Nicaragua and US: friends again, but mistrust simmers

On the surface, relations between the new Nicaraguan government and the United States could almost be called a "love-in." The official line rarely waivers, from either side.

"We're perfectly pleased with the relationship between us and the Nicaraguan government," US Ambassador Lawrence Pezullo says. "I've been well received and our dealings are cordial."

Dr. Sergio Ramirez Mercado, a member of the ruling junta of Nicaragua's Government of National Reconstruction, says nearly the same thing: "We've developed a new relationship with the US government. I'm sure they've played fairly with us."

Just beneath the surface, however, there is simmering resentment and wariness. For most Nicaraguans, four decades of US support for the Somoza family and Somoza's National Guard link Washington to the tyranny of the past.

They see a legacy of mistrust. A picture of former US Ambassador Turner Shelton and deposed President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, for example, still adorns the 20-cordobas note.

Distrust rears up over critical issues, too. Before the vote to censure the Soviet Union was taken in the United Nations, Ambassador Pezullo insisted that the new Nicaraguan government recognize the link between its vote and a $75 million aid package pending in Congress.

To Nicaraguans, pressure of this sort smacks of intervention.

"We want to be authors of our own history," says Reuben Lopez Ardono, the bishop of Esteli, who met recently with US Rep. Robert Drinan (D) of Massachusetts.

Thomas Borge Martinez, Minister of the Interior and a founding member of the Sandinista movement, responds passionately: "We'd rather starve than be told how to vote."

The United States has its share of anxieties as well -- especially about the potential for Cuban influence in Nicaragua.

"They've sent 1,000 teachers and 400 doctors," Ambassador Pezullo says of the Cubans. "We are concerned about the teachers, because there is a difference between teaching and indoctrination."

Nicaraguans, however, also feel a measure of distrust of the Cubans.

The US is also concerned about the future of democracy in this Central American nation. Ambassador Pezullo says, "The government is pluralistic and represents a panoply of views," but he wonders what will happen in national elections, when they occur.

For their part, Nicaraguans point out that elections are going on all the time for posts in the Sandinista defense committees, in unions, and in local government. National elections, however, could be a couple of years off.

"We could call elections now," says Dr. Ramirez, "and the Sandinista front would get 90 percent of the vote. But we must first begin to put an end to illiteracy, and provide food, housing, work, schools, and hospitals for everyone.

"We won't be satisfied with just 35 percent of the people voting, as happens in the US. We want everyone participating, and we must lay the basis for that now."

Jaime Balcazar, head of the UN mission here, notes, "More than 40,000 people died in the struggle. They've selected this government with their blood."

The US remains on edge, however. And the surface cordiality continues.

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