The women from the poor neighborhood who had arrived at the government food dispensary to buy their rationed goods were looking up at the new list of prices, shaking their heads in disbelief and grumbling in anger.
The price of beans had tripled; the prices of meat, eggs, milk, rice and salt had doubled, and sugar was up by a half.
Blanca Lopez, 22, a young son with holes in his clothes hanging onto her skirt, muttered: "I don't see how we are going to do this, or how anyone is going to do this. It seems impossible."
The prices have skyrocketed because the leftist Sandinista government has slashed subsidies, one of a series of economic measures designed to revive the country's centralized economy and to dismantle a widespread black market in food, other goods and currency.
Nicaragua's production of basic agricultural goods dropped last year, and tax revenues were off. Nonetheless, government spending, spurred by large outlays for defense, health and education, continued to rise, creating a hefty deficit. The result was inflation estimated at 60 percent, shortages and the growth of the black market.
Opposition businessmen insist that production is down because many large and small growers of basic grains, such as beans and corn, and export crops, such as coffee and cotton, have lost confidence in the government. They say continuing confiscations of farms and industries by the government are part of a plan to turn Nicaragua into a totalitarian state where there will be no room for private enterprise.
The Sandinistas argue that the crisis has been caused, in large part, by the war being waged against them by U.S.-backed rebels, whose attacks have cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and have caused some growers to abandon their lands, making production drop. Those officials insist that confiscations of private holdings have decreased but that some growers are in league with the rebels and the United States and that is why their land has been expropriated.
Western observers here say a major political consequence of the Nicaraguan economic crisis is that the Sandinistas are depending more on the Soviet Bloc for economic aid and are strengthening their political ties to that bloc.
But the new economic measures are far from Marxist. In fact, they are referred to by some here as "Sandinista Reaganomics."
Apart from cutting food subsidies, the government is also expected to loosen controls on the price of gasoline. Oil industry sources say they expect the price of gasoline to double, almost certainly provoking a sharp rise in fares paid for public transportation.
Education spending is being frozen and other government programs that have won the Sandinistas support from some of the poor are expected to suffer.
Although raises have been granted to offset, in part, the rise in the price of food, the government is now enforcing a wage freeze throughout the public and private sectors to try to head off inflation.
At the same time, the government, the only legal wholesaler of agricultural products, is increasing the prices it pays to producers in hopes of increasing production, ending shortages, crushing the black market and starting to reduce the deficit and inflation. The Sandinistas hope the austerity measures will make them eligible for loans from international lending institutions.
"Karl Marx must be turning over in his grave," said William Baez, a leading opposition businessman, "but what it amounts to is the Sandinistas trying to use economic solutions to solve a political problem."
He and other opposition leaders said the new measures will not be enough.
"Inflation will eat up all those price increases they are offering and more," said Jaime Bengoechea, president of the opposition Superior Council of Private Enterprise. "They haven't cut public spending; in fact, they are increasing it. Inflation is going to get much worse."
The major increase in public spending this year will be for defense. The Sandinistas have announced they will spend about 40 percent of the national budget on defense.
"That's why we are telling them they must negotiate a settlement with the contras," as the rebels are called, said Bengoechea. "They won't be able to cut public spending, and on top of that no one is going to invest in this country while there is a war going on here."
He and other opposition businessmen also have told the Sandinistas they must make democratic political reforms guaranteeing the right to private property and ending confiscations, ensuring freedom of expression and guaranteeing the opposition a voice in the government before the private sector will invest in the country.
The Sandinistas have had problems all along with a part of the private sector, which still manages 60 percent of the economy despite the confiscations. But Sandinista officials acknowledge that the new measures are causing belt-tightening and discontent among the poor whom they claim as their base of support.
Before the recent price rises and salary adjustments, a person making the minimum wage in Managua had to work two weeks to buy a cheap, badly made pair of shoes. Since most cloth is imported and expensive, a relatively cheap shirt costs more than a week's wage.
Sandinista supporters say they are willing to tighten their belts. A 38-year-old unmarried saleswoman, the mother of three, said she is already walking home 45 minutes from work to save bus fare and is skimping on lunch. But the woman, who asked not to be identified, said her oldest daughter is studying at the state university and plans to be a doctor.
"That would never have happened if it weren't for the Sandinista revolution," she said.
Blanca Lopez and other women at the food dispensary disagreed. Lopez's postal clerk husband was expecting a raise of about 60 percent, but he said it would not be enough to offset the price increases for food.