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Voices of Nicaragua: The People Look Ahead

April 24, 1990|RICHARD BOUDREAUX and TRACY WILKINSON

Francisco Castro, 29, left his coffee and cattle farm a decade ago to join the Contras. One brother had been killed, the other jailed, he said, for refusing to serve in the Sandinista army. Fighting under the name Venado (deer hunter), he survived a conflict that claimed nearly 30,000 lives.

After learning of the Sandinistas' election defeat by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Castro led 20 men from the U.S.-backed rebels' base camp in Yamales, Honduras, on the long hike home. Interviewed on a hill in northern Nicaragua, he was sidestepping Sandinista patrols and awaiting orders to demobilize. While pleased with Chamorro's victory, he remains so distrustful of the Sandinistas that the idea of disbanding and disarming is frightening.

"I did not join the resistance for what the Sandinistas were doing to my family. I joined for what they were doing to many families, to many campesinos . They were destroying families everywhere. . . .

"We will remain as fighters until we see Nicaragua freed. Everything that is Sandinista must disappear. The Sandinistas must take steps toward disarming. If we disarm, and they do not . . . they would come and kill us. . . .

"We are not supposed to have contact with them. But in many parts the Sandinistas are after us. If they continue advancing, we will advance too. The people are with us, and they advise us when the Sandinistas are coming. . . .

"I don't know if the Sandinistas confiscated (our) land. I don't know if my family is alive, or if they left. . . . For many in the resistance, our families are more or less lost. . . . One leaves (home) at 18 or 19, returns now. You do not know what has happened. We have lost our youth in this war."

Bernicia Sanders has worked 18 of her 38 years for Fanatex, a large clothing factory she calls "my university." In 1989 the Sandinista Front named her "Builder of the Future," its highest distinction for a worker.

This year Sanders and her Sandinista-led textile workers' union have assumed a new role: defender of Fanatex, and its 958 employees' stake in management, against Chamorro aides who want to sell off such state-owned plants.

"The workers kept this factory operating through war and (a U.S.) economic embargo. Many times we were on the verge of shutdown and had to fabricate new spare parts. (Chamorro's) government cannot act against the workers. She should inject new capital and improve conditions here. She can do many things the war kept us from doing. If Fanatex were broke, she could sell it. But we made a 26% profit last year.

"A lot of former owners have returned to demand their companies back. Well, they have to come down to earth and realize that the rules are not the same as before '79. The workers are not robots any more. . . .

"Women at Fanatex have gained equal pay and longer maternity leave. We have a day care center; before (the revolution), there was none. We have a health clinic round the clock; before, it closed at night. We have a lunchroom; before, we ate at our looms. . . . What if a new owner said, 'OK, these benefits cost too much'? It would lead to a confrontation. The workers would seize the plant but keep it operating. . . .

"The unions are not going to make irresponsible (wage) demands. But after 100 days, people expect an improvement. If they can't buy what they need to eat, there will be chaos."

Leonardo Somarriba, 52, an American-trained civil engineer, fled Nicaragua in 1981 after a year in jail on charges of anti-Sandinista plotting. In exile, he managed the Contras' finances and set up a print shop as a family business.

After the election, Somarriba and about 70 exiled businessmen chartered a plane and spent a week in Nicaragua testing the climate for a possible return. He spoke in Miami about his and the group's impressions.

"The Sandinistas' defeat was a total surprise. We had braced ourselves for a Sandinista maneuver to come out on top. Nobody had any plans to go back. . . .

"(After visiting), our first conclusion is that this (changeover) is an irreversible step, a new chapter in Nicaraguan history. It means the end of the Sandinistas in their present form and the beginning of something else that is different, but we don't know exactly what. . . .

"I had a fairly long conversation with Lenin Cerna (the Sandinista security chief, during a casual encounter on a beach). He said that we all had to look forward, not back, that we couldn't get into another civil war. . . .

"On the other hand, the economy is so devastated . . . business prospects are grim. You can't just arrive there and get back on the train as if it never stopped. However, there is enthusiasm as far as having a new world opening up. . . . My plan is to travel frequently to Nicaragua and perhaps complete the move in two or three years. (Miami) is foreign to us. Nicaragua is home. . . .

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