`Sandalistas' Keep Faith Amid Change In Nicaragua

MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Many of the ``Sandalistas,'' young foreigners who came by the thousands to help the leftist Sandinista Front build a new society, have stayed on despite the conservative election victory last year.

``The revolution hasn't disappeared at all,'' said Stephen Solnit, a computer specialist from the San Francisco Bay area.

``Having political power isn't the final goal of the revolution,'' he said. ``The revolution keeps happening in the neighborhoods, the universities, the cooperatives.''

There are no accurate records of how many volunteers, called Sandalistas because of their penchant for sandals and casual dress, came to Nicaragua in the 11 years the Sandinistas ruled.

An estimated 8,000 arrived in 1988, but arrivals slowed to a trickle after the election in 1990.

Those who stayed are proving useful to the 8-month-old government of President Violeta Chamorro.

``We are very conscious that they are tremendously important,'' said Antonio Lacayo, minister of the presidency.

``It is in the government's best interest that these groups continue working in Nicaragua,'' he said.

The Sandinista Front created the Committee of Friendship and Solidarity with the People to deal with sympathetic foreigners.

Abroad, Sandalistas raised millions of dollars for the cause and lobbied their governments for better treatment of Nicaragua.

In this country, volunteer brigades picked coffee, taught peasants to read and write, and were a source of enthusiastic, free and specialized labor.

Motorists eventually grew used to North Americans protesting outside the U.S. Embassy.

In October 1990, German Sandalistas lunged at the German ambassador and grabbed his microphone during a celebration of Germany's reunification.

``Nicaragua was an experiment, and for many people that experiment has ended,'' said Dieter Stadler, 39, of Austria. ``Personally, I want the projects to continue.''

Stadler links volunteers in Switzerland and Germany with La Posolera, a 75-family cooperative in northern Nicaragua.

European work brigades have helped build a coffee warehouse, school and church in La Posolera, and the foreigners have brought in electricity and potable water.

Stadler's organization, a German group called Self for Self Help, also runs a gallery that exhibits the work of Nicaraguan artists and sells it abroad, and a shop where peasants are taught to make agricultural tools.

Since the election, he said ``funds have almost totally dried up'' in Europe. ``The focus of interest has been lost. A lot of people from the left abandoned the project.''

His group still receives private donations, he said, and recently got a German government grant equivalent to $66,000.

Solnit, 31, arrived in Nicaragua three years ago with Tecnisa, a Berkeley, Calif., group that recruited professionals to donate services to Nicaragua.

Tecnisa brought more than 1,000 North American professionals and technicians to Nicaragua in seven years, but closed three months ago. Solnit now is with Science for the People, a Boston organization that seeks constructive uses for sciences.

His new organization also has money problems. ``We have cut down stipends, about $115 a month per person, and that's only for those who need it and request it,'' Solnit said.

He teaches at the Engineering University in classrooms with no windows and too few desks.

After the election, Solnit said, he and the other Sandalistas had to reconsider their motives. ``What is the role of solidarity now?'' he said. ``Everybody came down to support the revolutionary process . . . but that doesn't mean you have to be an undying supporter of the party.''