By Michael E. Miller
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In some cases, though, Nicaragua seduces the miamiboys back into the old ways. The first to feel the sting have been miamiboy teen-agers, who were small children when their families went into exile and have grown up as gringos. Already shell-shocked at their arrival in a country with no shopping malls or video games, the kids are horrified that their parents are slipping back into traditional Nicaraguan class consciousness when it comes to dating. At dinner one night, I listened to a group of miamiboys discuss the growing generation gaps in their families.
"I had a big fight with my daughter tonight," a newly arrived food-processing executive -- technically speaking, a newjerseyboy -- recounted. "She said, `I'm going out with a boy tonight.' `Not until I know his name you're not,' I said. `His name is Juan Castillo,' she said. `I met him at the American School.' `Yeah,' I said, `but what's his mother's name?' `I don't know,' my daughter said, `and besides, what difference does it make?' `It makes all the difference in who he is,' I told her, `and you're not going out with him until I know the answer.'"
"I had the same argument with my daughter," a woman across the table agreed. "She said, `Mom, you would never have asked a question like that in Miami.' `That was Miami, and this is Managua,' I told her. `There are different rules here.' Unless I know both sides of that boy's family, he could be -- he could be -- he could be anybody."
War-torn, bureaucracy-bound, Third World countries breed a unique species known as fixers. They are essentially gofers who cater to high-octane journalists too busy, or too lazy, to do their own dirty work. Fixers scan the local press for story ideas, penetrate layers of palace guards to arrange interviews, tape press conferences, change money on the black market, and find gasoline and batteries and whatever else is in short supply. The most famous fixer in Nicaraguan history was a young guy named Isaac who used to work for Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times. Isaac was such a worker bee that other reporters used to joke that Kinzer was going to get a master's in journalism from Columbia; Isaac would attend the classes for him.
With most of the foreign press gone, there aren't many fixers left in Nicaragua. But one remains, with a bizarre specialty. You want to dig up a clandestine cemetery full of peasant victims of the Sandinistas, Raoul Shade's your man. He'll guide you over rutted mountain roads and through mine fields to the site; he'll pitch in with a shovel, and afterward he'll round up the local peasants to tell who got killed, when, and why. The fee: your publication has to buy a picture from him. He'll take whatever your standard rate is, although he did once turn down the cheapskates at the Washington Post. "They pay $75 for a picture, which is not very much for running around the countryside for two days," Shade told me forlornly. "I thought it should be at least $100."
Other reporters have not been so penurious. Shade has a sizable roster of satisfied clients, including the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, the Village Voice, and the National Review. When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) was in Managua recently, in need of an emergency photo op, he retained Shade, who guided him to some photogenic skeletons.
The cemetery trade, as you might expect, is not a high-volume one. Shade, in fact, lives hand-to-mouth between digs, surviving mostly on free lunches from sympathetic journalists. His ghoulish work is really a labor of love. "I want people to know what the Sandinistas did," he says. "I don't ever want them to be able to come back in power."
Such statements have given Shade, who's slight of build and looks much younger than his 46 years, a reputation among many reporters as a right-wing nut. In fact, his polits are largely inchoate, just a sort of fuzzy feeling that people should be nice to one another. "I'm apolitical, I guess," Shade agrees. "I'm interested in human rights. If you're interested in human rights, you clash with all sides."
Check with the right-wing government in neighboring El Salvador. Shade worked there as a free-lance photographer from early 1984 to late 1986, documenting the abuses of the army. He was arrested four times, after which authorities suggested his health was about to take a precipitous decline if he stayed in El Salvador. So Shade moved on to Nicaragua. As he had in El Salvador, he lived in the countryside, getting to know the peasants.
"How long -- "
" -- did it take me to start hating the Sandinistas?" he finished the question for me. "About six months. That's about how long it took for the peasants to start trusting me. And when they trusted me, they started telling me about the cemeteries."
Each one holds from 10 to 60 bodies, the corpses of peasants who were summarily executed as suspected contra collaborators. Shade was stunned at first -- human-rights organizations and the international press corps, which were going at the abuses of the Salvadoran government with hammer and tongs, had been silent on the subject of Nicaragua -- but he heard the stories from so many peasants that he had to believe them. Yet there was nothing he could do; most of the cemeteries were located near Sandinista military bases, where it would be impossible to turn the earth without attracting unwelcome attention. So he took careful notes and waited. In June 1990, less than two months after Violeta Chamorro took office, he dug up his first burial ground. Since then he's uncovered nine more.