Mr. Steadman Fagoth stated in his testimony to the Commission:
On December 26, 1981—“Leimus Massacre”—35 people were
buried alive precisely in the place known the raft crossing beneath the filamate
tree in the Leimus community. Massacres never before seen in the
history of the Atlantic coast. (…) Among others, buried there are Mr.
José Lino Mercado from Asang, Coco River; Mr. Asel Mercado from the
same community; Mr. Panthing of Krasa, Efrain Poveda of Klisnak Waspuc;
Juan Poveda from the same community; Luis Fajardo from Raiti; Justo Martínez,
Norma Castro, Rogelio Castro, Simeón Castro from Raiti; Carlos Pérez
and Víctor Pérez from Raiti; Rocío Gómez, Celso Flores and Ramiro
Damacio of Raiti; a survivor of the massacre was Vidal Poveda, brother
of Efrain and Juan Poveda, buried in the same mass grave.
should be noted that the survivor named Vidal Poveda had to bury his
brother … it was his turn, he run and was shot while fleeing; he is
now recovering in a hospital in Honduras where he took refuge.
was subsequently confirmed that his left arm had been amputated. The
brothers David and Eduardo Flores, both from Raiti, brothers of one of
those who was buried alive, Mario Damasio, brother of the other victim
and Roger Pérez who was wounded in the abdomen, brother of the two Pérez
buried in the same mass grave, all of these survivors, currently
refugees in a camp of the Moskitia in Honduras, are eyewitnesses to the
most inhumane act that has taken place in the history of our
With respect to the events in San Carlos, one of the eyewitnesses
stated the following, according to the version recorded by the
On Sunday, December 20, the judge of the community (appointed by
the Sandinistas) received a note from the “contras” who had come
from up-river from the Honduran side. The judge, Layman Frederick
Dublon, received instructions to advise the 6 Sandinista militia who
were in the border area of San Carlos, that the “contras” had come
to fight. Only 2 of the 28 “contras” were Miskitos, the rest being
former Somocista guards. Most of the San Carlos population fled to the
mountains, terrified by the “contras” and Sandinistas, although some
remained in the village. The day before, on Saturday afternoon, the 6
militia had left for Waspan. Later, when they encountered the
“contras” from Honduras, they returned to the garrison and there was
no one in the Command. The “contras” forced the San Carlos community
to give them food, but since the people had none, they took what
provisions were available at the headquarters. They were even
accompanied by two women when they came from Honduras, who began to cook
and who ate and slept that night in San Carlos. This took place Saturday
On Monday, December 21, at 7:00 a.m., a helicopter of the
Sandinista Armed Forces arrived, and began a battle in which 7
Sandinistas from the helicopter died. After the battle, the Church bell
rang and the people returned from the mountains. Layman Frederick, who
had remained in the village because he was the spokesman between the
Sandinista Front and the people, were detained. According to his
relatives, his name is not on the lists of detainees and they fear he is
dead. Half of the village of San Carlos fled to Honduras and the other
half was moved to Sumubila.
With respect to what took place in Leimus, the Special Commission
received testimony from Miskitos at a meeting in the refugee camp at
Mocorón, at which approximately 150 of them gathered, of whom 10
apparently served as their spokesmen, who spoke with the members of the
Special Commission openly, and without showing any hesitation.
As stated by a witness, named Leonel Martínez:
On December 23, 70 people were killed in Leimus. The killing led
most of the Miskitos to flee to Honduras. The men who were killed had
worked for Condeminah, a nationalized goldmine which is now being
exploited by the Sandinistas. Apparently, the workers had not been paid,
and with only a few days left before Christmas, they decided to go to
the Central Office of Condeminah, in Waspan, to collect their pay. They
were made to wait for three days, and were finally paid on the third
day, on December 23, at 7:00 in the morning.
Having gotten their pay, they were ready to return to their
villages, but on the way back they had to go through Leimus. They rented
a car, and upon reaching Leimus were detained and imprisoned. At 6:00 in
the afternoon, six of the detainees were taken from the jail and shot.
Furthermore, the rest were taken in a larger group to the banks of the
river and also shot.
