Vestiges of pluralism remain, but the Sandinistas steadily tighten their grip
The country's leaders have proclaimed it the Year of the Militarization of the Process. And, indeed, almost everywhere in revolutionary Nicaragua there are signs of a nation girding for war. In the capital of Managua and throughout the countryside, youthful reservists, peasants and members of so-called mass organizations are being armed and dispatched to the borders under the red-and-black banners of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Along roadsides and on the adobe walls of village buildings, posters inveigh against the evils of "Yankee imperialism." Other placards extol "revolutionary heroes" who have fought against and died in a U.S.-backed "counterrevolutionary" threat. In local schools, factories and farming cooperatives, activists exhort citizens to volunteer for militia duty. Under a new conscription law that went into effect this month, Nicaragua, which already has the largest armed forces in Central America, will be able to double the size of its military, to 250,000 troops.
There is another kind of mobilization in Nicaragua: a daily muster to find food. Men, women and children line up outside government-run "supermarkets of the people" in Managua and other cities. Their hope is to be first for whatever minimal, unpredictable rations of meat and chicken may be available that day. Even the early risers are frequently disappointed. At a typical scramble, housewives confront a butcher who tells them that the meat locker is empty and he has "no idea" when more supplies will arrive. Milk and fish are scarce, fresh eggs are the rarest of treats, and produce counters display only limp, miserable specimens of vegetables and fruit.
In some lush corners of Nicaragua, food shortages are not a problem. At a doctor's ranch-style home in a tree-lined southern suburb of Managua, thick churrasco steaks wait beside an outdoor barbecue grill as some 20 weekend guests sip cocktails and pick at turtle egg and black conch appetizers. Half a dozen children race through the garden to the swimming pool. Most of the guests are middle-aged relatives. They talk little of politics but much of their kin who have left for the U.S. There is only a brief flare-up of political emotion as a woman berates her brother-in-law for the behavior of his son, who is a high-ranking member of the Sandinista Party. The man listens to the tirade with his head down. Finally, he lifts his eyes and declares, "My son is not a Communist. I'm convinced that he is not."