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Envoy to Nicaragua Cites Rights Progress

February 13, 1996|RENEE TAWA

Golden West College student Kleopatra Caburi was required to attend the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua's speech on campus Monday, but she went away with more than just a civics class lesson.

Caburi, a 36-year-old nursing student, got the chance to ask Ambassador John F. Maisto about one of her concerns: Nicaragua's record on human rights since the 1990 ouster of the nation's leftist Sandinista regime.

"They want American dollars," she told him after his speech to an audience of 60. "They should give us something--a better record on human rights."

Maisto, who stopped at the college on a California speaking tour, talked about Nicaragua's progress on human rights and other issues under the democratically elected government of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

The U.S. government is underwriting the Organization of American States' human rights monitoring activities in Nicaragua, said Maisto, who has been ambassador to the Central American country since September 1993.

The organization is dealing with human rights abuses stemming from a civil war in the 1980s in which the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels.

A recent spate of Nicaraguan political violence--including church bombings--is being addressed by the police, who "simply will not permit mob rule in the streets," Maisto said.

Nicaragua's progress can be monitored in small steps, such as the "positive, festive" reaction to Pope John Paul II's visit last week, he said. Sandinista hecklers shouted the pope down on his 1983 visit.

Also, the U.S. government has paid for new school textbooks, replacing old ones that glorified the Sandinista revolution, he said. The old books taught the alphabet with such examples as "F" is for "fusil"--firearms.

With the civil war over, Nicaragua is trying to rebuild its economy, the ambassador said. In the past two years, inflation has been reduced to 11% to 12%, compared with the 13,000% in the last year of the previous government.

Nicaragua is trying to find a niche market in the United States for its products, including sweet onions, mangoes and sesame, he said.

"Central America is no longer a geopolitical battleground," Maisto said. "The name of the game is now economic competition. . . . Nicaragua can't afford to lag behind its neighbors."

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