Vidal Poveda, another witness, saved himself by jumping into the
river. He was shot in the arm, which later had to be amputated. His two
brothers were also shot. The names of the victims that can be remembered
are: Justo Martínez, Juan Poveda, Joselín Hurtado, Asel Mercado,
Ricardo Mercado, Esteban Antonio, Ponier Escobar, Sinforiano Alarcón,
Nando Mora, Natalio José, Napoleón Wilson, Gerardo Collins, Celso
Flores, Atin Carlos, Layman Frederick, Roger Piters, Carlos Pérez,
Eugenio Morales and others.12
Several hours later there was another incident. A truck with 35
men looking for better paid work in Managua, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields,
Bonanza and La Tronquera, returned to their villages by going through
Leimus. These men were also detained in Leimus, and since the
Sandinistas had already dirtied their hands, they tied them and buried
them alive. The Sandinistas tied their hands, covered their heads with
hoods, and killed them in groups of five. They were also forced to dig
their own graves.
For its part, the Government of Nicaragua gave its version of
these events through Captain Roberto Sánchez, spokesman for the Armed
Forces of Nicaragua, who in a press conference of February 3, 1982,
affirmed that there had been a contra revolutionary plot begun in the
month of November, 1981, which included a chain of armed aggressions,
seizure of towns, death threats to inhabitants who did not collaborate
with the “contras”, kidnappings, murders and rapes, thus creating an
atmosphere of terror and insecurity throughout the region. The plan,
stated Captain Sánchez, consisted of simultaneously carrying out
ambushes along the length of the Coco River, the only means of
communication, in order to paralyze the region and to force the
communities to emigrate to Honduras. In Zelaya del Norte, a number of
armed incursions were made by counterrevolutionary bands in the border
zone and against the inhabitants of several communities, which had been
denounced by the Nicaraguan Government. The purpose of the plan was to
separate the Atlantic coast from the rest of the country by violent,
armed attacks that would be launched from Puerto Lempira, Honduras.
According to the Government, the village of San Carlos was taken
by the contra revolutionaries who killed six members of the Sandinista
People’s Army. The so-called contra revolutionaries controlled the
village for 2 or 3 days until they were forced out.
The Government of Nicaragua showed photographs to the Special
Commission of the IACHR of the faces and bodies of the Sandinistas, as
proof of the fact that they were tortured before being killed, and it
accused the residents of San Carlos, (especially those who did not
escape to the mountains), of conspiring with the “contras”, of
siding and abetting in the ambush laid for the group in the helicopter,
and of collaborating with them in seizing the villages.
On November 18, 1982, at its 58th session, the IACHR
received 5 members of the Council of Elders of Misurasata who were
exiles in Honduras, who came forward to testify and who submitted
documents signed by the direct relatives of the victims of Leimus. Both
documents are dated October 26, 1982, in Mocorón.
The first document reads as follows:
On December 18, 1981, leaders of the Evangelical Development
Committee left Asang to go to Waspan, the capital of the Coco River
region, to make purchases for the inhabitants of their village, Asang.
Returning to their village, and passing by the Sandinista border
post of Leimus, they were detained on December 21 by the Sandinista
On December 23, at 6:00 p.m. they were taken from the jails and
shot in cold blood. They were machine gunned or short together with many
mineworkers of Santa Rosa by 8 Sandinista soldiers.
The names of the assassinated leaders are: Asel Mercado, 35 years
old, married, 6 children; Joselyn Mercado, 68 years old, married, 7
children; Ricardo Mercado, 30 years old, married, 3 children; Esteban
Antonio, 44 years old, married, 6 children; Roger Bobb, 23 years old,
single; Sinforiano Alarcón, 34 years old, married, 4 children; Napoleón
Wilson, 49 years old, married, 6 children; Gerardo Collins, 40 years
old, single; Nando Mora, 40 years old, married, 2 children; Macario José,
25 years old, single. All from Asang. They were killed in Leimus.
