That Was Miami, This Is Managua

Meanwhile the Sandinistas -- who imposed wide-ranging censorship within months of coming to power and kept it in place until a few days before they left office -- have suddenly discovered John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. My favorite impassioned denunciation of government censorship was an August op-ed piece in Barricada, the Sandi's daily newspaper, by a young woman named Nelba Blandon, who wrote ardently of "the dominion of the free debate of ideas." Oh, yes, she added, she was the same Nelba Blandon who spent six years as the Sandinista military censor, ripping stories out of opposition newspapers by the dozens every single day. But every time she killed a story, Blandon wrote, it was with a "critical conscience," and she found her work "difficult."

What Do You Do With a General? (Part I)

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh what can you do with a general who retires?
Who's got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires.
They fill his chest with medals
While he's across the foam
And they spread the crimson carpet
When he comes marchin' home.
The next day someone hollers
When he comes into view
"Here comes the general!"
They all say, "General who"
-- Bing Crosby

The best-known house in Managua is one that hardly anybody has seen in twelve years. It's the mansion where Daniel Ortega lives. The house belongs to Amparo Morales, a Mexican woman who fled Nicaragua to escape the violence during the final days of the revolution. She returned a few weeks later, and when she opened the front door, there stood Rosario Murillo, Ortega's wife, wearing one of Amparo's bathrobes. That was the last time Amparo set foot in her own house -- the revolutionary government had confiscated it, she learned, on the grounds that her husband was a wealthy Nicaraguan banker. (No matter that he had a long and distinguished history of opposition to the Somoza dynasty that the Sandinistas had just toppled.) Soon after, a twenty-foot-high wall went up around the house, completely hiding it from view.

When the Sandinistas lost the election in 1990, Amparo Morales returned to Nicaragua in the hope that the new government would return her house. But it seems the government no longer owns the million-dollar mansion: Daniel Ortega bought it during the pinata at a five-finger discount price of $4000. Since then Amparo's efforts to shame him into leaving the digs have been daily headlines in the Managua papers. She even got the Mexican ambassador to write Ortega a reproving letter, although the fact that the Mexican Embassy itself is located in a confiscated mansion didn't exactly cloak the ambassador in moral authority.

One morning I asked my taxi driver to take me to the Ortega house. "The Morales house," he reprimanded me, as we set off. "And it's not a house, either." When we arrived, I saw what he meant. It's a two-square-block compound. In the guard posts atop the walls, I counted more than two dozen soldiers armed with automatic rifles.

"Why would the army be guarding Daniel Ortega?" I asked the driver. "He has no connection to the government now."

"That's the way it is here," the driver sniffed. "The Sandinistas think they still run everything." As we drove away, he added: "And they're right. They do run everything, because they have all the guns."

He was referring to Daniel's brother Humberto, who still commands the Nicaraguan army. The Chamorro government's decision to retain him has been a hugely unpopular one, all the more so since his bodyguards gunned down a Managua teen-ager who had the effrontery to try to pass the general's motorcade with his vehicle. (A police officer who investigated the teen-ager's murder was himself shot to death a couple of weeks later in a still-murky case. Since then Managua motorists -- who ordinarily resemble truckers gone mad with white-line fever -- turn into veritable Miss Mannerses when Humberto's car is in sight.)

The other seven Sandinista comandantes are still trying to settle into postrevolutionary life. (The eighth, Carlos Nunez, died of cancer after the election. Skeptical of non-Marxist medical care, he spent his last days in a Havana hospital.) Tomas Borge, former head of the secret police whose main knowledge of journalism comes from jailing reporters, has announced that he'll use his contacts to conduct magazine interviews with world leaders for $10,000 a throw. The main obstacle is that all the world leaders Borge is friendly with have either been overthrown or are teetering on the brink. Luis Carrion Cruz, in charge of penning up several thousand Indians in relocation camps during the early years of the revolution, is drawing on his experience while working toward a master's in public administration at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Victor Tirado, the Mexican citizen who was the wimpiest of the comandantes, has continued in that role. Unemployed, he recently told a New York Times reporter that he'd appreciate it if she'd mention in a story that he was available for an all-expenses-paid visit to the United States if someone would like to invite him. The most puzzling case is that of Daniel Ortega. Daniel's public mood swings are not quite so erratic as his wife's -- once the chief Sandinista honcho on cultural affairs, she was booted from her position earlier this year after calling the party "a mountain of shit" in a newspaper interview -- but they have nonetheless attracted plenty of comment. On July 4 Daniel checked himself into a military hospital in the middle of the night. Several radio stations reported that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His press secretary said he just wanted a massage. Then, apparently forgetting that her boss' word is no longer law, she called international news agencies in Managua and ordered them not to run stories about the hospitalization.

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