The bombed homes and factories, the looted stores and the fallow cash-crop fields that went unplanted during last summer's civil war are only part of Nicaragua's economic crisis Nicaragua to day is also suffering the after effects of years of official plunder.
As direct results of the war, more than 25 percent of all industrial facilities have been destroyed. Half of the blue-collar work force is unemployed, and even more are without jobs in the agricultural sector.
But such statistics are only part of a disastrous financial picture that foreign and local observers, as well as many within the new guerrilla-led government, believe could crucially affect, and perhaps radicalize, Nicaragua's still underfined political future.
Former President Anastasio Somoza left the country with such an enormous debt that, according to one international economist who has studied its books, his government might not have survived very long even if Somoza had won the war.
The new Sandinista National Liberation Front government's past-due debt of $618 million is a legacy of Somoza's repeated short-term borrowing abroad at high interest rates. It is also more than Nicaragua's total export earnings in a normal year. Similar annual amounts are due throughout the next decade.
Despite his distraction with the war, Somoza spent the final weeks of his administration liquidating every asset he and his government could lay hands on, and stripped both the national treasury and overseas accounts of cash.
Among the documented examples:
Until 10 days before he left the country on July 16, long after all normal commerce and transport in the war-torn country had been halted, Somoza's privately owned slaughterhouse worked overtime to kill and ship nearly $1 million in Nicaraguan beef to a Miami distributor. The Miami company, owned by Somoza, has refused to settle the outstanding bill with the new owners of the now expropriated slaughterhouse, the Sandinista government.
When officials of the new Nicaraguan government nationalized Somoza's assets and moved to take over the national airline, they and their lawyers allege they found all the ticket stock had disappeared. Later, the tickets, written for passage on other carriers and charged to Nicaragua, began to show up in the hands of exiled Somoza associates.
In the last days of his regime, one of Somoza's highest military aides and the aide's wife, a member of Somoza's cabinet, drew out of the treasury nearly $200,000 in cash and checks on government accounts abroad. Hundreds of others who did the same and left the country are also listed in similar last-minute transactions, according to documents found in the Central Bank files when the new government took over.
The government nationalized Somoza's extensive holdings in Nicaragua -- totaling nearly 150 companies in whole, family or partial ownership -- only to find that most were heavily mortgaged. "Somoza may not have been a very good businessman," one of the new government's advisers charged with something close to perverse admiration, but "he sure was a great crook."
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, which analyzed Nicaragua's financial picture last August, estimated that $315 million in cash or equivalents was taken out of the country during the first half of 1979.
The new government in Managua has hired former assistant secretary of state William D. Rogers, of the Washington Law firm of Arnold & Porter, to try to get back some of the money that left Nicaragua with Somoza, and to look into extradition possibilities should the exiled dicator, now in Paraguay, ever reenter the United States.
But possibilities of recovery are considered slim. Most of Somoza's fortune, estimated at between $100 million and $500 million, is believed in European accounts or buried in networks of dummy corporations. As for whatever part may still be in the United States, while U.S. law recognizes nationalization decrees in other countries, it does not recognize their claim on nationalized assets deposited in the United States.
Nicaragua's descent from its position as Central America's healthiest economy in the 1960s started with a 1972 earthquake, but it was speeded and steered toward disaster by Somoza's subsequent economic policies, according to the U.N. report.
Massive foreign aid for earthquake reconstruction, the study notes, served only to emphasize the unequal distribution of wealth in the country. It enriched those with political pull, was spent on "land speculation" by Somoza and his associates, and turned over to individuals who in turn lent it out at exorbitant local rates for personal gain.
Because there was little reconstruction of ther country's means of production or housing national income sufered and the government "had to begin financing its growth deficit with external loans, many of them on short terms with high rates of interest."
This meant increased borrowing in commercial money markets and at banks including First National of Chicago, Citibank in New York, Bank of America, The Royal bank of Canada and European institutions. By the beginning of this year, more than 45 percent of Nicaragua's total $6 billion debt was due in periods ranging from one to 10 years, at interest rates often two or three percentage points above intermational prime rates.
Even this would have been acceptable, the U.N. study said, had the additional money gone into reconstruction and the stimulation of production. Instead, much of it, too, went again to individual lenders, to military hardware and consumer imports, and to current expenses like salaries.
Other borrowed funds, the study noted, went "to liberate resources with the objects of converting them into foreign currency" -- a convoluted way of of saying the money in some cases never reached Nicaragua. Instead, the money was deposited in foreign donominations in overseas banks, while individuals or government agencies allegedly deposited equivalent amounts in Nicaraguan cordobas locally.
Traditionally, U.S. banks, and many European institutions, reflect official U.S. foreign policy in their lending decusions, and it was not until early 1978 that the banks began questioning the financial wisdom of lending to Somoza.
Another indicator used by the banks in formulating international lending policy is the position of the international Monetary Fund. In April, the IMF approved a $66 million loan package to Somoza despite its recongnition that "the rebuilding of confidence" in his government, an unlikely event considering civil war was imminent, was "crucial" to meeting repayment requirements.
