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Episode 1

This is a Firing Squad

This is a production of Journalista Podcast, LLC and iHeartRadio. Just a warning, this podcast includes adult language and situations, references to drug use, violence, and some things that will be very hard to listen to.

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Cookie Hood: They bring us all together and they take us outside into a courtyard and stand us up against the wall. This is a firing squad.

Steve Esteb: Welcome to the Journalista Podcast. I’m Steve Esteb, your host. This is a Memoir about the dangerous and improbable life of Cookie Hood: party girl, muse, mother, journalist, warrior.

Cookie’s a classic broad, right out of a Bogart. She looks like she’s been through some shit with a deep, hoarse voice and a street-tough demeanor. She’s not famous. But, she did break the biggest story of the 1980s. You’ve probably heard of the Iran-Contra scandal. It was like Watergate, 9/11, Trump Russia, January 6th all rolled into one big clusterfuck. Now to be clear, and Cookie will tell you this, there were a lot of journalists who claim a piece of the Iran-Contra story. There were a lot of threads to unwind. Let me give you a quick overview of that story. Wait, on second thought, I think I’ll let Fox’s, American Dad! do it.

American Dad!/Stan Smith: In the 80s, there was Cold War drama. We fought the commies inside Nicaragua. Our friends were the Contras. Freedom was their mantra. So we sent them lots of money for guns and landmines. But Congress stopped the Contra money flow just ‘cause they moved a teeny bit of blow. But then a hero came forth, his name was Oliver North. He and Reagan went around the sissy Congress. Ollie North. Ollie North! You see North secretly sold missiles to a harmless country called Iran that would always be a grateful ally. Then he gave the profits to the Contras. Genius!

Esteb: It all blew up in their faces. You’ve probably seen the iconic image of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North in his snappy uniform with his hand in the air, standing before a joint session of Congress investigating the Iran Contra scandal.

Congress: Do you solemnly swear, that in the testimony you’re about to give, will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Oliver North: I do.

Esteb: Some of you might know him from his short tenure as the head of the NRA, or frequent appearances on Fox News. You might remember President Reagan saying this on your television back in 1987:

President Ronald Reagan: First, let me say I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities.

American Dad/Stan Smith: But the sales were uncovered by the press. Reagan and North began to stress because what they did was technically high treason.

Esteb: In the end, several dozen Reagan administration officials were indicted with 11 convictions, including the Secretary of Defense, two national security advisers, the Assistant Secretary of State, chief of the CIA: Central American Task Force, Chief of covert OPS, CIA, former Air Force Major General Richard Secord, and of course Oliver North. Sounds like justice. Well, not exactly. The next president and former CIA director under Nixon George HW Bush, pardoned all of them. The president’s cronies walked. Sound familiar?

American Dad/Stan Smith: Ollie North. Ollie North! He’s a soldier. And a hero. And a novelist! And now he’s on Fox News!

Esteb: I fucking love that. We already know the end of the story. But that’s not the good part, it’s the journey. Cookie’s journey. Always at the crossroads of history. One way or another. So how does a half American half Nicaraguan party girl from New Orleans with absolutely no journalism experience break the biggest story of the 80s? That’s what Journalista is all about.

Esteb: I’m here right now to introduce my very, very good friend, she’s like my family member: Cookie Hood.

Hood: Good morning, Steve.

Esteb: Good morning, Cookie. I want to talk for a minute about how this started between us. I got a call from a friend who said that they had a friend who had a crazy story that would be a great movie. I looked you up. I put Cookie Hood in Google and it went nowhere for me.

Hood: Which led you to believe…

Esteb: I thought you were full of shit. I get a box in the mail, it’s from Cookie Hood, and I’m like hmm, what could this be? I opened this box…

Hood: And it was a treasure trove.

Esteb: It was! It was filled with photographs…

Hood: …press passes, newspaper clippings…

Esteb: …letters from famous people singing your praises…

Hood: In other words, I sent you the receipts.

Esteb: Yes! And you had a picture of like, laying on a couch next to Ed Bradley, and you know, all kinds of stuff.

Hood: …Jimmy Carter.

