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The Hard Questions

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So what about those accusations aimed at the Sandinistas? Q. How can the Sandinistas refuse to hold democratie elections yet still claim to have the support of the people? Nicaragua held democratie elections Nov. 4, 1984, two days before the elections in the United States. Seven parties including the Sandinistas participated in the election, three to the political right of the Sandinistas, and three to their left. Several hundred journalists and academies observed the election including many from the U.S. and Western Europe. Nearly all observers agreed that the elections were generally fair. All parties were allowed to campaign freely and each party had guaranteed access to the popular media (the government reserved portions of radio and televisión time foreach party.) Election results indicated overwhelming support for the Sandinistas, who received mately 67% of the vote. The opposition parties occupy seats in parliament in proportion to the number of votes they received. It is interesting to contrast the Nicaraguan election where parties could campaign freely and voters had secret ballots with those in El Salvador, where death squads continue to opérate, and voters are forced to cast public ballots in full view of the military. A secret 1984 National Security Council memo revealed that the U.S. government did everything possible to undermine and discredit the election. The White House claimed that the elections could not be legitímate because a small coalition of groups led by Arturo Cruz refused to take part. But records show that at that time Cruz was already on the Cl A's payroll and his actions may very well have been part of the plan to discredit the elections. Q. How can Nicaragua claim it is not a puppet of the Soviet Union when it receives hundreds of millions of dollars in arms from them? There is a direct correlation between U.S. aggression against Nicaragua and Nicaragua's dependence upon the Soviet Union for aid; the more U.S. aggression against Nicaragua, the more aid Nicaragua needs from the Soviet Union in order to survive. Nicaragua does receive a great deal of aid from the Soviet Union. This has been well publicized in the U.S. and has not been denied by the Nicaraguan govemment. What has been much less publicized is that Nicaragua also receives substantial amounts of aid from Spain, Italy, and Sweden as well as from Third World nations such as Venezuela, China, and Mexico. Like most Third World nations, the Nicaraguan government has openly sought aid from whomever would give it In addition to cutting off all U.S. aid and nstituting a trade embargo, the Reagan administraron has worked hard to discourage its allies and international banking agencies from aiding Nicaragua. This has forced Nicaragua to become more dependent on the Soviet bloc. Yet it has only been in the last two years that the amount of aid from the Soviet bloc has exceeded that given the Nicaraguan government from the West and the Third World. Despite their dependan! relationship, the Sandinistas have always made clear their intention to remain non-aligned. This appears not only in their public statements but even in some of the "secret" Sandinista documents that the U.S. State Dept. has circulated. Q. If Nicaragua really wants peace why is it engaging in a massive military build-up with Soviet arms and thousands of Cuban advisors? Accordir.g to Lt. Col. Lawrence Tracy, a military political officer with the U.S. State Department, virtually all of the military equipment Nicaragua obtains is defensive in nature. Tracy says that in spite of recent claims made by Reagan and Secretary of State Schultz, it would be virtually inconceivable for Nicaragua to stage a successful invasión of Honduras, even assuming that the U.S. would not intervene. Moreover, Nicaragua's other border with Costa Rica has been demilitarized. Nicaragua is at war with a well funded proxy army of a superpower. At the same time, Nicaragua must prepare for the possibility of a direct military invasión by that superpower. The invasión of Grenada showed that the Reagan administration is willing to directly invade sovereign nations, no matter how small or powerless. Nicaragua has no choice but to prepare for this possibility, which obviously requires a huge amount of weaponry to provide even a suggestion of deterrence. Nicaragua has not allowed the Soviet Union to establish any military bases within its borders and has repeatedly offered to reduce ts level of armaments if the U.S. government wil! do the same in the región. It's also worth pointing out that U.S. estimates of the Cuban military involvement are grossly inflated. A high level defector from Cuba recently revealed that Cuba has 300 to 400 military advisors in Nicaragua, the same figure as the one given by the Nicaraguan government. Q. If the Nicaraguan government supports freedom and democracy, why has it suspended civil liberties and why did it shut down La Prensa, the opposition newspaper? The Nicaraguan government has stated that media censorship and suspension of civil liberties are a wartime necessity. It may be a questionable practice, but most nations, including the U.S., adopt repressive measures during wartime. Also, La Prensa's function is different than that of its