NO PRIVATE repair work or rebuilding is going on in Esteli because people seem convinced that before too long there will be another "war." El Frente, as the guerrillas are generally called, will come back and so will the government planes, people think. El Frente took few beatings in Estell. It lost three guerrillas and seven local boys.
As the town is in the hands of the military commander and all public offices are closed, the Red Cross appears to be the only inventory keeper of civilian life. There are half a dozen poorly stocked shops, and there is little money, little food and no work. The Red Cross distributes 4,000 food parcels weekly that it receives through help from abroad. Eighteen of the town's 23 doctors fled and only two of the nine dentists have stayed behind.
Despite the anger and the hatred against the government troops, Esteli does not seem ready for another battle.
A doctor from another town who recently visited Esteli talked of a "collective fear neurosis which does not seem to calm down." One of the greates problems, the doctor said, is that of the children. "Mothers tell me their children panic and shriek every time they see a uniform. My colleagues are prescribing lots of sleeping pills."
No one knows how many deaths there were among civilians. There were no figures available at the hospital. The local Red Cross director, Jose Francisco Rodriguez, said, "Our workers alone handled 312 wounded and we burned and buried 80 bodies during and after the September fights. But many people buried their dead behind their homes. Having a dead relative was like being guilty and so people hid the bodies."