Hope, disillusionment divide Nicaraguans
Seven years of civil war and revolutionary rule have left Nicaragua a battered and divided society with little likelihood that its wounds can be healed easily or soon. Bitterness pervades the country, surfacing almost daily through the pronouncements of Sandinista government officials and their opponents.Skip to next paragraph
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President Daniel Ortega Saavedra blames the country's predicament on United States funding for the ``contras'' (rebel guerrillas). The Nicaraguan Army has been battling the contras for the past 4 years.
Roman Catholic Church leader Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo, however, brands President Ortega and his colleagues ``totalitarian.'' He views the Sandinistas' increasingly authoritarian measures as the root of the problems afflicting Nicaragua.
The result: a country torn between those who have kept faith with the revolutionary government and those whose disillusionment has soured to grim resentment and torn between the triumphant hopes of 1979's popular insurrection and the harsh realities of building a new society.
``Most people accept, even the Sandinistas, that since November 1984 -when the government held elections-
the government has lost a good deal of popular support, but how much is difficult to quantify,'' one Western diplomat says.
The general populace, as well as various sectors -- business, the church, trade unions -- are divided in their attitudes toward the Sandinistas. While many big businessmen and farmers do not support the Sandinista rule, some still do. The great majority of trade union members belong to Sandinista-affiliated unions, but there are independent trade unions as well.
Nowhere are these differences more clearly illustrated than in attitudes toward the military and security forces. Foreign observers say these are now the most powerful and prestigious organs of government and attract the best and the brightest. To government supporters, this is only natural. Nicaragua is at war, they say, and must be defended against foreign aggression. But critics discern a more sinister purpose: defending Sandinista power against legitimate opposition.
Last October, the misgivings expressed by Nicaraguans and foreign observers about the government's policies turned into international shock, when the Sandinistas suddenly imposed a state of emergency. The government suspended a wide range of civil rights in a bid to strangle what it called an ``embryonic contra fifth column'' inside Nicaragua. Suspended rights include: liberty and security, due process and habeas corpus, freedom of movement, expression, and information, and peaceful assembly, union organizing, and striking.
Opposition leaders say that their fears of massive repression have not been borne out, but suggest the state of emergency was imposed as a measure of intimidation.
Since October, editors at the opposition daily La Prensa complain that censorship has intensified. Non-Sandinista trade-union leaders lament the workers' loss of their right to strike. And in January, the Catholic Church radio station was closed down.
Opposition voices can still make themselves heard, however, both in La Prensa and occasionally even on Sandinista-run television, which last week showed President Reagan's March 16 speech in favor of contra aid. The station then aired a debate involving a leader of the centrist opposition Popular Social Christian Party.
The political opposition is so weak, though, that Cardinal Obando y Bravo has become the government's main critic. Public and private statements from the Cardinal, after visits to Rome, clearly suggest that he has the support of Pope John Paul II. Obando y Bravo has lashed out regularly at the Sandinistas both from his pulpit at the Santo Domingo Church in Managua and in recent public appearances in the United States.