Extra! Extra! Nicaragua opposition paper is back

The generator was humming again at La Prensa Thursday morning, as workers scurried to ready the opposition daily's first edition for 15 months. Printers unwrapped huge rolls of newsprint, electricians fixed lamps, and mechanics wrestled with machines that have been idle since the Sandinista government closed the paper by decree on June 26 last year.

In his office, La Prensa editor Pablo Antonio Cuadra, who returned home late Wednesday night from his self-imposed exile in Texas, was putting the finishing touches to his first editorial.

``It's about journalistic responsibility,'' he said. ``We want to make it clear from the beginning that our responsibility is not to the Sandinista Front, it is to Nicaragua and to democracy.''

Under the agreement that La Prensa's publisher Violeta Chamorro reached with the Nicaraguan government 10 days ago, the paper will be free from censorship for the first time since 1982.

In return, La Prensa's board of directors pledged to abide by ``the responsible exercise of journalism.''

La Prensa was closed ``indefinitely'' last year by a government decree widely interpreted as retaliation for United States congressional approval of $100 million in contra aid the day before.

Accusing the paper of ``seeking to justify North American aggression'' against Nicaragua, the government said it would not be allowed to reopen until Washington stops supporting the contra rebels.

Since then, the paper allowed its plant to run down, selling off some of its equipment to keep paying salaries, Mrs. Chamorro says. Many of its former reporters left the country, and several of them have joined the contras.

``Only four of our eight printing machines are working,'' lamented La Prensa co-director Jaime Chamorro.

``And only five journalists are left,'' he said.

Of the 15 reporters and editors who used to work on the paper, ``many have left and they are not thinking of coming back yet, because they are not confident that La Prensa will last long.''

Mr. Chamorro says he hopes to publish 150,000 copies of the afternoon paper on Thursday, more than double its normal pre-closure print run.

Mr. Cuadra, one of Nicaragua's foremost poets, said La Prensa would be uncompromising in its defense ``of the line we have always defended, news with freedom.''

``We are the thermometer measuring whether these changes [that the Sandinista government is introducing to comply with Central America's new peace plan] are real,'' Cuadra added.

``If they impose censorship on us again, or if they use hidden censorship, harassing our workers, we shall close the paper,'' he threatened.

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