MIAMI — In an effort to prevent the collapse of the U.S-backed contras' political coalition, conservative rebel leader Adolfo Calero has agreed to resign from the directorate of the United Nicaraguan Opposition, contra sources said Sunday.
But Calero will apparently hold onto his leadership of the largest rebel combat organization, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, so his resignation from the three-man opposition directorate may not satisfy the demands of the two more moderate leaders who have called for his ouster.
These two, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo, have threatened to quit the coalition unless Calero's power is reduced within the rebel movement.
Issue in Congress
The leadership controversy is critical because several key members of Congress have declared that they will withdraw their support for U.S. aid to the contras if Cruz and Robelo leave.
President Reagan must certify that the contras have made progress toward unity for Congress to release $40 million in pending military aid this year. The Administration also is expected to asked Congress for $105 million in rebel aid in the next fiscal year.
The Administration forged the shaky UNO alliance in 1985 in an effort to show Congress that the principal contra factions could function together in a broad-based political organization. Congress appropriated $27 million for so-called "non-lethal aid" to the Nicaraguan rebels in fiscal 1986 and approved $100 million for military and other aid this year, $60 million of which has already been granted.
Calero, once the manager of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Managua, is committed to the forceful overthrow of the Marxist-led Sandinista National Liberation Front that now governs Nicaragua.
Cruz and Robelo, both of whom served in the Sandinista government after it came to power in 1979, are more inclined toward negotiations with Managua and have more support than Calero does in Congress. Cruz has complained about what he called Calero's "anti-democratic attitude."
Calero was in strategy meetings with his allies here late Sunday and could not be reached for comment, but he is expected to announce his decision at a news conference this morning at the UNO headquarters.
Rebel sources said that he will propose Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Jr., son of the slain editor of the Managua newspaper La Prensa, to succeed him on the three-member UNO directorate. Chamorro, who lives in self-imposed exile in Costa Rica, is now editor of the contra newspaper, Nicaragua Hoy.
"If that's all that happens, it's purely cosmetic," said a State Department source who asked not to be identified. However, he added: "It's a no-win situation. If Cruz goes, we lose the moderates (in Congress). If Calero goes, the conservatives are unhappy and you risk disrupting the military effort."
Calero apparently does not intend to meet Cruz's demands to dissolve his organization, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, and to put its guerrilla fighters under the civilian command of the United Nicaraguan Opposition. He also apparently does not plan to replace military commander Enrique Bermudez, his conservative ally. Bermudez was a colonel in the National Guard of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza before the latter was toppled by a popular uprising, in which the Sandinistas played the key military role.
"The whole formula is a joke," a Cruz supporter said Sunday of Calero's plan to step down.
"I think we are heading toward total disintegration (of the UNO). This is totally unacceptable to Cruz. If this goes through, he's going to resign, and I think Robelo will too," he said.
However, he noted, "we still have three or four days where something can be worked out." Cruz and Robelo have announced a news conference in Washington for Thursday.
Neither Cruz nor Robelo could be reached for comment.
In a telephone interview from Costa Rica, Chamorro declined to give details of the plan to name him to the United Nicaraguan Opposition's directorate in Calero's place. He said, however: "I would accept with a condition--if the base of the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Force) and the UNO assembly is consulted. . . . This is a decision by Adolfo and the directorate, but I would like to feel that the combatants also are in agreement."
Chamorro, who is in his 30s--much younger than the current members of the directorate-- reportedly was Calero's choice to replace him. But he also gets along with Cruz and Robelo.
Chamorro said that he had spoken with Robelo and that "Alfonso is disposed to working with me."
Calero apparently will submit his resignation and the proposal for Chamorro to succeed him at a meeting of the UNO assembly next week. The meeting is likely to be held in Costa Rica where Chamorro's sister, Claudia, a partisan of the Sandinistas, is the Nicaraguan ambassador.
Chamorro's brother, Carlos Fernando, is editor of the Sandinista's official newspaper, Barricada, in Nicaragua.
The Chamorros' father, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Sr., founded La Prensa and was for years the most outspoken foe of Somoza in Nicaragua. His murder on a Managua street in 1978, blamed on Somoza loyalists, was the spark that set off the uprising that eventually led to Somoza's fall from power.
Marjorie Miller reported from Miami and Doyle McManus from Washington.