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Rizo's battle to put meat on table

William and Eugenia Rizo and their two children live in a one-room wooden shack in Dinamarca, a barrio across the street from the United States Embassy. They survive on 8,000 c'ordobas a month (about $22), which come from his 4,000-c'ordoba salary as a government employee and her work as a seamstress using an ancient foot-peddle Singer sewing machine. They eat meat once a week, haven't seen rice in months, and will save for weeks to buy their youngest son a new pair of shoes.

They are fortunate. They have a house; they have electricity, water, and a television. And their children go to school.

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``We don't have much of a life here,'' William says. ``This war has not killed us with guns; it may kill us with hunger.''

Dinamarca is a squatters settlement set up three years ago. The government legalized it only three months ago. Most of the 1,600 residents have water and electricity because they steal it from power lines and pipes. ``We are usurpers,'' William says proudly. ``The government couldn't help us so we helped ourselves.''

Since an official economic package freed prices from government control in June, basic goods in state-owned stores - once heavily subsidized but notorious for being short stocked - are near parallel with black market prices, where supplies are plentiful. ``We haven't seen rice here in a long time,'' says Eugenia, pointing to the official store. ``So we go to the black market, but it costs the same.'' Rice and beans are the staple foods in Nicaragua.

``This war has screwed everything up,'' says William. ``Look at her,'' he adds, pointing to a friend who joins the conversation. ``Her family used to be in Jinotega growing food, now they sit here, and she works as a domestic.''

The friend, Lucia Granada, and her family survive on 11,000 c'ordobas a month, about $29. Her family used to work a small farm in northern Jinotega Province until 1986 when they left out of fear. ``The contras were everywhere.''

Like some 50 percent of the population, Lucia and Eugenia work in the economy's informal sector. ``People go into business for themselves, even if that only lasts one day,'' says William, explaining how they handle unemployment. ``You sell this today, that tomorrow. You dig a hole for someone one day, you fill it in tomorrow. We've got to work.''

All three said they have placed their hopes for better days on a peace agreement. ``Things will get better then,'' says William. ``They have too.''

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