A Journalist Is Slain

21 JUNE 1979 — ABC News Correspondent Bill Stewart had just finished covering the revolution in Iran when he was sent to Nicaragua to cover the Sandinista Revolution. Not long after his arrival, members of Somoza’s National Guard executed Stewart at a road block in Managua. ABC cameraman Jack Clark (sitting on the car above) filmed the killing from inside the team’s van. The National Guardsmen apparently were unaware of the filming. The guardsmen also killed Stewart’s Nicaraguan interpreter, out of view of the cameraman who filmed Stewart’s execution. ABC transmitted the images to New York before Somoza could stop them, and the gruesome event was broadcast around the world. It was the end of U.S. Congressional support for Somoza, who billed himself as a staunch U.S. ally and anti-communist bulwark in Central America.

In the image above, Clark is seen near the case that would carry Stewart’s body — along with the vast majority of the foreign press corps covering the insurrection — being evacuated in a U.S.-loaned military plane to the Panama Canal Zone. I was one of a handful of journalists who stayed in Nicaragua to cover the war.

Two footnotes here: (1) Human rights groups accused Somoza’s National Guard of routinely and consistently conducting these execution-style killings of poor, defenseless Nicaraguans but it took the global broadcast of the killing of an American journalist to undermine Somoza’s support in the U.S. Congress. (2) Until two days prior to his killing, I had been working as Stewart’s interpreter, since I was a stringer for ABC Radio in the region and spoke Spanish. In other words, the Nicaraguan interpreter executed that day could have been me. This was the first in a long line of lucky incidents (for me) that partly explain why I’m still alive and writing this today.

The image making and storytelling skills I acquired during this conflict were the foundation of my role today as a backpack journalist. As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, I’ll be posting scans of some of the original images I made for UPI during that war, and explaining their significance. I do this in recognition and gratitude to the country and people who have given me so much. Thank you.