Nicaragua's big lesson from those days, showing that left-wing utopia as an antidote to right-wing despotism just brings more despotism, seems never to have stuck: Venezuela in the 2000s is now superseded by new hopefuls. Some spiritual x-factor seems to lure large populations toward the abyss, dropping them through an intriguing-looking hole like my comrade Bufo. The burned villages I was videotaping in the Nicaraguan jungles were simply part of a a standard counter-insurgency campaign, dirty business down through history, but the left-wing utopia that was keeping the burning a secret made it seem that only evil non-utopias did such things, so the picture did need a little balance.

At one point before my captivity, I was in the middle of nowhere and so sweat-soaked that the ink was blurring in my notebooks. At a table in a remote outpost that the hotel journalists never reached, I had piled up my notebooks in wobbly stacks, planning to go through all the atrocities I had recorded and tabulate which side in Nicaragua's seemingly never-ending conflict had done the most bad things. But as I went page by sodden page, the tabulation seemed also never to end. Each side kept doing more and more bad things, until the idea of comparing them for a grand moral verdict became ridiculous. Then one day I was tapped on the shoulder and reminded that what I was doing was not only ridiculous but forbidden, and suddenly I was a prisoner. It wouldn't last forever, but for the moment I had disappeared.

Nights later in the dark of the cell, as lightning flickered on the rain coming through the roof and the toad meditated in the shadows, I started to laugh. Somehow, in the fierce adrenal rush of fearing permanent disappearance, my mind had pieced together the real absurdities of my predicament--and next day, when interrogation came again (I was never harmed physically; no melodrama here, either) I almost forcibly had to keep the laughter from coming back, as I saw that pandering to my interrogators' grand illusions about themselves was what I needed to do to get out. So I allowed them to wheedle from me a fantastic tale claiming that I was an advance scout from Hollywood--a veritable Nick Nolte in the flesh--and the interrogators, filled now with grandiose self-importance to think that the glamour business found them glamorous, too (not to mention their pride in their interrogation skills that had pried out this whopper), convinced themselves that, by name, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood were in on the conspiracy they had cleverly imagined (though I humbly demurred when they demanded to know if Barbra Streisand was in it, too).

It sounds far-fetched, I know. The movie, which might politely be called the stupidest fantasy imaginable, looks much more real.

JE comments:  Gary, this is one humdinger of a story, and we'll wrap it up with a humdinger of an image (below).  I gather that your Nicaraguan incarceration was brief?  And was the chatty toad released, too?  (If you lick the toad, s/he might really begin to speak.)

I wonder how many fiendish interrogators have fallen for the "I can put you in a Hollywood movie" line.  Nothing soothes the savage breast more than appeals to vanity.



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  • How I Got Out of Jail in Nicaragua (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 08/14/19 4:41 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:



    John E asked (Aug 12) the length of my incarceration period in Nicaragua,
    and indeed it was brief, just a few nights in the windowless cell on top
    of Tiscapa volcano, plus the captive time in the jungle, from which I was
    flown back to Managua in a government cargo plane, whose pilot was
    both Cuban and a woman. Interesting details to be learned there, too,
    but she was less conversational than my cellmate the cane toad.
    I was not allowed to contact the US embassy or anyone else, and
    was told I might remain "disappeared" forever. (The words of the
    acne-scarred guy glaring through the cigarette smoke were: "You may
    never get out of here").


    Each day when I was taken from the cell to
    interrogation, I had to walk bent over at the waist so I could see
    only the floor, and not the super-secret insides of the notorious place
    without windows (aside from the intimidational value). However,
    as I said, I was never harmed physically, and in retrospect their eagerness
    to believe my majestic Hollywood excuse story reprises the suspicion
    that much of this, unlike in many horrific cases, was less life-and-death
    struggle than theater.


    JE also asked what happened to the toad, and mentioned the archetypal
    notion of licking it. First, it turned out to be a foul-weather friend, for
    at some point while I was preoccupied with what I would say in interrogation
    next day, it somehow disappeared, as mysteriously as it had come. Was its cosmic
    job done? Was it really a sneaky rat-toad planted in my cell to lure me into revealing
    more about Clint and Barbra? And as to any fairy tale applications, I think I dimly
    knew in those days that cane toads are poisonous. It's a contact poison, requiring
    only a touch. This can be confirmed by countless backyard dogs in Miami, after
    accidental cane-toad importation from the Caribbean began to populate people's
    swimming pools, forcing the periodic replacement of too-adventurous family pets.
    But the toad was there when I needed it.


