Discussions respecting my candidacy for the presidency of Nicaragua are still under way, despite conflicting press reports. Last week, however, my supporters and I were subjected to direct physical attack and psychological intimidation designed to force us to walk out. Nonetheless, we have maintained these discussions because of our firm belief that elections are the only way to avoid civil war in Nicaragua.
The current polarization is unprecedented in our history. The present conflict will be resolved only by armed struggle or by peaceful civic action. Elections are the last hope for preventing a blood bath in our country and warding off an escalation of foreign military intervention.
For elections to be a vehicle for national reconciliation, they must be legitimate. For this reason, we have insisted on certain minimal conditions for participating in the electoral process. These include: equal access to the media; freedom of assembly and the ability to campaign without fear of physical harm; neutral international observers; postponement of the election day until at least Jan. 15 and a public Sandinista commitment to respect the results of the elections.
These conditions have been portrayed as obstructionist, but experience has demonstrated their necessity. Far from seeking to "embarrass the ruling Sandinistas, even at the cost of sabotaging the . . . growth of democratic pluralism . . ." as a Washington Post correspondent suggested on July 30, I have worked to ensure that these elections be a real expression of the popular will.
The enormous popular response to my candidacy when I returned to Nicaragua last month frankly surprised me. Before my return I had stated that the Sandinistas still enjoyed majority support. Reading the American press one is unaware of the level of popular discontent. Recently a report in The New Republic has begun to correct this misapprehension. I am now convinced that we shall win the elections in Nicaragua if they are conducted fairly.
The outpouring of support for my candidacy in several Nicaraguan cities last month was met by Sandinista press censorship and mob violence. Lately the government has seen fit to sharply increase its repressive tactics even as it accepts the Contadora draft treaty pledging national reconciliation. This acceptance appears, at least in part, to be an effort to deceive international opinion, since the Contadora treaty could not go into effect until after the currently scheduled Nov. 4 elections (which at the same time the Nicaraguan government has refused to postpone). Therefore, the Contadora provisions ensuring the participation of all representative political parties and freedom of assembly and speech would not be applied to these elections.
Last week on four successive days in four different cities, my followers and I were physically harassed by Sandinista mobs as we tried to meet indoors with our organizers. The mobs (or turbas) brandished steel clubs and machetes. I, myself, was hit in the face with a rock, spat upon and grabbed by the hair. To my shock, the international press headlined these incidents by referring to Sandinista "police protection." They failed to report that this "protection" arrived three hours late in Leon. And it goes without saying that such "protection" would be unnecessary if the government was not organizing mob violence against us.
By now it should be obvious that our insistence on minimal electoral conditions was not to provide a "pretext for withdrawing" but rather to ensure that my countrymen can express their political will. The justice of our demands has been confirmed by their support by the Socialist International, Spain, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Contadora group. As a result, the Sandinistas have been forced to yield formally to some of our demands lest they forgo any international credibility.
We, too, have made concessions. We no longer demand peace talks between the government and the insurgents as a condition for our electoral participation. We have also dropped our demand for a separation of the Sandinista party from the government and military apparatus. The remaining sticking point is the date of the elections. We are asking that the elections be postponed at least until Jan. 15 to be able to conduct a minimal campaign.
For those who do not know Nicaragua, it is difficult to realize the obstacles to communication in a country without a basic transportation infrastructure. Our country has 16 separate departments, some nearly inaccessible. Most people work every day but Sunday. To conduct an effective political campaign requires candidates to appear at least one Sunday in each departmental capital.
The opposition parties have not been allowed to organize during the past five years. The FSLN, on the other hand, has had almost total control over the media and has block committees everywhere. With all these advantages and with their self-proclaimed "massive popular support," what do the Sandinistas have to fear from an open electoral campaign in which the main opposition candidate is a "banker with ties to Washington," with "no contact with the masses," and is a "reactionary" to boot?
Sandinista charges have been repeated in this country that I am a rightist "acting under orders from Washington . . . (or) working for the CIA" (Post, July 30). In reality, I remain a social democrat. I have not changed my principles since 1977, when I joined the group called "the twelve," which supported the cause of the Sandinistas. I continue to desire a new Nicaragua; nonaligned, pluralist, with a mixed economy.
As mentioned, we have also urged peace talks between the two sides of the Nicaraguan armed conflict. While that demand has been dropped, it did prove useful, for the insurgents have already stated formally that they are willing to impose a cease-fire if the Sandinistas accept the electoral conditions we propose. This could be a first step toward peace.
I am a strong supporter of the Contadora process, and believe that its insistence on the need for national reconciliation is fundamental to peace in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. For that reason I support dialogue between dissidents in my own country and talks between the government and the rebels in El Salvador.
At the center of my campaign I shall be urging my fellow citizens to break the cycle of recrimination and violence which threatens to engulf our country. To achieve this, Nicaragua needs a democratic system of government in which laws cannot be changed at the whim of the comandantes.
In their fervor to "liberate" Nicaragua from the U.S. sphere of influence, the Sandinistas have entangled us in it more than ever before. President Carter wished a decorous withdrawal of imperialism. This was feasible and had been achieved in large part in the summer of 1979, when the new revolutionary government took power. Immediately thereafter, however, head of state Daniel Ortega went to the nonaligned nations' meeting in Havana and later to the United Nations and gratuitously attacked the United States, lining up with Moscow on all international issues. It seems that the comandantes cannot resist the temptation to attack the United States when a microphone is placed in front of them. This infantile behavior provoked rightist sectors in the United States.
In direct reaction to Nicaragua's radicalization, its neighbors have moved to the right. This has become a major concern for social democrats in Costa Rica. At the same time, the efforts of the Salvadoran opposition to build bridges with non-Marxists have been profoundly damaged by the fate of non-Marxists in revolutionary Nicaragua.
As a result of their dogmatism and sectarianism, the Sandinistas now face an antagonistic Washington supported by the rest of Central America. It is a bitter irony that the Sandinistas now find the only way out of this crisis is to reach an agreement with Washington. Thus, they have made Nicaragua more dependent than ever on the United States as well as highly dependent on the other superpower.
The only peaceful solution to our internal and external crisis is via national reconciliation, beginning with genuine elections. That is the key to the national unity required. The Sandinistas must choose: elections with a real opposition and with real power at stake, or discredited Somoza-style elections.