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Skeptical Nicaraguans Unlikely to Head Home Despite Peace

April 4, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ Many Nicaraguan exiles here have longed for years to return to their homeland, but most say they will stay put despite the sudden prospect of peace there.

While a few hope to return and rebuild their lives, many are skeptical of abandoning the security and prosperity of the United States for an uncertain future and question whether the 9-year-old leftist Sandinista government will honor the peace accord.

″We appreciate not having to worry about who’s going to knock on your door at 3 a.m.,″ said Ronald Lacayo, who left Nicaragua in 1981 and now makes women’s sportswear. ″It would take another nine years to be satisfied it wouldn’t happen again.″

Lacayo doubts he or the 15 countrymen who work for him will go home despite the cease-fire signed last month by the Sandinistas and the U.S.-backed rebels known as Contras. The pact provides some political freedom in exchange for Contra recognition of the regime.

Most of Lacayo’s Nicaraguan workers entered the United States illegally and suffered hardships for years, he said.

″They were living three or four families to a home, but after working hard, they have built themselves good lives,″ said Lacayo. ″They have more opportunity here and none of them are eager to go back.″

The peace agreement actually could increase Nicaraguan immigration, exiles said, because it might make it easier for the estimated 100,000 exiles in south Florida to bring their familes to the United States.

″Maybe 10,000 will go home,″ said Cristobal Mendoza, who heads the Nicaraguan Committee of the Poor in Exile. ″But 50,000 or 100,000 more will come in.″

But even those who don’t believe the Sandinistas will keep their word or readily surrender power are confident that, in the long run, the Nicaraguan people will achieve a stable, democratic government that could draw back exiled countrymen.

″The Nicaraguan community in large part wants to go home,″ says Mendoza. ″That’s why we ask for work permits and not residency.″

Perry Rivkind, who heads the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami, said few Nicaraguans have called his office interested in returning. Instead, they fear their asylum status will be lost and they will be forced to leave the United States.

He said the INS here issued 32,000 work permits to Nicaraguans this year alone, and about 300 more apply each week - truce or not.

Rivkind says he is reassuring worried exiles that they will not be shipped back to Nicaragua in the near future despite the peace accord.

″It will take years to review their asylum status, and even if it is revoked, they have an appeal process,″ he said.

Rivkind said the exiles, many of them representatives of Nicaragua’s professional and managerial class, consider the peace agreement meaningless because of their distrust of the Sandinista government.

″I will work day and night to keep Nicaraguans here in Miami,″ said Roberto Arguello, influential head of the Nicaraguan American Bankers Association.

″Nobody will move from the city of Miami, and Nicaraguans will continue to come into the United States in record numbers,″ he predicted.

He said Nicaragua should not expect the return of its private sector, its professionals or even laborers until the Sandinistas have left.

However, there are a few exceptions - surprisingly among the Contras who until last month were locked in a bloody struggle with the Sandinistas.

Jorge Rosales, longtime spokesman for the Nicaraguan Resistance, as the Contras are formally known, said he hopes to be home within a few months after the treaty goes into effect, but only if the Sandinistas respect its terms.

″I will immediately go back to help my family,″ said Rosales. ″People have a role to play, and this is mine. The more middle class we have, the better.″