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Fleeing north: three Nicaraguans tell why

CARMEN, Javier, and Rodrigo are Nicaraguans in their late teens and early 20s. They are three of perhaps tens of thousands of Nicaraguans their age who have left the country to escape the military draft and economic hardships.

Last week, Carmen, Javier, and Rodrigo (not their real names) were in Mexico City on their way to the United States. They intended to cross the border from Mexico illegally. If they were successful, they are in the US now.

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In an interview before they left Mexico, they spent several hours talking about their lives, about how they left their homeland and why.

Rodrigo, who is not yet 17 (the legal draft age in Nicaragua), had been picked up by the Army twice as a potential recruit. He explains: ``The soldiers took me because they said I was strongly built. They said I was large enough to hold a rifle and carry a knapsack filled with bullets. In Nicaragua, if boys are strongly built, it doesn't matter if they are 17 years yet or not.''

Carmen, Javier, and Rodrigo are all from poor families and only Javier has completed high school. Their stories provide a glimpse into the difficult experiences and often confused and conflicting emotions of many ordinary Nicaraguans today. But their opinions are not necessarily shared by all or even most Nicaraguans. Most accept being drafted. Many go willingly to defend their country. Undoubtedly, many who share Javier and Rodrigo's negative feelings stay at home and get drafted.

Still, much of what these young people describe -- a general disillusionment with the Sandinistas, and at the same time a profound distrust of the ``contra'' forces fighting them, as well as a residual feeling of support for the goals of the 1979 revolution -- is widespread.

Why did you leave?

Javier: ``My brother is in the Army and he told me to leave. He told me what life was like in the mountains -- how many of his friends were killed. He said I would be better off leaving.

``It's one thing to defend your country but the fight in Nicaragua now is to defend a party [the Sandinistas] not our country. Most of the people in the contras are Nicaraguans also and if they are fighting, it's because they don't agree with what's going on.''

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What don't they agree with?

Javier: ``The shortage of food. We've never seen something like this before in Nicaragua. Before you could go and buy what you wanted. Now you can't. Now the state takes everything and gives what it wants to people. Now three people are given one soap for a whole week.''

The Sandinistas say the North Americans have caused the country's economic problems. What do you think?

Javier: ``That is what they say but it's not true. If you go to the Army warehouses, everything is full. If there is no food, it's because they give everything to the Army.''

But why is there a war going on?

Javier: ``There is a war because the different parties don't get along.''

Whose fault is it -- the Americans or the Sandinistas?

Javier: ``It's everyone's fault, but mainly the San-dinistas'. They don't want a dialogue. They think that everything they do is good.''

Rodrigo: ``The Sandinistas only look to see how they can attack Reagan. They only keep talking about President Reagan and about how he is sending all the young Nicaraguans to be killed, and about the $14 million [aid originally proposed by the US but then increased to $27 million] and about how Reagan helps the contras.

``But it's the Sandinistas' fault because Reagan said they should talk to the contras and make a pact and become friends. But the President of Nicaragua said that he wouldn't get on his knees to the Americans.''

Carmen: ``I don't know who is guilty. I don't know anything about politics. All I know is that [the Sandi-nistas] are doing things they shouldn't do. They send coffins [of soldiers killed in action] home to the families but sometimes [there is] only some earth from the mountains to give the coffins weight.''

How did you two boys get out of the country? Boys over 15 are not allowed to leave. Did you leave legally?

Rodrigo: ``We left legally. My father fixes the cars for the Army and he gives them spare parts. Afterwards he makes up receipts to the officer who delivers the cars but doesn't take any money. The officer keeps the money for himself. That's how I got an exit permit from the Army.

``In Nicaragua I was in high school but I had to leave because the soldiers picked me up two times, once at school and once at the door of my house.

``My parents had to go to the Army and explain to them that I was still a minor. I am only 16. It wasn't nice -- I had to sleep on the floor of the police station with the other recruits until my parents came to get me.''

Javier:``I left legally too. I have an aunt in Immigration. She gave some money to some friends of hers who also work in Immigration and they got me an exit visa.

``I'm out but still there is nothing like living in your own country. You miss it.''

Rodrigo: ``I can't go back to Nicaragua. I don't exist there anymore. I was wiped out from the registries but I already miss Nicaragua.''

What do you think about things in Nicaragua now?

Carmen: ``People are all confused. A person looks for hope but there doesn't seem to be any way out.

``Before [in the 1979 revolution] when they fought, they fought to throw out Somoza. They had an objective. But now why are they fighting?

Do the Sandinistas still have a lot of support?

Carmen: ``Yes. A lot of people are still for them. In my neighborhood [a working-class section of Managua] most of the people are for them. But even those people complain a lot. They all supported the party [the Sandinistas] and the revolution, but a lot of them don't like what's happened in the country.

``But the contras have made a lot of bad mistakes. I don't understand why they do the things they do.

``I know some people in Juigalpa [central Nicaragua] whose brother worked for state security. The contras came and killed him, but they didn't kill just him. They killed his wife, and his brother, and his parents, and they took away another brother. . . .

``It was horrible.''

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