"These people become soldiers when under attack," Lima said. "The women and children withdraw, behind us, and the men become soldiers."
That is what happened in May, when the Sandinistas attacked El Cuartelon.
In their biggest offensive of the war, the Sandinistas initially moved about 3,000 troops into the Bocay River Valley beginning May 10 and pushed about 800 contras back into Honduras. The Sandinistas took El Cuartelon and a contra airstrip, losing at least one and possibly two of their Soviet-made helicopters to the contras' Redeye missiles.
A Mortar Attack
Finding it difficult to resupply in the remote region of northern Jinotega province, the Sandinistas withdrew about half of their forces within weeks, and they had only a few hundred left on July 5 when the contras struck back with a mortar attack from both sides of the Bocay River to retake El Cuartelon.
"They don't want us here, but they didn't put up any resistance," said Scorpion.
Now, once again, El Cuartelon is a contra position, protecting the contras' access to the rivers and overland supply route. The waterways are particularly important to the rebels since the Sandinistas mined the river banks.
The rebels showed reporters nearly 200 Soviet- and Czechoslovak-made mines they have unearthed since July and said they still cannot return to the airstrip along the river because of heavy mining. Lima said 10 of his men have been killed and at least 20 wounded by mines that the Sandinistas left behind.
Both sides claimed victory in El Cuartelon, but, as in the war itself, the battles proved costly to each. The contras have suffered at least 50 casualties, and estimates of Sandinista casualties range from 70 to 300.