Why Soviets may be wary of deeper involvement in Nicaragua

A struggle for power and influence continues in Nicaragua between what Westerners like to call "moderates" and "radicals." United States Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. stated recently that Nicaragua had been "seized" by the Soviet Union as part of a four-phased operation aimed at the ultimate takeover of Central America.

That would come as news to many Nicaraguans, as well as to a number of Western diplomats working here.

Nicaragua's Sandinista "radicals" may have the upper hand for the moment. But viewed from the scene, the situation in Nicaragua is much more fluid, and at times chaotic, than Mr. Haig implied. Indeed, the State Department later backed away from the Secretary of State's placement of Nicaragua in the Soviet bloc.

A number of West European diplomats in Nicaragua think that the Haig view is simplistic, and that even if the Nicaraguan economy reached the point of bankruptcy, as some think it will this summer, the Soviet Union would not come to the rescue of Nicaragua in any decisive way.

One diplomat said that the Soviets are likely to be cautious about taking too much responsibility in Nicaragua, because (1) it would be expensive, as the Soviet's experience with Cuba has shown; (2) it would provoke the United States; and (3) the Soviets already have their hands full with bigger problems with Poland and Afghanistan.

"We have indications the Soviets have been sending out word that they're strongly behind the Nicaraguans but that in view of their other difficulties, they don't want to be dragged into something -- just because of Nicaraguan bravura," said another diplomat.

Yet another diplomat put it this way:

"The Soviets see themselves as being in a very exposed position in Nicaragua. They are too close to the US to take chances.

"On top of that, the Soviets may not trust the Sandinistas. So they've left it to the Cubans to carry the load here. If the Sandinista experiment fails, the Cubans will take the blame."

The Soviet presence in Nicaragua - perhaps 50 officials -- is not big compared with size of Soviet missions to some other developing countries. One diplomat describes the Soviet aid program here as "the standard third world package -- technical assistance, export promotion, scholarships, and statements of solidarity."

But the Soviets' Cuban allies are big in Nicaragua, and this does cause concern among Western diplomats. Some think the Sandinistas have made a serious mistake in allowing as many as 5,000 Cubans into the counry. Many are working in the fields of health and education. But some are also working as advisers to Nicaraguan army, militia, police, security, and intelligence officials.

According to a noncommunist Latin American who is sympathetic to the Sandinista movement, not all of the country's new leaders are happy with this sizable and well-placed Cuban presence. There has been internal debate over the subject, said this observer, who knows several of the Sandinista leaders personally. He said that he was concerned that should the United States take a harder line toward the Sandinistas, it would simply drive them further into the arms of the Cubans.

The Cubans, he said, have expended considerable time and effort encouraging unity among the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He also thinks that while they may have helped facilitate arms shipments to El Salvador by way of Nicaragua, a more important source of arms for the Salvadoran guerrillas has been noncommunist arms dealers, such as those in Costa Rica, whose activities have created a scandal that has several embarrassed the Costa Rican government.

This Latin American observer said that Cuba's Fidel Castro had repeatedly warned the Sandinistas not to alienate the United States or the Nicaraguan businessmen who have strong trade and investment ties with the United States. Castro professes to have made "mistakes" in the way in which he handled such matters in his own country.

Radical Sandinista leaders are believed to have been behind the mob attacks which took place on March 14 against the privately-owned radio stations and against the organizers of a planned opposition rally in a town outside Managua. There is considerable suspicion here that not all of the Sandinista leaders agreed with these actions, not to speak of the violence which was involved.

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