''To have the ability and moral authority to democratize the Sandinista government, we must first democratize the opposition.'' This was one of the key points made by Nicaraguan insurgent leader Eden Pastora Gomez in an exclusive interview with The Christian Science Monitor and in an ensuing series of short press conferences here.
The sessions were held at the Caracas hospital where he is recovering from a May 30 bomb attempt on his life - the guest of former Venezuelan President and Socialist International leader Carlos Andres Perez.
Eden Pastora returned to this theme several times as the crux of his independent position. It is a position that has pitted him against both the government of Nicaragua and the Reagan administration. And it now forces Pastora and his followers to make some very difficult choices.
The Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE), Pastora's guerrilla group operating on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border, has been strapped for funds since, according to press reports, the CIA stopped financing it more than a month ago. The agency has cut off funds in an attempt to force ARDE to unite with the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the other anti-Sandinista guerrilla group, which is dominated by former supporters of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The FDN operates in the Honduran-Nicaraguan border area.
Pastora and his followers, however, have refused to unite with the FDN unless it is purged of its pro-Somocista and right-wing leadership. In spite of ARDE's bleak financial situation, Pastora and his closest advisers have emerged from several days of bedside conferences in the Caracas hospital still saying they are determined that ARDE will not unite with an unpurged FDN.
What ARDE will do has not yet been fully decided. But this correspondent's long discussions with ARDE leaders and the interview with Pastora himself show that some general policy directions are emerging.
ARDE will continue to pursue its main goal of pushing the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) toward more democratization and fewer ties to the Soviet bloc - a return to what ARDE perceives as the ''goals'' of the Sandinista revolution.
Pastora says that he will attempt to do so by ''political means.'' If this fails, he says, he will ''go back to the mountains'' to continue fighting.
A clue as to what ''political means'' might be is given by top Pastora adviser Carlos Coronel Kautz, a former Sandinista minister of fisheries and guerrilla leader who fought with Pastora on the southern front in the Sandinista struggle against Somoza.
''The Americans want to turn Eden into a counterrevolutionary,'' he says, ''and that is something no one can do. The great weakness of the FSLN is that because of, among other things, factional differences, it has never been able to really define what Sandinismo is. However, Jaime Wheelock, Humberto Ortega, Daniel Ortega (all members of the Sandinistas' FSLN Directorate), and Eden Pastora are the vital ingredients of the Sandinista synthesis.''
This statement fits in with the opinion of many analysts in Latin America and in Washington: that negotiations with the less radical members of the FSLN Directorate are a strong possibility on Pastora's agenda. The aim would be to reunite with the Sandinista front after some of its more radical elements had been removed from the top leadership.
All indications are, however, that Pastora would want such an arrangement only if a general democratization and moderation of the revolution accompanied a leadership reshuffle.
This view is reinforced by the comments of another top Pastora adviser, Donald Castillo Rivas, a leading Nicaraguan intellectual: ''The most important thing is that the Sandinistas themselves get rid of some of the most orthodox Marxist-Leninist sectors, the sectors least interested in an authentically national revolution. We, Eden's group, should draw closer to the responsible sectors of the FSLN.''
Some analysts believe that the powerful and politically pragmatic Ortega brothers would find a rapprochement with Eden Pastora as good a reason as any to get rid of fellow directorate members Tomas Borge Martinez and Ballardo Arce Castano. Borge and Arce are the leaders of a more radical Sandinista faction and the Ortega brothers' main rivals in the struggle for political predominance.
As Pastora himself says, ''In the Managua government there are many different currents, some of them democratic. . . . If I could send a message to the comandantes, it would be that they should reflect on how peace can be brought to Nicaragua and to the region.''
He goes on to cite differences between his group and the Honduras-based FDN guerrillas.
''We are Sandinistas. We support revolutionary changes. We support the gains already made by the Nicaraguan revolution. We are not interested in overthrowing the government in Managua for the sake of overthrowing it. We want rather to democratize the Sandinista revolution.''
''Managua,'' says Pastora, ''should look for a solution within Nicaragua with us, the Nicaraguans. But the problem is that there is a wing of the opposition (in Honduras) that wants to destroy the revolution. These groups are helped by the Reagan administration, while on the other hand Moscow manipulates radical elements in Managua.
''If there is a united democratic opposition, I think that an arrangement (to end the Nicaraguan conflict) can be reached. If there is no democratic opposition, the revolution will radicalize. Who will be guilty if this happens? The rigidity and inflexibility of extremists in both Washington and those in Managua, who have godfathers in Moscow and Havana.''
