As in most other provincial towns in Latin America, life in Rivas, a small agricultural town of 15,000 people mear the Costa Rican border, revolves around a central plaza with an old-fashioned gazebo and rather formal gardens, lovely shade trees and a fly-infested refreshment stand.

Facing the plaza on one side is the symbol of God and moral authority: An old Spanish colonial church. On another side is an equally important symbol, one of revolution: The now destroyed provincial headquarters of former president Anastasio Somozo's National Guard.

Nearby, where cars once parked, sits an abandoned tank - silent except for the laughter of three small children who crawl over it as they play soldier, now that its guns are still.

Four weeks after Somoza fled Nicaragua and three weeks after the Sandinista National Liberation Front defeated the National Guard he left behind, Rivas, like other cities and towns throughout the war-shattered country, is beginning to revive.

Food is available in the markets again, and the long lines that formed in front of gasoline stations less than 10 days ago have disappeared. Crews of workmen have begun to clear away the rubble here and in other cities such as Matagalpa, Estell and Leon.

Meanwhile the country's new government has issued a series of decrees, including an order to dismantle roadblocks and checkpoints throughout Nicaragua, designed to speed the normalization process.

Almost from the time they took power on July 19, the new junta and the Sandinista leaders who led the war against Somoza have been exhorting the people to "organize, organize, organize" to clear away the bombed-out buildings, to repair telephone lines, to reopen businesses and to patch up houses and other structures that are salvageable.

The campaign to get the country back to normal intensified this past week. the junta held a press conference to announce the end of a number of security measures it decreed immediately after the war ended.

Barricada, the Sandinista newspaper, carried a front-page editorial Friday saying that the country had entered a "new battle in our war."

"The orders of combat have been given," Barricada said. "Their objective now is called normalization."

It added, "The current situation must be overcome after the long night of Somoza."

In Managua, the government has tied food and other forms of assistance to rehabilitation efforts. Neighborhood Sandinista defense committees have organized cleanup crews and have made participation a requirement for receiving free rice and beans.

This has led to a conflict with the International Red Cross, which sees its job as strictly to deliver food and medicine to those who need it - regardless of whether they are willing to clean up their neighborhoods.

In Rivas, the Sandinista authorities have organized work brigades to clear away the rubble in what was once the National Guard headquarters on the central plaza. There is still no telephone service here, but crews were repairing lines in the center of the city.

Most of the businesses, their windows shattered and their stocks looted, still have not reopened. But some little shops, away from the plaza where thr fighting was most intense, were not so badly damaged or looted and are open for business again.

The problem is money. Few businesses and industries other than the small family-owned shops have reopened anywhere in Nicaragua. The vast majority of Nicaraguans still have no work and thus no money. They are not in a position to buy the food that is available.

The government, too, is virtually bankrupt. It was left with only $3 million in hard currency when it came to power. Somoza and his supporters had cleaned out the Central Bank, leaving the country with about $1.3 billion in foreign debt, the highest of any country in Central America, and with no money to buy needed imports.

Since there lis no shortage of labor, it is possible to clear away rubble and fix telephone lines, sweep streets and restore some services that do not require capital.

But Arturo Cruz, the new president of the Central Bank, estimates that Nicaragua will need about $2 billion during the next few years to rebuild what has been destroyed.

So far, the government has received a pledge of about $225 million from the Inter-American Development Bank. Despite a lot of talk and expressions of solidarity with the new government, however, little hard cash has yet been committed to Nicaragua's reconstruction needs.

Alfonso Robelo, a member of the junta, told members of the Socialist International last Sunday that the new government knows it must move quickly "because revolutions are like fads; interest in them wears thin."

He was talking about the need to move quickly to secure international aid, but the same holds true for the junta's need to demonstrate to its own people that it is acting to rebuild the country with sound programs.

Unfulfilled expectations are potentially psychological and political dangers for the new government. They are dangers that the government here understands and is trying to avoid.

"We have hopes, great hopes for the new government," Argentina Navarro, a 30-year old schoolteacher said recently in Rivas. "We hope we'll be able to walk freely in the streets again, that there will be enough food and a better life." CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Dave Cook - The Washington Post