The Miami Herald
September 19, 1998
Nicaraguan guerrilla fighter's last battle may be with hunger

             By GLENN GARVIN
             Herald Staff Writer

             MANAGUA -- Eden Pastora, who has shot it out with enemies in the National
             Palace and laid ambushes for them in the jungle, is fighting what may be his last
             great battle from a mattress on a downtown sidewalk.

             For 28 days, the 61-year-old Pastora has been camped out across the street from
             the offices of Nicaragua's electoral tribunal, conducting a hunger strike in hopes of
             forcing the agency to restore his right to run for president.

             The fast has taken its toll. His face is gaunt, the paunch that padded his belly in
             recent years is completely gone, and his voice is low and weary.

             ``It would be kind of ironic if I died here, after all the places I've fought, wouldn't
             it?'' mused Pastora, who has lost 35 pounds on a diet of nothing but water and
             fruit juice. ``But I'm not eating until that woman admits her error and fixes it.''

             ``That woman'' is Rosa Marina Zelaya, head of the Supreme Electoral Council.
             Pastora blames her for the tribunal's decision to throw him off the 1996
             presidential ballot and rule him ineligible for any further races.

             Zelaya, though she has taken to slipping into her office through a back door to
             avoid the sight of Pastora, remains otherwise unmoved by his hunger strike.

             ``Pastora enjoys all civil and political rights, but he can't be a presidential candidate
             because he renounced his Nicaraguan citizenship once,'' she said. ``There's nothing
             we can do about it.''

             As his fast drags on, doctors have begun to express concerns about Pastora's
             health. And political analysts have noted that the ruling that keeps Pastora off the
             ballot threatens to disqualify other Nicaraguans who went into exile and adopted
             foreign citizenship during the country's strife.

             Pastora catapulted to fame in 1978 when, as a commander of the leftist Sandinista
             guerrillas battling right-wing President Anastasio Somoza, he seized the National
             Palace in the heart of Managua.

             With just two dozen guerrillas, Pastora took 1,500 hostages, including virtually the
             entire Congress and several members of the Somoza family. He eventually forced
             the government to pay a $500,000 ransom and release about 50 imprisoned
             Sandinista leaders.

             When the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua the next year, Pastora joined the new
             revolutionary government. But as it veered left, he bolted back into the jungle and
             led a band of Contra rebels against his old comrades.

             When Nicaragua's civil wars ended in 1990, Pastora returned from exile. But
             when he tried to run for president in 1996, the electoral tribunal scratched him
             from the ballot.

             The Nicaraguan Constitution says no one who has ever renounced Nicaraguan
             citizenship can hold the presidency. The tribunal ruled that Pastora had lost his
             Nicaraguan citizenship by becoming a Costa Rican citizen in 1976. It tribunal
             disqualified two other candidates for president and one for vice president on the
             same grounds. Its rulings cannot be appealed.

             Pastora said he applied for Costa Rican citizenship only because it made it easier
             for the Sandinista guerrillas to smuggle guns through the country during their war
             against Somoza. He never intended to give up his status as a Nicaraguan citizen.

             Pastora says he won't give up his quest.

             ``I'm going to stay out here until they restore all my constitutional rights,'' he said.
             ``I'll win, because I'm not afraid of death. I laugh at death. I've been beaten, but
             never defeated. I've been beaten, but I've never surrendered.''

                               Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald