For Soldiers' Mothers: Much Talk of `Coming or Going Home'

LUCIA TERESA MENDOZA was beaming from ear to ear as she watched her son wolf down the roast chicken, fried banana, and cheese she'd brought him from home. ``This is much better than anything we ever get here,'' Victor said through mouthfuls of the home cooking.

Victor is a 21-year-old soldier in the Crist'obal Vanegas Light Hunter Battallion, stationed here in the mountains 135 miles northeast of Managua.

Lucia spent seven hours in the back of a truck to get here through the rain from their home in Le'on on the Pacific coast. Her son was drafted 19 months ago shortly after a cease-fire was declared by the government. That cease-fire was lifted last Wednesday, and Lucia says she began having nightmares that night.

``I was reading a letter from him when someone passed by with the news'' that the cease-fire would not be renewed. ``Now there is no rest for me at night.''

She reluctantly agreed with the government's decision in front of her son, who insisted it was the proper thing to do. ``As the contras do not want peace, we'll have to teach them the price of war.''

But out of his earshot she was more circumspect.

``He is my oldest and I have another just turning 17,'' the draft age. ``I'd like to tell [President] Bush to stop helping the [contras] so they can come home, so my son could come home,'' she says.

Families on either side of the conflict often speak of ``coming or going home.''

``Juana'' wishes the same for her sons.

She lives 125 miles north of Managua. She has one son in prison, charged with being a contra collaborator. Another son is in Honduras, where he was taken almost a year ago by the contras - accused of being an agent of the ruling Sandinistas.

``Juana'' says it was rivalries with neighbors that led to the accusations that have taken her two children away from home.

Her husband rarely comes home to their run-down dirt-floor house, because he is a known contra collaborator and subject to arrest on sight.

Speaking of her sons she says, ``They suffer, their children suffer, we all suffer. ... If this war would just end, we could all live together again like before. No problems.''

But she knows they will not be back, freed under a general amnesty or demobilized with the other contras, until the war ends.

And from Juana's point of view - as with the other campesinos (farmers) who have borne the brunt of the war - that seems far off.

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