Esteb: Jimmy Carter. It’s a fun story to tell, and I’m just really glad we’re doing this together. Are you excited?

Hood: I’m stoked.

Esteb: I’m stoked too.

Hood: Mike Wallace once said to me, cookie, I’m gonna give the best piece of advice. Always cover the story. Never be the story. And as you’ll be able to tell in this podcast, I was the story a lot of times, so I was breaking Mike’s #1 rule. But he said to me a few times. You know what? It’s you. It’s OK that you’re the story.

Esteb: You should be the story. All right well, let’s get into this.

Esteb: Before Cookie changes the world, she has to go through some serious bullshit. Let me take you back to December 27th, 1974. Cookie is just 16 years old.

Hood: One of my friends, we went to his fountain retreat where his family lived. He decided to bring back a pound of weed to take back to Managua for New Year’s, and I’m gonna be getting dropped off in my neighborhood, which is a very wealthy cloistered neighborhood. We’re driving in. It’s after dark. As we’re passing in front of the house coming in the other are two taxis, four-people taxis, they stop in front of the house and we’re side to side with them. All the doors fly open. Masked gunmen jump out, they shoot chauffeurs, bodyguards. We’re all looking at each other. Like what the fuck is going on?

Esteb: This is how the New York Times described it the next day.

News Anchor: Leftist guerrillas invaded a Christmas party for the United States Ambassador and seized about 20 prominent Nicaraguans as hostages to be exchanged for political prisoners.

Esteb: For a little context, I turned to Justin Wolfe, PHD professor of Latin American History at Tulane University, right here in New Orleans. His first book was the Everyday Nation State: Community and Ethnicity in 19th century Nicaragua. That’s a mouthful. He knows his shit, but he looks a lot like the bass player from ZZ Top.

Justin Wolfe: It was a Christmas party in honor of the US ambassador to Nicaragua, Shelton Turner. And so a lot of diplomatic bigwigs, a lot of members of the Samosa family and government were all there. It was a big celebration in the midst of kind of tragedy and misery all around. You’ve got the earthquake in 1972, and so the party is kind of a “let them eat cake” kind of moment. Here’s an event that will highlight for the Sandinistas kind of terribleness of the regime. It allows them to make a splash. It allows them to convince the regime that they can strike a blow. Now, as it turned out, the US ambassador, who had been there had left the party early.

Esteb: And for Cookie, it wasn’t just a bunch of bigwigs and politicians. It was personal.

Hood: I had family aunts, uncles, neighbors in that party. Samosas starts sending all the Guardia, all the soldiers there to surround that house. And there was some shooting going back and forth. And we’re like man this is some serious shit!

Esteb: The soldiers, guns drawn, pull them out of their car at gunpoint, throw them to the ground and begin searching it for weapons. The friend who brought the weed, he’s shitting his pants about now.

Hood: My cousin says don’t say anything. I’m gonna do the talking. Don’t speak Spanish. We want them to think that you’re just an American. And we see this guy pull out, I mean, the biggest bag of weed.

Esteb: The Samosa guardsman think these kids were sent there to be a distraction from the Sandinista commandos attacking the party.

Hood: My other friend and my other cousin who were underground Sandinistas, they knew they were fucked. They took the four of us, pushed us into a military vehicle, took the weed and just whisked us away.

Esteb: The soldiers takes them to the same prison where the guy who brought the weed’s brother was murdered by the Guardia a few years earlier.

Hood: And he starts crying in the vehicle, saying we’re never gonna get out of this alive.

Esteb: Somosa declares martial law and no one can give any orders except the dictator himself.

Hood: Being arrested was a shock in and of itself because I was always in a family and in a bubble that nothing could ever happen to me. All you have to do is make a call, you’re out of trouble! But here I am being thrown into a prison. I had only heard at that time that you know, women were raped and you know, whatever.

Esteb: This prison is a very dangerous place. Cookie and her friends are interrogated through the night. The Guardia trying to get these teenagers to spill the beans on the Sandinista attackers. And some fucking crazy shit happens.

