Nicaragua's Chamorro Under Fire from Right

Unhappy with conciliatory approach to Sandinistas, UNO coalition threatens civil disobedience

THE National Opposition Union (UNO), the coalition of political parties that backed President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990 elections, has gone into such bitter opposition that some of its leaders have called for shortening Mrs. Chamorro's term of office.

Accusations have also cropped up that the UNO right wing is seeking to destabilize the government by provoking violence.

UNO leaders say such charges are a plot hatched by the government and its allies in the Sandinista-led Army to discredit them and dissuade supporters from attending protest rallies against what they term an illicit "co-government" between Chamorro and the Sandinistas. Since Chamorro defeated the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the leftists who led the country from 1979 to 1990, she has increasingly worked with the Sandinista Army and legislative leaders in what her government calls a policy of nati onal reconciliation.

While UNO is fully supportive of Chamorro's free-market restructuring of a once-socialist economy, the majority of UNO politicians are at odds over this governing strategy, which has involved a series of compromises with the Sandinista groups.

The controversy highlights the country's ongoing polarization. A UNO political rally held Feb. 28, which brought a greater turnout than expected and displayed the right's strength, suggests that the polarization will continue.

At the rally, Alfredo Cesar, a contra leader during the 1980s, criticized Chamorro for dealings with the Sandinistas and said that if she did not return to governing through the UNO, "she will fill the country with civil disobedience - people won't stand for this any longer."

The accusations began when Chamorro suggested to a Mexican news agency Feb. 6 that UNO demonstrators intended to provoke a violent confrontation with police Feb. 28 in order to portray the government as repressive.

On Feb. 22, Gen. Humberto Ortega Saavedra, the Sandinista Army chief, claimed that right-wing UNO politicians headed by former legislative leader Alfredo Cesar and Vice President Virgilio Godoy Reyes were stirring up rearmed ex-contras ("recontras") in the mountainous north to keep the country in turmoil. The aim, he said, was to increase the pressure on Chamorro to "make her government collapse."

Part of the scenario, he asserted, was to torpedo the government's economic program by creating havoc in northern agricultural areas and to prompt a suspension of foreign assistance to the country similar to the one led last year by US Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina.

Since Jan. 9, the bulk of UNO legislators has been engaging in an on-again, off-again boycott of the National Assembly, protesting a leadership election they say robbed them of their rightful role as the majority force in that body.

During the last few weeks, right-wing UNO leaders have also led rallies in cities and towns proposing the idea of a plebiscite to decide whether Chamorro should remain in office. The rallies have been marked by vitriolic rhetoric, with phrases such as "Violeta, traitor, your hour has come!"

With this buildup, the government took no chances before Sunday's rally, setting up roadblocks to search incoming vehicles for weapons. But the demonstration of about 10,000 was peaceful.

Evidence has recently surfaced that some UNO elements have directly egged on armed recontra groups in the north. On Feb. 18, the Army circulated a tape recording to the news media which it allegedly recovered from a recontra group. In it, Humberto Castilla, a UNO deputy, tells the leader of the group, "You have the support of the whole Nicaraguan population" and "are the only salvation, the only option."

Mr. Castilla claims that parts of the tape were fabricated by Army intelligence. But sources inside his own Christian Democratic Party privately say that the tape is genuine, and that Castilla has become a liability for them.

Castilla appeared suddenly at Sunday's rally after returning from a US trip, and read a message from Senator Helms telling the throng that "your struggle for freedom has been an inspiration to me." Helms authored the suspension of more than $100 million in US economic assistance to the Chamorro administration last year, apparently at the behest of the UNO right wing.

Some close to the recontras are skeptical that they would be drawn into a plot woven by Managua politicians. Luis Fley, a moderate ex-contra leader who has put down his arms, argues that "the recontras don't have much confidence in these politicians, whom they see as too Machiavellian."

Mr. Fley claims that accusations about destabilization plots are overblown, and stem more from political motives of the government than from any legitimate concern about incitement to violence by the right.

UNO moderate Luis Guzman, leader of the Christian Democrats, concurs: "Destabilization charges are Humberto Ortega's way of poisoning the government with absolutely false information. That way he accomplishes two things - he appears as indispensable to the country and intimidates people from coming to our march."

While destabilization charges have not yet been proven, the continuing controversy makes clear that Nicaragua's goals of stability and reconcilitaion remain elusive.

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