With Congress again preparing to take up the issue of military aid to the Nicaraguan armed resistance, we conducted an interview by cable with the vice president of Nicaragua's Sandinista government, Sergio Ramirez.
Q. You have stated "categorically that Nicaragua's revolution stops at Nicaragua's frontiers. We do not seek to export it and we never shall." Yet Interior Minister Thomas Borge said on July 19, 1981, "This revolution goes beyond our borders." Which Nicaraguan voices should we believe?
A.There is no basis for you to suggest that Nicaragua has sought to export its revolution. Moreover, the public record shows that the U.S. administration has deliberately misrepresented, for its own political purposes, the statement you attribute to Minister Borge. Let me repeat, categorically, that Nicaragua's revolution stops at Nicaragua's frontiers.
Q. Even congressional opponents of aid to the contras agree that Nicaragua sustains the insurgency in El Salvador with arms, training and other forms of support and that the Salvadoran insurgency, perhaps like the Nicaraguan insurgency, would tend to fade away if there were no outside support. Must we still pretend this is not so?
A.It is important to remember that the guerrilla war in El Salvador began before there was a revolution in Nicaragua. In fact, as late as 1978 it was widely believed that the Salvadorans would overthrow the Romero Government long before the FSLN would topple Somoza. They have a solid social and political base in El Salvador itself. This is the reason why they have survived for so many years. I should like to add that the U.S. administration has not presented a single piece of convincing evidence to support the charge that Nicaragua is giving material aid to the Salvadoran guerrillas, this in spite of the fact that Nicaragua challenged the U.S. to appear before the World Court to make such a case.
Q. Would you cut off support for the Salvadoran guerrillas if the United States cut off support for Nicaraguan guerrillas? If in your view President Duarte should talk with the Salvadoran opposition, why should you not talk with the Nicaraguan opposition? Or should there be a double standard?
A. The Salvadoran guerrillas control close to a third of the national territory, and, as I said earlier, they have a strong social and political base. The contras on the other hand are a mercenary army without social or political backing in Nicaragua. They operate from bases outside the country and are pursuing foreign policy objectives of the U.S. administration.
In 1981, the CIA selected Enrique Bermudez, a colonel in Somoza's National Guard, as the chief military commander of its mercenary contra army. Edgar Chamorro, a former contra leader, testified that Adolfo Calero, political leader of the contras, was also handpicked by the CIA. The govezrnment of Nicaragua will never negotiate with such mercenaries. However, we are prepared to negotiate with the U.S. administration.
Q. In the Statement of Guatemala of Jan. 14, signed by your foreign minister, approval was given to the Contadora principle of self-determination calling for "establishing at the internal level the system of government that its population as a whole freely decides upon." What changes in your internal structure do you plan in order to make good on this promise?
A.sk,3 Nicaragua held elections in November 1984. Seven political parties covering a wide spectrum of political ideologies participated. Sixty-four percent of the Nicaraguans who went to the polls elected Daniel Ortega president and myself vice president. They also elected 63 Sandinista candidates to seats in the 96-member National Assembly. The remaining 33 seats are occupied by representatives of opposition parties.
Observers from all over the world reported that the elections were open, honest and fair. Our commitment to political pluralism, a mixed economy, respect for human rights, regional autonomy for the people of our Atlantic Coast and nonalignment in foreign affairs will be elevated to constitutional principles in the new constitution, which is presently the subject of popular debate and discussion throughout the country. The new constitution will go into effect in January 1987.
Q. On Jan. 30 the six political parties of the internal Nicaraguan opposition proposed a cease-fire, political amnesty, restoration of civil rights and the negotiation of an all-party agreement for new general elections. Why is this proposal, which seems manifestly fair to many people, not satisfactory to you?
A. sk,3 This might seem manifestly fair to the contras and their foreign supporters. It would not be fair to the Nicaraguan people who went to the polls in November 1984 and elected the present government. If the attacks against Nicaragua are suspended, our military forces would have no one to shoot at -- a de facto cease-fire would be in place. The contras could then lay down their arms and return to Nicaragua under the terms of the general amnesty that the government has offered to all of them, including their top political and military leaders. They can join existing political parties, or organize their own.
The question of civil liberties is of much importance to us. If the administration stops the unjust and illegal war it is waging against our people, then there would be no need for a state of national emergency in Nicaragua. You will recall that there was no such emergency from 1979 to March 1982. It was in March of that year that CIA agents blew up three bridges in the northern part of the country. Our response was the state of national emergency, which includes restriction on some civil liberties. When the U.S. stops the war, the state of national emergency will be lifted and all restrictions on civil liberties removed.
Q. On March 9 Arturo Cruz, a leader of the political opposition, expressed understanding for your refusal to negotiate with the armed opposition, and said it would be acceptable if you opened talks with the internal political parties. Again, why is this proposal, which seems manifestly fair to many people, not satisfactory to you?
A. We are in constant dialogue with the internal political parties. They participate in the debates in the National Assembly and are deeply involved in the drafting of the new constitution. What we will never accept is direct or indirect negotiations with the U.S. mercenary contra army. Mr. Cruz, who personally admitted having accepted CIA money, is basically proposing a fig leaf for negotiations with the contras, of which he is also a member.
Q. What can you say to answer the Reagan administration charge that the Sandinistas will make no compromises of any kind unless they are under serious military pressure?
A. We welcome and support negotiations because of our commitment to peace. Nicaragua has participated actively in the Contadora process since it began in 1983 and, in 1984, announced its willingness to sign the peace agreement. It is the U.S. administration, not Nicaragua, that boasted of its success in blocking the signature of the September 1984 peace agreement, suspended the Manzanillo bilateral talks between the two countries and walked out of the World Court. You will recall that the spokesman for the foreign ministers of the Contadora countries, after meeting with Secretary Shultz in Washington, said that the greatest obstacle to their effort was the extreme and intransigent position of the U.S. administration.
Nicaragua for its part, is making every effort to negotiate an accord that is acceptable to all sides. On May 15, President Ortega announced a comprehensive proposal to set limitations on acquisition of offensive weapons, prohibit international military exercises, regulate national maneuvers carried out by the armed forces of any Central American country, remove all foreign military advisers and prohibit foreign military bases in the region.
We believe that our initiative added greater impetus to Contadora and was pivotal to the positive developments observed at the June 6 meeting of foreign ministers in Panama. The communique issued at the conclusion of the meeting states that progress toward an agreement demands firm acceptance of the following fundamental commitments: 1) None of the Central American countries will allow its territory to be used to attack another country or to give logistical or military support to irregular or subversive groups; 2) no Central American country would join political or military alliances that threaten direct or indirectly the peace of the region by inserting it into the East-West conflict; and 3) the major powers suspend logistical or military support to irregular or subversive groups using force as an instrument to overthrow a government in the area.
Allow me to conclude by saying that an agreement among Central American countries can be effective only if the U.S. decides to set aside its aggressive interventionist policy toward Nicaragua. Unfortunately, the administration's intensifying campaign for more aid to the contras shows there is no change in U.S. policy. Obviously this does not bode well for peace, because approval of any funds to the contras would be a major blow to Contadora precisely at a moment when careful handling of a delicate set of circumstances, including the June 7 revised Contadora peace accord being studied by the Central American governments, has generated expectation that an agreement is close.