News Anchor: There’s been a big kidnapping on the West Coast. The victim is Patricia Hurst, the daughter of newspaper executive Randolph Hurst and a granddaughter of the legendary William Randolph Hearst.

News Anchor: Patricia Hurst is 19 and a sophomore at Berkeley. She and her fiancée were in her apartment near the campus last night, when a woman and two armed men burst in, beat and bound her fiancée and a neighbor dragged Patricia down the stairs, threw her into the trunk of a car and drove off.

News Anchor: The Hearst newspaper heiress has been missing for 19 months. First she was kidnapped, then she announced that she had joined ranks with her kidnappers, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was later indicted in connection with the San Francisco Bank holdup and labeled a fugitive.


Hood: The Samosa Guardsmen were not the brightest people and this Comandante just got in his head that I was Patricia Hurst because she was AWOL at the time. I’m a white American. He just thinks he’s hit the lottery.

Esteb: It was a story that dominated the news for a couple of years. Pretty girl, daughter of a famous newspaper tycoon, kidnapped and turned into a domestic terrorist. And to be honest, she did look a lot like Cookie.

Hood: Once the comandante started saying in Spanish “Yeah, she’s Patricia Hurst.” The Spanish just came out of me. I’m like “No, you idiot. I’m not Patricia Hearst.” And then he says “This bitch speaks better Spanish than you and I! She speaks like a local.” After being interrogated all night, then we’re thrown into cells. We are now realizing that our name and our status means shit! No name throwing
“I know him…”, you know, “We’re friends of Samosa”, “We’re related to Samosa…” didn’t mean shit. So we knew we were in trouble. They bring us all together, and they take us outside into a courtyard and stand us up against the wall. And I’m just looking at this, and I’m like, this doesn’t look good. This is a firing squad. And then that one guy, the one that brought the weed, just still crying “We’re never gonna get out of this alive. My brother was killed here.” And I was like, “can you just shut the fuck up, dude?”

Esteb: The soldiers raised their weapons, ready to fire. Comandante gives the teenagers one more chance to confess what they know about the Sandinistas. And remember, these kids don’t know anything.

Hood: My friends and family, they know I’m wild and crazy, but no one, absolutely no one is going to believe that I was killed by a firing squad.

Esteb: We’ll be right back.


Esteb: Welcome back. Terrorist attacks, hostages, murder, firing squads. Before we find out what happened to Cookie, a little background.

The United States had occupied Nicaragua for years and left in 1925 after putting the first Somoza dictator in power. Augusto Sandino, the opposition leader, says “No way”, and all hell breaks loose. the US Marines come back, Sandino wages a guerrilla war and is successful. And pushes the Marines out of Nicaragua. I have a question for Justin Wolfe: what the hell happened?

Wolfe: After the US Marines leave and there’s this kind of effort to negotiate a peace and for the Sandinistas under Sandino to put down their arms and kind of come into the government, there’s this key meeting with the new government to kind of negotiate and to the Sandinistas in a sense. But at the end of that event, as Sandino and his key lieutenants are leaving this kind of negotiation party…

Esteb: Was there an agreement made there?

Wolfe: There’s an agreement, but Somosa doesn’t believe that the agreement will hold. Somoza orders his men to detain Sandino, his brother, as well as a couple of his other key lieutenants. They take them out to, today, where the International Airport in Managua is, and they execute them.

Esteb: Sandino’s murder creates the Sandinista movement as we know it today, but it’s his defiance and courage, standing up against the US occupiers and wealthy elites that makes him a hero to the poor and the working class.

Wolfe: The Sandinistas of the 60s and 70s, they are going to kind of recuperate the legend of Sandino and the vision of the Somozas as the kind of implacable enemy of the people.

Esteb: Back to the firing squad. No, Cookie and her friends didn’t die. The story doesn’t end in front of a firing squad. They shoot over their heads, scaring the crap out of them.

Hood: My family and generals were trying to get through to Somozas, to tell them “Let the kids out!” We want to go pick them up and bring them home. We don’t know that that’s happening, that Comandante who at that point, knew that we were gonna be released, that we really were who we were, friends of Somoza, just said I’m gonna fuck with these kids. You know, scare the fuck out of them. So that they don’t fuck with us anymore.

