As rebels battled troops in the streets here, central Managua's only functioning hotel - housing mainly journalists and military families - is threatening to close.
The announcement was made by management of the Intercontinental Hotel - located next door to President Anastasio Somoza's "bunker" headquarters - in an emotional meeting last night with about 90 journalist guests.
Although all 210 rooms are occupied, the normal hotel staff of 300 has been reduced to 35 employes. Most of Managua's residents have been unable to leave their homes during heavy fighting in the past 10 days, and many hotel employes still on the job live in the poor eastern barrios and have heard nothing of their families but the endless crash of rockets. Others have received grapevine reports of the deaths of relatives and children.
Half of the rooms are filled with foreign journalists, while the other half is occupied by government ministers and officials and, increasingly, the families of National Guard officers. Combat-equipped soldiers walk freely through the hotel lobby, many times sitting to watch television or prowl the upper floors.
All government personnel were excluded from the meeting in which acting manager Ramon Ortego told journalists, "We're glad you're here. We know you're telling the world what is happening here."
Clearly siding against the government, hotel employes explained that "there are a lot of other people here who are demanding luxury, as if we were working under normal conditions here." The staff, they said, has been working "24 hours a day for 10 days. They are exhausted, and very nervous over the presence of the soldiers."
Furthermore, the hotel has run out of money, with journalists paying by credit card and officials ordering their bills charged to government ministers.
Managua itself has converted to a barter system for food and essentials. Virtually all commercial establishments have been closed for weeks. Most have now been looted by desperate Nicaraguans looking for food or something to trade for it.
"We are risking our lives to go out and find food for you," head chef Don Folk said. "We don't want to close, but there are so many soldiers here."
Last week, the hotel restaurant closed and guests now eat diminishing quantities of rice and meat at a barracks-style buffet during fixed meal hours.
After journalists agreed to clean their own rooms, make do with limited laundry service and help with other tasks around the hotel, the staff agreed to stay on for now.
"If it were only for you," Ortega told the journalists, "we would work until the end. But if one employee here is taken prisoner or arrested, this hotel will close immediately."
Last week, a driver and helper of one European television reporter was dragged out of the hotel lobby by soldiers and released - following several days' search through police jails - only after journalists jointly protested.
Pan American Airlines is the majority ownners of the hotel and President Somoza holds a minor interest.