Notes of Interviews with Miskitu Indians – PDF

Family_of_Miskito_people_along_the_Prinzapolka_river,_Nicaragua_-_c._1957–19611984 Notes of Interviews with Miskitu Indians

These notes are of interviews conducted with Miskitu Indians in Managua, Nicaragua on April 30 1984. The interviews were conducted by Michael Ratner and Sara Miles. The notes that follow describe an attack on the village of Sumubila which is part of the Tasba Pri settlement in Nicaragua. The attack took place in the early morning hours of April 17, 1984. Seven residents of the town were killed, fourteen wounded and 39 kidnapped. The health center and ambulance were burned, the cacao plantation was destroyed as well as an electric plant and a home for the elderly.

We interviewed six residents of the town. What follows are the summaries of the interviews with four of those people.

I. Irma Coleman

Irma woke up early in the morning of April 17 when she heard the firing of shots. She said there were shots near her bed. Her comrade said she should go out of the house with the children. She went down to the creek where she hid her children near the river. All her children were placed in a trench. Her 12 year old child Carla was not there and she went out from where she was hiding to look for Carla. She went through some of the streets and when she came back to the creek Fermin, a seven year old boy, had been injured.

At some point, although it is unclear in the notes, Fermin was under a doctor’s care. When Irma, that morning still, saw the doctor the doctor told her that she should keep quiet, but the doctor himself was crying.

When Irma was out on the streets of the village, she saw that the contras were massing people in groups. She told the contras that she needed time to pick up her children but the contras did not give her any time.

She saw the contras massing people and kidnapping them. They kidnap young single men and women. Irma hid Carla, the daughter, when she found her, in a chicken coop, where Carla remained safely.

While Irma was on the street Fermin, the seven year old son, was brought by an older man and he was dead. Her husband died when the boy was one year old. Irma felt that she was both mother and father to the child, and it was her link to the father.

When she had seen the child earlier in what appears to have been the doctor’s arms the child was crying “Mother mother come here, don’t want to leave you.”

At another point Irma saw three men standing around who were contras. She said to them “you burnt the health center and injured people.” She asked if they had any pills because she needed them for her sick child. She asked these questions in Miskitu, and they responded in the same language. She said they grouped the people together and took away 39 of the village residents including the doctor, Dr. Roberto Valle, and the administrator of the health center Jorge Ibarra. Of the 39 people three or four have managed to return to the town.

Irma is a 25-30 year old woman whose interview was extremely moving. She cried when she thought about her child, and the one question we had was whether she was strong enough to sustain herself during testimony. She was clearly not a strongly political person. Absolutely no politics came out of her interview. She was more simply a very sad mother who had seen her child killed.

II. Aristedes Sanchez

Aristedes is a carpenter in the village of Sumubila. He is 50 years old and appears to be somewhat disabled from having worked in the mines in the area. He now works as a carpenter.

On the morning of the 17th at approximately 4:30 he heard shots which woke him from his sleep. He was in his house with his eight children and his wife. They immediately fell to the floor when they realized that the attack was coming from the contras. He thinks the contras were about 150 yards away and he saw them coming. A man and woman in a uniform attempted to get into the house. They were wearing pale khaki and answered him in the Miskitu language.

He saw them shooting towards the settlement and he told them they would injure people and they told him to shut up. He fled from his house. He saw the contras shooting randomly at the houses. He saw them holding M-79 grenade launchers. The contras spent more than one hour in the town.

The town was undefended. It had no civil defense and no shelter. It contained the health center for the area, facilities for seed planting and a recreational center for the elderly. The contras burned to the ground the health center and the recreational center for the elderly.

The contras said that if he didn’t leave his house they would burn it to the ground. The contras kidnapped his 17 year old son. The son’s mother cried and he told the contras that the seventeen year old son was his only sustenance. The contras took the men to incorporate them into the army and the women to be cooks and mistresses.

Aristedes was extremely moving and dignified. When he talked of the kidnapping of his seventeen year old son he eyes would well up with tears and became red. He kept asking us if there was some way we could bring his son back. His son has still not returned. He will be a very effective witness.