By the time the Sandinistas took over, many accounts in the names of government agencies were bone dry or overdrawn by checks written during Somoza's last days.
In one of many examples, the Bank of America, with headquarters in San Francisco, informed the new government at its request in a September telex message that its account in the bank was $4.25 million overdrawn. The last withdrawal made on July 17 -- one day after Somoza left the country, and while a Somoza-controlled interim government still ran Nicaragua.
An account in the name of the Nicaguaran National Bank was $4.22 million overdrawn, with the last with-drawal on June 29. The National Promotion Institute account was over-drawn $4.1 million, the last with-drawal June 13.
For the Sandinista government, the implications of fiscal collapse are far-reaching. Lack of capital or credit destroys chances for reconstruction of industry, for buying seeds, fertilizer and equipment for agriculture, and for restocking of looted private businesses. a
Unemployed peasants and workers are pushing the government to take more control of the economy in the belief that the monied classes, as usual, are holding out on them.
Last month, lower middle class residents of a housing projects outside Leon, 50 miles north of here, announced they would no longer pay their rent. The property now belonged to "the people," they said. There was no more reason to put money in the pockets of "the bourgeoisie."
They agreed to pay only after Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto, a Ma ryknoll priest who began the project years ago with church funding, met with residents and told them to.
Economic complaints are only a short jump to political demands. Workers at a Managua beer-bottling plan demanded their supervisor be fired because his relatively high salary meant he must have been a Somoza partisan and a crook.
There are some within the private sector -- large farm and factory owners and businessmen -- who fear an increasingly radical scene may be just what certain elements within the Samdinista regime have in mind. Although the Sandinistas have publicly promised to protect and preserve them, the continuing uncertainly fosters a high level of anxiety.
Even if their fears of more government control are not realized, a revolutionary government without hard cash or credit would have difficulty meeting the demands of the masses and could turn as a result to repression of popular protest as its only option for survival.
The government has arrested what it says are a number of Chinesefunded ultra-leftists who have been trying to destabilize the country by fomenting worker unrest amd demands. At least 60 were deported, first to Panama and later to other Latin American countries, during the revolution's first month.
In a move it admits was essentially for political control, the government has nationalized the banking and insurance systems. It has expropriated businesses and farmland owned by Somoza and his associates, and natural resources such as mines and forests. All these moves were part of a program published by the Sandinistas long ago in exile, and came as no surprise.
But "the business community is very scared of some of the things it sees here," one of the country's wealthiest industrialists said over lunch. "We want clarification. What belongs to the people? What do they mean by things like 'equality?"'
Business has hesitated to reinvest what little remaining private resources it has until things are normal. At the same time, however, businessmen realize that unless they can quickly affirm their usefulness by providing jobs and getting production started again, their demise could be ensured.
"These kinds of obstacles are among the principal problems that we have right now," said one member of the ruling junta. "The businessmen don't understand the magnitude of the revolution and what the changes mean. The revolution as complete freedom to act against the interests of business.
"The most important task we have is to get the workers to understand that not everything is based on a series of labor-management conquests," he said.
But the government is still establishing its revolutionary credentials and proving its break with a past it considers corrupt and exploitative. Although it goes to great lengths to reassure business in private, its public rhetoric is more often designed to cater to the masses.
"Utimately, it becomes a personal decsion for each businessman if he wants to stay here," said Alfredo Cesar, the young, U.S.-educated head of a new international fund set up to cordinate payment of overseas debt and receipt of aid.
"We want the private sector to stay in existance, although with less power than it had before. We're going to clarify the rules of the game and put the economic aspects of the revolution a little more in order," Cesar said. "Hopefully, a more coordinated system will give them more confidence."
During its first several months, the new government was largely silent about its short-term economic program and its plans to repay debts and borrow more. Much of its time was spent unraveling the tangled mess left by Somoza and determining just what the financial picture was.
But "we can't live our lives giving the excuse that we just got here," Central Bank head Arturo Cruz said. "We have to be serious."
Early in November, cabinet ministers were instructed to prepare 1980 budget giving priority to the production of vital consumer goods and construction materials, to employment and to increasing exports. From those reports, the government is preparing a progam that the international fund will present to creditors in New York in December.
It hopes not only to renegotiate the total $618 million owned for 1979 but also to arrange for new credits.
In what again was as much a political decision as an economic one, the government in mid-November met here with a team from the IMF for preliminary discussions. Denounced by much of the socialists world for its perceived emphasis on capitalist-based economies, the IMF was also harshly criticized by the Sandinistas last spring when it lent money to Somoza.
While borrowing and suing to regain lost assets may help Nicaragua's long-term troubles, they can do little in the current crisis. Both the government and foreign analysts agree with a recent U.S. Agency for International Development study that concluded, "Nicaragua now finds itself in a most desperate situation that if only can hope to cope with by means of massive foreign aid."
According to the U.N. study the government needs approximately $730 million during the first post-war year just to meet current expenses and repair enough war damage to get production moving again. Despite generous initial offers to help, relatively little has come. Total assistance, most of it from Western Europe, now amounts to little more than $200 million in cash and goods, far less than was promised.Donors are waiting to see what happens.