Esteb: How did it feel when they were pointing guns at you like they were going to shoot you?

Hood: I just kept saying “This can’t be happening.” It’s like those movies where somebody who’s innocent is being accused of being guilty, but he’s not. And he spends the whole movie trying to convince the people that he’s not guilty. That went on for a few hours. Of course I’m thinking I’m talking to soldiers out of shooting us.

Esteb: Was that the first time you ever had a gun pointed at you?

Hood: Hmm. Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? It was definitely a shocker.

Esteb: The next day, the New York Times reported on the results of the negotiations.

News Anchor: The Nicaraguan Government agreed today to release 26 political prisoners and fly them to Cuba in exchange for the lives of a group of prominent politicians and business leaders seized by leftist guerrillas at a Christmas party here Friday night. A government spokesman said that the 8 guerrillas and the freed political prisoners are all believed to be members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The guerrillas had also demanded a $5 million ransom.

Hood: Somoza, as ruthless as he was, he had one weakness and his weakness were his friends and his family, so he was not gonna allow his friends or family that were in that house to be harmed. A smart dictator would have killed everyone in that house. Sandinistas, the hostages would have been killed, everybody would have been killed. So he created the future of his own demise.

Esteb: Something tells me Cookie would have been a good dictator. So her family finally gets through to Somoza and Cookie and her friends are released. She’s driven home back to the neighborhood where the whole thing started. She gets there just as the bus arrives to pick up the commandos. It’s filled with the recently released Sandinista political prisoners and the $1,000,000 they got from Somoza.

Hood: So again, my vehicle crosses with this vehicle and I could see these political prisoners and a couple of them, actually quite a few of them, later became very famous and very important to our story.

Esteb: Do you want to name one of them?

Hood: Danielle Ortega.

Esteb: Ortega goes on to become the leader of the Sandinistas and head of the new government after the revolution, and of course, Public Enemy number one to the Reagan administration. Professor Wolfe tells us why this is so important.

Wolfe: The last major Sandinista offensive is in 1967, and it’s a disaster. Almost every Sandinista member who’s engaged in that event dies. It’s like, really bad. So you have this very successfully planned action, you have the success of getting leaders from within the Sandinistas who’d been captured out, you get money, which is key if you’re buying arms and all of that kind of stuff. Plus they’ve gotten their message out in public. Censorship is one of the key tools, right, of the dictatorship. There might be things going on, there may be opposition groups, there may be plans to change the country, but if nobody knows about it because of censorship. You’re kind of stuck.


Hood: Now that underground revolution that was going on has now come to light. And funny story, one of the hooded guys that was in that house, my aunt who I was staying with at the time, was one of the hostages. She asked this hooded terrorist “Can I go to the bathroom?”, and he answers her “Of course Dona Telma”, of course, Mrs. Thelma. He knew her, he knew who she was and she recognized the voice. Didn’t know who the voice was, but knew that voice. That’s when it started to become obvious that there were some rich kids involved in this revolution. All of them friends of mine, a lot were killed. And so it’s becoming obvious not just to me, but to everyone, that there’s something brewing here. It isn’t just poor, humble people that are in the mountains fighting. The revolution’s now in the city.

Esteb: Tell me a little bit about the crazy childhood you had.

Hood: My father was an American. My mother was from Nicaragua. My dad was an executive with the airlines.

Esteb: TACA Airlines was a Nicaraguan…

Hood: It was an El Salvador Airlines that flew throughout Central America. The journalists used to call it “Take A Chance Airlines” because you never you never knew. And my mother, stay at home, but she came from a very, very wealthy family in Nicaragua. So I was raised in both countries and the summer vacation times were different in each country here in Nicaragua. So I was literally in school all year long. Here and there, I guess the biggest difference was when I would be living here, even though we lived well, you know, “Do your chores”, “You have to do this”, “You have to be able to know how to work”, whereas on my mother’s side of the family and living in Central America, it was all maids and chauffeurs and nannies and cooks, but I managed somehow to always find the party.

Esteb: And your family was close to the Dictator Somoza.

