In an attempt to gain legitimacy, Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista junta scheduled the first elections since the 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza’s right-wing dictatorship for Nov. 4. But last week opposition groups, including U.S.backed Nicaraguan rebel “contras” in Costa Rica and Honduras, strengthened their hard-line stance against the Sandinistas’ plans. Opposition presidential candidate Arturo Cruz, who had returned to Managua after almost two years’ exile in Washington, announced that the four parties in his coalition, the Nicaraguan Democratic Co-ordinate, had decided not to register candidates before last week’s deadline.
His reason: the Sandinistas did not give a “positive answer” to opposition demands for a national dialogue that included the rebel groups. The coalition had also demanded an end to the government-imposed state of
emergency that has restricted civil liberties and freedom of the press in the troubled Central American country since March, 1982.
The U.S.-backed contras—the Costa Rican-based Revolutionary Democratic Alliance and the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force —announced in Panama City that they had joined forces with the aim of holding separate elections “that are truly free” by the end of the year. They claimed that, as a prelude, they would “install a transitional government of national conciliation whose top priority will be to begin the democratization of the country.”
Few political observers in Managua gave the contras much chance of carrying out their threat. For one thing, they have yet to establish more than a toehold in Nicaragua—an insufficient base from which to launch such a project. For
another, according to Western diplomats, the Sandinistas continue to enjoy the support of the majority of Nicaraguans. Still, the Nicaraguan junta has committed more than 25 per cent of the country’s total budget to defence spending in an effort to defeat the contras. As a result, the country now faces severe shortages of food and other supplies that threaten the health and educational programs on which much of the Sandinistas’ popularity has rested. Opposition leaders hope to capitalize on growing public disenchantment to embarrass the Sandinista government in November.
Last week the Sandinistas’ presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega, accused Cruz of “playing into the hands of American aggression.” At the same time, government spokesman Bayardo Arce declared that the opposition decision “would not have any effect because there are already seven parties participating in the elections.” But most observers agreed that the withdrawal places the Sandinistas in an uncomfortable spot. Said one Western diplomat: “The Sandinista Front has fought to have many Latin American and European governments approve the elections as truly pluralistic. The abstention of the opposition leaves it in a difficult situation.” -ANN FINLAYSON,
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