Chema, a political organizer for this rebel-held village, admits he has a tough job.

The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front has held Jocoaitique since last fall, with only occasional interruption by Army sweeps through northern Morazan province. But insecurity is not the problem, Chema says; people here are worried about everyday concerns, such as where their next meal is coming from, and have little time for revolutionary politics or any other kind.

"My work is also difficult because I don't come from this area," he acknowledged in an interview.

Chema, sporting a cowboy hat and carrying an M1 carbine, was assigned by the front to come from his native Chalatenango province, 60 miles west, and guide the revolution of the Salvadoran peasants living under guerrilla rule in Jocoaitique.

About 5,000 people used to live here, raising corn and century plants on the pleasantly rolling hillsides about six miles north of the Torola River. They are almost all gone, says the Rev. Andres Argueta del Cid, the Jocoaitique parish priest. Only 1,400 live here now, Argueta estimates, and nearly all are refugees from fighting on nearby farms who have taken over the homes left vacant by more prosperous Jocoaitique families who moved south.

But the 47-year-old priest hangs on, saying mass in six badly hit villages. Formerly, he drove around in a car. But guerrillas caused "a few little problems" and now the car stays parked in San Francisco Gotera, the nearest Army garrison 14 miles to the south. So Argueta makes his rounds on horseback, the way he used to when he started his priestly life here 20 years ago.

Chema says the biggest problem for his and Argueta's charges is food.

The International Red Cross used to deliver food to the area and hand it out to needy villagers, but the Army commander at San Francisco Gotera has banned even that for the past two months, Gotera residents and villagers say.

Bus service, electricity, telephone connections and, in most houses, running water also are things of the past here, Argueta said. The school has been closed for three years.

A mortar round crashed down on it six weeks ago, severing an old man's left arm and leaving a hole in the corrugated tin roof. Chema and Argueta said a 3-year-old boy was killed in mid-July by another of the Army's sporadic shelling attacks.

But most days are quiet--quiet and desperate. Rosa Evilie Amaya, who runs the grocery, is selling little more than dried beans and oranges these days. She also has some stray shampoo in clear plastic pods and a few locally made cigars. But there is not much of a market for such luxury goods in Jocoaitique.

"It is the biggest store, and I have nothing to sell," she said.