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Seeking an Alternative to the Sandinistas

July 03, 1988|Michael Massing | Michael Massing, former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, reports frequently on Central America and the Caribbean

NEW YORK — This spring, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) was rocked by the resignation of Moises Hassan. One of the FSLN's most senior and dedicated members, Hassan joined the party in the 1960s, when it was little more than a cell. He played a key organizing role during the struggle against Anastasio Somoza, and, after the dictator's fall, served on the first revolutionary junta. More recently he was the mayor of Managua. In April, however, the 46-year-old Hassan, citing irreconcilable differences with the Sandinista Front, announced that he was leaving it.

Hassan is not the first high-level official to desert the Sandinistas. Eden Pastora, the renowned guerrilla commander, left in 1981 to take up arms against his former comrades. Last year, Roger Miranda, a major in the interior ministry, defected to the United States and began collaborating with the Central Intelligence Agency. Hassan's case, though, is much different. While souring on the Sandinista Front, Hassan has no intention of seeking its overthrow. Rather, he plans to stay in Nicaragua and remain politically active, helping, perhaps, to establish a left-of-center alternative.

Hassan embodies the rise of an important new force in Nicaraguan politics--individuals who support the revolution but not necessarily the FSLN. During a recent visit to Nicaragua, I ran into one disgruntled Sandinista after another. They included journalists, feminists, a radio announcer, a poet, even a taxi driver working in front of the Inter-Continental Hotel. Some of them had retained membership in the party but had grown disaffected. Others, like Hassan, had left altogether.

As long as Nicaragua remains under siege from the United States, these individuals--anti-imperialist to the core--shrink from saying anything that might lend comfort to the enemy. Now, however, with the war winding down and the revolution out of mortal danger, they are more and more willing to speak out.

Every Marxist regime, of course, has produced its own batch of dissidents, but these heterodox Sandinistas seem a breed apart. They are not like the Russian Mensheviks, who championed parliamentarism over Leninism, nor the Bukharinists, who favored entrepreneurs over commissars. They do not resemble the Hungarians of 1956, who hoped to drive out the Soviets, nor the Czechs of 1968, who sought to peel back socialism. The Sandinista dissidents are not social democrats. They wholeheartedly endorse el proceso, as the revolutionary process in Nicaragua is often called. Many, in fact, would qualify as hard-liners, supporting a tough line on the political opposition, strong controls on the economy and close supervision of the press.

What bothers these mavericks is not so much the FSLN's ideology as its internal structure and style of operation. Nine years after taking power, the Sandinista Front continues to bear the stamp of its guerrilla origins. Distinctly military in cast, the party places a heavy stress on duty and discipline. Policy is set by a small group at the top, then is passed down the line to be carried out. Members are expected to perform their assigned tasks without complaint. And, at all times, Sandinistas are expected to conform to an austere moral code exalting such revolutionary virtues as selflessness, collectivism, modesty and abstinence.

Such regimentation does not go down well with Nicaraguans, a congenitally individualistic and independent-minded lot. No one better illustrates this than Moises Hassan. The son of Palestinian immigrants, Hassan holds Nicaragua's only doctorate in theoretical physics, earned from North Carolina State University in the early 1970s. Returning to Managua, Hassan joined the faculty of the National University. There he lived a double life--one as a professor, the other as a clandestine organizer. During the late 1970s he helped build a secret Sandinista network in the barrios of Managua. His work was so impressive that, upon taking power, the FSLN named Hassan (along with Daniel Ortega) to represent it on the five-person revolutionary junta.

Soon after, however, Hassan's career began a steady slide. In March, 1981, he was dropped from the junta and appointed minister of construction. Two years later, he was transferred to the Interior ministry as a deputy. Then it was on to Managua's city hall to serve as mayor. The final blow came in April, when the FSLN carried out a major personnel shake-up. As part of it, Hassan was removed as mayor and appointed rector of the Simon Bolivar Engineering University in Managua.

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