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Sandinistas try sex appeal with young voters

The poster shows the bare legs of two lovers embracing. Faded blue jeans and a rose are tossed at their feet. "The first time is beautiful when it's done with love," the caption reads.

"Vote for the FSLN," it continues, referring to the Sandinista National Liberation Front that has ruled the country since 1979.

The poster, also available as a T-shirt, is provoking titters, grins and some disapproving scowls in Nicaragua. But it is part of a bitter fight to win the hearts of young voters in next Sunday's presidential election.

"Thirty-seven percent of the voters are between 16 and 24," said Lautaro Sandino, one of the directors of Juventud Sandinista, the party's youth branch.

Most of Nicaragua's youth were not yet eligible to vote in 1984, when the last election was held, so this year's vote will be their "first time."

To win those votes, the party has been using racy images, teen-age slang, music and video spots to project a youthful image.

The 44-year-old Sandinista candidate, President Daniel Ortega, goes to rallies in T-shirts and jeans, throws autographed baseballs into the crowds, and did a respectable bump-and-grind onstage with a female singer from Sonora Dinamita, a band that played for his campaign.

Ortega's image has been carefully developed by his advisers, but some campaign innovations have not been embraced by Sandinista party leaders.

"This poster was a terrible fight," said Sandino with a grin, pointing to the "first time" image on his T-shirt.

He expects another fight over the next in the series, the "continuation" poster, for the 10th anniversary of the party's youth branch this summer. He said it will show a rumpled bed and a discarded brassiere with the caption: "When it's done with love, it's always like the first time."

Sandino is convinced this new brand of propaganda is effective.

"The young Nicaraguan is a romantic youth .


. a sensual youth," Sandino said. "They like it. Everybody likes love."

He was right, if the Juventud Sandinista's Valentine's Day festival was any sort of barometer. Thousands of young people attended the sprawling carnival on a windy stretch of grass at the edge of Lake Managua on Wednesday.

It featured contests for the best dancers, the longest kiss and the miniest skirt. Prizes were coveted Adidas, Nikes and Reebok sneakers, tape recorders and radios.

In a tent a video player displayed different Sandinista propaganda styles. A Bob Marley tape was playing at one point, but "A Day with the Sandinista Police" and a documentary called "The Interior Ministry in the Fourth Coffee Battle" were waiting.

The "Forest of Love" (a section of the park with a few young trees pushing out of the grass) featured one tent where young couples could practice getting married.

A sign on one booth starts with the Sandinista campaign slogan and ends with the words: "Marriages. Civil and ecclesiastic." One of the naked legs posters decorated a wall.

Gonzalo Carrion of the Juventud Sandinista performed hundreds of mock marriages all day and was losing a bit of patience by the late afternoon. "Go away, I've already married you," he said to one pair of teen-agers.

For each new marriage he filled out a blue photocopied form that included the names of two witnesses, and then rapidly read them the contract. "You are older, experienced people" he said to two smiling teen-aged "witnesses." "You must be responsible for this young couple."

"Hang in there," he said to one groom, then handed the bride a free T-shirt, three condoms in black-and-red packages (the Sandinista colors) and sent them off to the sexual education tent next door.

It featured posters explaining everything from sexually transmitted diseases to the importance of treating one's mate with respect and kindness. There were also samples of birth-control methods. "We are running out of leaflets," said Jim Karstegl, one of the Juventud Sandinista workers there.

Sergio Castillo, 18, said he had "married" Johana Soza, 15, just for fun. The idea of the festival, he said, "is a way of amusing us. It's a way of playing. (And) it gives more propaganda to the Front."

"If we want to organize Nicaraguan youth to guarantee their vote for the FSLN .


. we have to do exactly what the young people want," said Sandino of the Juventud Sandinista. "We are going to educate young Nicaraguans via the things they like to do."



. Obviously avoiding anarchy," he added.

The Valentine's Day party, he said, was "the first activity of this type." Castillo said, "I'm going to vote for column 5 (the FSLN)" because "I agree with the revolutionary project here in Nicaragua."

He left high school at age 16 to complete two years of compulsory military service. Discharged last June, he is now finishing school.

Although Castillo did not complain about the draft, it is the Sandinistas' toughest obstacle to winning youths' votes. For years, the draft has meant a good chance of being killed or maimed in the Contra war. Although the war has cooled and the Sandinistas have largely stopped recruiting during the electoral campaign, many young men are still afraid.

A 23-year-old man at an opposition rally last weekend in the northwestern city of Matagalpa said he would vote for the National Opposition Union mainly because its candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, has promised to abolish the draft.

There are rumors that the Sandinistas are planning to announce changes in military service just before the election.

The opposition has made efforts to organize and entertain young people too, although not as complex or lavish.

An UNO "discomobile" cruises the streets of Managua in the evenings, playing dance music.

Sandino scoffed at it. "We had one first," he said.