Ronnie Dugger (Editorial Pages, Nov. 21) asks, "What If Ortega Is Another Castro?"
My answer is that that would be good for the people of Nicaragua, as well as the people of the United States if our government does not continue to be as stupid in dealing with Nicaragua as it has been with Cuba.
Dugger properly raises the question of suspension of civil liberties as a war measure by the Nicaraguan government. Denial of basic civil liberties even in war time is deplorable, but before we complacently cast the first stone we should examine our own history.
Nicaragua is a nation at war.
When we were at war--the Civil War--President Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus and denied the use of the mails to Copperhead publications.
When we were at war--World War I--we enacted the Sedition and Espionage Act, which was a drastic denial of civil liberties.
When we were at war--World War II--we put several thousand Americans of Japanese descent into concentration camps without the slightest vestige of due process or judicial proceedings.
We have trained, financed and directed a war of invasion against Nicaragua, as we did against Cuba. We have thrown Nicaragua into the arms of the Soviet Union, as we did with Cuba, by such action and by embargo. None of this has benefited the United States.
Dugger is quite right when he says there is a need for Americans, particularly "liberals prominently identified with the American Civil Liberties Union to go to Nicaragua to inquire publicly into the Sandinistas' civil liberties practices and long-term policies." I happen to fit into that precise category and did exactly that in the spring of 1984.
I spoke not only with government people, but also with leaders of business, agricultural and professional organizations opposed to the government, as well as to Don Pedro Chamorro, editor and publisher of La Prensa. There was, indeed, censorship of the press, but the judicial process was working, there was open and vocal opposition to the government, including La Prensa, and preparations were being made for the election to be held in a few months. There were some political prisoners, but nothing at all like the situation in El Salvador to which I went from Nicaragua, where I spoke to union leaders who already had been in prison for almost two years with no charges filed against them.
At the same time, I noted in Nicaragua that illiteracy had been reduced to close to the vanishing point (recent reports tell of more than 40 million "functional illiterates" in our own country); that a national health system was beginning to function; that the repression and corruption of 40 years of Somoza rule was gone; and that the conditions of the working population, urban and rural, had apparently improved considerably and also that the economy of the country was at least 50% "free enterprise."
In short, as an "American liberal prominently identified with the ACLU," I deplore any deprivation of basic civil liberties, in war as in peace, in Nicaragua as in the United States. But, at the same time, I deplore, as I have since the 1920s, U.S. armed intervention in that small nation and welcome it into the family of nations as a country that has overthrown a vicious dictatorship and that I hope and believe will become an example of what the people can do if given a chance to pursue their own destiny in peace.