By Owei Lakemfa
NORA Astorga was a very beautiful Nicaraguan lawyer who was into corporate practice. From a very rich and religious family with connections to the ruling Somoza family, she married at twenty two, spent two years studying in the United States before returning home to read law.
Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, ‘The Peoples Ambassador’ and former Nigerian High Commissioner (Ambassador) to Australia, who for three years from 1986 interacted with Astorga at the United Nations described her as “the epitome of the ‘Latina’; beautiful Latin American woman, tall, curvy, and charming. She was always a delight to watch”.
In 1978, she was an elegant 30-year old lawyer, and one man who could not keep his eyes off her, was General Reynaldo Pérez Vega, aka “El Perro,” or “the dog” who was Deputy Commander of the Nicaraguan National Guard and an American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, operative who was regarded as the next most powerful man in the country after President Anastasio Somoza.
At that time, a bloody insurgency against the Somoza dictatorship was being waged by a mass of Nicaraguans led by a leftist organisation called the Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN. The insurgents had named their movement after Augusto Ceaser Sandino, the leader of a 1927 – 1933 rebellion against the United States military occupation of Nicaragua. Sandino had been murdered in 1934 by the National Guard on the orders of Anastasio Somoza Garcia who became a dictator and whose family was to rule the country for 44 years.
General Vega who had a crush on Astorga was charged with putting down the insurgency and he was very brutal at it. Unknown to him and the security services, this fragile looking, high class society lawyer was a member of the insurgency. She reported the general’s advances, and the insurgents, known as the Sandinistas, instructed her to encourage him.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, 1978, she invited the general to a rendezvous in her house to consummate the relationship. Astorga however told him she was uncomfortable with his large retinue of armed guards; could he keep them at bay while they spent their private moments together?
In the love nest that day, was Astorga and General Vega, and unknown to him, three Sandinistas, Hilario Sánchez, Walter Ferreti and Raúl Venerio who were hiding in her bedroom closet. As the general prepared to consummate his lust, they emerged.
The plan was to seize and exchange him for jailed Sandinista revolutionaries, but he put up a struggle so they had to slit his throat, wrap his body in a Sandinista flag and announce his execution to a shocked dictatorship. The hunt for her was in vain because she had left for the jungle with the revolutionaries. The next time she was seen was on the pages of the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, where she was in military fatigue carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.
About ten years later, she said of the elimination of General Vega “Sometimes people ask me why I don’t have any guilty feelings in regard to “the dog.” They want to know how I could do something so fierce without feeling guilty. I believe I don’t feel guilty for three reasons. First, we were supposed to kidnap him, not kill him. Second, I wasn’t there at the moment of his death.
And third, he represented repression. He was practically Somoza’s second in command, the one who conducted all those murderous operations in the north, the one who massacred so many in Masaya (City in Western Nicaragua). He really was a monster. I understood his death as part of the liberation struggle.“
After taking most of the country, the Sandinistas on July 17, 1979, took the capital,Managua. Astorga was appointed Vice Minister of Justice and oversaw the trials of some 7,500 members of the dreaded Somoza National Guard. General Somoza fled to Asuncion, Paraguay where in 1980, Paraguayan revolutionaries blew up his car with a bazooka and machine gunned him. He had 25 bullet holes in his body. The attackers said the assassination was their gift to the Nicaraguan Revolution.
In 1984, Astorga was appointed Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United States. The Reagan administration rejected her nomination for her role in the execution of General Vega. In a deft move, the Nicaraguan Government in 1984 appointed her its Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. The Americans had to issue her a visa and tolerate her living on American soil. Two years later, she became the substantive Nicaraguan Permanent Representative in the UN.
On June 27, 1986, the International Court of Justice, IJC, among other matters, ruled that “…by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua (and) by laying mines in the internal or territorial waters of the Republic of Nicaragua during the first months of 1984, the United States of America has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its affairs, not to violate its sovereignty and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce”.
The US rejected the ruling and vowed to continue its illegal acts. But Astorga led Nicaragua in placing the IJC judgment before the UN Security Council. Eleven countries voted for the Resolution that the Americans comply with the ruling, one against with three abstentions. The US vetoed the Resolution, so Astorga on behalf of Nicaragua, turned to the UN General Assembly, UNGA, which passed the Resolution by 94 votes to 3 making it obligatory for the US to obey the IJC ruling.
Ambassador Olukanni on the occasion of the 2018 International Women’s Day went down memory lane: “She (Astorga) was usually the neighbour to our left, I mean the Nigerian Delegation in Conference rooms at the UN HQ in New York…She was always a delight to watch on the Second or Third Committee (of the ) UNGA Plenary Sessions firing on all cylinders, weaving in and out of UN languages -Spanish, English and French”.
On February 14, 1988, Astorga, the uncommon guerrilla of the people, consummate lawyer, humanist, diplomat, Women Rights champion and mother of four who could not be felled in the battle field as she blazed away with her AK47, succumbed to cervical cancer.
In an interview shortly before her heroic departure, she explained that:”…Revolutions are not exportable like Coca-Cola or paperbacks … You don’t produce it internally and export it. Revolutions are made in a country when the conditions in that particular country favour a process of change.” Nora Astorga was a woman like no other.