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The government has exploited that enthusiasm by invoking the threat of the CIA-backed contras. The Sandinistas began cracking down on dissent shortly after their 1979 takeover, and to impose a tough "emergency law" in March 1982 they seized upon an incident in which contras blew up two bridges near the Honduran border. Among the law's provisions: prior censorship and detention without due process. As the contra attacks have continued, the Sandinistas have successfully appealed to nationalist sentiment while using the external menace as an excuse for not fulfilling earlier promises. Says Junta Coordinator Daniel Ortega Saavedra: "For a country to achieve democracy, it needs stability." The Sandinistas have also discovered that the fervor of their young people has provided them with an effective, albeit inexperienced corps of militiamen eager to confront the enemy.
Typical of the young reservists is Miguel Sarria, 24, a truck mechanic from the southern city of Chichigalpa, who recently served in the border militia near the center of Ocotal. Sarria has lost two close friends to contra fire. "Nothing will stop this revolution," he says defiantly.
A U.S. analyst in the region agrees. "I don't see how the revolution can be dislodged or pre-empted," he asserts. But, in his view, the pressures in favor of maintaining some semblance of pluralism are still strong enough to prevent Nicaragua from becoming another Cuba soon. The analyst adds: "My guess is that Nicaragua will remain a relatively pluralistic Marxist state for some time."
Last month the Sandinistas made a concession by announcing legislative approval of a law recognizing that opposition political parties could be formed with the goal of "achieving political power." How that might occur is still unclear; the Sandinistas have promised to hold elections by 1985, but so far they have not determined the stakes in the race, or even the election rules.
The Sandinistas profess little concern about the fact that an estimated 77,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country in the past four years. "We made no promises to the bourgeoisie," says Junta Member SergioRamirez Mercado. "We made no promises to the U.S. We made our promises to the poor." Indeed, the Sandinistas repeatedly assert that continued U.S. hostility, particularly through support of the contras, guarantees a continued clampdown in Nicaragua. Warns Ortega: "The Reagan Administration can force us to take steps we do not want to take." Still unanswered is the question of what course Ortega and his colleagues would follow if they could not conveniently blame the U.S. for their own actions.
By George Russell. Reported by Timothy Loughran, William McWhirter and Alessandra Stanley/Managua