Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said today his government will intensify pressure on neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica to eliminate sanctuaries for the U.S.-backed guerrillas, known as contras, seeking to topple the Sandinista leadership.
In an interview here, Ortega said that Nicaragua filed a complaint with the World Court today seeking to assign responsibility for the damage and bloodshed in the Nicaragua's four-year-old civil war to Honduras and Costa Rica because they continue to play host to the contras. He said Nicaragua would now focus its legal and diplomatic efforts on its neighbors, rather than the United States, to suppress the rebel forces.
Ortega also declared that the $100 million in aid approved last month by the House of Representatives may actually undermine the rebels because it will foster "more fights" and "more graft" among them, and he warned that "the most dangerous element" behind the new aid would be a more prominent role for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ortega denied that Nicaragua was becoming more reliant on the Soviet Union for economic and military support. He said he believed in a "pluralistic approach" and said it was important to maintain "diverse sources of foreign aid," particularly in Western Europe.
Ortega defended the ruling Sandinistas' limiting of dissent that followed the June 25 House vote on contra aid. The crackdown, which included the closure of the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, and the expulsion of Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega, the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Church's second-ranking prelate, was justified by the circumstances of a wartime emergency, Ortega said. The situation required censorship of those internal voices "supporting efforts by a foreign power to invade our country," he added.
The Nicaraguan leader contended that the Sandinistas still favored a free press and "wanted an opposition newspaper because we are interested in knowing what they think." He stressed that La Prensa's shutdown was "only temporary -- until the owners change their attitude or until the war ends."
Ortega, who arrived here Saturday, is scheduled to speak before the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday when it considers last month's ruling by the World Court that the United States should halt all financial and military support for the rebels.
The court, the U.N. judicial arm, is based in The Hague and formally known as the International Court of Justice. In its ruling, it also urged the United States to settle damage claims put forward by Nicaragua.
In January 1985, the Reagan administration announced that it would boycott further legal proceedings after denying the court's jurisdiction in a case involving current armed conflict.
Ortega said he came here not to condemn the United States but to engender support for the court's decision, which has no binding effect. He said he hoped that by winning U.N. approval, the Sandinista government might make it easier for some future U.S. administration to recognize the legitimacy of what he described as "a struggle for legality and morality."
Ortega said that Nicaragua recently sought to defuse border tensions with Costa Rica and Honduras by proposing joint patrols under international supervision. But the offer was spurned, he said, because "the United States impeded our efforts and forced the two countries to say no."
While peace prospects "now appear cloudy," Ortega said, in the long term some kind of peace initiative by Latin American countries was bound to succeed because "these countries know it is important to stop the precedent of the United States interfering in our affairs, because they could be next."
Ortega admitted that the war had caused severe economic hardship in Nicaragua but said "our people are not accustomed to living in abundance . . . . What we inherited from former leader Anastasio Somoza was a long experience of living in misery."
While noting the importance of the Soviet Union as the country's chief arms supplier, Ortega insisted that Nicaragua wanted to maintain a neutral, nonaligned status. "You will not find any Soviet bases, any Soviet soldiers or any joint maneuvers with the Soviet Union in our country," he said.
Ortega seemed to acknowledge that the shutdown of La Prensa hurt the Sandinista image abroad and repeated that the crackdown is only a temporary measure. He said La Prensa's owners received U.S. government funds and the Sandinistas "cannot forget the experience of Chile, when newspapers were used by the CIA to destabilize a legitimate government."