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And If the Sandinistas Win?

February 25, 1990

Though the initial returns won't be available for hours--and it may take days to fully sort out the results--today's Nicaraguan election, one way or the other, offers Washington the opportunity for a full-scale review of its rocky relations with Managua. Has not the time come for the Bush Administration to end this futile war with Nicaragua--one that has waxed hot and cold, but never off? Is it not time to follow the inspired lead of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez and work to bring peace to a region that has known far too much war and sorrow for the last decade?

Consider all the monitoring of Nicaragua's election--perhaps the only news event more closely watched these past few weeks than the lives of Ivana and Donald Trump. Everyone from United Nations officials to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have been down there, poking about for election irregularities.

What's surprising is not that some have been found but that relatively few egregious ones appear to have been committed. This election may never be cited in political-science textbooks as a model of democratic process. But, to be fair, Nicaragua's voting may not have been any more irregular--and perhaps less--than the kind common not so very long ago in underdeveloped places like Cook County, Ill.

The problem, of course, is that if the Sandinistas win, many Americans will believe that the election was rigged. This would be unfair to the Nicaraguan people: Inept incumbent governments win reelection all over the world simply by virtue of their incumbency. So in analyzing the voting this afternoon, and in the days to come, the fact that the "bad guys" won doesn't make the election bad or the results invalid.

On the contrary, American policy toward Nicaragua needs to change no matter who's in power there. The Reagan policy of supporting the Contras and CIA activity against the Sandinistas has brought us little but grief. Last Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that Washington will normalize its relationship with the Nicaraguan government even if the Sandinistas win--if the election is fair.

While Washington has the right to ask hard questions about this election, they shouldn't be so hard as to preclude the possibility of finally ending the cold war with Managua.

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