To be young, revolutionary and rich in Nicaragua


MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Viguel Ernesto Vigil is Nicaragua's housing minister. He is also young, rich and revolutionary.

'I was wealthy before the revolution. I still am after,' Vigil said. 'But there is a difference. Now I use my wealth to help my people instead of just myself.'


Many of Nicaragua's wealthy capitalists have fled since the Sandinistas took power July 19, 1979, after an 18-month civil war - their dreams shattered by the strict rules of a revolutionary economy designed to benefit the poor majority.

But many -- it is impossible to say how many -- also have chosen to stay. Most have been educated in the United States and speak fluent English. Some are still millionaires. Others have given the bulk of their wealth 'to the revolution.' Still others have had much of their property confiscated by the government.

Several, like Vigil, work in high government positions and are enthusiastic Sandinistas. Others, though not completely satisfied, feel there is enough space in the economy to continue business as usual. Another group dreams of the past and hopes quietly for a radical change.


All of Nicaragua's rich have passionate opinions about the Sandinista revolution -- one way or another. No one is spared its effects, and all have to negotiate its pitfalls. Some are just beginning to heal the wounds inflicted by change. Other families remain divided along political lines.

Luis Carrion Montoya, for instance, owns the most popular steak house in Managua and lives in a sprawling ranch house in Las Colinas, a fashionable suburb of the capital.

Before the 1979 revolutionary victory, he founded the first private bank in Nicaragua and directed La Financiera, a lending agency for housing construction.

He also is the father of Comandante Luis Carrion Cruz, a top military leader and the youngest member of the nine-man Sandinista national directorate.

Carrion Montoya, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, lost almost all his financial interests when the banking system was nationalized in 1979.

'I have realized I've been a privileged person my whole life,' says Carrion. 'And I have reached the conclusion that old-fashioned capitalism is going out of style, and should go out of style. It ends up putting too much power in the hands of a few.

'I think we are living in a mildly socialistic society,' he said. 'There are a great deal of capitalists in Nicaragua and the government is protecting us. But the freedom to do anything you want to your workers -- no. That, happily, no longer exists.'


Before the revolution, Carrion had five servants and two chauffeurs.

'We had a ball,' he says. 'We had everything.

'Now, I can accept the fact I have to put my own case of Coke in the car. If you don't accept it, you don't realize the world moves.'

Carrion does not talk fondly of Sept. 1, 1974. That was the day his son, Luis, took his father's hunting rifles and left a note saying he was going underground. The family heard nothing of him for three years.

'We felt tremendous conflict and anguish,' Carrion remembers. 'We did not have a family for so long.'

There were days, he said, when he and his wife, Gloria, would rush to the morgue upon hearing news a 'guerrilla' had been killed. Their worry only increased when their other two children, Carlos and Gloria, joined the Sandinistas.

Following a clandestine visit with Luis in 1977, things began to change.

'We began to be proud of his heroism, the fact he was risking his life. We began to accept the idea that the Sandinistas were popular and had a lot of kids whose last names were respected by Somoza,' he said.

'I'm proud of my children. They are honest and work like hell for their beliefs. I like to think they inherited some of it from me.'


Latest Headlines