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COLUMN ONE : Nicaragua Pulls Up Red Carpet : Leftists, idealists and fugitives flocked to the Sandinista-led nation in the '80s. Now, embarrassing scandals push the new government to crack down on unwanted foreigners.

June 21, 1994|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

According to a former Sandinista intelligence officer who handled many of the foreign cases, Casimirri first arrived in Nicaragua, from Libya, in 1983. He obtained Nicaraguan citizenship in 1988 using the name Guido di Giambattista. Rene Vivas, deputy interior minister in the Sandinista government and former police chief in the Chamorro government, signed the order.

Casimirri married a Nicaraguan, Raquel Garcia, and they have two children. Mendieta canceled his citizenship, but an appellate court recently stayed the order.

Sandinista militants defend the protection they gave radicals.

"The terrorist thing is very relative," said Sandinista political science professor Silvio Prado. "Yitzhak Rabin directed a terrorist commando unit before Israel became a state, and now he is a chief of state. Don't forget that in the '70s, the armed struggle was an option for many people. Who is to determine which terrorism is good and which terrorism is bad?"

U.S. officials do not share that ambivalence, pointing out that the actions of terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades and ETA have claimed many innocent victims.

"The Sandinista Front, feeling itself under attack, felt they had the right to defend themselves with many sorts of actions which perhaps in the past could be justified according to their opinion," said Chamorro's chief adviser, Antonio Lacayo. "The problem is, today that is over."

One flaw in the government's efforts, say critics, is that all foreigners who sought out Nicaragua's revolution end up getting painted with the same "terrorist" brush.

In addition to the radical leftists, there were pacifists, social workers and doctors for whom Sandinista Nicaragua seemed a romantic challenge, a chance to participate in a society trying to remake itself.

Barbara Stewart, a Canadian specialist in library science, moved to Nicaragua in 1983, attracted by the excitement of potential social change. Instead, she witnessed a country go to war, then enter a peace that it seems unable to reconcile with the past.

Stewart, 43, spent the last 11 years setting up databases for think tanks and other organizations and teaching computer skills. She became a citizen in 1990 and is among those whose status the government is questioning.

While she does not feel threatened by the government's campaign, Stewart opposes it because it ignores due process and the norms of international law.

"I'm not a terrorist, I'm not a criminal," she said. "I've done everything to contribute to my field in Nicaragua. I work seven days a week. If someone wants to attack me as someone who doesn't deserve (citizenship), well, I'm very defensible. Many others are not."

Still, Stewart has decided to sell her house and leave for Los Angeles, where she plans to work at a university library. It is not just the harassment and constant uncertainty that have taken their toll. Like many who were once true believers, Stewart has become disenchanted with the Sandinista Front and generally discouraged about Nicaragua's future.

"I have no hope for Nicaragua," she said. "That's why I'm leaving."

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