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Nicaragua's travail

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WHEN will Nicaragua's travail end? In addition to war, and the economic anguish caused by an inept Sandinista regime, its people now must recover from a hurricane that has taken some 60 lives and left 300,000 homeless.

Fortunately, help is pouring in from countries and private organizations around the world, including some that despise the Sandinista regime but are tugged by concern for the Nicaraguan people.

Would that the regime itself took such a magnanimous view. Instead, it has invoked a nationwide state of emergency, the prime purpose of which seems to be to reimpose the press censorship it has promised the world it would abandon.

The state of emergency is to last for an initial 30 days but can be extended. It puts into effect a law approved earlier this month by the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly giving President Daniel Ortega sweeping powers.

One of those powers, already exercised, is a ban on publication of any news about the hurricane that does not come from government sources. Theoretically that relates to news about the disaster and its aftermath. In practise, experts say, it is an across-the-board attempt to reimpose censorship. It is aimed particularly at the opposition newspaper La Prensa, which struggles to survive in the face of Sandinista banning, obstruction, threats, and withdrawal of newsprint.

The latest Sandinista crackdown follows several months of increasing Sandinista pressure on the opposition, including Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the outspoken head of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua.

One opposition political leader, Jaime Bonilla, said the latest restrictions ``show that we are dealing with a government that uses a natural phenomenon to intervene in and control Nicaragua's society, and particularly its opposition.''

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