San Jos'e, Costa Rica — SHOCKED by the Hasenfus case, but lacking a defined position on Nicaragua, and generally bewildered by the whole situation: This describes the attitude of most US journalists I met at the major newspapers I visited in Boston, Washington, and New York during a trip there last fall. Everywhere I went, reporters and editors plied me with questions about Central America, as if I could give them some sort of ``magic formula'' as an alternative to the policies of the Reagan administration.
Nobody has an easy answer to the problems in Central America. But I do feel obliged to share my feelings as a Nicaraguan who sees the future of her country given over to the designs of the two superpowers under the very noses of the democracies surrounding Nicaragua.
Once the US Congress approved $100 million in aid for the contras last year, Nicaragua largely stopped being newsworthy in the United States. However, the arrest and prosecution in our country of Eugene Hasenfus, a US flier shot down by Sandinista troops last October, refocused world attention and, especially, US public opinion, back on Nicaragua.
The Hasenfus episode was not, however, a real surprise to any Nicaraguan. Unfortunately, the history of our country during the past 150 years has been one of repeated foreign intervention in our internal affairs. Our leaders have never been able to offer Nicaraguans a democratic regime; the leaders have instead chosen to arrogate lifetime power to themselves, with the aid, of course, of foreign forces. The Somozas were helped by US forces; the Sandinistas are backed by the Soviet Union through Cuba.
The Hasenfus case made the front pages of newspapers around the world, but for many Nicaraguans it amounted to another verse of the same old song. On one hand, we have the President of the US backing the contra rebels; on the other hand, we have the USSR and Cuba supporting the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which claims power now and forever.
As a Nicaraguan citizen, I feel I have the right to object to the military presence of other countries in our territory. The presence of US military forces offends our sovereignty and patriotic sentiments just as does the presence of forces from a nation like Cuba. That country has provided mat'eriel and manpower to support Soviet military expansion in several places in the world, now including, unfortunately, our Nicaragua.
Naturally, many Nicaraguans like myself reject the idea that Hasenfus was acting independently of the US government. But we aren't happy either about the presence in Nicaragua of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, a very important Cuban military figure, a specialist in armored tanks who is famous for having led Cuban troops in Angola.
General Ochoa, according to the official newspaper Barricada, was decorated by Vice-President Sergio Ram'irez and by General of the Army Humberto Ortega, as well as Vice-Minister of the Interior Luis Carrion, on March 12, 1986. This indignity, a symbol of the Soviet-Cuban presence in Nicaragua, was neither a novelty nor a surprise to most Nicaraguans and, strangely, received little or no world press coverage.
At the close of his tour of duty in Nicaragua a year ago, General Ochoa was replaced by another general of the same rank. This refutes the Sandinistas' insistence that Nicaragua has only a ``few hundred Cuban advisers,'' and confirms the presence of a permanent Cuban military mission in Nicaragua.
The Cuban army has been used by Fidel Castro for Cuba's expansion in Africa and the Middle East. Thus all Nicaraguans who want a nonaligned position for their country and who care about its sovereignty - so ardently defended by Gen. Augusto Cesar Sandino and by my late father, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal - must look with equal suspicion on the presence of a Cuban military mission in Nicaragua and on a Hasenfus dropping military supplies over our territory.
But it is Cuban militarism in Nicaragua that concerns the rest of Central America.
The war is among Nicaraguans; it is our youths who are being killed. Yet a choir of condemnation against one side or the other comes from leaders outside Nicaragua who claim to be in favor of democracy in the rest of the world.
After four years of war and anguish for Nicaraguan mothers, we must realize that outside condemnation will not be enough to disarm the contras, neutralize their promoters, oust the Soviet-Cuban presence in Central America, and attain democracy in a Nicaragua where lack of democracy is the cause of all the great problems.
Would it not be more just to the whole country to recognize the contras as another force and to listen to what objectives they pursue? The aim would be to see if there is any way they could be induced to surrender their arms and so reach peace for Nicaragua and Central America.
Nicaragua needs peace. Yet guarantees of liberty and a democratic system are essential conditions for peace, not only for Nicaragua but for all of Central America.
The Sandinista government recently said that if US support for the contras is withdrawn, the right of Nicaraguans to be free will be restored. Regrettably, few of us still believe in the words and promises of the Sandinistas. Nevertheless, the Sandinista offer gives an opportunity to all those who oppose President Reagan's Central America policy and who lack an alternative.
The US and the democrats in Latin America, Europe, and the new US Congress could contribute by offering to stop the war in Nicaragua. They would thus prevent a Central American war and at the same time get the FSLN to start internal democratization. The Sandinistas must guarantee contra political leaders the right to return to Nicaragua and initiate a civilized political struggle. The state of emergency must be lifted, freedom of the press and religion restored, and the sentences imposed on all political prisoners must be reexamined.
A lot of Nicaraguans would accept this type of diplomatic-political intervention from the democratic forces of the world. The FSLN in 1979 requested such intervention from the US and the Latin American democracies in order to reach power.
To lose this opportunity would mean giving way to US military intervention, which nobody wants. That would be a failure not only for the Republicans and Democrats in the US and the whole of Spanish America, but also for us Nicaraguans who want to live in a democracy without violence. We want a truly ``nonaligned'' Nicaragua where foreign powers do not intervene in internal affairs.
Christiana Chamorro Barrios headed the editorial board of La Prensa, her family's newspaper in Nicaragua; the newspaper was closed by the Sandinistas last year.