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On the surface, the Sandinistas have done little to alter the basic three-Rs curriculum in the country's elementary schools. Still, there are disquieting signs that the educational system is being used as a propaganda outlet for the government. The government's newly issued primer at first seems to be little more than a Dick-and-Jane clone. But one of the examples of words beginning with the letter d is defense, and it is accompanied by a photograph of soldiers. "Valiant militias march into the plaza," the caption reads. "The militias are from the people. The pueblo is ready for defense." In secondary schools, liberal disciplines in the Nicaraguan social sciences and humanities have been downgraded or replaced by courses on revolutionary history and Marxist economics and sociology. Even a natural science class at one of Managua's largest public schools includes a lesson on the alleged exploitation of the Third World by multinational corporations.
The same process has taken place at Nicaragua's Jesuit-run University of Central America. The social sciences are dominated by the Marxist disciplines of historical and dialectical materialism. There are also ugly signs of political intimidation on campus. A philosophy professor was recently expelled from the university after members of the so-called Sandinista Youth held protests outside her office. Her crime: in an interview she said, "If a university professor is not in agreement with the Sandinista Front, the Sandinista Youth consider you a counterrevolutionary."
Comparable principles of harassment and intimidation have been applied by the Sandinistas to the country's three main opposition political parties and its handful of independent labor unions. Roving Sandinista gangs known as turbas (mobs) have broken up meetings and stoned the houses of leaders. The Sandinistas claim no direct responsibility, and in fact there is evidence that the government has moved to quiet the turbas. Still, the net result has been to leave most of the country's remaining opposition spokesmen cowed, or at least in a state of uneasy truce with the government and its overwhelming monopoly force.
The most bizarre Sandinista double standards seem to apply to the media. Nicaragua's two Sandinista-owned television stations offer a cultural hodgepodge without seeming to be ideologically biased: everything from documentaries on Cuban classical dancers to delayed showings of U.S. major league baseball games to reruns of Lou Grant. Print is another matter. The Sandinistas own or control two daily newspapers, the pro-government Nuevo Diario and the official Sandinista paper Barricada. Both provide a predictable medley of government propaganda, while the only opposition newspaper, La Prensa, is subject to strict censorship.
That newspaper's editors are forbidden to print anything negative about the Sandinistas either at home or abroad; criticism of Cuba, the Soviet Union or any other East bloc country; local stories about unclaimed bodies in the Managua morgue; reports on Nicaraguan unemployment; and news analysis that criticizes both the U.S. and the Soviet Union for their Central American policies. The very mention of censorship is forbidden.