As Sandinista leaders railed agains the growing bureaucracy of their government during the celebration of their second anniversary in power July 19, the general secretary of Libya's Foreign Affairs Ministry was trying to negotiate himself through a Nicaraguan border post more than 100 miles to the south.
Musa M. Abdusalam and his three companions were the official Libyan delegation to the celebration: Very important People, especially since their country recently deposited $100 million in Managua to shore up the Nicaraguan economy. But it did not matter; Sandinista bureaucracy had them in its sloth-like grasp.
Abdusalam had flown for two days from Tripoli to attend the event, only to find that the final connection to Managua had been canceled when Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport closed "for security reasons."
The delegation set out for Managua by cab from San Jose, Costa Rica. By the time they cleared the border, the celebration was over. And when finally arrived in the capital they were turned away from the Intercontinental Hotel, which was reserved precisely for VIPs suchas they, because an officious Sandinista police officer correctly noted that they wore no security passes.
"This," said an exhausted Abdusalam late that night, "is really incredible."
In fact, it is business as usual in revolutionary Nicaragua. The problem of burgeoning bureaucracy, as much as any other single factor, is contributing to the Sandinistas' gradual alienation from the people who brought them to power.
In the two years since the Sandinista triumph, the bureaucracy has grown faster than just about anything else in the country, with the number of government employes going from 30,000 to 45,000. Those figures do not include employment in state farms and industries which has roughly doubled, or the armed forces which have enlisted at least 22,000 recruits in the last two years.
Efficiency has not increased with the size of the bureaucracy.
In the private sector, which controls roughly 60 percent of the economy, doubts about the Sandinistas' managerial ability have worsened a climate for investment already beset with a Siberian chill. Businessmen complain that they can never be sure when a new rule will appear on the books or an arbitrary bureaucrat will descend on their offices.
Now the government has embarked on a potentially extensive program of agrarian reform and has initiated new confiscation laws tied to allegations against businesses believed to be smuggling capital out of the country. The result is what some businessmen are calling "panic" in the private sector, not because the intent of the laws is necessarily antagonistic to business, but because of fears about the way the laws will be administered.
The bureaucracy generally does not create major political conflicts; it simply adds to the myriad little irritants accumulating in this country as it struggles out of bankruptcy toward an as yet rather lazy socialist future.
Typically, the Sandinistas achknowledge the problem. Interior Minister Tomas Borge, a founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and often regarded as one of its most dogmatic members, evoked enthusiastic applause at the anniversary celebration when he broadsided bureaucratic peccadilloes.
"Sometimes to get a public document you have to spend three days and even up to 30 days," Borge complained. "I even know of a case of one woman comrade who went to get a paper when she was seven months pregnant, and they told her to come back with another paper proving she was pregnant. The future mother said 'Comrade, I am sure that I'm not inflated, and I don't have dropsy!"
Borge concluded, "One has to combat the vice that is inherited from the past of converting the easy into the difficult."
Some aspects of the current rise in bureaucratic controls are the reaction to 50 years of overweeing corruption under the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and his predecessors -- when even emergency relief aid after an earthquake in 1972 was peddled by government profiteers. The Sandinistas are making the transition to a system in which corruption, although rumored, is not apparent and most difficulties arise from inexperience and a meticulous adherence to every minute rule.
The malaise about bureaucracy is apparently felt at the top as well. Although the reasons are not altogether clear for the resignation several weeks ago of the vice minister of defense, Eden Pastora, the famous Comandante Zero, many of his friends, family and fellow officials believe he could no longer stand pushing papers around.
"Eden Pastora has 23 years a revolutionary, and that says a lot," said Moises Hassan, now minister of construction. "That kind of man can't sie behind a desk in a wood-paneled office signing papers. He didn't want to be some sort of 'guerrilla bureaucrat.' He was a man who was boiling inside.'
Was Hassan, sitting in just such an office, really talking about himself? "Well," said Hassan, "it is true there are many of us who feel that way."
The Sandinistas had wanted to do away with the trappings of power and the cult of personality, yet as certain leaders garner more personal influence, those elements, too, are slipping back into Nicaraguan life.
Daniel Ortega, coordinator of the three-man junta (that once had five members) and member of the nine-member National Directorate, usually acts as government's spokesman and is now considered number one by foreign diplomats.
The new branch of the police cruising the streets of Managua, whose members wear gleaming black helmets, riding boots and sharply tailored blue-grey uniforms with red and yellow piping, is called the "Presidential Escort," according to a member. A curious title in a country that officially has no president.