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Long, hard road to mend Nicaragua

One year after coming to power inone of the most violent civil wars in modern Latin American history, Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista guerrillas are finding that actually running the country is in many ways more difficult than the guerrilla struggle.

Says Jaime Wheelock Roman, minister of agrarian reform and one of the top Sandinista leaders, "This is a learning process and each day presents its major challenge."

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He is not alone in this view. Although he may well be one of the most well trained of the new leaders, the vast bulk of Sandinista commanders have had extremely limited experience in managing any enterprise except that of warfare.

"They are some of the most intelligent people I have ever met," says a top United States official in Nicaragua. "And they learn quickly.

"But the problems facing them -- a shattered economy, a country with limited infrastructure, chaotic public administration, almost no money in the treasury, a depressed agricultural economy, and high joblessness -- are staggering and cannot be cured overnight."

Nevertheless, progress is being made. Agricultural production, which was a mere 40 percent of the normal rate last August, is back up to 70 percent of normal. Unemployment, which ran at 60 percent or more in August, is down to 40 percent, due largely to public works projects. And the treasury has a $40 million surplus in the foreign-reserve account, in sharp contrast to the $3 million in August 1979, although this surplus will be eaten away as new expenditures have to be made for such things as fertilizers and seed for agriculture.

"It will be years before we recover not only from the war, but from the two generations of Somoza rule," says Tomas Borge Martinez, the minister of the interior and another one of the key Sandinista leaders.

One thing that helps is a sense of national unity inspired by the population's bitter hatred of the Somoza family's dictatorial 45-year rule. That rule ended last July 17 with the flight of Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle and the full takeover of the country two days later by the Sandinista guerrillas. Using the name of Gen. Cesar Augusto Sandino, an opponent of General Somoza's father, these guerrillas had "labored long against staggering odds to achieve their victory," as US Ambassador Lawrence A. Pezzullo put it.

Founded in the 1950s, the Sandinistas early embraced communist ideology. General Somoza used that fact to scare off the majority of Nicaraguans, who are essentially conservative people. The Sandinistas did not begin to make significant headway against General Somoza and his praetorian National Guard until early 1978, when opposition newspaper editor Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal was assassinated. A full-fledged civil war developed over the next 18 months and the Sandinistas began attracting increasing numbers of Nicaraguans to their cause until it became a truly popular movement.

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The war left 50,000 people dead, another 150,000 injured or wounded, and half a million people homeless out of a population of 2.5 million. Industry came to a standstill, with 30 percent destroyed and another 30 percent badly damaged. Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, fell off 60 percent or more.In fleeing , General Somoza left nothing less than a shattered land.

Moreover, he left the country in the hands of an untried guerrilla group espousing a Marxist philosophy.

Even before taking power, however, the Sandinistas had promised a pluralistic political system and a mixed economy -- and to prove the point, they incorporated numerous capitalists and politicians of varied stripes in their government. Their junta included businessman Alfonso Robelo Callejas and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of the assassinated newspaper editor.

The government's course this past year has not been smooth. Indeed, both Mr. Robelo and Mrs. Chamorro resigned from the junta in what many saw as a sign that the Sandinistas were moving toward Marxism. But their replacements on the junta appear even more conservative.

On the other hand, the new government clearly is interested in working closely with countries like Cuba, which has supplied 1,500 teachers and doctors, along with security personnel useful in training the new Sandinista army.

It is this concern that has led members of the US Congress to question the granting of aid to Nicaragua. Nevertheless, the US has already sent $70 million in assistance and committed another $105 million over the next 15 months, hopeful that this will keep the new Nicaragua ideologically plural.

But for Nicaragua's new leaders, the big issue is the challenge of getting Nicaragua moving again. The heady enthusiasm of the first year of Sandinista rule is over and the mundane daily task of running a government has become a reality.

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