This statement is signed: Erna Hunter (mother of Asel Mercado);
José Mercado (son of Joselin Mercado); Nomilino (wife of Esteban
Antonio); José Mercado (brother of Ricardo Mercado); E. Bobb (mother of
Roger Bobb); Wialins Wilson (father of Napoleón Wilson); Victoria
Collins (mother of Gerardo Collins); Gliantina Krapot (grandmother of
Nando Mora); Elfrida José (mother of Macario José) and Semplisio Alarcón
(father of Sinforiano Alarcón).
other document submitted by the Council of Elders states:
I, Eduardo Flores and my brothers David Flores and Celso Flores
worked in the Santa Rosa mine for three months. We were dismissed and
the mine was closed due to a problem with theft of the gold extracted.
We had to get our pay by going to Waspan, and for this we had to travel
by car for 6 hours to get there, and we arrived on December 16, 1981. On
December 17, I was paid together with my two brothers, but I had to wait
for my companions whom they did not want to pay. I was returning to my
village on December 19 by boat, the engines stalled about 5 kilometers
downriver from Leimus. I had to continue on foot to reach Leimus. The
Sandinistas detained me there for no reason, put me in jail; I saw that
there were many prisoners, some 50 people. I spoke with some of them and
discovered that some had been put there on different dates, some on the
12, 13, 14, 15 and 18, so that they let no one go by, and among the
prisoners were also my 2 brothers who were detained on December 20.
Later other prisoners were brought in on 21, 22 and 23 of December, and
the last were arrested on the 23rd at 10:00 a.m.
On December 23, 1981, at 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., they began to
take out 7 prisoners, to whom they gave shovels and they took them to a
field and in half an hour we heard shorts. Those 7 were from Asang, and
among them were Hazel Mercado, Joselyn, Ricardo and others; thus they
began to kill them group-by-group. Finally it was our turn, and I was
among the last, with my two brothers, Vidal Poveda, Efraín, Mario
Damasio, Rosino Gómez, Evanglio Muller, Tito and nine other men, we
were taken last. As we left we had said: “We must try to save one of
us, we are the last 18 men, if they kill us no one will ever know what
has happened. With that plan, we walked ahead of 40 soldiers armed to
the teeth. When we came to a dark part, we began to run in the direction
of the river, which was our only hope. When we began to run, the
soldiers began to shoot at us like crazy; some of my companions were
wounded, we heard groans and cries from the wounded. I, thank God, feel
into the river with no wounds and I began to swim, I saw that there was
no one ahead of me and I reached the banks of the side of Honduras.
After a while I heard someone swimming and crying out, we went to help
him but we could not; I and someone else who was swimming close to me
were not wounded, we started to look for people on the bank of the river
and we found my brother Celso Flores, 19 years old, single, stretched
out on the beach. He had been short from behind and the bullet had gone
straight through his navel, where is intestines were falling out, and he
was in very serious, very bad shape. We asked for help at a house and we
stayed there, he was not dead yet. Later we found Vidal Poveda with a
shot in his left arm; later we found my brother David Flores who had
been shot in the stomach. My brother Celso Flores died on December 24 at
4:00 a.m. and we buried him in Leimus, Honduran territory. Of a total of
83 prisoners only 7 of us had saved ourselves. The names of the officers
who were in charge in Leimus were: “Gustavo”, “Julio Curvelo”,
José María, Eliseo Ingram, from Waspam. We state these facts as family
members and sign as witnesses saved from the massacre. Eduardo Flores,
Vidal Poveda and Delia de Poveda (mother of Efraín).
The Government’s official version of the facts appears in an
undated document signed by Deputy Commander Roberto Sánchez, Chief of
the Office of the Director of Public Relations of the Defense Ministry,
which was submitted to the Commission on September 19 by the National
Commissioner, Ambassador Leonte Herdocia. That document states that:
That month, the Armed Somocista Counterrevolution launched from
bases in Honduran territory what became known as the “RED CHRISTMAS”
plan, which consisted of invading Nicaragua from Honduras along the
border area of Zelaya Norte, to take part of our territory and to
declare it a “Liberated Zone” (seizure of territory from the
Nicaraguan state) and having achieved this, to set up a provisional
government which would immediately ask for the recognition of the
governments of the area and request military support.
