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Two Latin revolutions defy the US. But Nicaragua adds its own twist to Cuban model

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / June 30, 1987


To a Managua-based reporter, the billboards around the Cuban capital are familiar: the same sort of uplifting revolutionary slogans common in Nicaragua, the same exhortations to work harder, the same encouragement to avoid waste. There is one poster, across from the seafront United States mission here, boasting: ``Mr. Imperialist, we are not in the least bit afraid of you.'' It recalled an old Sandinista poster, that used to overlook the US Embassy in Managua, quoting A.C. Sandino's response in 1927 to a US demand that he surrender.

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``I shall not surrender, and I am waiting for you here,'' the challenge read. ``I want a free fatherland or death: I am not afraid of you.''

According to officials in both countries and Western diplomats, the two billboards capture the essence of the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions' shared roots: an insistence on national sovereignty that translates into defiance of the US.

``Both [Cuban President Fidel] Castro and the Sandinista Front decided in their early years that the primary source of problems in their societies was US influence - that to solve the problems, the first step was to remove that influence,'' says a Western diplomat familiar with both Nicaragua and Cuba.

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon, though wary of drawing parallels, and using different language, seizes on the same point.

``If there is something in common [between the two revolutions], it is the element of recovering national sovereignty, assuming real national independence,'' Mr. Alarcon says.

This shared purpose, and geographical proximity, have given the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions many similar facets. But government officials, foreign diplomats, and political analysts in both countries are cautious about taking the parallels too far.

They point to cultural and ideological differences, the change in the international climate since Mr. Castro's triumph in 1959, and dissimilar styles of revolution in suggesting that the Cuban and Nicaraguan cases should not be too closely equated.

Nonetheless, says a Western diplomat in Managua, the Sandinistas ``are extremely emotionally dependent on Castro for guidance. Here's a guy who has survived US imperialism for 25 years, which is exactly what they are trying to do.''

At the organizational level, the Nicaraguans have borrowed freely from their Caribbean comrades. Neighborhood ``Sandinista Defense Committees'' are modeled directly on Cuba's ``Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.''

Nicaragua has also patterned many of its ministries after the Cuban example, setting up state bureaucracies to handle internal food distribution, foreign aid, and so on. At a more personal level, both Presidents Castro and Daniel Ortega Saavedra can rely on their brothers who hold the post of Armed Forces chief.

The preeminent role assigned to the Armed Forces, and to defense of the revolution, is clearly common to both nations. Cuba is always on the alert against the US and fighting foreign wars in Angola and Ethiopia. Nicaragua is fighting the US-backed contra rebels, with Cuban help.

The resulting militarization of society, already clear in Cuba, is becoming an increasingly irreversible trend in Nicaragua too, Western diplomats and some government officials in Managua fear.