Why Nicaragua's peasants support their government

''Why does your Mr. Reagan want to take away our revolution?'' asked the Nicaraguan peasant holding a small daughter in his arms. The paramount concern of this and other poor peasants (campesinos) we visited recently in Nicaraguan villages is why the land they have and the health care they now receive are being threatened by US-supported rebel attacks from Honduras.

What the American Embassy in Nicaragua describes as ''that nasty little war on the border'' is really an unprovoked invasion by supporters of former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, with tragic human consequences. Approximately 500 campesinos have been murdered and thousands driven from their villages. Coffee farms have been destroyed and millions of dollars in food and farm machinery lost by the people.

If this terrorism is intended to weaken the Sandinista-led nation, it is having the opposite effect. Peasants repeatedly told us of their strong determination to protect improved life opportunities brought about through four years of development.

At one rural cooperative families greeted us with guitar music, poetry, and lunch, proudly showing us their extensive fields of corn and beans. They are among the thousands of peasant families who have received title to land and who are working to make Nicaragua self-sufficient in basic grains by 1984.

Two miles from the Honduran border at the Hermanos Martinez Cooperative, other families are building their resettled community after fleeing the ''contras'' who had murdered 20 of their relatives. Two of their leaders could scarcely contain their enthusiasm over the achievements of the year: scores of new houses built by the peasants themselves with government-supplied materials, regular health care, child nutrition centers, and 100 acres under cultivation. Only the ''bad nerves'' caused by the ''contra'' threat remain.

The state farm we visited at Daraili had been virtually destroyed by the rebels just two weeks before we arrived. In the shadow of gutted buildings and burned crops villagers and children who had escaped death told of their resolve to remain on the land. They are among the 70,000 members of the independent farm worker organization which works state and private farms. In such farms and cooperatives peasants work the land and build their future bewildered by the US government to the north.

In Managua US officials attempted to excuse the US sponsorship of the destruction we had witnessed. But they contradicted the justification offered by President Reagan for aiding the murderous contras by admitting that Nicaraguan arms aid for El Salvador's revolution had virtually ended months ago.

US officials acknowledge that the peasants strongly support their government, and that the Sandinistas would easily win the scheduled 1985 election were it to be held now. Though these officials tar the Sandinista government with the ''Marxist-Leninist'' label, they also acknowledge the economic pluralism fostered by the country's leadership. Three quarters of the economy is still in private hands. The real surprise is that in the face of unrelenting pressure from the US government the Nicaraguans have maintained a very open society, initiated a participatory development process based on a mixed economy, and remain quite candid about their mistakes.

The US makes a facile but unconvincing case for its policy in Nicaragua. We left shocked at the unprovoked human destruction the US supports there and the weak reasons offered to justify it. In a moment of candor, one US embassy official stated that ''geopolitical considerations require that we eliminate the Sandinista virus in our backyard.''

Clearly, what the US government fears is not Sandinista export of their revolution through subversion, but the very existence of the Nicaraguan revolution itself. The example of a humanitarian revolution, supported by the people, is itself seen as a threat to US interests. A nation which freed itself from a US-supported dictator is now creating a society based on economic pluralism and meeting the basic human needs of its people. And policymakers in Washington see this as a threat.

We were unable to answer the peasant who asked us why.

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