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Betrayal in Nicaragua

December 18, 1985

The ruling Sandinistas are intensifying a campaign of intimidation and repression against opposition groups, dissidents and religious organizations in Nicaragua, our correspondent, William R. Long, reports. The evidence indicates a bald betrayal of the commitment to democracy and religious and press freedom that was made when the Somoza regime was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.

Nicaraguan leaders have sought to justify their actions as a response to the U.S.-supported insurgency of the contras and as a legitimate enforcement of the law. There is no question that they are exploiting the existence of the guerrilla war to consolidate control and impose a narrow, ideological interpretation of what had been a broad-based revolution.

The repression of critics within Nicaragua may at least help sober the more romantic foreign supporters of the Sandinistas. But it may also serve to encourage the critics in the United States whose militancy already has served to help consolidate the very regime that they deplore. There has been a destructive polarization in the United States between sycophants, ready to support whatever the Sandinistas do or say, and extreme critics, who can see no good in the regime and who delight in such oversimplifications as President Reagan's characterization of the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, as a "dictator in designer glasses." Neither extreme is constructive.

Fortunately for Central America, there remains a positive alternative in the Contadora peacemaking process. It was reaffirmed Tuesday by leading Latin American foreign ministers. And a key element of the Contadora plan--the termination of all intervention, including U.S. intervention--has been reaffirmed by the newly elected president of Guatemala, Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo.

This opposition from the Latin Americans themselves has not deterred President Reagan from pushing ahead with plans for expanded support of the contras in Nicaragua. That reckless policy is separating the United States from its Latin neighbors as well as from its European allies. And the new wave of repression demonstrates how foreign intervention is allowing the Sandinistas to justify tightened control over their pathetic and impoverished nation.

But in Washington the argument prevails that Uncle Sam knows best, that the innocent Latins simply do not understand the terrible fate that awaits them should Marxism flower in Managua. That arrogance ignores the evidence that the Latin Americans understand very well the perils of intervention because of the lessons taught by previous foreign imperialist intruders--U.S. Marines among them. And it ignores the evidence that the Reagan intervention is far more likely to result in the consolidation of a Moscow ally in Central America than is the Contadora process, which lets the Latins put their own house in order.

The Sandinistas are using police-state tactics as they detain, interrogate, fingerprint and photograph hundreds of people whose worst crime is to disapprove of the way the Sandinistas are governing. And, when intimidation does not silence criticism, they expand censorship. The surest way to halt the abuses of human rights now conspicuous in Managua is to speed a settlement along the lines already drawn by the Contadora nations.

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