MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The elderly woman in tight gray curls and pink plastic glasses made her way to the microphone to have a word with President Daniel Ortega about the Central American peace plan he signed.
Aida Miranda, a member of the militant Sandinista organization for mothers of war dead, argued against granting amnesty to several thousand jailed former National Guardsmen who had served dictator Anastasio Somoza or the leaders of the U.S.-backed contras now fighting to oust the government.
"They say our hearts are full of hate and rancor, as if those feelings were not logical," Miranda said. "Well, they are logical. . . . When they talk of a total amnesty, it reopens our wounds."
Ortega and members of his Cabinet listened to many such protests during a recent daylong meeting with more than 1,500 women. And in scores of other meetings in recent weeks, Sandinista leaders have been trying to build support for the Central American accord that Ortega signed Aug. 7 and to explain some of the potentially unpopular measures they are taking.
At the meeting, Ortega rejected the notion of granting "total amnesty," which contra leaders and conservative political parties are pressing for, but he left open the possibility that a partial amnesty could cover former National Guardsmen who have not been convicted of crimes.
"We cannot say that 100% of the Somocista guards committed crimes," Ortega said. "The fact of having been a Somocista guard does not mean a person cannot be favored by a partial amnesty."
Interior Minister Tomas Borge says there are 3,000 National Guardsmen in jail and 1,000 prisoners accused of being contras, but opposition human rights activists say the figures are much higher.
Steps Already Taken
The Central American peace accord, aimed primarily at ending the guerrilla wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, calls on governments to reach cease-fires with rebels and offer amnesty programs by Nov. 7. It also calls for such democratic measures as press freedom, regularly scheduled free elections and the rights of all political parties to function.
So far, the Sandinistas have allowed the reopening of the opposition newspaper La Prensa and the opposition church radio station, Radio Catolica. They have suspended prior censorship, which had been imposed under a wartime state of emergency, and have permitted opposition demonstrations calling for the ouster of the eight-year-old government.
On successive Sundays, about 2,000 right-wing activists marched through the streets of Managua and Masaya in the largest outdoor opposition gatherings since the 1984 presidential elections. They chanted slogans demanding freedom of all political prisoners, an end to the military draft and the ouster of Cuban advisers from Nicaragua.
"The people of Nicaragua, tired of so many insults and so much terror in these last eight years, are putting direct pressure on the Sandinistas to comply with the peace agreement," Social Christian Party President Erick Ramirez told one rally. His speech was broadcast nationwide on two privately owned radio stations.
The peace accord requires the government to lift the state of emergency and all restrictions on the media and political organizing, also by Nov. 7. Sandinista leaders say they plan to do so.
To drum up support from their political base for these changes, the Sandinistas are emphasizing that there are some concessions they will not grant.
They have said they will not give back property that was confiscated from landowners and redistributed to peasants; they will not take away urban lots they gave to the poor to build houses; they will not return nationalized factories.
And they will not negotiate with the contra leadership. Instead, the army has declared a unilateral cease-fire in three designated war zones and sought negotiations with contra field commanders rather than their leaders.
However, in Washington on Thursday, rebel leaders said they will fly to Managua in an attempt to force direct cease-fire talks with Ortega. In making the announcement, the rebels' seven-member directorate said they will ask Nicaragua's Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, to act as a mediator in setting up the talks.
The peace plan, based on an initiative of President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, does not require direct talks with armed groups, but Arias has criticized the Sandinistas' unilateral plan as unworkable and has urged them to negotiate a cease-fire with the contras.
No Shared Power
The accord also does not require the government to share power with the rebels--another aspect that the Sandinistas are stressing to their supporters.
"When we say we won't (hold a) dialogue with the contras, it means we don't have any political question to settle with anybody," Luis Carrion, one of the nine members of the ruling Sandinista directorate, said on a recent radio call-in show.