Page 5


soldiers jump off at various points to join their companions, camping along streams while on patrol, disappearing in groups behind ridges. I left for Jalapa from Ocotal on December 30. On December 31, the town of San Fernando was attacked. San Fernando lies about two-thirds of the way from Ocotal to Jalapa. Casualties were reported in the intense fighting. Jalapa is a militarized town, Sandinista soldiers, popular militia, and Sandinista youth populate it, along with residents and refugees from outlying areas. A billboard outside the town, portraying a larger-than-life Sandinista soldier painted in sweeping, electric colors, proclaims: “Desde ra frontera Jalapala Firmeca la Revolucion.” \(From the Jalapan border the Revoluthe day, soldiers congregate at taverns listening to the BeeGees, Emmanuel, Julio Yglesias. and local Nicaraguan groups. At night they stand guard at different locations in Jalapa behind tall sandbag barricades. Some days before this visit, the contras announced through their radio station in Tegulcigalpa, Honduras, that they had taken Jalapa on December 22 after intense fighting and that there were more than 2.000 casualties spread evenly on both sides. The report received newsplay in some U.S. newspapers. No generalized attack, however, on Jalapa or the border area took place. A nearby coffee cooperative, El Coco, was attacked. North Americans in Jalapa reported that 20 women and young people were killed. AMONG THOSE LIVING in Jalapa is that group of U.S. citizens participating in a per manent Witness for Peace. Father George Dyer of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville had been living for some weeks in the area, participating in the coffee harvest and welcoming other Americans who travel there weekly for Witness for Peace activities. He said that should Jalapa itself be attacked, the North Americans there will remain to take care of the wounded and elderly and undertake fire-fighting responsibilities. “We realize the possible dangers,” he said, “but we have committed ourselves to doing this work. At night, you hear shots around here. When you’re out in the fields [during coffee harvest] and you hear gunfire, everyone stops working, listens, and looks around. Then work continues.” Jalapa headquarters for Witness for Peace is spacious in this town of brick, adobe, wood, and mortar buildings with tile roofs. Inside, Fr. Dyer and other U.S. citizens welcome groups of North Americans, who participate in the coffee harvest and speak with local and national Sandinista officials. “Almost all the more established [U.S.] churches are represented [in the peace initiative],” he said. “Also represented is the Jewish community.” The government .. . desires foreign investment, particularly labor intensive industrial enter prises to reduce unemployment. In Jalapa, I spoke with a resident who emphasized his concern for peace with the U.S. but seemed apprehensive about what I was doing there. He pointed to his children, a girl of four years and her younger brother, who hung back in the shadows of the house. “Here, take a picture of my girl,” he said. “Don’t you think she’s pretty? She’s the reason why we don’t want war, here.” The conversation ended some minutes later. As I walked away, I heard him say to friends inside the house, his voice rising with great emotion, “Who knows why that North American is taking pictures of our streets?” Another man cutting wood at a street corner stated the need for expanded trade with the U.S. so that farmers could obtain machinery and replacement parts for agricultural production. He said machinery breakdowns of U.S. tractors is an obstacle to increasing production. About 50 members of a Sandinista youth brigade came into town that afternoon, just before the rains turned Jalapa streets into mud. They had been harvesting coffee. Their leader, a woman, told them they should get ready to work again Monday. Group members objected and then debated when to begin another round of harvesting, eventually agreeing on Tuesday, before splitting up. Fr. Dyer said one of his most moving experiences occurred the Sunday before Christmas, “when two boys, 13 and 14, were shot not far from here. Their families came here for the funeral blessing. . . . This is what makes one ashamed to be an American. After all, they were just children who were killed. They were in a work brigade, harvesting beans, corn, tobacco. And the contras attacked the brigade.” Dyer said from what he has experienced of Nicaraguan life, U.S. coverage “generally is slanted in support of Reagan administration policies.” Reporters working out of Hotel Intercontinental in Managua rarely come out and talk with people. He said, if those reporters did leave Managua, they’d witness funerals for young people, such as ones he has helped conduct. They’d also discover “the reality of the people of Nicaragua, their great desire for peace with the U.S.” Dyer said, “What so many American citizens who come up here don’t realize is that Nicaraguans don’t really care whether their revolution has any meaning for outsiders, whether aspects of it can be borrowed in part or whole in other countries. They just want to be left alone to live.” He discussed the demonstration he and surviving family members of the Cooperative El Coco held at the U.S. Embassy in Managua. The group carried with them the bloodied clothing of the children and women who died during a massacre by the contras. As they came toward the embassy’s front gate, gatekeepers hurriedly locked it up with a chain. “A group of us went to the side gate,” he said. “I called in, stating we already had an appointment scheduled.” The appointment was with the second ranking official at the embassy. The Gatekeeper responded that “no one by that name” was at the embassy. The group was then told that Ambassador Anthony Quainton was in but was busy. “Then he called in one more time,” Dyer said, “and told me, ‘The ambassador is not in.’ “We then presented him the effects of the people killed. The gatekeeper thrust the clothes back and said, ‘Am I supposed to take these in, or are you going to take these back?’ “Then he walked away,” Dyer said. “The campesinos asked me, if I was an American citizen, why wasn’t I allowed to speak to my country’s representative. That’s a good question.” The next morning at 4:15 I waited for the bus at the Jalapa marketplace, in the town’s center. The transport was scheduled to leave between 5 and 6 a.m. A butcher, meanwhile, was cutting up sides of beef for sale to town residents. In the twilight before dawn, adobe and brick walls of surrounding buildings were illuminated by a street light. I realized guitar music had been playing for some time. In a small building an evangelical worship service was taking place, nearing its conclusion. Among those worshipping were women, children, and soldiers in their teens. Much joy was evident as they sang, the same exhilaration you see in a North American Pentecostal service. Some 18 MARCH 9, 1984