Hood: Absolutely. I played with his kids. I played with the children of generals and obviously my family and friends were all from that 1% that owned and had everything. 99% had nothing. But I didn’t see it. We lived in a bubble and the bubble was parties on the weekends. If you were dating someone, you couldn’t go out unless you had a chaperone, sort of antebellum thing before the Civil War. It was wonderful because I was living and catching the tail end of that era, because things were going to change when the earthquake hit.

News Reporter: Nicaraguan officials in Miami today issued an urgent appeal for blood donors. They said there’s an immediate need for 20 to 25,000 pints of whole blood for the victims of Saturday’s earthquake in Managua. The United States sending $3,000,000 in food, medicine, tents, purification equipment and other aid. Looting continued today in what’s left of the Nicaraguan Capitol, with troops doing little or nothing to stop it.

News Reporter: 90% of the city has been utterly destroyed. Even the few tall buildings which do remain will soon be brought down by dynamiting. There is not a single building in the downtown section safe for occupancy. The city will be levelled, as explained by Nicaraguan’s former president and now commander in chief of the Armed Forces Anastasio Somoza.

News Reporter: So the capital as you now know it will cease to exist?

Anastasio Somoza: That is right. We are going to live in tents until we make an appreciation of the situation and […] the government will have to decide what to do.

Wolfe: Even though it’s a disaster, it’s really important for the Sandinistas. Now what we have is the Sandinistas who have really shown themselves, I think, above and beyond anyone else, as actually caring about the kind of post-earthquake disaster, helping people, setting up soup kitchens. But also organizing people right, trying to say like look, we are never going to get to a better place until Somoza is gone.


Hood: The US started sending supplies. You know, for instance, peanut butter. I mean, nobody knew what peanut butter was the poor people. They started sending morphine. A lot of people in the wealthy families got hooked on morphine. Drugs just blew up with the rich kids. And I was already doing drugs here in New Orleans, but when I’d go to Nicaragua before the earthquake, I was still being the good girl.

Esteb: Everything was broken, including the bubble that protected Cookie’s family and the oligarchs that had flourished under the Somoza regime. But they were still holding on, trying to pretend like everything was the same, like the earthquake never really happened. Business as usual.

Hood: The second change came about… every August the first was a holiday in Nicaragua. It was a religious holiday where rich and poor didn’t work. Rich and poor drank to excess.

Esteb: Parades and that sort of thing…

Hood: Parades, horseback riding… But of course, only the rich people were allowed to be on the horses and on the floats and the poor people who were allowed to drink would be on the periphery watching. They were partying, but they were watching us partying to an excess and to a degree that they would never have been able to.

Esteb: These parades, like their own like little Mardi Gras type of thing?

Hood: Like a Mardi Gras thing, but you’re on these carts, you know that were decorated and you’re just going through the city and it’s surrounded by poor people.

Esteb: The Associated Press describes it like this.

Associated Press: The 10 days of festivities have their roots in the 1885 discovery of the three-inch-tall statue of Santo Domingo de Guzman, also known as Saint Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Dominican religious order. A peasant was cutting down a tree in what was then the outskirts of Managua when he found the tiny rendering of the Saint with the tonsure and beard clad in white robes and a black Cape. The statue the faithful refer to as “Papito” is protected by a glass bell and carried through throngs of people on the street during the celebration. “All of us can adore ‘Papito,’” says Carlos Membreno, a robust, gray-haired transportation worker who sports tattoos on both arms. “It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, he doesn’t care about your money, education or work. He only cares about your promise. “

Hood: And I think it was that day that I started to see the faces of poor people. Actually see them.

Esteb: So literally you’re on a float in a parade that was all rich people partying.

Hood: And several floats, like you said. Like a parade.

Esteb: And the audience for that are the poor people.