Pastora and his group most immediately face the problem of obtaining further financing. The problem is urgent. According to one of Pastora's top military advisers, Roberto (Tito) Chamorro (also wounded in the bomb attack on Pastora), Pastora has about 7,000 armed men in the field, and another 2,000-3,000 men waiting to be armed.
These men must be fed and given ammunition daily. If they are not, most would leave Pastora's camp, analysts say. Some of the fighters would go home and others would desert to the FDN, thus depriving Pastora of the main bargaining card he needs to negotiate with the Sandinistas and others.
One solution to this problem would be for the liberals in the US Congress to strike a deal with the Reagan administration by agreeing to vote for supplemental aid to Nicaraguan contras. They could insist the the aid bill designate a specific amount of money for Pastora's group, ARDE.
''The liberals in Congress should condition their aid on the democratic character of the armed opposition,'' says Pastora, ''looking eventually for a peaceful settlement along democratic lines.''
To date, however, most US liberals have attacked Reagan administration support for the contras and have shied away from openly supporting Pastora.
Arturo Cruz Jr., a top Pastora adviser and former Sandinista foreign policy official, is critical of the liberals on this count:
''US liberals have been no more enlightened than President Reagan when they qualify Pastora as a counterrevolutionary. Unfortunately, on the whole, in their Central American policy, most North American liberals have shown a lack of coherency, courage, initiative, and imagination,'' Cruz says.
The ramifications for Nicaragua and Central America are very serious if ARDE disbands due to lack of funds, Cruz suggests.
''If Pastora disappears from the scene, that would eventually leave only the two extremes facing eath other - the Somocista-dominated right and the more radical elements in Managua,'' he says. ''Our basic desire is to negotiate with the more pragmatic Sandinistas, negotiations which would preserve the revolution and make it more truly representative. If we disappear, this option disappears, leaving the field to those who want to see full-scale military intervention in Central America. Such a development could only further radicalize the situation in Managua.''
One Republican congressional staff source believes that a conservative-liberal deal to provide funds to ARDE and the FDN is not impossible , but he does not see it as very likely. He thinks most liberals would worry that the public would interpret such a deal as support for the contras and US intervention in the region.
Pastora's group has not ruled out unification with the FDN, but insists that it be on ARDE's terms - with a purge of the Somocistas from the FDN and with ARDE given the top leadership positions of any united organization. Pastora's advisers see unification with a cleaned-up FDN as something that would strengthen their bargaining hand with Managua. They say FSLN's interest in a deal would be greater if Pastora could deliver peace on both of Nicaragua's borders.
Pastora adviser and economist Donald Castillo says that he would not find all members of the FDN leaderhsip unacceptable. FDN leaders such as Marcos Zeledon, Lucia Salazar, and Alfonso Callejas are people who he believes could remain in a new unified structure.
Republican congressional staff sources with close links to the administration , state that many within the Reagan administration and especially within the CIA are irritated by what they view as an arrogant position on Pastora's part. Pastora's people insist on purging the FDN leadership when the FDN has more fighters. (The FDN has 10,000 under arms to ARDE's 7,000.)
Pastora's advisers respond that ARDE's growth has been restricted by lack of funds.
The CIA has kept the Pastora group on a tight financial leash, while the FDN gets comparatively large amounts of US aid and has greater access to private-sector donors than ARDE, especially among wealthy Venezuelans and Central American and Cuban businessmen in Miami.
Kissinger Commission members, a report on Central American by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and numerous Republican and Democratic congressmen point out that although the FDN has more men than ARDE, it has little popular support in Nicaragua. Pastora, they note, is the only dissident leader with any substantial following within the country.
In the past few months, says a Republican congressional source, the Reagan administration has become more optimistic about the contras' chances of overthrowing the FSLN or removing most of the top Nicaraguan leaders from their posts. If this occurs, the top Nicaraguan exile figures will play an important role. Many in the Reagan administration, this source says, would not like to see ARDE in a position of such power. They would prefer that FDN leaders, even the Somicistas, remain in place in the contra movement to share power with ARDE.
The Pastora group's preferred source for funding is Latin American and Socialist International sources, not the US.
ARDE members speak of ''Latin Americanizing'' their base of financial and political support, with Socialist International countries like Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Mexico, or socialist European states such as Spain and Portugal playing major roles.