Nicaraguan Strike Taints Both Sides

NICARAGUAN President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and Sandinista party leader Daniel Ortega Saavedra both appear to have lost popular support as a result of the nationwide strike that brought violence to Nicaragua's capital earlier this week. ``The only winners in this are the extremists on both sides,'' notes Nicaraguan economist and sociologist Oscar Ren'e Vargas. By yesterday morning, street confrontation and violence had calmed with Mrs. Chamorro and Mr. Ortega reported closer to a settlement.

But observers here say Chamorro's failure to restore order soon after the strike began and public criticism of her handling of outspoken Vice President Virgilio Godoy badly damaged her authority and will likely make it more difficult for her to rule in the future.

``The credibility of the government has suffered a serious blow this week,'' says one Latin American diplomat based here.

In an address to the nation in the midst of the crisis Monday night, Chamorro declared that police would restore order. By late Wednesday the police and Army had cleared street barricades. But strikers' remained in control of government offices, transport, and the nation's communication system.

``Everyone waited for Violeta to use the police to take control of the situation. But she didn't do anything,'' says Managua resident David Serrano. ``So people decided to take things into their own hands.''

Across the city, government supporters organized to dismantle street barricades put up by Sandinista militants, criticizing what they saw as inaction and conflicting loyalties by Sandinista-trained police and Army.

``The police and the Army have protected the strikers,'' says Horacio Cuadra, the owner of a small electronics repair shop in the Managua neighborhood of Cuidad Jardin. ``And Violeta has been very weak.''

Whether President Chamorro was unable or unwilling to use the nations armed forces to dislodge the strikers is not clear. The Nicaraguan Army remains headed by Humberto Ortega Saavedra, brother to Daniel Ortega and former Sandinista Defense Minister.

``The Army of this country will never act against the constitution, and will never undertake a coup d''etat.... But neither will this Army or police act against the people,'' General Ortega said in a statement

Chamorro's moderate line met with local opposition from the hard-line right wing, further dividing her fragile National Opposition Union (UNO) coalition.

Flanked by members of the conservative private business association, COSEP, Vice President Godoy issued a direct challenge to the President's authority in a press conference Tuesday, calling for the formation of special neighborhood brigades to restore order.

The vice president's challenge came as radical pro-UNO forces clashed with Sandinista militants and police and pro-Godoy station Radio Corporacion denounced President Chamorro's failure to use force.

``For the first time the extreme right wing of the country appeared as a united armed faction, complete with a visible political leader,'' said Vargas. ``The strike has consolidated the hard-line elements of the UNO.''

Meanwhile the more moderate wing of the Sandinista party also appears to have lost ground. The street violence sparked by the strike comes at a time when the Sandinista party is undergoing a difficult restructuring. Pragmatists in the party are seeking a new, more moderate democratic direction in the wake of the Feb. 25 electoral defeat.

``How the Sandinistas emerge from this still depends a lot on what the unions get in negotiations with the government,'' says an economist here. ``But [the] generally moderate faction of the party loses.''

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