Hopes for pardon keep Hasenfus case alive. 30-year sentence seen as political bargaining chip for Sandinistas
| Managua, Nicaragua
Sandinista officials suggest that interest in the Hasenfus case will be kept alive through the possibility of a pardon. The officials said the possibile pardon for Eugene Hasenfus would be held out as a political bargaining chip until the appropriate moment. The American flier was convicted of terrorism and related crimes Saturday and sentenced to 30 years in a Nicaraguan prison.
``Once the judicial stage of this political case is over with, then we will decide what we will do with Mr. Hasenfus,'' said Rene Nunez, minister of the presidency, just hours before the sentencing.
Both President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and Minister Nunez said Saturday that a Hasenfus pardon could not be ruled out.
``The Hasenfus case is primarily a political case, and we are politicians. The Sandinista party has always been pragmatic and has looked for solutions that would benefit the political strategy of the revolution. We are examining the Hasenfus case from an overall political perspective, and at the appropriate moment there will be a political response,'' Nunez said.
Nunez declined to specify what would constitute ``the apppropriate moment,'' but he hinted at the possibility of an exchange of prisoners with the contra rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government.
At the end of the four-week trial in which defense efforts were outweighed by the evidence and by Hasenfus's confession - in which he admitted to participating in 10 supply flights into Nicaragua from the Ilopango Air Force base in El Salvador - defense attorney Enrique Sotelo Borgen called the trial ``a terrible injustice.''
``It was a political trial, not a judicial trial, and if they give him a pardon, it will be because it suits the political strategy of the Sandinistas,'' Mr. Sotelo said.
Mr. Hasenfus had told reporters here, ``They [Sandinista officials] told me there was a big light at the end of the tunnel, and if I wanted to see that light, I should just keep talking.''
Hasenfus's statement, plus President Ortega's statement suggesting that Hasenfus might be treated leniently as ``a victim of [President] Reagan's policy,'' led to speculation of an early pardon and release. But this now seems remote.
Diplomats here speculate that perhaps Hasenfus did not keep talking to the Sandinistas' satisfaction. In his confession, Hasenfus said that the two directors of the contra supply operation were working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Before the trial began, he amended the confession to say that he had based this statement on hearsay from the plane's pilot who died when the aircraft was hit Oct. 5 by a surface-to-air missile over southern Nicaragua.
In his testimony, Hasenfus also said he did not realize that the identification card issued to him by the Salvadorean Air Force identified him as a US adviser. Before reading the sentence Saturday, the president of the Anti-Somocista People's Tribunals said it was the court's opinion that Hasenfus had deliberately lied about the identification card to obscure his links to the US government.
Mr. Hasenfus will seek an appeal on the case as well as a pardon from the government.