Page 19


The War Continues in Washington S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., has led %I the resistance against appropriation of aid to the fledgling democracy in Nicaragua. Helms, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is holding up the $116 million aid package in hopes of purging Violeta Chamorro’ s coalition government of remnants of Sandinista rule. Helms’ stand against the aid comes at a crucial juncture for the government in Managua, as it tries to establish a democratic system under the weight of recovery from civil war and natural disaster. “The withholding of aid threatens to destabilize an amazing reconciliation process on the behalf of the Chamorro government,” said Michael Conroy, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. That Chamorro is still in power in a country with an unemployment rate of 58 percent in one of the most unstable regions on Earth is a testament to her power to heal some incredibly deep wounds, he said. Her decision to keep Humberto Ortega, brother of former President Daniel Ortega, as Defense Minister and other Sandinista officials in charge of the police and judicial systems has helped to stabilize her government every where except in Washington, whose leaders helped put her in power to begin with. So who wields the real power in Managua? Those with money. As reported by Dan Dougan in Mesoamerica, a digest of Central American news published in Costa Rica, Chamorro bowed to Washington’s demands by replacing a dozen high-level police officials, although she replaced the police commander with another Sandinista, but she appointed former Contra Ronald Avils as Vice Minister of the Interior, which supervises the police. That may not be enough to pry the $1 million from Helm’s grasp. At least’ $50 million is expected to be appropriated, in October, but the rest probably will be conditioned on further concessions. In the meantime, Nicaragua’s nascent democratic government is saddled with debt and is in no financial position to help its people who were devastated by an earthquake and massive tidal waves. Its immediate future is left in the hands of the Senate and the U.S. State Department, which will have a great deal to do with whether the government of what is left of Nicaragua will be autonomous or U.S.-controlled. Jay Brida they don’t give me work because I’m disabled. I sell gum and candy on the street. I am just trying to survive.” Castarieda said he took bullets for a revolution that has betrayed him. His brother was killed in the conflict, and a friend lost both legs in the war. Castafieda wants a wheelchair for his friend and said he appealed to former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega for help for needy veterans. But Ortega, Castafieda said, has taken good care of himself and has nothing to offer the veterans and their families. Ortega, head of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, makes his home inside the hilltop FSLN headquarters compound in an exclusive section of Managua, where armed military guards watch the walls that cover almost a city block. The murals on the walls around Ortega’s house depict idealized images of Nicaraguan children at play images you won’t see on the streets of Managua. The Castafieda family lives in a 40-squarefoot shack of pink corrugated tin on the edge of sewage-filled Lake Managua, into which effluent from the top of the hill flows. Unlike sewage from the hill, which flows through municipal pipes, raw sewage from Castaiieda’ s barrio flows on top of the ground into the lake. The scene of raw sewage flowing in the streets is common in the capital. Beside one wall in the Castaiieda family’s tiny house stands a single folding cot about three feet off the floor. Along another wall stand boxes that serve both as storage and a countertop; a kerosene-burning hot plate stands ready to do the family’s cooking. Lying atop boxes on another wall is a blue-bound New Testament. Picture pages several of nearnaked women clipped from magazines decorate the walls. Machismo is alive and well in Managua. In the windowless hut, lit only by . sunlight streaming through the open door, Castarieda pulled off his shirt and showed a scar from a bullet wound to his shoulder and pointed to another that marks his knee. Midway through our stay in Managua, we did what appears to be common practice throughout the city we shared a meal with street kids. We had stopped at an outdoor cafe in the park at Plaza Espana at quitting time one evening when a wave of children from the intersection descended on the cafe patrons, offering up scratch-and-lose lottery tickets and waiting to see if the buyers uncovered winning combinations. The youthful sellers stick around to beg the ticket if it turned out to be a winner. Other kids simply held out their hands. Two of them were determined to pry us loose from some money and we gave up on our half-hearted dismissal tactics and shared a pizza with them. With the promise of food, the two 10-yearolds hushed their clamor and pounced onto a single chair at the table. . The streets have been almost as unkind to them as the revolution was to Orlando Castafieda. One showed a recent gouged-out wound in his leg a casualty suffered in a day’s work at the Plaza Espana crossroads. His friend carried a hideous scar on his arm left over from injuries in a fire. They survive and they cope,’ albeit poorly. As poorly as Managuans are coping now, many say they expect more difficult times ahead as campesinos, giving up the struggle in the countryside against Recontras \(Contras still in and tight credit for seed and fertilizer, migrate to the city hoping to find jobs and services. But jobs and services are only slightly more plentiful in the city than in the country, and most new city dwellers become squatters, taking over buildings gutted by the 1972 earthquake and even erecting cardboard partitions in the abandoned 19th century cathedral downtown. As the population grows, job opportunities diminish and crime rises. Managuans are becoming ever more fearful as violent crime increases. According to police, crime in the second quarter had increased by 15 percent over the first quarter in Managua; the police chief attributed the rise in crime to a lack of patrol cars, fuel, paper and typewriter ribbons. On July 9, two machete-wielding men, apparently taking advantage of the police department’s short supplies of paper and typewriter ribbons, broke into the home of an 80-year-old Managua man and decapitated him to steal his money worth about 80 U.S. cents. The police chief may be mistaken in his guess as to what causes a rise in crime, and police department statistics probably don’t speak to the source of the crime. In the final analysis, it might not matter what the police can or cannot do. Managua’s three daily newspapers carry accounts every day of what residents say is a rising level of violence, and Managuans now warn visitors that they are not safe on the streets of their city day or night. There is an ominous perception here that if the government doesn’t recover from its apparent paralysis and confront the issues of power and property ownership, if it doesn’t find a way to protect, feed, clothe and educate its growing legions of children, Nicaragua not only is abusing the children,. it is forfeiting its future. Send a Friend the Texas Observer Contact Stephan Wanstrom at 477-0746, or write 701 West 7th St., Austin, TX 78701. 14 OCTOBER 2, 1992