Hood: It’s always been that way, but that particular year, because there had been some shootings and some revolutionary movement in the mountains, Somoza was starting to do a crackdown and decided, of course, our rich people and friends and family can’t be involved. It has to be the poor people who really had more to gain by a revolution, so that particular year Somoza prohibited the sale of liquor to poor people. So yes, they were off from work and yes, they were lining the streets, but they couldn’t drink. And here we are, the rich kids, privileged kids drinking, we’re on these carts, we’re driving through the city and all of a sudden something looks very out of place for me. And I asked someone, Christiana Chamorro, who you’ll find out later who she is, “What’s wrong? Why? Aren’t people on the street drinking?” She goes “Oh, you didn’t hear? Alcohol sales were prohibited for the poor.” I had already been seeing their faces. And the anger or the unfairness that they were feeling, I said “Stop this cart. I’m getting off.” And they’re like “What are you talking about? Here, have another drink. It’s gonna…” “Let me off this cart now.”

Esteb: Change is coming. A respected journalist is murdered and Nicaragua will never be the same. We’ll be right back.

Esteb: Welcome back. We’ve talked about Cookie’s younger life and the origins of the dark divisions that created the Nicaragua we know today. But this segment is about a crime. A heinous act that changed the course of history and cleared the path that Cookie never saw coming.

*News Anchor speaking Spanish*

Esteb: That was Managua Evening News. Pedro Chamorro had been murdered. This is what the New York. Times said when it happened:

News Reporter: Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, an editor known for his outspoken opposition to the dictatorship of General Anastasio Somoza de Debayle, was shot to death today in downtown Managua. The 53 year old editor and publisher of La Princesa of Managua, the country’s only opposition paper, was shot 18 times by three men in a car, who forced his auto to the curb. Mr. Chamorro died on the way to a hospital.

Esteb: It’s a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. Who killed Pedro Joaquin Chamorro? Before we get into that, who was he and why does he matter?

Hood: Somoza had a mortal enemy. He was a newspaperman. His name was Pedro Joaquin Chamorro. He was married also to a well known society, Lady Violeta Barrios.

Esteb: The Chamorros were close family friends, and Violeta became Cookie’s aunt by marriage just a few years later. Justin Wolfe gives us a little background.

Wolfe: The head of the oldest kind of most traditional elite family in Nicaragua, and really a revered business intellectual and social figure in Nicaragua. The Chamorro family had really been important since the 18th century in Nicaragua, Chamorros are presidents twice in the 19th century. Again, in the 20th century. It’s one of those long, kind of political dynasty families, right? If we think about the US, it’s like the Kennedys or the Bush family.


US Congress: Members of the Congress, it is my great privilege and I deem it a high honor and personal pleasure to present to you Her Excellency Violetta Chamorro, President of the Republic of Nicaragua.

Esteb: That was in 1991 Violeta Chamorro, the first woman President of Nicaragua, speaking to a joint session of the US Congress. If you recall, we met Chamorro’s daughter, Christiana, on the parade float with Cookie a few minutes ago. They were childhood friends. She was running for president last year in Nicaragua and in a fair election, the likely winner. Then Daniel Ortega went full dictator.

News Anchor: High profile opposition leaders arrested one by one in just the last few days, months before a crucial election in which strongman President Daniel Ortega is trying to claim to his 14 years of power as fears grow. This is only going to get worse.


News Anchor: Earlier this week, the Pro government prosecutor had charged Chamorro, Nicaragua’s most competitive presidential candidate, with alleged money laundering and what it termed as ideological deviations.

Esteb: Her crime: running for president against Danielle Ortega. She was under house arrest until a few weeks ago. That’s some serious fascist bullshit.

Wolfe: By the mid to late 70s, Chamorro is not only an opponent of Somoza, but he’s looking around and he is looking for example at the Sandinistas who, some of his children are members of, and seeing them, eventually, by 1977 as probably the only viable path forward out of a Somoza-run Nicaragua. That’s a huge shift, right? The Patriarch of traditional conservative politics in Nicaragua sees the Sandinistas not only as viable as a meaningful and real opposition but is actually the only one that is organized enough and has a clear enough plan to actually defeat Somoza.

