"Our movement is very different," explained a prominent leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista guerrillas, just back from a Latin American tour. "While other revlolutioniaries enter banks to assault them, we were just received in Ecuador by the president of the central bank."
Although the Sandinistas admit they have robbed numerous banks themselves in leaner years, it is becoming a farily common scene for a delegation of Sandinista guerillas to arrive at a foreign airport and be whisked away in official cars to see high government officials, sometimes a Cabinet minister or the president himself. In the last few months of newly gained respectability, Sandinista leaders have paid such "official" visits in nine Latin American nations.
The irony of the situation has not escaped governments and American diplomats in this region. While the United States is seeking a solution to Nicaragua's crisis that will exclude the Sandinstas, international support for the guerrillas in Western Europe as well as Latin America continues to grow.
Most government officials tend to be discreet about their sympathy or direct support for the guerrillas, but other politicians are more outspoken.
"The Sandinistas have tremendous goodwill and public opinion on their side in Latin America," said former Dosta Rican President Jose Figueres, whose son recently joined the guerrillas against his father's will. "I'm afraid the Americans won't recognize this."
The three Sandinista leaders who just returned from the Latin American and European capitals declined to disclose details of their talks with foreign governments but said the topics included requests for political and financial help and "seeing who would recognize a provisional government" if the Sandinistas took over an area of Nicaragua.
Confident of support abroad and popularity at home, the Sandinistas predictably have now come out strongly against the Nicaraguan plebiscite sponsored by the U.S. organized international mediation team, and the Sandinista statements, it is widely believed, may well jeopardize the success of that effort.
Tentatively scheduled for Feb. 18, the plebiscite is advocated by American diplomats as the best solution to prevent a guerilla victory while ending the country's bloody civil strife. It would allow the population to choose betwen the long-time Somoza administration and a new coalition government.
While in principle both Somoza and the opposition coalition have agreed on a plebiscite, there are still differences about conditions attached to it.
The most serious obstacle, whch may well render the American solution unworkable, is disagreement about a package of measures desined to provide a transition to democracy after the plebiscite.
Sources close to the mediation team say the package seeks to avoid "a power vacuum" after Somoza leaves. It would leave the rubber stamp pro-Somoza Congress intact, divide Cabinet posts between Somoza's supporters and opponents, and require selection of an opposition president who must be acceptable to Somoza's Liberal Party.
"It's an insult, it's absurd," scoffed one prominent opposition leaderr in an interview. "Rather than promoting change, the U.S. only seems interested in the docility of the new team, however unpopular it may be."