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Cross-Currents in Nicaragua Managua IN MANAGUA, Nicaragua’s capital, in restaurants, discoteques, corner bars and popular eateries wher ever people go to have a good time discussion seems almost inevitably to come up concerning the role of the U.S. in Central America and whether, or when, a direct invasion of Nicaragua by U.S. troops could take place. The signs of readiness for a possible invasion are everywhere in Nicaragua: sandbagged store-fronts in various neighborhoods operating as headquarters for the popular militia; the regular homage Sandinista leaders give to the heroes and martyrs of the revolution; the public funerals for those who died in combat in the north; and photographs of fallen sons and daughters given weeping or shell-shocked mothers. These pictures later appear on the walls of homes. In Leon during the Christmas holiday season a funeral attracting more than 2,000 residents was held for 18 fallen popular militia and Sandinista army soldiers. Eighteen Nicaraguans buried in a country of 2.6 million people translates into close to 1,500 U.S. soldiers in a country with 220 million. Among the Nicaraguans, young and old, male and female, there are those who elect to join the Sandinista army or popular militia, who will die, if necessary, to defend their country’s independence; those who favor the counter-revolution, fearing what socialism means for their future, who make plans to leave their country, counting up their dollars; and those who stand undecided between the revolution and the counter-revolution, who would leave the country if drafted. Some Nicaraguans know friends and acquaintances fallen on both sides. One man, Narciso Galvan, a photographer, told me as we traveled southward to Managua from Esteli that he personally knew one of the 18 Sandinista soldiers Scott Lind is a reporter for the Valley Monitor. By Scott Lind remembered at the Leon funeral. For that reason, he said, the funeral ceremony had special personal significance. He also knew someone from the other side, a contra who died fighting in the mountains. They met each other as boys in neighboring towns, becoming friends. Narciso expressed hope that one day the fighting would cease and that the economy would improve sufficiently so he could resume his photography business with his Japanese, Russian, North American and Cuban cameras. He finds much difficulty obtaining photographic supplies in an economy dragged down by war. Seeming contradictions at least to a North American tempted to view realities outside the U.S. in absolute terms typify Nicaraguan life. For example, Sandinista leaders make continual references to the Reagan administration’s funding of the contras. Nicaragua’s newspapers with the exception of La Prensa, which deemphasizes the war situation to the north publish daily accounts of how many campesinos died in a region in Nuevo Segovia or Ocotal province this past week; how many contras were killed 123, according to La Barricada, from mid-December to the end of the year; and how many Sandinista soldiers were honored at public funerals. The photos of mothers holding the photographs of their fallen children appear regularly in both La Barricada and El Nuevo Diario. \(Again, in La Prensa, that news ordinaradministration may be depicted as one with Nicaraguan blood on its hands in an editorial appearing in El Nuevo Diario over the Christmas holidays, but the citizens of the U.S. visiting Nicaragua are treated with friendliness and respect. No rancor, no harsh words issue from the mouths of Nicaraguans. In part, this basic friendliness toward North Americans stems from the Sandinista government’s stated policy toward North Americans. Interior Minister Tomas Borge decided in July not to require visas from U.S. citizens; they need only fill out the form on the plane between San Salvador airport and Managua. In addition, the regular appearances of U.S. tour groups, in large part opposed to Reagan administration policy, receive prominent play in the two newspapers supporting the Sandinista revolution. Government officials also emphasize their concern for peaceful relations with American citizens, if not the U.S. government. When Borge, the last surviving member of the original Sandinista guerrilla group, on July 4 told a group of Americans, “I love Americans” while a birthday cake in honor of the U.S. Independence Day stood perhaps 30 feet from him in Maria de los Angeles Catholic Church in Managua his statement was reproduced in the two major newspapers. The statement, however, did not appear in a UPI account of the day. To a certain extent this official policy of warmth toward U.S. citizens is based in self-interest. But to view this basic friendliness toward Americans in purely political terms is to overlook the human dimensions. A U.S. citizen, speaking with Nicaraguans, may be surprised at the number of families who have relatives living in the U.S. Radio Sandino, a “voice” of the Sandinista movement. may also strike a U.S. citizen as contradictory, considering its program content, both its news broadcasts and what is played as entertainment on the airwaves. The radio regularly plays a full-throated male chorus intoning, “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido.” The radio then broadcasts its signature: “Radio Sandino: Vanguardia de la Revolucion.” This, before drifting back into North American soft rock, Latin American and English-language reggae music. SUMMERTIME REIGNED during the Christmas-New Year’s holidays in Nicaragua. Imagine a beautiful lake lagoon surrounded on three sides by rounded, tropic-forested 16 MARCH 9, 1984