The commanders of the revolution here are worried. The Cubans are concerned. The Soviets are perhaps a bit perturbed.
But the people here most clearly terrified by Washington's militant attitude toward Nicaragua are precisely the people the administration says it wants to help. They are businessmen, opposition leaders, journalists and some churchmen working for political pluralism and hoping to keep the Sandinista government's leftist line as soft as possible.
"The Reagan administration is being hostile to Nicaragua as a country," said Alfonso Robelo, a wealthy businessman who is one of the most prominent critics of the government. He had just met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas O. Enders, who visited Managua recently. "Not only hostile to the Sandinista government but to the people," Robelo said. Robelo was a member of the original revolutionary junta who resigned last year to lead the opposition Nicaraguan Democratic Movement.
"I say this because they have touched two issues that are critical to any people," Robelo added. "One is the nationalistic issue when they ratified the treaty with Colombia about the keys" -- three tiny islets over which Nicaragua claims sovereignty -- "and second with the wheat embargo when they touched upon the hunger of the people. They touched their stomachs."
Reports that members of the late dictator Anastasio Somoza's National Guard, defeated in July 1979, are now training on U.S. territory for a possible counterrevolution are especially disturbing to Robelo and other moderate opponents of the Sandinistas.
Counterrevolution, said Robelo, is "out of the question."
"I'm a Nicaraguan and I don't want to lose my country, and if a counterrevolution comes from the Somocistas and the ex-national guardsmen, I'm going to lose it. Why? Because independent of what happens, I'm not going to be able to live here," Robelo explained, surrounded by Nicaraguan folk art in his comfortable upper-middle-class home.
"I'm going to lose my country if the FSLN Sandinista National Liberation Front wins -- and most likely it will win -- because then it will totally radicalize and will accuse all independent democratic forces of being allied with the counterrevolution," Robelo said. "And if the counterrevolution takes over, forget it. The FSLN has so many people that are fanatics, with weapons and with enough underground capacity, that this is going to be a country where I couldn't get out of this house. El Salvador would be a children's world compared to what would happen here."
There is not a great deal of optimism about the future among the opposition leaders here, but there is still a sense of possibility.
Robelo's party and others have been discouraged by decree and sometimes by mob action from holding political rallies. Opponents of the government have been regularly and publicly vilified. A bit of graffiti scrawled on a wall only two blocks from Robelo's business office reads "Death to Robelo."
Managua's archbishop, Miguel Obando y Bravo, increasingly critical of the government, is no longer allowed to broadcast his Sunday mass over the state-run television system. The independent newspaper La Prensa has been shut down briefly on several occasions.
Robelo describes the environment created by such actions as "quasi-totalitarian."
"We have to gain time," he said, "and see if things get better."
A series of decrees issued by the Sandinistas on July 19, the second anniversary of their rise to power, mandated the expropriation of 15 factories and the initiation of a potentially vast agrarian reform, and declared, among other things, that the property of anyone who has ever spent six months outside the country could be seized. Waves of panic subsequently swept through the private sector.
"They have laws making it possible for them to take over 80 percent of the private sector," said one prominent businessman who asked that his name not be published. "It's like a shotgun to our heads. Nobody knows how much these new laws will be used. My guess is that the Sandinistas will use them selectively against people they think are threatening."
And yet, less than three weeks after the decrees, the Sandinistas called a meeting with 30 private-sector leaders and told them they hoped for continued cooperation.
"They said they would give us all the help we need as long as we stay out of politics," said one participant in the meeting.
It is just such actions by the Sandinistas that give Robelo and others hope for future progress.
"If you are a Marxist-Leninist and have all the power and you have a good supporter on the outside who will give you money on a permanent basis, then you would not back up. You would go ahead. You would not talk to businessmen," said Robelo.
Unlike the Cuban revolution it often emulates, however, the Sandinista government does not have the solid economic backing of the Soviet Union or any other nation. Nicaragua has sought to diversify its sources of vital foreign aid, and in the wake of the U.S. cutoff of support, Mexico and Libya have helped it avoid a major crisis. However, the economy remains chronically close to disaster.
The dissipation of power and ideology within the collegial Sandinista leadership has also helped forestall any movement toward a more totalitarian system.
"There is no head of state, there is no central planning, there is no coordination. It is a funny revolution," said Robelo.
Speaking of the all-powerful nine-member National Directorate of the Sadinista Front, Robelo said, "They all agree on one end of the road, and that is a Marxist-Leninist state. But there are a lot of differences about how to get there. They see difficulties rising up, especially economic ones, and the thing is not moving the way they thought it would move.
"It's as if these nine commanders were in one truck and they know where they want to go but it is stuck in the mud and it moves from one side to another but it doesn't move ahead. Then they start saying, 'Let's take this road, let's take the other, let's go faster, let's go slower, let's have somebody push us.' "
Meanwhile, the point made by Robelo and businessmen here again and again is that while the Sandinistas' truck is stalled, more moderate elements still have room to move. If the United States recognizes this and does not provoke the Sandinistas into unifying for self-defense, basic political and economic freedoms could be strengthened.
"There are people here in the private sector, the church, the opposition parties and La Prensa who are fighting," said one businessman. "Why should the U.S. just toss them off?"