After spending years in the jungles of Nicaragua, Joseph Douglas is bringing those jungles to America.
But instead of physical confrontations with the Sandinistas, the "freedom fighter" now fights psychological wars with Americans, trying to convince people of the importance of the Contra mission."A lot of people have not understood the struggles in Nicaragua because of an information campaign in America supported by the Sandinistas," he said.
Douglas believes the U.S. press coverage of Nicaragua has been biased and inaccurate. Reporters, he said, are invited by the Sandinista regime and flown to Nicaragua. "They are taken into hotels where they can sip their iced tea and are answered questions by the Nicaraguan government which obviously is going to say what they want the people to hear and not the truth."
When journalists talk to the common people in the streets, Douglas said, "They give their best smile and say `The revolution is fine and the Contras are the ones that are making our lives impossible.' "
Douglas describes such words as "live words" - words that would not upset the government and would allow the people to continue to "live." Most of the people don't favor the Sandinista government, he said, they just want to live.
"Joseph Douglas" is a pseudonym for a former Nicaraguan schoolteacher whose wife and two children were able to leave a Honduran refugee camp three weeks ago and join him in the United States. He uses the name to protect family members living in Nicaragua from being punished for what he is saying.
He is visiting Utah to retell the story he's told so many times before. With his briefcase, he looks like any American businessman. Yet the heavy Spanish accent in his voice intensifies as he speaks of his home country and the days before last October, when his briefcase was a rifle.
As a schoolteacher in 1980, Douglas refused to teach the principles of the new Sandinista government. Bible teachings, which were taught in the public and private schools of Nicaragua, were to be replaced with "liberation theology." Such theology teaches that Jesus Christ was only a man who was put to death because the principles he taught were against those of the Romans.
"In Nicaragua, Christ is being drawn out of the picture and the god of Nicaragua now is becoming the revolution. The Christ of the revolution is (Cesar Augusto) Sandino, who is the founder of the revolution."
Douglas said that all images of Christ have been replaced with images of Sandino. In some churches, the images of Christ on the cross have been replaced with Sandino with his arms similarly outstretched to his sides and a Russian rifle in his hands.
Another principle of the "liberation theology" is that "laws are made to enslave the human being," Douglas said. Their theology teaches that the true liberty of human beings is to be free from laws except those that fall under the control of the Marxist system.
Former churches are used today by military soldiers as houses of prostitution, where soldiers take women and children off the street and "do what they want with them." There is no law to prevent this, he said. "It's creating an anarchy in society.
"Because I denied to follow these principles, I was labeled an anti-Sandinista. Being an anti-Sandinista in Nicaragua is the highest guilt a Nicaraguan can have," he said.
Douglas discovered that he was to be called into the new government for "counseling and advice." He learned of the plan from an old friend who was an official in the new government. At midnight, Christmas Day 1980, his friend told Douglas that the government planned to physically and psychologically torture Douglas. If that didn't work, Douglas was told he would be sent to prison for 30 years where the torturing would continue until he either agreed to follow the Sandinista principles or died.
"I decided to leave the country because I decided I would not subject myself to their principles," he said. With only two hours to prepare, Douglas nailed down the doors and windows to his house and escaped with his pregnant wife. The only way for them to leave was through the jungles.
After six days of journey, they arrived at a refugee camp in Honduras. Other village members who later fled from Douglas' town told him that his home was the first to be destroyed in their village. Not believing them, Douglas returned to discover that his entire village had been demolished.
Two months later he became involved with the Contras. Homemade bows and arrows made with 6-inch nails tied to bamboo sticks were used to fight for the return of their freedoms. Ammunition and rifles from the dead Sandinistas were then seized and used to attack other forces. Douglas said he would often fight and live six months in the jungle between visits with his family.
Because of a United Nations policy prohibiting "freedom fighters" in the refugee camps, Douglas was only able to spend one or two days at a time with his family. Food supplies are cut off from families who support and house the Contras, he said.
While in the refugee camp last October, Douglas met with officials of the Christian Emergency Relief Team, an organization that takes materials and supplies to refugees around the world. Because of his experiences and ability to speak English, he was invited to the United States "to tell the story that wasn't being told." He has since spoken to organizations and officials throughout the country.
"Even though I have the opportunity of living in America, my heart and spirit is in Nicaragua," he said.
Douglas believes the people of Nicaragua are in favor of the Contras and what they stand for. When the United States stopped giving aid to the Contras in 1985-86, the people of Nicaragua sacrificed food and medicine for the Contras and encouraged them to continue the struggle, even though many people were being killed. "That's their way of saying they do support us," he said.
"I've been there to bury a minister who had been crucified," he said. The minister was nailed to a tree because he would not follow the "new principles of the government, which denied the people (the opportunity) to profess Christianity the way they want. That's the basic reason for this struggle."
While many people believe that the struggle in Nicaragua is political, Douglas said that's not the case. The struggle began when religious principles were taken away. Pastors were killed, Bibles were used as toilet paper and 97 villages were burned for religious principles, he said. But instead of being subject to the new principles, thousands fled to refugee camps in Honduras and other countries.
"Our goal is to restore religious freedom and to have a government system that would have a constitution which would restrain the government from oppressing the people."
Those who have not had the "privilege" to leave Nicaragua have been taken from their villages to reconcentration camps and eventually to military camps where they cook and clean for the soldiers and watch for Contras. When the rebels attack these camps, these people are sent into the combat fields with no weapons or military training and are used as shields in the crossfire between the Contras and Sandinistas.
"They are sent there to die," Douglas said. Pictures of the dead are taken and given to the "guests" (journalists) from America. "They present these pictures as evidence saying `these are the things that the people which your government supports are doing - killing innocent people.' "