THE LATEST report from Nicaragua describes an apparent violation of human rights of breathtaking dimensions. Officials of the left-leaning Sandinista regime have acknowledged, according to Post special correspondent John Dinges, that in recent weeks Nicaraguan troops removed from their villages some 10,000 Miskito Indians, from among a small community of about 100,000 who have long lived in relative poverty and isolation by Nicaragua's remote Atlantic coast. A police official assured Mr. Dinges that the villagers cooperated in their own removal and there were no injuries, though "more than 40" prisoners are being held in a coastal town. Travelers, journalists and other international observers have been barred from the area.
What is happening? It seems that the Miskitos, who have traditionally resisted central authority, reacted to the military presence that the Sandinistas imposed after taking power in 1979--and to Cuban soldiers and civilians whom the Sandinistas brought with them. On their part, the Sandinistas, who say they have fielded "no more than 2,000 troops" in the area, have tied the Miskitos to some of the late dictator Anastasio Somoza's National Guardsmen now sitting in nearby Honduras awaiting the counter-revolution. A number of Moravian clergymen are accused of "preaching a primitive band of anti-communism." This is the context in which the regime has justified mass evacuations: to protect loyal Indians and to thwart creation of a "theater of operations of counter-revolutionary actions."
Much still has to be learned about the way the Sandinistas and the Cubans are treating this vulnerable Indian community. What is known, however, buttresses suspicions of a grievous calamity. Is it possible to believe that 20 whole villages cooperated to the man with soldiers trucking them away from their tribal homes? That only they were caught up in the sweep? That there were no injuries? That there is no continuing resistance?
In the United States and elsewhere, too many people are prepared to believe the worst about the center-right El Salvador junta even as they accept at face value the leftist Sandinistas' claim to a kind of traditional Marxist Robin Hood mantle. It is useful to keep in mind, however, that what the United States is trying to do in El Salvador is to prevent a concentration of power by precisely the sort of self-appointed elite ruling in Nicaragua. Anyone who needs to be reminded why has only to consult the fate of the Miskito Indians.