FOR the average Nicaraguan in 1982, colour TVs, hi-fl’s, microwave ovens, Cadillacs and other lures of the great consumer-society-in-the-sky (somewhere north of Mexico) will be extremely difficult to obtain.
Admittedly, even two and a half years ago, it was only the swish, urban elite that could indulge in such fancies. The rest of the population could hear on crackling transistors how their leader enjoyed the fruits of their labour, while they sat under rusty iron roofs and shared out the day’s portion of rice and beans.
That was before the corrupt dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza was thrown out by the Sandinista Front for National Liberation in 1979. Somoza left behind him a 1.6 billion dollar national debt, 500 million dollars-worth of damage to industry, and 1 billion dollars lost in production— all in all a bankrupt economy.
Nowadays, the main ‘consumer’ items are food, clothing, health services and education. The latter two are provided free by the Sandinista government, the former two at subsidised prices which even the poorest can afford. Public transport is still a matter of standing up or sitting on someone’s knee, but it is cheap and many of the services are now run by workers’ cooperatives.
In agriculture and industry, all the former dictator’s enterprises are now run by the government— these add up to 40 per cent of the manufacturing industry and some 20 per cent of the agricultural land.
The aim is to replace many basic imports with local products while luxury imports are being severely curtailed to ease the foreign exchange shortage (hence the scarcity of Cadillacs). Geothermal and hydroelectric power stations are planned and under construction to replace oil for electricity generation by the end of the century.
On the northern frontier with Honduras, villagers stand guard over mountain trails at night, sleeping in shifts. Bands of counterrevolutionaries trained in Honduras and the Florida Everglades have been escalating their border attacks in recent months, and entire families have been slaughtered in their beds. Many of these bands comprise ex-members of Somoza’s notorious National Guard.
The constant fear of a major military attack is putting the Nicaraguans on a state of permanent alert. Tens of thousands of people have joined the local militias, and defence spending is creating a further drain on the economy which the Sandinistas would prefer to be without Recovering from the bankruptcy left by the fleeing dictator and the need for long-term investment are creating a period of austerity— for the middle and upper classes anyway.
But the feeling in every bus one squashes into, every factory, school or village one visits, is that although Nicaraguans would rather be without their economic problems, they certainly won’t be inviting the US Marines in to come and sort them out