U.S. counterparts. La Prensa has openly advocated the overthrow of the current government and is generally viewed as a mouthpiece for the contras. Thus the Nicaraguan government perceives La Prensa as a greater threat than the effects public censorship will have on the country. In the first five years of the revolution, La Prensa was shut down on seven different occasions but in each instance was allowed to reopen. For La Prensa's part, t may serve its position better by remaining censored - a clear illustration of the Sandinistas shortcomings- than by reopening an eighth time. La Prensa was one of two independent daily newspapers; the other, El Nuevo Diario, continúes to publish daily although it is subject to wartime censorship. Independent political parties distribute their own newspapers on a more irregular basis. In addition opposition leaders are frequently given time on radio shows where they often criticize the government quite harshly. The restrictions on civil liberties in Nicaragua today are far less severe than they were before the revolution under the dictatorship of Somoza and his vicious National Guard. Restrictions on civil liberties in Nicaragua are also less severe than in U.S. dient States El Salvador and Guatemala, where publishers of opposition newspapers, as well as thousands of other opposition leaders have been killed by government sponsored death squads. Q. Why does the Nicaraguan government persecute the Catholic Church? The Nicaraguan government does not persecute the Catholic Church, although it is at odds with some members of the Church hierarchy. There are two factions within the Nicaraguan Catholic Church, just as there are throughout much of Latin America. One side's philosophy is based on liberation theology and is committed to serving the poor. The other faction is more traditional theologically and more closely tied to the ruling elites. The Nicaraguan revolution received considerable stimulus from liberation theology. Several high level government officials are príests; many Sandinistas are also practicing Catholics. For the most part, the Church carnes out ts work without interference. But the government has come nto conflict with some members of the Church hierarchy. In one case it deported a bishop after he lobbied in support of the contras in Washington. A few other (mostly foreign) members of the clergy have also been deported for similiar reasons. While this may be unjustified, it's worth pointing out that the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, which are allies of the U.S., have killed numerous members of the clergy, including Archbishop Oscar Romero who was shot in the middle of a mass in San Salvador. No such actions by the Sandinistas have ever been reported. Q. How can the Sandinistas claim not to be Marxist-Leninist when they want to establish a centrally planned economy? The Sandinistas are not creating a planned economy. In fact, there is a conscious decisión on their part to maintain a mixed economy. Sixty percent of the economy is still in private hands. The Sandinistas have attempted to institute state control over certain key sectors of the economy such as foreign trade, but are attempting to leave as much room as possible for the private sector to develop. Nearly all of the land that has been seized by the government has been redistributed to family farmers or to cooperatives, rather than held by the state. Q. Why has the Nicaraguan government attempted to wipe out the Miskito Indians and the other indigenous peoples along the Atlantic Coast? Soon after the revolution, the Nicaraguan ernment carne nto conflict with some of the ndigenous populations (primarily the Miskitos), partially out of arrogance and partially out of ignorance. The Atlantic coast had always been largely cut off from the Spanish speaking part of the country. After the revolution, the Sandinistas, largely kjnorant of the Alantic coast, went there to introduce land reform and other goals of the revolution. They quickly antagonized the indigenous population and before long provoked armed opposition among the people. In trying to put down the rebellion, the government committed a number of human rights abuses and resorted to harsh tactics such as forced relocation of civilians. More recently however, it has begun to grant these regions a large degree of autonomy and allowed families that were relocatedto return. While this history cannot be forgotten, it is certainly not extraordinary in comparison to the United States treatment of its own indigenous population, or the current situation in Guatemala where hundreds of thousands of Indians have been forcibly relocated into "model villages" where they can be closely supervised by the army. Furthermore in contrast to Guatemala, where tens of thousands of Indians have been killed without anyone being held acoountable, Nicaraguan govemment officials have been tried and punished for committing abuses against the Indians on the east coast. It's also worth pointing out the U.S. has repeatedly tried to block efforts to arrive at a peace settlement, and has always been anxious to provide money and arms to any Indians that were willing to fight. Despite U.S. antagonism, the Nicaraguan government is coming to peaceful terms with the native inhabitants of the eastern part of the country.


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