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The reluctant candidate: Nicaraguan elections.

Arturo Jose Cruz, the Reagan Administration's favorite Nicaraguan opposition leader, received a cool reception on his recent five-nation tour of Latin America. Cruz, who has refused to register as a presidential candidate in the November 4 elections until the government meets his demands for reforms, embarked on the tour to drum up support for his boycott.

According to diplomatic sources in Managua, leaders in every capital he visited told Cruz in no uncertain terms that since candidates from six other opposition parties are running, he should enter the race and that his demands (which had included "dialogue" with C.I.A.-financed mercenaries and de-Sandinistaizing the army) were not serious. They informed him that he could not count on their support for a continued holdout. Colombian President Belisario Cuartas Betancur, who is closer, politically, to Cruz than any of the other heads of state with whom he met, reportedly told the Washington-based banker that he would pressure the Nicaraguan government to allow Cruz's Coordinadora coalition of three right-wing parties to register late but that Cruz would have to reduce his demands.

When the humbled Cruz returned to Managua in mid-September, he announced he would insist on four (down from nine) conditions, to which the government readily agreed: locating voting booths as far as possible from military installations (the Sandinistas had never planned on doing otherwise); barring local Defense Committees from playing a supervisory role at polling stations (the govenment, never having proposed the committees' participation, has promised to allow poll watchers and to open voting registers for inspection); guaranteeing "genuine freedom of the press" (the government lifted censorship on all stories but those affecting military security); and providing assurances that parties would not interfere in one another's rallies (both Cruz's supporters and his opponents have thrown rocks at each other's demonstrations).

But Cruz then added a fifth condition--that the elections be postponed until January so he could have ninety days to campaign. That demand was flatly refused. The government pointed out that Cruz could have registered as a candidate at any time and charged that his request was prompted by the Reagan Administration, which wants to undermine the elections. The Sandinistas have been suspicious of Cruz ever since August, when one of his associates, Mario Rappaccioli, foolishly told reporters that Cruz does not intend to run and is interested only in discrediting elections.

The government is not expected to feel diplomatic pressure from Western Europe and Latin America to postpone the elections now that it has agreed to sign the draft treaty put forth by the Contadora group. The treaty provides for independently supervised elections in Central america and for the withdrawal of foreign advisers, and it prohibits foreign military bases. Washington was embarrassed by the Nicaraguan action. The State Department hastily reneged on its earlier commitment to the Contadora process, and its representatives told The New York Times that the Administration had only touted the treaty in the belief that Nicaragua would never agree to it. "Now they have, and we say we aren't satisfied," said one. "I'm not sure I would blame the Nicaraguans if they were confused."

If Cruz found it rough going in Latin america, he can expect at least as bad a reception on his tour of Europe this month. In recent interviews a high-ranking Western European diplomat in Managua has denounced Cruz, saying his refusal to participate in the election has cost him friends in Europe, while his ties to the Reagan Administration have hurt him in Nicaragua.

Washington has made open gestures of support for Cruz and the Coordinadora coalition. When a Congressional delegation visited Managua recently, U.S. diplomats disregarded any appearance of impropriety and set up a meeting between the legislators and Coordinatora representatives at the U.S. Embassy.

Cruz is given no chance of winning the November elections if he does enter the race officially. The Coordinadora showed how weak its base of support is when it tried to organize a boycott of the voter registration drive at the end of July. In the first two days of the drive the turnout was so massive despite the boycott (ultimately 93.3 percent of the eligible population registered) that Cruz's supporters hastily changed their line and said they too favored registration.

Although no one would know it from reading U.S. newspapers, seven parties are contending in the elections. They are: the government-backed Sandinista Front; the large Independent Liberal Party, which is made up of middle-class technical and professional people and which advocates a "Swedish model" for Nicaragua; the Democratic Conservative Party, which historically represented the rural landowner interests but which is seeking to broaden its base in the middle class; the Popular Social Christian Party, a left-leaning Catholic organization; the Socialist Party, a Marxist-Leninist group with a base in the working-class neighborhoods of Managua and the coffee-growing district around Matagalpa; the Communist Party, which split off from the Socialists during the Somoza regime; and the Popular Action Movement, a party formed in the early 1970s, which advocates total expropriation of capitalist property.

The Sandinistas' handling of the upcoming balloting has drawn considerable support in social-democratic circles in Western Europe and Latin America. Former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez told the Managua opposition newspaper, La Prensa, that at a meeting of thirty party leaders from the Socialist International, "We unanimously indicated our full agreement and total satisfaction" with the election plans. The British Labor Party shadow cabinet representative on Third World questions offered similar praise, as did West German Social Democratic leaders. If that backing continues, the Sandinistas can legitimately ask whether it is the Nicaraguan government that is being isolated or the Reagan Administration and its friends.
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Title Annotation:Arturo Jose Cruz
Author:Cook, Mark
Publication:The Nation
Date:Oct 13, 1984
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