Esteb: OK, so who killed Pedro Chamorro? There were a lot of suspects, in fact, just about everybody. Let’s start with the obvious choice. The brutal dictator, Anastasio Somoza. He clearly had no problem killing his own people, and like any good strong man, he made a lot of people disappear. But why would he murder a high-profile journalist from one of the most prominent and beloved families in Nicaragua? Chamorro decided to go after Somoza in his newspaper, La Prensa, on television, and his speeches. And remember. This is a clash of two dynasties, one that dates back to the 1700s with enormous historical and political clout and one with a history of oppression, violence, torture and murder. Something had to give.

News Anchor: So, what happened to this person who wanted freedom? Well, they murdered him. Who murdered him? The Somoza forces.

Esteb: That was the voice of Pedro Chamorro’s wife, Violeta, future president of Nicaragua. Was she right? Somoza clearly had motive. Chamorro had the power and the voice. He was a threat to the regime. But Cookie, who grew up knowing them both, who as a child actually played with their children, has a different perspective.

Hood: I don’t think Pedro Joachim ever thought that Somoza would kill him. They spoke to each other; they saw each other at social affairs. They needed each other. Chamorro needed Somoza to be the bad guy. Somoza needed Chamorro more to be the opposition. As long as it looked like a dictator allowed opposition voices to be heard through newspaper and some radio stations. It made him look less iron-fisted-dictator, so neither one of them feared their lives from the other.

Esteb: Not exactly exculpatory evidence. But if it wasn’t Somoza, who else had a motive to murder Chamorro?

Wolfe: He is being vocal in the press and in his own speeches about Somoza, but also families that are in the larger circle of the Somozas. His word critiquing those families and pointing out the crimes or the errors or the violence, or the corruption of those families, is viewed as a personal attack. For Chamorro, it was like identifying the cancer that needed to be removed, and so of course the Somozas, overall, the whole family, the in-law’s, and then the key kind of connected families that were part of the larger Somoza circle, they all despise Chamorro. They despise being pointed out and lifted up as the bane of Nicaragua.


Hood: We owned everything, car dealerships, banks, restaurants, shops, poor people didn’t own anything. You know, there’s a funny story of Somoza driving in the countryside and he says to his driver “Oh, that’s really a pretty ranch. Who owns that?” And the driver turns around, he says “Your Excellency, you own it.”

Esteb: Dan Rather doing a piece for 60 Minutes, asked Somoza about as many holdings.

Rather: General, I’ve been told that your wealth is in the neighborhood of $500 million. And the list is very long of special interests that you and your family own. You own the national airline.

Somoza: No, we’re shareholders of it.

Rather: You’re a major shareholder in the airline.

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: You own the national shipping line.

Somoza: Yes, I founded that.

Rather: Including your own port, Port Somoza.

Somoza: Also, we founded that.

Rather: You own the leading television station?

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: Radio station.

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: You own a newspaper?

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: You own the biggest hotel in Managua?

Somoza: No, we’re shareholders of it.

Rather: You’re a major shareholder.

Somoza: No, minority.

Rather: You own hundreds of thousands of acres of land?

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: You own cattle?

Somoza: Yes.

Rather: You own huge financial interest in banks and insurance companies and you…

Somoza: Yes! We could go on and on.


Hood: He owned everything and he made sure that all his friends were taken care of too.

Esteb: The wealthy elite had a lot to lose if Somoza lost power and Cookie’s family was a part of that. Could the motive just be money? I guess it’s always money. But what about big business? Nicaragua exported sugar, beef, bananas, but most of that was owned by Somoza and his friends. The Nicaraguan government did arrest 4 suspects, saying they were hired by an American whose plasma exporting business was under fire. But Chamorro’s newspaper, La Prensa, of course, Somoza had a piece of that plasma business as well. It always leads back to Somoza. But what about the United States? We’ve had a stake in Nicaragua since we helped get the first Somoza in power back in the 1920s. And of course, we’ve assassinated people in the past.

Hood: There’s a famous line from Franklin Roosevelt about the first Somoza, the present Somoza’s father. FDR, referring to Somoza “He’s a son of a bitch. but he’s our son of a bitch.” All the Somozas were bound to the US. President Somoza went to West Point, all of them US-educated. Obviously, investments in this country. At this point, the US is still backing the Nicaragua dictatorship.

