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Nicaraguan opposition leader is skeptical election will be free

By Dennis VolmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 22, 1984


The man who some say is likely to be Nicaragua's president - if free and fairly run elections are held - searches for a phrase to summarize the political situation in his country.

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''The Sandinistas,'' Arturo Cruz says finally, ''have put themselves in the center of a labyrinth and now they're looking for a way out.''

Arturo Cruz Porras has seen the labyrinth from both sides. Four years ago he was a member of the Sandinista-sponsored ruling junta. Three years ago he was Nicaragua's ambassador to Washington. But then, feeling that the Sandinista leaders were too radical and not sufficiently open to moderate opinions, he joined the opposition. Cruz has been living in Washington and working at the Inter-American Development Bank at the same executive post he held before Nicaragua's 1979 revolution.

Last week the Nicaraguan government said Cruz could return home. And Tuesday it announced that elections would be held on Nov. 4.

Mr. Cruz says he is suspicious of Sandinista motives, but believes it is possible that the Sandinistas might ''democratize'' Nicaragua somewhat. He thinks they may eventually concede some real power to the private sector, the middle classes, and the opposition parties. He says that some of the Sandinistas have shown they are pragmatic.

But ''the Sandinistas are unpredictable,'' he adds. ''They hold their cards close to their chest, but pressures could lead them to concede eventually, even though they are not sincere. The Sandinistas have misled so many people so many times that no one trusts them any longer. But, for reasons of survival, they want to cut a political deal. It's now up to them to show that they are acting in good faith.''

Cruz says he could envisage standing as a presidential candidate, but not under the under present conditions. He says that what the Sandinistas have offered so far is not enough to ensure that the elections will be free.

In his view, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) hopes the November elections will help to:

1. Restore some viability to the Nicaraguan economy, which is in chaos. The Sandinistas, he says, must get the private sector and middle classes to participate in this. The only way to restore credibility with these groups is to hold elections and come to a political arrangement with them, he says.

2. Reduce the US military and economic pressures on Nicaragua stemming from the US-backed counterrevolutionaries and the US economic boycott. Though the US-backed contras cannot boot the Sandinistas out of power, they can make life difficult through economic sabotage, and by the high cost of keeping Nicaragua on a perpetual war footing. So elections may be one step toward making some sort of compromise with the United States.

Cruz thinks the Sandinistas are under pressure from the Cubans to come to some sort of regional and internal political settlement. Cuba wants a compromise , he says, because it is frightened of direct conflict with the US (especially after the successful US intervention in Grenada) and would like eventually to trade with the US and its Latin allies. It is possible, the Nicaraguan opposition figure says, that even the Soviets have been telling Nicaragua's leaders and Cuba that they would not go ''all the way'' in the case of a conflict pitting the two nations against the US.