WASHINGTON — In the last few months, Nicaragua's communist regime has stepped up censorship, entered Honduras to strike at the contras and driven thousands of Miskito Indians to seek refuge in Honduras by bombing their villages in Nicaragua. These acts are not excesses or mistakes committed in the blush of revolutionary youth. They are part of a careful, systematic consolidation of power.
The Sandinistas want a monopoly on power; this we expect from dictators, and the Sandinistas are fulfilling our expectations. Their mentor is Castro, and Cuba is their model. Their totalitarian beliefs require that they attempt to wipe out all sources of organized opposition. In doing so, the Sandinistas are giving us a course in applied Leninist theory.
The recent debates in Congress suggest that most congressmen now understand that the Sandinistas are communists, but that many still do not realize what this means in practice. When we review some of the basic elements of Leninist theory revealed in Sandinista behavior, it is clear that the comandantes are in fact not simple thugs but communist true believers.
--The Sandinistas see themselves as a "vanguard" movement. As communists, they claim to represent "the forces of history." Thus, theirs is the exclusive right to represent all Nicaraguans and to lead the transformation of society. Unless faced with pressure they cannot resist, they will never allow a free election to determine who the people really support.
--The Sandinistas also see themselves as having an "internationalist" duty to support communist revolution in neighboring countries. This is inseparable from their role as revolutionary "vanguard" at home; as one comandante put it, "We cannot cease being internationalists unless we cease being revolutionaries."
--In true Leninist fashion, the Sandinistas use patient, flexible tactics while pursuing without compromise their strategic objectives. For example, pending the full consolidation of power, they permit some independent, but increasingly controlled, labor, political and pastoral activity. The Sandinistas have shown the flexibility to take temporary, tactical retreats: Lenin called this two steps forward, one step back. Censorship and other controls were briefly eased before the 1984 election; Nicaraguan aid to the Salvadoran communist guerrillas was reduced after the liberation of Grenada. Then in the winter and spring of this year, the Sandinistas moved to crush the democratic opposition. They bombed Miskito villages, banned the church's radio station and crossed into Honduras.
--The Sandinistas practice deception to broaden their base of support and to conceal their strategic aims. When the triumph of the anti-Somoza struggle depended on its democratic and nationalistic appeal, the Sandinistas intermittently concealed their Marxist-Leninist beliefs to attract business and international support. Today, the few pockets of pluralism that survive in Nicaragua are used by the Sandinistas to pretend that they are not totalitarians. The surviving business community, for example, is useful for "display" purposes, according to one comandante . Similarly, circulation of a draft constitution to foreign audiences gives the appearance of allegiance to the rule of law.
Policies based on the assumption that we are dealing with misguided would-be democrats are extremely dangerous in a region as vital as Central America is to the United States.
Our objectives are clear. We want to protect Nicaragua's neighbors and help Nicaraguans achieve democracy. From a moral standpoint, these are obligations that derive both from our position as the strongest democracy in the Americas, and from the role we played in helping to ease Somoza out of power in 1979. From a strategic standpoint, the more the Soviets and Cubans arm the Sandinistas, the more our responsibility grows. How can we expect our neighbors to deal with Soviet power if we seem to wish to ignore it? Silent as our Latin neighbors often are on this score, they recognize this and expect us to fulfill our obligations.
In Nicaragua, our moral and strategic interests--freedom and security--are not only in harmony, they are inseparable. As Violeta Chamorro of Managua's La Prensa realized after sharing power with the Sandinistas for nearly a year, "Without freedom first, there will never be peace."