By Louie DeBenedette
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). We will never forget our brothers and sisters, both American and Vietnamese who died or were maimed on the battlefields of southeast Asia.
Louie and Antonio.
Today I am writing about another brother, Antonio Oporta Mejia, a Nicaraguan Sandinista. Antonio is a product of the 1984 war of National Liberation who died of complications from the wounds of that war.
I have many memories of my brother and friend. We first met in Managua at the Veterans Peace Convoy in 1988. We were greeted with beautiful flowers welcoming us along the route as we traveled into Managua. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Daniel Ortega and a whole host of paralyzed vets.
Afterwards, we attended a wheel chair basketball game. Antonio asked me to buy and wear the same color shirt that his team wore. Later, he invited me to his home in Boaco, which is north of Managua.
Boaco was known as Contra Land. Almost every family had a member killed by the Contra. Boaco was coffee country and a money maker for the Sandinistas. The Contras were doing all they could to destroy the coffee crop. We slept with open eyes those nights. Upon leaving I gave Antonio some money to start a leather craft shop. Later, he bought a taxi and hired a driver.
When I proposed an action at the White House, which would protest the CIA intervention in the 1990 elections and the actions of the Contras, Antonio and other paralyzed veterans supported the action, which consisted of North Americans picketing the White House. At one point, I threw human blood over the wheelchair entrance plaque on the east gate. The wheelchair entrance symbolized the Sandinista vets. We also carried a photo of Antonio, representing all paralyzed vets. I was arrested and tried a year later. We knew Daniel Ortega lost the elections that year. He would, however, eventually gain the presidency after a long 17 years. Daniel remains President to this day. All voting is now done by elections, not guns.
In 2015, Antonio developed a severe wound on his leg due to complications of 29 years in a wheelchair and Type 2 Diabetes. Shortly thereafter, he developed a more serious sore on his hip. Barometric treatment (a barometric oxygen machine that feeds oxygen to heal the wound) did not seem to work. He was also exposed to degenerative arthropathy on his hip, HPAFC (ballistic trauma), tropic skin changes, tropic skin infections, and paralysis from a gun wound. Eventually, his right lower leg was amputated due to uncontrolled infection, all products of the War of Liberation. The prognosis was never good and there was no cure. Pain meds no longer became useful.
I called Antonio each day and we had good memories. He always thought of me as his best friend. I sent him money for medical supplies, medicine, and daily living essentials as needed. I loved Antonio as a brother.
Antonio died in agony, on January 13, 2017, at 11:30 am. I was present by video. He was surrounded by his wife, Estela, and many neighbors. His mother died three weeks earlier and his brother was killed in the Revolution, as were 36,000 others. Antonio was loved and honored by his community.
I will miss my friend... another Brother.
Louie DeBenedette is a long time anti-war activist and a VVAW Contact in Ithaca, New York. Currently, Louie regularly participates in local and regional anti-war marches and protests.