Managua, Nicaragua IN THE midst of the alarming poverty and violence of today's post-Sandinista Nicaragua, President Violeta Chamorro's presidential office is a magical oasis of beauty and peace.
"We have to rise above the things that are happening in the country," this still strikingly beautiful woman explained to me in a long interview. "How? Not through arms, but through dialogue! . . . My solution is reconciliation and peace."
Then she glanced around her beautiful "island" and smiled. A hospitable grouping of roughly 20 Nicaraguan rocking chairs made a circle perfect for talking in the center of the long room. At the far end of the room, a huge map of Nicaragua hung, surrounded by pictures of politicians in Nicaragua's various political factions. Beautifully blooming green plants brought from her home formed a second circle around the rocking chairs.
Yes, Chamorro's presidential office is indeed an oasis -- and that, more and more Nicaraguans are saying, is just the trouble with it.
As she finishes her second year in office, there is no question that she has done remarkable things. Her government has cut the Sandinista military from 80,000 to roughly 28,000, stabilized the money and (largely) the economy, secured freedom of expression and enterprise, and ended Marxist educational indoctrination. A huge, inclusive Nicaraguan flag now waves symbolically at Managua's Sandino airport, in place of partisan Sandinista or Somocista flags.
But all of those positive factors of her presidency are in stark danger of being overpowered by her self-imposed isolation from her own political constituency and her stubborn alliance with the very Sandinistas she supposedly "defeated." Add to that her continued dependence upon the machinations of her able but willful son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, her right-hand man, and you have a promising presidency in trouble.
By keeping one of the principal Sandinistas, Humberto Ortega, as defense chief, she (and particularly Lacayo) intended to keep the Sandinistas roughly in the fold.
Instead, by not using the politically translatable euphoria surrounding her election to definitively defang Sandinismo and create a strong democracy, she has left all security forces -- the police and the army -- in Sandinista hands. They send out their goons at will to enforce their own kind of order (this fall, they burned the mayor's office in Managua), and they effectively rule the street and the state. Before the Sandinistas left office, they took over houses and properties worth millions of dollars.
What is certain is that the country is now polarized not in two directions but in three: the government, the Sandinistas, and all the other democratic parties in the UNO, or National Opposition Union, that elected her in January 1990.
"What Lacayo thought in the beginning was that, if he placated the Sandinistas, he could get the economic reform going," one well-informed Western diplomat explained. "What he fails to understand is that the constituency that put him into office is losing patience. He is even attempting now to form a small bloc of votes in the congress in association with the Sandinistas -- against UNO."
Up in the hills above Managua, there is another oasis. At the bucolic little town of Santo Domingo de la Tierra stands the picturesque white church where the country's legendary Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo lives, preaches and directs the moral life of this poor country. He is an astonishing figure, a square, husky man who radiates strength and purpose.
The Saturday that I went up to talk with him, dusk was falling over the hillsides, and a kind of magical haze hung over everything. But there was nothing hazy about the country-born cardinal's thinking. He had just overseen the writing and publication of a major letter from the Nicaraguan bishops, which profoundly, if elliptically, criticizes the Chamorro government for the country's pitiful lack of security and for not enforcing the law against Sandinista excesses and robberies.
"Reconciliation," the cardinal said, sitting behind a simple desk in the back of the church. "We believe that the word is being distorted. Reconciliation and peace must be rooted in justice."
In those words is rooted the problem that more and more bedevils the government. President Chamorro often uses the word "concertacion," which means to unite different concepts and thoughts and come to an agreement.
But two years after her astonishing election, that has not happened in Nicaragua. What has happened is that the Sandinistas have used and are using her simple and genuine desire for reconciliation to further their political aims.
Is peace possible without justice? No.