The threatening deadlines are fast approaching. If Nicaragua’s muchhated dictator doesn’t resign this week, Venezuela says it will cut off vital oil supplies. Opposition parties threaten to launch a crippling national strike—the third this year. And the popular Sandinista guerrillas promise a repetition of last September’s bloody uprising which left 3,000 dead. But even as the
screws were being tightened last week by a diversity of high-powered enemies at home and abroad, an isolated, angry Anastasio Somoza was stubbornly clinging to the presidency his family has dominated with brute force for more than 40 years. As opposition leader Emilio Alvarez Montalvan put it, “He won’t give up that easily.”
Indeed, with the collapse of a sixweek mediation effort led by the United States, the Broad Opposition Front—a coalition of 14 anti-Somoza groups—is looking to President Jimmy Carter as
the only one who can force Somoza to resign without more bloodshed. So far the U.S. has done everything possible to get rid of the dictator without actually pushing him out. It has cut off all military and economic help, including a $10.8-million loan to the almost-bankrunt regime for food and rural education next year. It also set a potentially dangerous precedent when it pressured the International Monetary Fund to postpone $20 million in credit even though Nicaragua had a right to the money. Said one opposition leader: “Everyone is now sitting back waiting to see what Washington will do. The U.S. can hardly call itself a superpower if it fails against a tiny Central American dictator.”
But while Carter is determined to help establish a government that has “the full support of the Nicaraguan people,” there is not much more he can do short of military intervention—and that’s a path he’s unlikely to take even though, ironically, the Somoza dynasty was originally set up by U.S. marines. For years the Somoza family supported U.S. power moves in Latin America, acting as a sort of swaggering “proconsul” to keep neighbors such as Guatemala and the Dominican Republic in line. That relationship proved to be uncomfortable for Carter, however. He could not ignore the repeated protests of Nicaraguans against the abuses of human rights committed by Somoza’s notorious, American-trained National Guard.
So Somoza is no longer an asset. But a victory by left-leaning guerrillas in Nicaragua could have an unsettling effect on the delicate political balance of several other Latin American regimes— including Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia—that are already threatened by budding guerrilla movements.
While the U.S. agonizes over tactics, however, the Sandinistas—a tenacious, broad-based movement that has been fighting the regime since 1962—are actively recruiting for the next wave of violence. And a brazen Somoza, wilfully blind to the long lines of Nicaraguans waiting for exit visas, is more than ready to pit his National Guard—now armed with sophisticated Israeli weapons and doubled to 15,000strong—against the badly equipped insurgents. Showing how well aware he is of the American dilemma, Somoza last week warned: “The internal situation here has I become international—and if I mistakes are made it will be1 come an international cono flict.” Angela Ferrante
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