The plan was undertaken in late November with armed attacks on
Miskito villages on the Nicaraguan bank of the Coco River, following
propaganda by the counterrevolutionary station that broadcasts from
Honduras, from which the religious beliefs of the Miskito and Sumo
villages were manipulated against the Nicaraguan revolution. This
attempt to sow confusion was somewhat successful, as some Miskitos moved
to Honduras where they were armed by deceit and taken to
counterrevolutionary camps by the former agent of Somoza’s Security
Forces, Stedman Fagoth Muller, who sent them poorly armed and with
little training to invade our territory in support of the Somocista
bands that were attacking border villages, so that they would die in
combat that they believed would free them from the EPS, and thus accuse
our government of mass killings.
In light of this serous situation, the Government of National
Reconstruction was obliged to take the necessary measures to defend our
territorial integrity and to protect the lives of the inhabitants of the
border religion in the northeast, and in view of this war-like
situation, a decision was made to evacuate the communities of the
Nicaraguan bank of the Coco River, in order to relocate or resettle them
deeper within our territory. That evacuation was accelerated in late
December, 1981, as counterrevolutionary activity increased, particularly
after the attack on the villages of Bilwaskarma and San Carlos, and the
killing of military forces and civilians in Krasa and Asang. That is to
say, that the entire bank of the Coco River, from Raití to the mouth of
the river, was in a state of war, which led to a decision to prohibit
On December 18, 1981, two vehicles belonging to CEPAD and the
evangelical church of Bilwaskarma, arrived from Waspán, occupied by
some 30 people, men, women, and children, who wished to travel upriver
toward the communities of Asang, Klisnak, Santa Fé, etc.
In response to the passengers’ intentions, the Chief of the
Border Post, Sergeant Gustavo Martínez Rivera explained to them that
the zone was dangerous and that river transit was prohibited, and since
the above-mentioned vehicles had already returned, which made it
impossible for them to go back to their point of origin, they decided to
remain with their suitcases in the hallways of the local commissariat,
where they spent the night. On the afternoon of the following day,
soldier Danilo Castro Cordero noticed that a radio antenna protruded
from one of the suitcases carried by the passengers (Miskitos), and
immediately informed the Chief of the border post, who ordered
Lieutenant Juan Antonio Soza González to detain the men in order to
investigate the origin of the radio, the purpose of transporting it and
its destination. He proceeded to carry out his orders to detain 14 men,
who were placed in a cellar of INRA, (Nicaraguan Institute of Agrarian
Reform), as there was no jail in the area.
The detainees were subsequently interrogated, and most of them
affirmed in their statements that they were collaborators with the
counterrevolution. The pertinent measures were then taken to take them
into custody, in order to later transfer them to Puerto Cabezas, once
conditions allowed, and bring them before the competent courts.
It should be pointed out that after the 14 men were apprehended,
the remaining passengers were directed to return to their point of
origin, which they did. On December 23, of the same year, at
approximately 9:00 p.m., a group of counterrevolutionaries attacked
Leimos in order to seize it, and the border guards and the members of
the reserve garrisoned there took up defense positions, at which time
the detainees took advantage of the opportunity to try to flee, running
in the direction of the river, a feasible escape route, since there was
fighting and it was not possible to determine precisely which ones
succeeded in escaping nor how many died in the crossfire, since in the
course of the following day some 300 meters downriver from the Leimus
village in a place known as Barcaza, 3 corpses were found floating whose
characteristics matched those of some who had escaped.
After these events, and in light of the increase in
counterrevolutionary activity, it was necessary to carry out an
emergency evacuation of the village of Leimus, and in the evacuation
many of the documents of the border post were lost, among them the list
containing the names of those who had been detained.
On June 9th and 10th, 1983, the Executive
Secretary of the IACHR, Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, with an attorney of
the Secretariat of the Commission, Dr. Christina Cerna, accompanied by
officers of the Government of Nicaragua and the National Commission for
the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, toured several villages
and towns in the northern part of the Zelaya Department, in order to
verify the circumstances of the deaths that took place in the areas of
San Carlos and Leimus.
