Members of the Nicaraguan Federation of Chambers of Commerce voted yesterday to support - beginning today - a nationwide strike that is to continue until President Anastasio Somoza resigns.
The secret vote of 36-to-3, taken in a meeting of delegates from business groups from throughout the country, has considerably improved the prospects for the general strike, which got off to a shaky beginning Friday.
The strike was called by the Broad Opposition Front, a coalition of opposition groups including business, political and other civilian organizations. It followed last Tuesday's seizure of the National Palace, and an estimated 1,000 hostages, by guerillas of the Sandinista Liberation Front, a clandestine organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Somoza regime.
The guerrillas won the release of 59 of their comrades from Nicaraguan jails. Thursday, following the release of their hostages, the guerrillas and the released prisoners were flown to Panama.
In the confusion following the attack, the general strike, which had already been scheduled, got off to a slow start Friday.
Yesterday's vote, however, indicated that the business community, despite its nervousness over the violent actions taken by guerrillas ostensibly fighting for the same cause, is prepared to support the strike until Somoza leaves the country.
The general strike is the second this year. In February, the country was virtually paralyzed for three weeks when 80 percent of Nicaraguan business closed their doors.
Since then, the opposition, which includes a wide spectrum of groups, has kept up a steady level of demonstrations and propaganda that Somoza has largely ignored.
Last week's guerrilla action appears to have brought the Nicaraguan situation to a head in several ways.
For some business leaders and members of the middle class who had previously thought that Somoza would eventually give up his office if faced with severe economic and political pressure, pages of newspaper photographs of heavily armed guerrillas brought a rude awakening about the kind of struggle in which they may become involved.
More seriously, a lengthy Sandinista communique published in all local papers as part of Somoza's agreement for release of the hostages labeled the bourgeoisie and capitalist classes suspect comrades in the opposition. It suggested that private property would have little place in the "new" Nicaragua.
Some businessmen and other opposition moderates, therefore, now feel themselves caught in the middle.
The businessmen's committee yesterday called for support for a constitutional solution to the crisis. Without a middle-of-the-road alternative between violence and Somoza, they said, the youth of the country will be forced to join the Sandinistas.
Somoza's cave-in to the guerrilla demands last week, meanwhile, has caused rumblings of discontent within the 7,500-strong National Guard general considered to be a hard liner complained yesterday that the imprisoned guerillas exchanged for the hostages "were people we spent years chasing through the mountains. We lost about 200 soldiers for those prisoners."
There has also been a feeling that Somoza, fearing for his already-poor human rights image, has held the military back.
For those soldiers who stood by and watched the guerrillas fly out of the country, the general said, last week's affair may have been the last straw. For several days now, the military radio station has not too subtly implied the generals may be forced to act on their own.
For the moment, however, it appears that it is the success or failure of the general strike that will determine the next stage of the conflict. Should it fail through lack of widespread support, some observers believe that the opposition will never again work up enough momentum to put Somoza on the defensive.
Many believe a failure would also provoke increased violence from the Sandinistas and those supporting them who feel there is no alternative.
Should it succeed, however, the general strike conceivably could cause virtual paralysis of the government, since a substantial portion of the country's yearly revenue is due to be collected through taxes next month.