    JE comments:  Theatrical or not, Gary, your experience must have been absolutely terrifying.  I can only imagine the anguish of lying awake at night, in a dank cell, and wondering if the "never get out of here" threats are real.


    When the ordeal finally ended, did they put you on a plane out of the country, or were you simply let go in Managua?


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    • My Nicaraguan Jail Saga, Part III (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 08/15/19 7:59 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:



      Responding to JE's further questions about my prison experience in Nicaragua:
      yes, being "disappeared" into a windowless cell was very frightening, as it was
      meant to be. I got to observe firsthand some of the psychological effects of such fear:
      1) an extreme feeling of how stupid I was to have gotten into this mess,
      manifested even in seeing symbols of stupidity in chance stains and shadows;
      and 2) as I mentioned, an awe-inspiring acceleration of thought process, leading
      strangely to me figuring out where my hosts were coming from psychologically
      and how to use it against them, a kind of Br'er Rabbit jiu jitsu. But don't try this
      at home, kids. Results not guaranteed.


      Once their clever interrogation had discovered I was an advance scout for the
      moguls of Hollywood, I was finally allowed to contact the American consulate, and
      a nice guy came over to the windowless volcano top (maybe Timothy Brown knew him)
      and wanted to make an international news release out of this oppression of journalistic
      freedom. But, again stupidly, I thought of how such sudden news--while I was still in prison--might scare my family to death, so I asked him not to. Disappointedly but considerately,
      he agreed. I did later write a Wall Street Journal piece about it. A patrol car took me
      to the Costa Rican border, amid other pratfalls and bumps, and that was that.


      JE comments:  I'll remember that Hollywood ploy if the need arises.  Gary, I couldn't find the WSJ piece on-line, but you did make the Congressional Record (1990).  Please tell us more!


      https://books.google.com/books?id=KUW-w8fmMhoC&pg=PA25527&lpg=PA25527&dq=gary+moore+wall+street+journal+nicaragua+report&source=bl&ots=HLvunjcqDb&sig=ACfU3U3a9b_v_Gx4wp5b7Qlj8Vb6SU4dzg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj-ouifk4XkAhVNVK0KHSL4AkMQ6AEwCnoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=gary%20moore%20wall%20street%20journal%20nicaragua%20report&f=false


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      • It's Good I Stayed Away from Gary Moore's Nicaraguan Volcano (Timothy Brown, USA 08/17/19 1:10 PM)
        It's probably just as well I didn't show up to visit Gary Moore in his volcano-top Nicaraguan jail. At the request of Washington, from 1987 through 1990 I was head of the Special Liaison Officer (SLO) to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance in Central America, both its political and armed branches, a unique compartmentalized State Department (yes, State not spook) inside the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

        Decades earlier (1956-'59), I had been a Marine Guard in Managua, come to know socially later activists from both sides of of the so-called "Contra War"--from the real first leader of the Sandinista Front, Noel Guerrero Santiago ("El Patriarco") (see page 52 in my book Diplomarine), who told me during his videotaped Oral History that he was a COMINTERN agent, a surprise assertion I was able to cross-check with Guerrero's Honduran wife, as well as with José Puente León (Ch. 2 in my When the AK-47s Fall Silent), and Carlos Fonseca's widow, María Hayde Terán Naves (pg 38 in AKs). Carlos Fonseca Amador later became the FSLN's best-known leader.


        PS. I still have a copy of Fonseca's Un nicaragüense en Moscú (Publicaciones Unidad, Managua 1958) that I bought in Managua. Some manuscripts he wrote while in prison in Costa Rica are now in the Hoover Archives of Stanford.


        JE comments:  I've collected a few dozen books about the Soviet Union written by Latin Americans, but not Fonseca's tome.  Tim, did Fonseca receive "training" in the USSR, or was he there on a short visit?


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