MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE — AFTER 15 years of independence marred by civil war and economic stagnation, Mozambique is starting anew. President Joaquim Chissano has torn up the 1975 socialist Constitution, which ushered in a one-party state and a guerrilla war with rebels of the South African-backed Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo). The country's new Constitution guarantees multiparty elections, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.
Mr. Chissano has moved to persuade his party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), to abandon its Marxist-Leninist doctrine and to give up its monopoly of power. Chissano, however, denies that there is a connection to changes going on in Eastern European countries, Mozambique's former socialist backers.
``Before we'd even heard of [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev or perestroika [restructuring], we were making changes here,'' the president said at a recent news conference to unveil the new Constitution.
Nationwide presidential and legislative elections have been promised for next year. But that promise assumes a peace deal can be struck between government and Renamo negotiators meeting in Rome. There is general optimism in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, that such a deal is in sight.
Although Renamo has rejected the Constitution on the grounds it was not involved in drawing it up, it does meet most of the rebel group's political demands.
A deal was struck early this month to confine the Zimbabwean troops that support the Frelimo government to two strategic corridors running between Zimbabwe and the Indian Ocean.
The leader of the Renamo delegation at the talks, Raul Domingues, described the agreement as ``a very important moment in our history and very important for peace in Mozambique.''
The remaining obstacles to a cease-fire involve the makeup of the government during the run-up to elections and the possible use of an international monitoring force.
As a Western diplomat in Maputo put it: ``It's down to the small print now.''
Even Frelimo's critics admit that the party is likely to remain in power after general elections.
``Between two devils, you choose the one you know,'' says Maputo journalist Suleiman Kabir. ``By now, there is not a family in the country that has not had someone killed or maimed by Renamo.''
Frelimo says that Renamo will present less of a threat at the ballot box than they do in the bush, from where they have rendered most of the countryside unsafe for travel.
Two embryonic parties have appeared in Maputo: the Mozambique National Union (UNAMO) and the Liberal and Democratic Party of Mozambique (PALMO), both to the right of Frelimo. More are expected to develop as exiles return from Portugal and the United States.
A sizable left-wing faction within Frelimo has openly denounced Chissano's reforms as a reversal of the spirit of the struggle for independence from Portugal.
A reformist Frelimo official, however, rejected that scenario. ``These people have clung on to all the old ideas because they guaranteed their jobs. Now their only guarantee is Chissano.'' Bold economic reforms
The government's program of economic reform, entering its fourth year, has won converts among the growing business community.
Prices have been deregulated. The national currency, the metical, has been devalued. More foreign exchange has been made available to the business community. And the new Constitution guarantees the right to own private property.
The government projects a remarkable 4 to 5 percent growth rate for this year.
Much of that growth is accounted for by multinational corporations, which can afford the costs involved in protecting large plantations from attack.
A local company, LOMACO - a subsidiary of a London-based multinational - grows cotton, tomatoes, and citrus on 125,000 acres guarded by a private army that costs $500,000 a year to maintain.
Mozambican entrepreneurs are also beginning spring up. Rui Pinto is one of the new breed. At age 24, he is already building a small empire of restaurants, bars, and pool halls. He started the businesses using money borrowed from the banks against collateral provided by his brother.
``In the old days you could make money on the black market,'' Mr. Pinto says, ``but there was nothing to spend it on. Now we bring in more goods from South Africa.''
But economic reform also has its losers. With the removal of price controls, salaried government workers, who earn $40 on average a month, have found that even basic commodities have soared beyond their reach.
``Frelimo used to be for the workers,'' one shopper, a Maputo civil servant, complained. ``Now the ordinary worker is being left behind while Frelimo gets rich.''
Hidden racism surfaces
During debates on the Constitution in the Frelimo Central Committee, a number of senior delegates argued that the clauses on nationality and citizenship should distinguish between black Mozambicans as the country's original inhabitants, and white, mixed race, and Indian descendants of later arrivals, who would have to apply for naturalization.
Their arguments were overturned but have sprung up again in the political programs of other parties.
PALMO spokesman and co-founder Martins Bilal says that Frelimo has shown preference to Indian traders who, he says, ``portray themselves as being superior to us black Mozambicans. They also send all the profits they make out of the country. They should be made to see they are welcome only as long as they have the country's true interests at heart.''
Fernando Lima, editor of the country's news agency, says that ``the whites and Indians are an easily identifiable scapegoat for all the failures of the past, especially for all those who find themselves suddenly competing in the open market, where the party card will no longer protect them.''