Esteb: Like we backed El Salvador and Honduras and Panama and all those places.

Hood: Correct, correct. “Fighting communism.”

Esteb: And the presence of Cuba right there makes it…

Hood: Who were communists…

Esteb: Yeah. Who makes that domino theory viable, yes.

Hood: And I think you got the Allende in Chile and you know all these different movements that were put down ruthlessly and viciously.

Esteb: At this point, we haven’t discounted any of our suspects. They all have motive. They all have opportunity. They all wanted him dead. Is this like Julius Caesar where they all put a knife in his back? Are they all fucking guilty? Wait a second. I forgot about someone.

Hood: The second generation Somoza had a son and he was next in line to become president one day. He was this flashy military kid. He might have gone to West Point as well. He was hanging around with mercenaries. There were famous American mercenaries that were coming to Nicaragua. Mike The Mercenary, Bob The Mercenary. These were bad people. They would wear the bullets across here like Pancho Villa and by this time the mercenaries are driving in tanks in the streets. And of course, I was friends with them too.

Esteb: That’s right. Cookie parties with mercenaries.

Where were they from?

Hood: US. Just anywhere mercenary that needed a job, he could come.

Esteb: The US mercenaries killed Pedro?

Hood: We don’t know who exactly did. We suspect that it was Mike The Mercenary, but it was on the orders of Somoza III. He had Pedro Joaquin Chamorro assassinated.

Esteb: I don’t know if Cookie is right about this. But it sure makes a better story.

Hood: Of course, we later found out his father was furious with him. Why did you do this? Because that kind of stuff just didn’t happen to rich people in Nicaragua. Sure, it happened behind the scenes to poor people and revolutionaries and criminals. But that kind of stuff didn’t happen.


Wolfe: In the end, I actually don’t think who ordered it ends up being the important question. The result of it is what’s really important, which is there’s this massive reporting in the US about this beloved hero of press freedom and democracy, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro being assassinated in this country, led by a violent military dictator. So that’s the way the coverage is being presented. And then four everyday Nicaraguans, even those who are not really political, it is both the murder of this very popular figure, but also this idea that “If he can be murdered, what won’t they do?”

Esteb: This is how the Washington Post summed it up.

News Anchor: At a crucial moment, the Chamorro murder has dramatized for foreigners the lawlessness and political tension long known to Nicaraguans. The Somoza family has tried to run the politics and economy of the country as its personal preserve, cleverly co-opting supporters and brutally destroying opponents. Whether the transition to the post-Somoza era will be violent or peaceful cannot be told. What can be said is that regardless of who killed him, Pedro Chamorro died a patriot’s death.

Esteb: The assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro changed everything. It lit a flame under the long simmering revolution. The Sandinistas were back in business in a big way the people who came out in the streets united in opposition to Somoza. It was the beginning of the end of a dictator. It made headlines around the world. Cookie didn’t know it yet but her life was about to change.

Next time on Journalista

Hood: Pablo gave me half a pound of cocaine for the wedding, so I brought my girlfriend from New Orleans, flew her in, and we spent the whole day before and the whole day of grinding it up. We started off with one-gram bottles and realized quickly that’s not going to be enough. So we went and got two-gram bottles. Filled up 100 of them. When the people arrived at the door, that’s what they were given with a bow on it. You know, this is your party favor.

Journalista Podcast features the stories and voice of Cookie Hood. Narrated by Steven Esteb. Produced by Sean J Donnelly. Executive Producers Jason Waggenspack, Roy Loughlin and Ellen Kay. IHeart Executive Producer Tyler Klang. Written and edited by Stephen Esteb. Music by Jay Weigel. Associate Producer and Sound Design, Stephen Tonti. Sound Mixing by Jesse Salon Snyder. Featuring the voices of radio personality Ellen Kaye, Lloyd Schurr, Loyola University professor Pablo Savalas special guest Tulane history professor Justin Wolfe. Special thanks to Esplanade Studios, the ranch studios, Jason Gurvitz, Kyle Frederick, Zach Slaff.

This is a production of Journalista Podcast LLC and iHeartRadio.

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