At that time, those officers stated that some of the persons
whose deaths had been alleged to have occurred as a result of the Leimus
incidents of December 1981, were still alive. And such was the case of
Asel Mercado, Juan Poveda, Simonet Ingram and Loren Ingram, whom the
Executive Secretary and Dr. Cerna interviewed during their visit.
At the same time, inquiries made by the staff members of the
IACHR made it possible to confirm that in December, 1981, there were
serious violations of the right to life in Leimus of several Miskitos,
which events were attributed to Sandinista Army forces, although the
number of Miskitos involved was possibly not as high as that initially
alleged. Of the testimony taken by the staff members of the IACHR, of
special interest is that of Asel Mercado, who was brought forward at the
instructions of the CNPPDH and spoke in their presence, and that of
another Miskito who was interviewed privately.
Mr. Asel Mercado stated that he was in Leimus from December 18 to
22, together with “35 brothers” all of whom he “has never seen
again.” He stated that among them were his uncle, José Mercado, his
first cousin Ricardo Mercado, Sinforiano Alarcón, who worked in La
Tronquera, Esteban Antonio, Nando Mora and Roger Piters. That all of
them were detained in Leimus by the Officer in charge, whose first name
was “Gustavo”. That he was carrying beans, flour and sugar to sell
in his community, and that he was accused of carrying this load to the
counterrevolutionaries, which he denied. He added that on December 22,
1981, at about 12:00 o’clock midnight, the State Security Forces took
him to Puerto Cabezas where he was interrogated by Commander Rufo, who
assured him that the other 35 people who had been apprehended in Leimus
would also be taken to Puerto Cabezas, but since that day he has not
heard of any of them, and on the contrary, has heard it said that they
were all killed.
During the visit of the staff members of the IACHR to one of the
Tasba Pri settlements on June 10, 1983, an inhabitant who lived in
Leimus at the time of the events narrated in this Report13
spoke with them and gave the testimony transcribed below:
And what happened in Leimus?
They did that on the night of the 23rd.
What did they do?
They came and took some prisoners. Then they took about 12
of them out into the dark. They put them in the back of a boat and
killed them all.
In a boat?
Yes, in a motorboat.
Yes, all of them. They were tied up.
We have been meeting persons here who were released.
Yes, in the early morning I was coming when we found them
dead on the beach.
Are you from Leimus?
Yes, from Leimus.
And you found the corpses?
Yes, I was quite close to them
Do you know their names?
Of those who died?
No. They were from upriver, from Raití. They were not from
And how many corpses did they find?
Eighteen and others that they killed that way in the woods.
And where were the corpses? On the beach?
They were buried on the other side of the river. Two are
On the Honduras side?
No. Yes, on the Honduras side. The soldiers buried them on
the other side. They buried them.
Yes, they took them out.
And who was responsible?
Those who did that. The very ones.
But you don’t know any names?
“Gustavo”, was the chief around here, of Leimus.
But you personally saw the corpses?
Ah, yes, sure, if I didn’t I wouldn’t say so. That is
why I told you that I could show you where they are buried and
And others were with you?
No, only me. Everyone realized. The whole town. And anyway
you can’t talk around here because they don’t let you. And they are
afraid because they don’t let you. And they are afraid because
afterwards they might be killed. They kill people here. They take
someone prisoner, okay, let’s go for a walk and bang, bang, bang.
Have there been killings here in the settlements?
Here, on this mountain.
People who are fleeing?
No, deliberately, because they were afraid. If that causes
harm to one, there it is, that’s all.
Is there a strong feeling here against the government? Most
of the people?
We are not at ease. We are in bad shape here, bad. The main
thing is that we have no food. We eat almost nothing, what we can find
around. They give each of us a pound of rice per week. The food is as
bad as it can be.
You were from Leimus?
And during the relocation there were killings, difficulties?
No, there were no killings or beatings. Nothing. Only those
that were killed over there.
And why were they killed?
Because they felt like it. What were some poor fools going
to do there? They had no weapons.
The Commission has made slight stylistic changes in this
version (as well as in other testimony that will be cited below) to
The names in this group appear in the complaint made by
Misurasata as people who were buried alive.
The name of this witness is in the Commission’s file.