Nicaragua's Sandinistas mark 30 years since their revolution

MANAGUA — Roberto Martinez, an 18-year-old law school dropout, clutched his Belgium-made FAL assault rifle and hunkered down between two rocks to avoid getting shot in the crossfire.

He had been separated from his Sandinista rebel unit on the dark hillside and didn't know if the bullets whizzing over his head were ''friendly'' or hostile.

''It was real — I was going to die,'' Martinez recalls of his first combat experience 30 years ago against Nicaragua's dreaded National Guard. 'I started thinking: 'I'm young; I haven't even had a girlfriend or enjoyed life.' The last thing I was was a warrior — I was just trying not to be a victim.''

The Sandinista Revolution, which commemorates its three-decade anniversary on Sunday , eventually made him into a warrior. He spent five years in Bulgaria training as a fighter pilot before returning to Nicaragua in 1985 and flying more than 100 missions against U.S.-backed Contra insurgents, who almost shot him down many times.

Today, Martínez lives a quiet life in his hometown of Granada, where he sells cigars to tourists and helps foreigners buy real estate. The only hint of his past is when he inadvertently slips a Bulgarian word into a sentence when trying to speak English.

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