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Free Press, Sandinista Style : Censorship Is a Way of Life in Nicaragua

Associated Press

For editor Jaime Chamorro and his opposition newspaper, La Prensa, censorship is a way of life.

On one recent day, for instance, the government forbade Chamorro from publishing 18 stories he had planned. It also ordered him to discard four photographs and change the headlines and delete specific paragraphs from four other stories. Not a single page escaped unscathed.

Articles killed by the censor that day included one about Miskito Indians of the Caribbean coast complaining that the Sandinista military had bombarded their villages. Another was about a pastoral letter from Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, one of the harshest critics of the leftist regime.

That day too the censor killed an article about Managua taxi drivers complaining about the need for increased fares and the critical lack of spare parts for their vehicles.

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Still Has Final Say

Still, in his own way, Chamorro has the final say. Censored articles are tacked outside the office on an old bulletin board for passers-by to see. In the middle of the board is a faded card that reads: “The freedom of the press is the right of the people, not a gift of their government.”

It’s freedom of the press, Sandinista style.

Nicaraguans have a limited choice in what they read in the daily newspapers. There is the Sandinista-controlled Barricada, the pro-government Nuevo Diario and heavily censored La Prensa.

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One way or the other, the people read what the government wants them to.

‘Not Against Change’

“We are not against social change. We are against the system of today,” Chamorro said in explaining why he continues to publish the 60-year-old newspaper in the face of daily censorship. “We want changes with freedoms and democracy and not a totalitarian system like this one.”

He says the government allows his newspaper to continue operating “so that with lies and half-truths they can say there is a free press, an opposition press, in Nicaragua.”

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But the daily orders from the censorship office, officially known as the Bureau of Communications Media, put a chill to any claim of press freedom, he said.

Most days, Chamorro makes the ordered changes and the afternoon newspaper is published, although it often does not reach the streets until after dark.

Sometimes Not Published

But on 32 occasions since 1982, La Prensa has not published, to protest excessive censorship. And the government has twice closed the newspaper temporarily for infractions of censorship laws, which were included in the government’s 1982 state of emergency decree.

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At Nuevo Diario, articles are also submitted to the state censor. But its editor, Xavier Chamorro, says the censored areas deal mainly with military and security matters.

He is Jaime Chamorro’s brother and founded Nuevo Diario in 1980 after splitting with La Prensa over the question of supporting the Sandinista government.

“I’m a revolutionary, and the revolution is not only the Sandinista government,” Xavier Chamorro said in a recent interview in his office, sitting beneath a photograph showing himself with Cuban President Fidel Castro. “This newspaper is in support of the revolution and social changes for the Nicaraguans.”

Usually Blames U.S.

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Nuevo Diario publishes articles on such subjects as shortages of food in the provinces, usually blaming the United States and the U.S.-backed contra rebels, who vow to overthrow the Sandinistas.

It also publishes general news, such as automobile accidents, and such stories as international volunteer groups demonstrating their solidarity with the Sandinistas by helping with the coffee harvest.

Like the government, Xavier Chamorro blames much of the nation’s woes on the United States and President Reagan.

“The censorship of the press is in the hands of Reagan,” he said. “If there were no attacks by the contras, there would be no censorship.”

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Official Sandinista Voice

For Barricada, under direct control of the Sandinistas and serving as their official voice, there is no need for censorship. None of its editors would agree to be interviewed.

Within its pages, the contras routinely are portrayed as “CIA mercenaries” and “Yankee invaders.” The young soldiers drafted into the military are called “the pups” because of their age. And Sandinista leaders are portrayed as trying to improve the situation in the face of “imperialistic aggression.”

While critics of the Sandinistas call the censorship a clear sign of a move toward totalitarianism here, the government disagrees.

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The Sandinista’s chief censor, Capt. Nelba Cecilia Blandon, said in an interview that censorship “is another instrument in the defense of the revolution.”


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