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Nicaragua's revolution four years later: some gains, much zealotry

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''19th of July!'' ''Sandinista youth!'' ''Vanguard of the people!''

The small crowd that had gathered on the south side of the capital city of Nicaragua was shouting words such as these just a few weeks before the fourth anniversary of the July 19, 1979, victory of the revolutionaries.

The 400 to 500 Nicaraguans, many of them middle class in appearance, looked as though they had been through this before. They knew by heart the slogans praising the revolution and the Sandinistas who now control it. Many of them clearly would have preferred not to be shouting any kind of slogans under any circumstances.

The real zealots in the crowd - an articulate young man with a megaphone and two young women who enjoyed clapping their hands and shouting at the top of their voices - considered it their duty to stir the crowd's enthusiasm for the revolution. These are the Sandinista youth.

Sandinista leaders, including junta coordinator Daniel Ortega Saavedra, were coming to address the group and to answer their questions. The people had gathered on the grass under bright television lights at a Roman Catholic school.

These ''Face the People'' meetings are an almost weekly ritual, and the Sandinistas consider them an important part of their version of democracy. People get to ask questions on practical matters that have little to do with the slogans shouted before the meeting.

If it is an agricultural community, the people want to know about prices for their crops. If it is a community near the city, such as this one, they want to know why there are shortages of soap, cooking oil, and other commodities. They receive answers, proposed solutions to their problems, and, of course, promises of a better performance by the government.

But the sight of the zealots trying to squeeze enthusiasm out of a largely unenthusiastic crowd leaves a bad impression. As is the case with so much that one sees in Nicaragua, one comes away with decidedly mixed feelings.

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