III. Laura Hammer

Laura was in bed when she heard the shots and realized after a moment that it was the contras. She saw the health center being burned. At five o’clock that morning she was to go to the health center and help 50 men with tetanus shots. She did not go; she did not want to leave her children. Her brother-in-law, I think named Luis Lopez, 23 years old, tried to save the ambulance at clinic but he was kidnapped by the contras. They kidnapped her two brothers in law and a 4 month pregnant first cousin.

Laura’s job appears to have been to deal with the people who were injured in the contra attack. But because the health center had been burned there were no medicines. All she could do was boil water, dip the dressings into the water and put the dressings on people until she could get medicines. She vividly described the people who were injured. For example a two year old little girl who was shot in the head and died before they could get her to a bigger hospital in Puerto Cabezas. She also dealt with a two year old boy who was shot through the mouth.

The contras were dressed in green.

We did not interview Laura extensively, but she has the most presence of all of the people interviewed. I believe she would make an excellent witness. Again, there was no sense at all of her being a Sandinista or having any particular politics. Again, she was a poor peasant who was simply injured by the contra attacks.

IV. Christina Atoya

On April 17th she was on duty at the clinic from 2:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 in the evening. The village Sumubila is part of the Tasba Pri Complex. It is approximately 75 kilometers from Puerto Cabezas. That night she didn’t leave the clinic because her 2 year 8 month old daughter was sick and at the clinic. She went to sleep with her daughter after her duty was over. Then Ruth Gram took over for her at 10:00 at night until 6:00 in the morning.

Around 4:10 in the morning she stood up to go to the bathroom, she went back to bed giving a prescription to her daughter. Ruth prepared the vaccine for the daughter.

At 4:20am she heard shots ring out while the vaccine was still being prepared for her daughter. On three different occasions she heard machine gun fire. She felt the situation was worsening and said that they should get the intravenous out of all of the patients, of which there were approximately a half a dozen. She took her child and wrapped her in a blanket and hid under the bed. Bullets were coming into the health center.

The clinic was identifiable by a sign on it as well as the ambulance which was parked in front of it. The ambulance was burned and there are photographs of this. She was sweating on the ground and was really frightened. She heard voices around the health center and they were speaking in Miskitu and Spanish and were talking about shooting the health center. The notes in these next few paragraphs are from her interview as well as an affidavit that she gave.

There were five patients on intravenous feeding, she crawled out with her daughter and broke down the door. Others escaped through the windows. She heard one man saying in Spanish “the health center must be burned”; a bullet perforated a gas tank near exploded. Bullets penetrated the ambulance. She did not recognize any of the contras. She hid in the jungle near a well while the combat went on.

At 8:30 in the morning she went to her mother’s house. Her mother was named Graciella Gonzalez. Her mother was 75 years old, Christina found her in a pool of blood being embraced by her 4 year old daughter who was hugging her mother’s lifeless body. The health center at that time had been burned to the ground. A few feet away was Maurico Gonzalez, thirty five years old, who had a bullet in the head and is now conscious. It is probably shrapnel that he had in the head. I think Maurico is her cousin who is now in the hospital. There were six beds in the health center.

I felt she would be a good witness because she had a lot of information particularly about the health center. Another person who interviewed her felt that she answered the questions at too much length and could not be confined. I think there’s still a question about her because of her excellent information.


From this same village I also interviewed Sandoval Herrera a Moravian pastor. He however had very little information because he hid immediately when he heard the shots and was far from where the fighting was. The other person I interviewed was Ruth Gram, the nurse’s aid who was on duty after Christina Atoya. Ruth was very young and seemed unable to articulate very well what occurred.

I also interviewed three fishermen: Jose Ramon Peralta, Justo Pastor Martinez, and Angel Acbedo Jiminez. These were three fishermen who received some injuries and their boats were blown up when they hit mines. The problem with these people for interviews is that they were clearing mines on behalf of the government and their injuries were not that severe.

Finally I interviewed Orlando Waldeman. He was a man who was captured in the December 1983 attack on Francia Sirpi, a village in Zelaya Norte near Puerto Cabezas. This was the village where Bishop Schleffer was involved in the alleged kidnapping of the 1500 villagers This person was extremely strong, but clearly political. While his interview was fascinating as to the information it contains regarding the contra camps in Honduras, I do not think he would do as a witness, so have not transcribed his notes.