The Miami Herald
May 30, 2001

Commander Zero's fate: Zero job, zero money; time to sell off jewelry


 MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- The legendary "Commander Zero'' admits with a chuckle that these days he looks more like a narcotics trafficker than a poverty-stricken famous guerrilla.

 Edén Pastora is wearing an $18,000 gold Rolex watch, one that was stolen from former President Anastasio Somoza 23 years ago. That's when Pastora and other budding guerrillas took 1,500 hostages at Nicaragua's National Palace.

 He also sports two tacky diamond rings: one with 16 studs given by Peru's Alan García, and the other, with seven, a gift from Gen. Omar Torrijos of Panama. As Pastora tells it, García -- now running for president again -- took the ring right off his own finger to give it to him. The jewels bring memories of days long gone when, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, Pastora helped overthrow a dictator -- and later fought to oust the new government. But even fond memories are for sale when there are bills to pay.

 "I'm asking $50,000 for the whole bunch,'' Pastora, 64, said. "It's worth $30,000 piece by piece. But I think people will pay more because they are buying history. They are buying a story -- my story -- so they can say, `I bought this from Commander Zero so he could go fishing.'''

 So he placed a classified ad in El Nuevo Diario, offering up his worldly possessions and a pet lion, now a vegetarian because Pastora can't afford meat.

 Pastora gained fame in 1978, just after he gave up studying medicine to join the Sandinista Revolution. He was one of two dozen guerrillas who disguised themselves as National Guard officers to seize the palace. They took hostage the entire Congress and several members of the Somoza family.

 With large guns -- six guardsmen were killed -- and big threats, he eventually forced the government to pay a $500,000 ransom and release about 50 imprisoned
 Sandinista leaders.

 When the Sandinistas won the war in 1979, he took a post in the new government. After he became disillusioned with the Marxist ideology, he reclaimed his spot in the jungle.

 "I was a true Sandinista. Always was. Still am,'' Pastora said. "I was out to save democracy.''

 Pastora, a famous face and a big name, became a parody of himself, a man often criticized for being vain, erratic and impossible to control.

 His dealings with the CIA are the stuff of legend.

 But all that is in the past. Now he lives with his wife of 30-plus years in a busy Managua street where paupers pass by begging the famous commander for a peso or two.

 "I'm broke too,'' he tells them.

 After living in exile when he turned against the Sandinista government, he returned to Nicaragua in 1990. In 1996, he tried to run for president but was scratched off the ballot because he had claimed Costa Rican citizenship while Edén Pastora gained fame during the Sandinista Revolution. in exile.

 That led to a 34-day hunger strike in 1998, when he lay on a mattress on a downtown sidewalk. He lost 45 pounds. Later he gained it all back and more.

 As a washed up politician and barely successful salesman, he makes the little money he has on speaking engagements in Latin America. He charges $2,000. On
 Wednesday, the electric bill arrived, 1,944 cordobas. About $147.

 Pastora just stared at it, counting off all the hidden taxes that mount so quickly.

 "I can't pay this. I can't,'' he said. "I need a rifle so I can head to the mountains to protest. They're killing us with all these taxes. If they could, they'd charge us a tax for the air we breathe.''

 Like so many Nicaraguans, Pastora says he's poor and out of a job. He says the hunger plaguing his country is the kind that starts wars. He doesn't really want to lead one but will, if invited.

 Really he just wants to fish. He envisions a nice big boat off the Atlantic Coast, fishing nets and gear.

 As soon as he finds a buyer for the jewelry, off he goes. Pastora claims he is close to sealing the deal with "some Mexicans.''

 "It's been a shock for people to think I'm not rich. I'm not resorting to crime or dying of hunger -- I'm just a Nicaraguan playing the game just to survive'' he said. "It hurts my soul. I don't want to sell it. But poverty is terrible, terrible, terrible.''

                                    © 2001