Letters to the Editor. Nicaragua

It is true that the economy of Nicaragua is in miserable shape, and no one takes any heart from Managua's suspension of political liberties. To see the country being militarized with Soviet weapons is frightening. But John Hughes's opinion piece (Oct. 30) condemning the current Nicaraguan administration should not go by without comment on United States policy toward that beleaguered country. We often do not as a people seem to understand the social change that is occurring in the third world, though it is easier for us to comprehend in South Africa because race is more obviously a factor, and we have had our own troubles on that score.

But revolution comes from more than prejudice. It seems to stem from hard-knuckled oppression of majority poor groups by an elite, coupled with extreme domestic inequality in resource, income, and opportunity distribution. It is often held by elements of the emerging middle class and is fanned by joblessness among precisely those in poverty who are becoming more aware of self-improvement possibilities through better communications and somewhat improved health and education.

In the case of Nicaragua, the US could have aided its nascent revolution in 1979, as the Carter administration (then substantially thwarted by Congress) attempted to do.

Instead, the US cut bilateral aid, gummed up Nicaragua's relationships with multilateral lending agencies, reduced trade with it, and finally enacted an economic embargo. We also took advantage of our position to poison Nicaragua's relationships with its Latin American benefactors. Mexico, Nicaragua's primary aid-giver, refused it more concessional petroleum after April 1985 (though this probably had more to do with Mexico's own economy than with us).

We surreptitiously (and now openly) supported the counterrevolutionaries who are led by ex-Somozistas.

These actions simply drove the Nicaraguan government to seek some help from the Eastern bloc. At the very least, its faltering economy needed petroleum.

It would be to the self-interest of all of us to return to normal relations with Nicaragua and to stop sparring with it. Our relations with Nicaragua stand as a sad chapter in contemporary US foreign policy. William C. Thiesenhusen Professor of Agricultural Economics University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, Wis.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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