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3 Arrested in New Crackdown by Sandinistas

March 09, 1987|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Police arrested two opposition leaders and a pregnant woman outside a church Sunday and stopped about 200 noisy demonstrators from holding an anti-Sandinista march.

It was the first time, after two months of tolerance, that the leftist government has moved to break up a peaceful gathering of the internal political opposition.

The incident came two weeks after the Sandinista-controlled National Assembly voted to extend a five-year-old state of emergency, keeping suspended for another year many of the rights guaranteed in a new constitution.

New Crackdown Seen

Opposition leaders said that the assembly's action, which the Sandinistas called essential to public security in the face of a military offensive by U.S.-backed rebels, apparently signaled a new crackdown on all dissent.

Those arrested were Gilberto Cuadra, vice president of the Superior Council of Private Businessmen; Julio Ramon Garcia Wilches, vice president of the Social Christian Party, and Maria Membreno, 24, a Conservative Party activist.

Tan-shirted policemen who had surrounded the demonstration forced the three into the back of a police jeep, which had to be started with a jumper cable to take them to jail.

Protester Cut in Scuffle

Cuadra was cut on the cheek in a scuffle with several officers.

The protesters, led by the Conservative, Social Christian and Christian Democratic parties, had attended a Roman Catholic Mass in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Managua.

Outside the church afterward, they shouted denunciations of the military draft, food shortages and long prison terms for dissent.

The trouble started when the crowd insulted the name of Interior Minister Tomas Borge, who is in charge of public security, and chanted a slogan denouncing his police as terrorists.

A plainclothes Interior Ministry agent, who had been standing across the street with three jeeploads of uniformed police, approached Garcia Wilches and warned him: "You have no right to be here calling us terrorists. Your are inciting the counterrevolutionaries. This is an illegal act."

"We are not counterrevolutionaries," the politician insisted, rejecting identification with the contras who are fighting the Sandinista army with U.S. military aid.

Within minutes, police crossed the street and tried to pull down banners held aloft by the demonstrators, some of whom were screaming hysterically into loudspeakers.

Two witnesses said that Membreno was arrested after striking a policeman with a placard protesting the draft.

"They have no right to demonstrate," Roger Cabezas, the police vice commander, told reporters at the scene. "We are in a state of emergency."

The three dissidents were arrested, he said, "for lacking respect for the police, for striking the police. This isn't permitted in any part of the world."

The police cordon stopped a busload of late-arriving dissidents from joining the rally and kept those at the church from marching to a nearby park. About 40 women remained on the church steps, praying.

Three U.S. congressmen, in town on a fact-finding visit, also arrived late and deplored the arrests they didn't see.

'Totalitarian Reaction'

"This is a typical totalitarian reaction," said Rep. Michael DeWine, an Ohio Republican.

With him were Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino, a Republican, and Rep. Esteban E. Torres, a Democrat, both of California. All three are members of the House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs.

Nicaragua's state of emergency suspends the right to strike, the right to hold outdoor public meetings, the right to publish uncensored news and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Since a new constitution took effect two months ago, however, the government has permitted a handful of anti-government marches.

March Not Authorized

Under changes made by the legislative assembly last month, such marches may be held if the police give prior authorization.

Organizers said they did not seek authorization for Sunday's rally because it was to commemorate a nonpolitical cause, International Women's Day. They noted that the ruling Sandinista Front did not need permission for its own Women's Day rally, attended by thousands at a Managua stadium.

Azucena Ferre, a Christian Democratic leader, said the real purpose of the opposition rally was to demand the restoration of constitutional rights.

"Sadly, the government has proven that the democracy it preaches in this country is false," she said.

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