Can Nicaragua's `pragmatic' president alter course of revolution?

With Daniel Ortega Saavedra sworn in as Nicaragua's president, many of his countrymen are waiting to see whether he will moderate the course of the Sandinista revolution. A political thaw between the Sandinistas and Nicaragua's opposition leaders is necessary in order to lessen the country's acute economic crisis and civil strife, say many political moderates, both pro- and anti-government.

But the main question these Nicaraguans ask themselves is: Are the more pragmatic people in the Sandinista leadership -- led by the new president -- willing and able to make the concessions necessary to bring about these political changes?

One sign that they might be, at least in the economic area, came in Cabinet changes announced this week in ministries dealing with economic policy. Both moderate Sandinistas and moderate opposition figures say the changes will help to strengthen Mr. Ortega's control of economic decisionmaking and, in general, to strengthen the role of government, as opposed to the Sandinista party, in economic matters.

The changes replace the Economic Planning Ministry, headed by hard-line directorate member Henry Ruiz, with a Council of National Planning, headed by Ortega and Vice-President Sergio Ramirez.

Mr. Ruiz will be given charge of a new ministry called the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, which some opposition leaders say will deal with East-bloc relations.

The head of the Central Bank, Jos'e Luis Figieroa, has been removed and replaced with politically moderate Finance Minister Joaquin Cuadra, a political ally of Ortega. The Finance Ministry will be headed by the equally moderate finance vice-minister, William H"upper.

Sandinista directorate member Jaime Wheelock, generally considered the most pragmatic of the nine-member directorate, will gain control of the ministries of Internal Commerce and Labor, in addition to his current portfolio, the Ministry of Agriculture.

Despite Ortega's assumption of the presidency in ceremonies yesterday, the nine-man Sandinista directorate, which is the supreme council of the Sandinista party (the Sandinista National Liberation Front), will remain the main source of authority in Nicaragua. What is not yet clear, however, is how far the directorate will go in allowing decisionmaking to be made by the new government. In general, Ortega is expected to gain more control than he has had before in the five-year-old Sandinista government.

But moderates were disappointed in remarks by directorate member Carlos Nunez this week that seemed to dim hopes of a quick resumption of the talks between the Sandinistas and the main political, labor, and business opposition.

Many opposition and diplomatic observers expect the talks will resume, but are skeptical of the ability of the Daniel Ortega and his pragmatic allies to change the revolution's ideological course enough to come to any real ``arrangements'' with the opposition.

Another observer, Arturo Cruz Sequieros, a former Sandinista foreign-policy official and son of Nicaraguan opposition leader Arturo Cruz Porras, believes that a policy of economic moderation will not work unless there are political concessions. He thinks the private sector will invest more in Nicaragua only if it gains guarantees that the nation will not become ``another Cuba.''

Mr. Cruz suggests that hard-line directorate members Henry Ruiz, Tomas Borge, and Bayardo Arce don't mind making economic concessions to Ortega or letting him fill economic posts with Ortega allies because they believe that the more radical Sandinistas have enough political clout to sabotage any attempt at making a political arrangement with the opposition.

The younger Cruz also believes that although Ortega and Wheelock might think it necessary to moderate the revolution's ideological course, they will find it difficult to do so. He believes the nation's links with the Soviet bloc are growing stronger. Observers point out that Ortega went to the airport to greet Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who traveled to Nicaragua for the inauguration.

Cruz is also worried by what he views as the growing military power of Interior Minister Borge, who in addition to the state security and National Police, now controls the special military units of the Interior Ministry that are fighting the rebel contras.

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