MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Former contra leader Edgar Chamorro returned to Nicaragua on Monday night after seven years in exile, becoming the first well-known anti-Sandinista to accept amnesty.
Chamorro, who broke with the contras in 1984 over CIA control of the rebel movement, said he is coming back "to test the sincerity" of the Sandinistas in complying with a Central American peace plan that commits them to democratic reforms.
In recent years, Chamorro has lobbied the U.S. Congress against aid to the contras, and in 1985 he submitted testimony to the World Court on behalf of the Sandinistas in their case against the United States.
Nonetheless, Chamorro once was a leader of the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force rebel group and remains a critic of the leftist government.
"I want to see how much dissent is allowed. I don't want to provoke, but I want to test the (Sandinistas') sincerity," Chamorro said in an interview. "I want to see if the government will demand total loyalty from me or if they will allow my criticism."
He said he would like to write opinion pieces for the Sandinista newspaper Barricada and the opposition newspaper La Prensa, but was not certain either would accept his views. Chamorro said he accepts the Sandinista government as legitimate and would like to find a place for himself within the internal opposition.
"The problem is that everything is so polarized. The Sandinistas are dogmatic, idealistic and demand total militancy to the party. But all of the other parties, with the exception of a few mini-parties, basically support the contra position," Chamorro said.
Chamorro had advised the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington of his plans. He passed through immigration without delay and was met by family and reporters.
Chamorro said he plans to stay in Nicaragua for about three weeks to interview government, opposition, church and union leaders and to write articles afterwards. He said his trip is being paid for by the International Center for Development of Policy, a liberal think tank run by former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Robert E. White.
Among the officials Chamorro said he hopes to meet are his cousins, Central Bank President Joaquin Cuadra and Cuadra's son, Joaquin Jr., who is chief of the Sandinista Popular Army.
His mother, two brothers and a sister also live in Managua.
Chamorro said that he has wanted to normalize his status in Nicaragua for a long time and that the regional peace plan "gave me a good opportunity to come back with more guarantees. The plan calls for amnesty, dialogue and reconciliation, and I am doing all three."
The peace plan, signed by the five Central American presidents Aug. 7, calls for cease-fires, amnesty programs and democratic reforms in the region's embattled countries. It also calls for an end to foreign aid to insurgencies.
"I accept amnesty," Chamorro said.
Chamorro, a former Jesuit priest, left Nicaragua a month before the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. He began working against the Sandinistas with Nicaraguan exiles in 1980 and joined a seven-member contra directorate formed by the CIA in 1982.
In 1984, Chamorro announced that the contras had mined a Nicaraguan harbor, although he knew the mining was done by the CIA. Later that year, after publicly charging that the CIA controlled the contras and criticizing a CIA training manual proposing selective assassinations, Chamorro was ousted from the contra leadership.