Sandinista Leader Struggles for Influence in Nicaragua


EARLIER this month Sandinista leader and former President Daniel Ortega Saavedra emerged from a seven-hour meeting with Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren in a conciliatory mood, calling for a negotiated end to the nation's labor strife.Four days later Managua exploded in violence. Responding to the bombing of a Sandinista memorial the night before, Sandinista militants torched city hall and set government vehicles ablaze in a day-long looting spree that resulted in an estimated $4 million in damage. Addressing followers later that day, Mr. Ortega warned rightist legislators that they would "confront the resistance and combativeness of the people" should they attempt to force the return of millions of dollars worth of property confiscat ed under Sandinista rule . Nearly two years after his devastating election defeat by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Nicaragua's former president appears caught between conflicting political pressures. Until recently the government's chief negotiating partner, he faces a more unified right wing now emerging as a third national force. At the same time, he confronts an increasingly dissatisfied radical wing in his own party. Right-wing critics say the former president's recent inflamatory rhetoric is simply a sign of his true colors. "This is a man who was brought up in the clandestine life," says Assembly Deputy Luis Humberto Guzman. "With the political debate now on another level, we have the impression that ex-president Ortega doesn't know where he fits in." Sandinistas say Ortega is under pressure from party radicals to take a tougher line, pointing to labor leaders' blatant rejection of Ortega's call for dialogue earlier this month. "Daniel Ortega has the right to issue appeals to workers or anyone else, even to Martians, but our position is not negotiable," health workers' leader Gustavo Porras told reporters after Ortega's appearance with Mr. Lacayo. These Sandinistas appear increasingly restive. "We're used to the Sandinista Front as a guerrilla organization. Now, instead of fighting for the people, the party's leaders walk off softly to the negotiating table," says Mario Noguera, a Sandinista community leader. "A growing sector of people on the left are tired of negotiating." Ortega's heated rhetoric also reflects Nicaragua's changing political landscape. Since the election, Mrs. Chamorro has governed in a tacit alliance with the Sandinistas. Recently, however, the 14 National Opposition Union (UNO) parties that elected Chamorro have united under the leadership of National Assembly President Alfredo Cesar Aguirre to form a third, fiercely anti-Sandinista bloc. Mr. Cesar's threat to override Chamorro's veto of a tough property-return law passed by the legislature in June have put the Sandinistas on edge. 'LACAYO paid too high a price to get the cooperation of the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas believe they got the right to co-govern [in the transition accord.] Daniel Ortega never thought the right would have so much power in Nicaragua," says Conservative Party politician Emilio Alvarez. The recent proposal of right-wing Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman to create a new municipal police corps has also put the Sandinistas on the defensive. While the mayor claims the corps would consist of unarmed inspectors, the Sandinistas view the proposal as an attempt to create an armed force outside their control. "What they want is to create paramilitary organizations like they have in Guatemala," says Sandinista Deputy Herty Lewites. Ortega has threatened to rearm the Sandinista militias should the mayor proceed with his plans, prompting UNO deputies to call for prosecution of the Sandinista leaders on charges of instigating rebellion. The Chamorro government has responded by calling for a national dialogue. In contrast to earlier talks between the government and the Sandinistas, this discussion is to be three-way, including the UNO Party. The three factions will have a lot to discuss. While the government has agreed to give labor 25 percent of the privatized state companies, it is not clear how those concerns will be distributed. And the issue of property remains as intractable as ever. However, in the wake of this month's violent outburst, the recent agreement of all sides to negotiate is cause for hope. Army Chief Humberto Ortega, Daniel's brother, said in a recent radio interview: "The most important thing now is that Nicaraguans keep talking."

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