Interview with two top officials; Sandinistas insist they'll hold elections in '85...
Despite the fighting in Nicaragua, top Sandinista leaders are reaffirming a pledge to hold elections in 1985. But the leaders contend that the Reagan administration is attempting to force them to negotiate a settlement of regional conflicts while holding a knife to their throats.Skip to next paragraph
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So long as the pressure is on them from CIA-backed ''counterrevolutionaries, '' or contras as they are called here, these Sandinista leaders see little prospect for a negotiated settlement of Central America's conflicts. But the Marxist leaders of this poor nation of some 2.7 million people also contend that they have now thrown back the antigovernment forces and limited the fighting to border areas in the north and south of the country.
Four reporters - two Americans and two Chinese - held an interview in the Nicaraguan capital with two men who are widely considered to be the most powerful of Nicaragua's nine Sandinista leaders: Tomas Borge Martinez, the senior Sandinista spokesman and sole survivor among the original founders of the armed Sandinista opposition to the late President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and Humberto Ortega Saavedra, the defense minister.
The Reagan administration has frequently criticized the Sandinistas for delaying the elections, which they had promised when they took power four years ago. In his April 27 speech on Central America, President Reagan charged, among other things, that ''the government of Nicaragua has imposed a new dictatorship, it has refused to hold the elections it promised. . . .''
While asserting that the United States does not seek the overthrow of the Sandinistas, Reagan has questioned the legitimacy of their government, describing it as ''unelected.''
''Our pledge is to hold elections in the year 1985,'' said Mr. Borge, who heads Nicaragua's Interior Ministry. ''The form of elections has not yet been determined, but there is a group of representatives of the political parties in Nicaragua who have been traveling around the world studying various electoral alternatives. . . .''
Asked if the fighting in Nicaragua might at some point disrupt election plans , Borge said jokingly, ''If they're bombarding the Sandino airport . . . and attacking the Ministry of Interior, I think it would be very difficult to hold an election.''
Nicaraguans who are skeptical of the proposed elections for an executive authority and constituent assembly say that a key question will be access to the press for all candidates. They note that at the moment the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, is heavily censored, as much as 40 percent of its editorial material being deleted.
Critics also point to a statement made by Mr. Ortega last August in which the defense minister said that the elections would be designed to improve the revolutionary power and that power was to be in the hands of the people, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, and the national directorate. Ortega seemed to be saying that while other groups might gain influence through the elections, the Sandinistas would have to maintain their hegemony.
The short, sturdy Borge frequently gives interviews, but the moustached Humberto Ortega rarely does so. The interview was originally intended to be with Borge alone. Ortega happened to appear at Borge's office and joined in, giving reporters an unusual look at how these two influential men react to each other. These are the two who are charged, through their defense and state security positions, with keeping the Sandinistas in power.
Borge exudes an air of confidence and authority. Ortega gave the impression of being more self-effacing, in part because he is considerably junior to Borge in age and experience and in part because the interview was primarily Borge's and was being held in Borge's well-guarded Interior Ministry office.
But Borge deferred to Ortega on a number of questions dealing with military matters.
Like most of the nine men in the ruling Sandinista directorate, the two leaders are said to be on the best of terms with Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro. The two Nicaraguans once represented different factions, proposing different tactics in the struggle against Somoza. But they showed no signs of any differences in the interview. Their relationship appeared to be a highly relaxed and friendly one.
Both men have paid their revolutionary dues. Ortega was wounded when he helped in 1969 to secure the escape from a Costa Rican jail of Carlos Fonseca Amador, the Sandinista leader who was killed in 1976.
Borge, a Sandinista leader known among Nicaraguans for his common, earthy touch, is often described by American officials as a tough, hard-line Marxist-Leninist. His courage was tested in prison under the Somoza regime. As Borge described it in a 1980 speech, his jailers tortured him, kept a hood over his head for nine months, and kept him handcuffed for seven months. They murdered his wife.
Borge has taken strong interest in relations with the US over the past six months, but was recently denied a visa to visit the States. One US official charged that Borge was planning to bring a ''propaganda carnival'' with him.
In the interview, Borge and Ortega:
* Declared they would ''never'' allow Soviet nuclear missiles to be placed in Nicaragua and denounced as absurd speculation that such a move would even be considered.
* Said that Nicaragua reserved the right to improve its air force and air defenses because neighboring Honduras had the largest air force in Central America and Nicaragua's air force was virtually nonexistent.
* Denounced Reagan administration calls for negotiations among conflicting parties in the region as cynical moves designed to cover up American aggression.
''We want to coexist, but they do not want us to coexist,'' said the defense minister. ''As Tomas said the other day, 'How can we negotiate with a knife at our throats?' ''