MANAGUA, NICARAGUA — THE ``image thing'' may give Dan Quayle a bit of strife. But his woes are minor compared to the struggles of Nicaragua's Vice President Virgilio Godoy Reyes. Mr. Godoy has been ostracized by his own president. When President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took over in April, Godoy was locked out of the presidential offices. He has no government office, budget, phone, nor secretary. He is not invited to official dinners or Cabinet meetings.
When Mrs. Chamorro leaves the country, she does not hand the reins of power over to Godoy as is customary. Indeed, to prevent any possibility of Godoy taking charge in her absence, she recently pushed through a law clarifying the Constitution.
The old guidelines say the vice president assumes authority when the president is temporarily absent. A ``temporary absence'' is now defined as longer than 30 days. ``Since no president ever leaves their country for more than 30 days, Virgilio will never be temporarily president,'' observes one diplomat.
The split between Godoy and Chamorro is deep, personal, and goes back to a power struggle within the 14-party National Opposition Union (UNO) coalition during the election campaign. The Political Council, which governs the UNO coalition, fought to influence Chamorro's policies.
But she preferred the counsel of close friends and family, such as Antonio Lacayo Oranguyen and Alfredo C'esar. Godoy was among those publicly taking verbal shots at Chamorro. When she won election, her advisers took top Cabinet posts, further excluding the UNO council.
``My sin,'' says Godoy, sitting in his shabby Independent Liberal Party office, ``is that I'm not a member of the Lacayo, Chamorro, Barrios, or C'esar families. The families of government.''
Although Godoy's influence has fallen, he still meets with individual Cabinet members. At times he has rallied more than half of UNO's majority in the National Assembly to his causes.
During the past seven months, the pariah vice president has become the government's chief critic on the right. Godoy spearheaded a party challenge to Chamorro's decision to keep Sandinista Gen. Humberto Ortega as head of the Army. ``I begged her not to do it,'' he says. ``I said we should comply with our electoral promises not to make a pact with the Sandinistas.''
On several occasions, the UNO coalition has almost shattered into Godoy and Chamorro factions, the latter supporting her reconciliation policy - a gradual, rather than a sharp reversal of Sandinista policies. But Godoy argues that people voted overwhelmingly for change.
``The solution is not between the president and vice president,'' he says. ``The solution is to include the UNO's program.''
By banishing Godoy, Chamorro has created a leader for conservative forces, says political analyst Oscar Ren'e Vargas. ``Ostracizing Godoy was tactical political mistake,'' he says.
During the Sandinista strikes in July, it was Godoy who proposed arming right-wing supporters as a counter to the leftist Sandinistas. Last month, Godoy was accused of participating in a conspiracy to use anti-Sandinista protests along the main east-west highway to pressure Chamorro into resigning. Godoy denies the charges, branding the episode ``a stupid Sandinista trick.''
Overall, the treatment received by the vice president does not sit well even with Chamorro supporters. ``He was elected by the people to be part of this government,'' says Carlos Garay Tellez, the UNO mayor of Tecolostote.
Although denying any role in its formation, Godoy has allied himself with a new mayors' movement that wants police reforms. The mayors in the countryside ``are Godoy's social base,'' Vargas says. But a Western diplomat here disagrees that Godoy will gain support, that could eventually lead to a split.
``Godoy is out of touch. Nicaraguans are tired of violence,'' the diplomat says. ``This country requires stability above all if it is to survive economically. It requires new political thinking. I think Godoy will become more and more isolated if he doesn't change.''