La Prensa, the opposition newspaper closed by decree for more than 14 months, will resume publication by Oct. 1 under an agreement announced Sunday by the government and the paper’s owners.
Government and opposition spokesmen said the written agreement, which exempts La Prensa from prior censorship, is a major step toward a national reconciliation that is aimed at ending six years of fighting between the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front and U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras.
The government agreed to subject the afternoon daily to “no more restrictions than those imposed by the exercise of responsible journalism.” In turn, the owners stated their “will to build the climate of peace and understanding the country needs.”
By reopening La Prensa, the government took an early step toward compliance with a peace plan signed Aug. 7 by the five Central American nations. It requires the Sandinistas to restore press freedom and other democratic liberties by Nov. 7 as conditions for a cease-fire and a cutoff of outside aid to the rebels.
Violeta Chamorro, publisher of La Prensa, said that she would use her newspaper, which generally follows a conservative political line, to push for an immediate reopening of several radio stations silenced by the government under a 5 1/2-year-old state of emergency that remains in force.
“I think the reopening of La Prensa is a great thing,” she told a news conference. “We hope the (Sandinistas) will also open all the radio stations and grant a general amnesty and that there will be freedom of speech so that all political parties can express themselves in the streets.”
La Prensa was the only newspaper outlet not controlled by the government when it was ordered shut June 26, 1986, a day after the U.S. Congress voted $100 million in aid to the contras. The paper was accused of seeking “to justify U.S. aggression.”
Asked her position on the Reagan Administration’s announced intention to seek another $270 million for the contras, Chamorro said Sunday: “I have nothing to do with Mr. Reagan and the aid. We live in Nicaragua. . . . We don’t want any more war.”
Vice President Sergio Ramirez said the decision to reopen the paper “will contribute to peace and encourage those who have taken up arms to accept amnesty.”
“Now an (ideological) struggle begins between those who want progress and those who do not want progress,” the Sandinista official said. “We have always said it is better to resolve this in the field of politics and not in the field of war.”
Erick Ramirez, president of the opposition Social Christian Party, said that rebel aid prospects “could be neutralized” by the reopening of La Prensa.
“In spite of my mistrust (of the Sandinistas), it is a positive step,” he said. “At least we now have a medium to express our opinions. This is very important, because the national dialogue will not be subject only to Sandinista interpretations.”
The Sandinistas run both newspapers now published in Nicaragua as well as both television channels and most radio stations.
Father Bismarck Carballo, director of Radio Catolica, called Sunday’s announcement a “positive gesture” but insisted that his station, closed in January, 1986, be allowed back on the air.
Vice President Ramirez said that negotiations with church leaders on reopening the radio station will begin soon.
After signing the peace accord, President Daniel Ortega offered to reopen both Radio Catolica and La Prensa if they submitted to prior censorship, but the offers were rejected.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) relayed Ortega’s offer to Chamorro during a visit here and urged her to accept it, according to Carlos Hollman, the paper’s vice president.
The two days of talks that ended in Sunday’s agreement were led by Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal of Costa Rica, who brought Ortega and Jaime Wheelock, another Sandinista leader, to Chamorro’s home.
The publisher said that Ortega assured her La Prensa would have access to government-controlled newsprint supplies and said police would guarantee the security of her employees. She said he mentioned no conditions under which the paper could be closed again.
‘We Cannot Promote War’
“Obviously, we cannot be apologists for the contras,” said Hollman, who took part in the talks. “We cannot promote the war. But if the contras blow up the Ochomogo Bridge, for example, and we get a photograph, it’s not something we’re going to cover up.”
He and Chamorro said they were assured that La Prensa could print any news that international news agencies are allowed to dispatch from Nicaragua.
For most of its 61 years, La Prensa has been in opposition to the government in power. Its most prominent editor, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal, was assassinated in January, 1978, as the paper was in the midst of one of its many editorial campaigns against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
The killing of Chamorro Cardenal, which was blamed on supporters of Somoza, touched off a civic uprising that was a key contribution to Somoza’s eventual downfall in July, 1979. Violeta Chamorro, the slain editor’s widow, became a member of the Sandinista junta that took power upon Somoza’s ouster. But she quit over political disputes in 1980, and her paper turned increasingly critical of the government.
In 4 1/2 years before it was closed, La Prensa was so heavily censored that it missed publication 35 times.
La Prensa had a circulation of 65,000 and a staff of 230 when it was closed. Hollman said that 60 employees were maintained and 40 will be added to bring out the first edition.