Sandinistas Reassess Loyalties After Defeat

Despite charged political atmosphere, both camps seem eager to slow radical changes and avoid precipitating a crisis. NICARAGUA'S TRANSITION

WHEN Nicaragua's next minister of information walks into his or her ministry in about seven weeks, the newly minted official will find a foyer with spray-painted Sandinista slogans covering the walls, windows, pillars, doors, and stairs. Such was the condition of the building, a part of the Government House complex here, following a poor-sportsmanship binge by vandals after the Sandinistas were trounced in the Feb. 25 elections.

Such graffiti provide a good metaphor for the obstacles facing the government of President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro as it enters a state and bureaucracy that was created by the Sandinistas.

Analysts here wonder how the defeated supporters of the Sandinistas will act in their many positions in the Army, police, state, and its bureaucracy?

``The UNO [National Opposition Union] won with 55 percent of the voting population,'' says one European diplomat here. ``But 40 percent still voted for the Sandinistas. And where are they? What will they do? How will they react to the new government?''

That question reverberates throughout this country as it undertakes the first transition of power from a defeated ruling party to a triumphant opposition in the history of Nicaragua.

``The problem,'' however, says one Latin American ambassador, ``is that no one knows how to react.''

Supporters of both sides, he explained, are still reacting to the vitriolic campaign rhetoric that painted opponents as the virtual incarnation of evil and source of all problems. And while many people appear to be awaiting the worst, they nevertheless are hoping a new political culture is about to be launched.

``We always had total victory and total defeat in the past,'' Ramiro Gurdian, head of the private Agricultural Producers' Union and a possible candidate for minister of agriculture, said March 6. And the loser always made civil war.

``That is what must change. What these elections were about was the loser, not the winner: making the loser stay in the country, stay in politics and stay out of war.''

Indeed, there seem to be mutual pressures working on both sides to slow any attempt at radical change or reversal that could precipitate a crisis.

For example, sources from both camps say the all-important negotiations over the fate of the Army and security forces are progressing slowly but steadily.

Securing the military's future under the UNO government, whose president-elect promised to ``throw all the arms into the sea,'' is the essential step to securing a peaceful transition of power, according to numerous Nicaraguan and diplomatic sources.

Yet even if this occurs, it will take time before the loyalty of the armed forces can be counted on by the UNO government.

``This will keep the UNO from trying to take back land or whatever people feel is a popular gain of the revolution, and could spark Sandinista-led protests because they won't be able to count on how the police might react'' to quell such disorders, a Latin ambassador says.

But he and other sources, including one knowledgeable Sandinista, say that a significant, though unspecified, number of the military voted for the UNO.

As a result, the Sandinistas cannot count on controlling the armed forces once the UNO government takes over, according to some analysts here.

Most here agree that there will be no overnight changes.

``Slow. Slowness. This process must proceed slowly. It is and it shall,'' says Mr. Gurdian, who has a record as an implacable foe of the Sandinistas who has been persecuted by them in the past.

Indeed, for the approximately 130,000 public employees here, there are pressures that will mitigate their ``carrying on the struggle'' by other means, such as bureaucratic sabotage.

``We've been told already that the civil service law will protect us'' from political firings, says a employee in the Information Ministry. ``But they've also told us that we've got to do our job well, maybe even better, because they'll be looking for any excuse to fire us.''

It is a lesson that many Nicaraguans are learning in what are still very tense days here: That the worst predictions of either side need not come true.

``I don't see any moves by the Sandinistas'' to preempt the transition by a coup or other means, the European diplomat says. ``But I hear a lot of people saying it will happen,'' the diplomat said, referring to opposition sources who can't believe some historical metamorphosis seems to be under way.

``Some of them just can't believe it,'' the diplomat said.

Still, many people fear the worse and are preparing for it.

``I know there are 20 or 30 crazies who are giving guns to whoever wants them,'' says a source with intimate contacts with the Sandinista Front. He says this is because people believe Sandinista propaganda that the UNO victory would mean avenging right-wingers would descend on Managua.

Still, others are concerned that certain bills have accrued during 10 years of Sandinista rule which are now due.

But for those who should be the most hard line, like Gurdian, ``There are no bills to be paid; Only problems to be resolved.''

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