Ten days ago the United States withdrew from bilateral talks with Nicaragua and from further participation in a case before the World Court brought by Nicaragua against the US for its backing of the anti-Sandinista guerrilla forces. US officials said that Nicaragua was not interested in serious dialogue and that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case.
The US decision threatens to close off avenues for normalization of relations between the two countries, which have been at odds for more than three years. The US has said Nicaragua poses a security threat through its stepped-up military armament and by ``exporting revolution'' to other Central American nations. Nicaragua charges that the Reagan administration's financial backing of the anti-Sandinista forces is an aggressive and interventionist policy.
In the fifth year of the Sandinista revolution, Nicaragua faces domestic crises on several fronts -- an expanding war against insurgents and an economic crisis that includes chronic shortages of basic goods. Tension between Nicaragua's Sandinista government and the domestic opposition -- the private business sector, the opposition politicial parties, and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy -- has deepened.
Daniel Ortega Saavedra, inaugurated Jan. 10 as Nicaragua's first president since the 1979 revolution, was interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month. Excerpts follow:
What is your interpretation of the US withdrawal from the talks at Manzanillo, Mexico, and from the case at the World Court?
We are under the impression that the US is trying to escape its responsibility and that they felt pressured by the Contadora measures. [Nicaragua has charged that the US is pressuring its Central American allies not to sign the Contadora draft proposals for a peaceful settlement of the region's conflicts until substantial modifications have been made.] In Manzanillo, the US insisted on modification of the treaty and we insisted that the talks have as an end result a true support for the Contadora treaty. All of the United States efforts have been focused on substantially altering the treaty.
Are you concerned the US withdrawal may indicate a hardening of Reagan administration policy toward Nicaragua?
The United States' attitude worries us because it is an attitude that removes possibilities for an understanding and strikes a heavy blow to a dialogue beneficial to peace.
Is Nicaragua disposed to making concessions on military armaments, ties with Cuba, and domestic political policy to encourage reconciliation with the United States?
The concessions the United States is seeking are those that would liquidate the Nicaraguan revolution. What bothers the United States is the very existence of the Nicaraguan revolution.
Therefore, the position they have taken in raising objections to the Contadora proposals are designed to facilitate the work of destroying Nicaragua.
In light of increasing tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, including the recent conflict over the Nicaraguan draft evader arrested after taking political asylum in the Costa Rican Embassy, how do you envision development of diplomatic ties?
These days have been very critical for relations with Costa Rica. US pressure [on Costa Rica to break diplomatic ties with Nicaragua] is getting stronger. A breakoff of relations is very close, and the United States would consider that a success.
As president of Nicaragua, how do you propose to combat the anti-Sandinista war, which has penetrated Nicaragua's interior?
There is no other road left for us except to continue fighting.
They [the contras ] have succeeded, in some phases, in extending their penetration into the interior through some incursions. But they have also taken serious blows that have forced them to return to Honduras. They have succeeded in maintaining a presence, to a certain point, in Nicaragua's interior, but it is not a majority that has done so.
How can Nicaragua begin to solve its economic problems?
The economic crisis, undeniably, cannot be resolved. I don't believe there is any Latin American country that can resolve its economic problems in the true sense of the word.
What we are doing is implementing economic measures that will allow us to better fight the problems, to control the crisis.
Would you comment on the extent to which Nicaraguans are becoming discontented with the Sandinista government as they face continued war and economic hardship?
When there is an economic crisis, there is discontent. It is a given. But I would ask, what government can go to an election in a situation like that of Nicaragua and still win? We went to an election in the midst of profound crises and won with 67 percent of the public's vote. If any other Latin American government had gone to elections in the situation we have lived through, it would lose.
There is speculation about splits within the nine-man directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) between a hard-line faction led by Interior Minister Tom'as Borge and more pragmatic forces led by you. Would you comment?
That speculation has some basis in the divisions within the FSLN of the past. But even before the 1979 triumph, the FSLN was united and convinced about the political future of Nicaragua. This is a unity that is getting stronger and although there are divisions, you cannot talk about major differences, about radicals and conservatives. -- 30 --