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The reason for the strict daily supervision, says State Censor Nelba Blandon, is that "La Prensa always distorts reality." But the censor's decisions can be capricious. For example, one La Prensa headline saying that Nicaragua's seasonal rains had not arrived on schedule was suppressed for fear that it would cause general alarm. La Prensa Editor Pedro Joaquin Chamorro (see box) also accuses the government of deliberately delaying the return of censored copy so as to prevent the paper from coming out in time for workers to buy it on their way home. According to Nicaraguan Interior Minister Tomas Borge Martinez, the fact that the newspaper survives at all is "just another example of how this government supports freedom of the press." In fact, the Sandinistas allow La Prensa to stay in business because they realize that it has become a kind of test case of their commitment to pluralism.
Another target for Sandinista transformation is the Roman Catholic Church. In a Managua slum, the squat, red brick and stained-glass Santa Maria de los Angeles church has become a shrine of Nicaragua's new, revolutionary "popular religion." Inside the building, a painting depicts "Christ the Peasant" struggling under a crucifix; another panel features cherubim escorting slain fighters to heaven under the Sandinista flag. Says the local priest, Father Uriel Molina: "Revolutionary values are now in the everyday faith of the people."
Churchmen who do not accept the new credo get short shrift. The country's archbishop, Miguel Obando y Bravo, was long ago deprived of the right to give a televised sermon on Sundays without prior censorship; other priests have come in for selective abuse. Perhaps the most famous Sandinista attempt at intimidation came last March, when hecklers in Managua attempted to shout down Pope John Paul II during his Central American tour. The nation's best-known radical priest, Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal, later declared that the Pope was "against pluralism. He wants everyone to think like himself."
The Sandinistas are particularly proud of their major economic program, land reform. The Nicaraguan effort, they say, is more flexible and productive than similar U.S.-sponsored reforms in El Salvador. In four years, the Sandinistas claim, Nicaragua has moved from an agrarian economy in which 2% of the population owned the largest and most lucrative holdings to one where 23% of the rural population works on state farms and 15% in new cooperatives, and the remaining 62% enjoy private land ownership.