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Nicaraguan elections: fair or foul?

In his article examining the campaign of Arturo Jose Cruz in Nicaragua, Mark Cook begins by dubbing Cruz "the Reagan Administration's favorite Nicaraguan opposition leader" ["The Reluctant Candidate," Oct. 13]. Those familiar with Cruz's views know that this is a grossly unfair characterization. Indeed, an October 21 report in The New York Times by Philip Taubman indicated that the Reagan Administration privately opposed Cruz's electoral campaign out of fear that his "involvement would legitimize the electoral process." Cruz has been fairly consistent in his beliefs-- he's not a Marxist-Leninist, as are the majority of Sandinista comandantes, but a self-proclaimed social democrat who was careful never to endorse or associate himself with the contras waging an armed war against the Sandinista government. Cruz considers himself a supporter of the original broadly based Nicaraguan revolution, who seeks to effect a reconciliation of the forces that brought down Anastasio Somoza, thus saving the revolution from a defeat due as much to its own sectarianism as to attacks by the Reagan Administration.

Cook presents a picture of flexible Sandinistas meeting only rebuffs from an unpopular and politically weak Cruz. The truth is precisely the opposite. Indeed, Cruz received what he has called a vast "outpouring of support," to which the Sandinistas responded with press censorship and violence. His reception was so solid last August in Chinandega that the Sandinistas censored press reports that would have alerted Cruz's countrymen to the depth of his support. Somewhere between 7,000 and 20,000 people turned out to hear him--a large number given the government's harassment of Cruz, and especially when compared to the 2,500 who turned out for the official F.S.L.N. May Day rally. A few weeks ago in Managua, Cruz and his backers were again met with violence; NBC News video taped this vicious attack on Cruz and his followers by government-inspired turbas ("mobs") trucked in for the occasion and armed with steel pipes and machetes. Cruz's followers came in open defiance of the Sandinista mobs. When attacked, some of his supporters responded in kind. It was not a case, as Cook would have it, of simple rock throwing by enthusiastic supporters of each side.

Was Cruz's request to postpone the elections simply a mechanism by which the Reagan Administration could undermine the Sandinistas? Hardly, since a cessation of contra activity as part of an agreement with the Coordinadora coalition--with Cruz said he would have tried to obtain if conditions for meaningful elections had been met--would have undermined the Administration's desire to keep arming the rebels for war against the revolution. Moreover, it was a fair demand. The opposition parties have not been permitted meaningful freedom in the past five years, while the F.S.L.N. has had a monopoly over the media as well as social control exercised through the local committees for the Defense of Sandinismo, many of them led by former Somoza police agent. . . . Since the Sandinistas were so sure they would have won an electoral contest in which Cruz participated, they could have extended the election deadline and allowed Cruz to undertake a real campaign. Then their victory would have seriously legitimized their power.

Perhaps the reason the comandantes so fear Cruz is that in reality they are not so sure of overwhelming support, and moved to hold elections only to placate Western supporters. Cook does not quote Comandante Bayardo Arce's recent speech calling for "defense of the dictatorship of the proletariat." While elections are a "hindrance" to that goal, Arce explained, they can be useful as "an expedient to deprive our enemies of an argument." As George Black of the North American Congress on Latin America recently commented in a New York Times Op-Ed essay, the hard-liners among the comandantes find "elections a nuisance except insofar as they would help 'to perfect revolutionary power.'"

Finally, Cook is plain wrong in his claim that the elections had "considerable support in social-democratic circles in Western Europe and Latin America." Rather than "full agreement" and "satisfaction" with the November 4 elections, the Socialist International publicly appealed to both sides to continue their "dialogue" until an "agreement [was] reached" for truly meaningful elections. Indeed, it was the S.I. pressure, and in particular that from former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, that forced Arce and the Sandinistas to negotiate with Cruz and reach their nine-point program. According to George Black, Arce, "perhaps the most orthodox of the comandantes," backed out of the negotiations "just when an agreement appeared to be within reach." The S.I. clearly was using its longstanding support of the revolution and its strong opposition to U.S. policy to pressure the comandantes to democratize their revolution and provide for elections in which Arturo Cruz was allowed to contest for power as the Coordinadora candidate.

The efforts failed and the Nicaraguan elections took place as scheduled, without Cruz's participation. What might have been a chance for the Nicaraguan revolution to gain legitimacy, and to undermine the attempts of the Reagan Administration to isolate, it, became a charade. The dogmatism of the hard-line comandantes, combined with Central Intelligence Agency pressure on the right wing of the Coordinadora, destroyed any chance for the elections to succeed. If coolheaded pragmatism is to have a chance to surface among the Sandinistas, instead of a sectarian tilt to the left and toward the Soviet Union, those North Americans who hope for breathing space for the revolution do not do it any service by writing the type of cheerleading articles that reinforce the most dogmatic and undemocratic elements among the Sandinista leadership. Indeed, its only chance of success lies along lines that lead to a democratization and moderation that includes reconciliation with the type of Nicaraguan patriot represented by Arturo Cruz. COOK REPLIES

Ronald Radosh's argument that "the comandantes so fear Cruz . . . [because] they are not so sure of overwhelming support" is nonsense, as the election results have shown. Abstention and spoiled-ballot campaigns failed miserably. Grant Cruz every last spoiled ballot (which would be unfair, since many of them appeared to indicate a preference for somebody else) and the support of every citizen who failed to vote, and Cruz would still be miles behind the Sandinistas.

The "full agreement" and "satisfaction" with the elections were not my words but those of Carlos andres Perez, who was describing the unanimous views of a Socialist International meeting that discussed the Nicaraguan elections.

Willy Brandt, speaking in Mexico after the Sandinista-Coordinadora negotiations had failed, had lavish praise for the elections and the parties that were participating and only unkind words for Cruz, regretting that Cruz had "missed the train on this one." (By the way, Cruz is a longtime Conservative Party member, not a social democrat.)

As for violence, Nicaragua's elections were remarkably peaceful by Latin American standards--fourteen people were killed during the recent vote in Panama--but it has to be said that several parties participated in what violence there was. The rock throwing by Cruz's supporters in Chinandega and Matagalpa at the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs was as deplorable as any of the (wildly exaggerated) attacks by the Sandinistas' followers, and it is a pity that Radosh does not appear to accept that.

There was a split in nicaragua in the recent election campaign, but it was not between Sandinista hard-liners and soft-liners. The split was between those in the rightist opposition who are willing to live with the idea of majority rule and those who are not.

The Democratic Conservatives are among the former. They nominated as their presidential candidate Clemente Guido, a doctor from a humble family who proudly announced that he was "the first presidential candidate in the history of the Conservative Party to come from the middle class."

Those who are not willing to accept what the Sandinistas call "the logic of the majority" continue to talk about the need for a government run by "competent people with good degrees from Cambridge, Paris and Harvard" or, worse, mutter that "the Sandinistas have roused uncultured, low-class people."

It is this second group that linked itself with Cruz. It includes as key figures Miriam Arguello, Somoza's U.N. ambassador, and Mario Rappaccioli, a feudal landowner and power broker inthe old Conservative Party, who tells reporters he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the U.S. marines to restore the social privileges of the old days.

Speaking in the United States recently, Lombardo Martinez, a prominent member of the Liberal Party, referred to these bitter-end types as "people who want to maintain the political system of the Middle Ages that the Spanish brought to Latin America and that the U.S. is trying to maintain."

Arturo Cruz has been living in Washington for decades and is badly out of touch, but he is a decent man. He deserved better than that lot.
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Title Annotation:letter
Author:Radosh, Ronald; Cook, Mark
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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