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The Sandinistas Are Nervous

Nicaragua’s Sandinista rulers claim to have widespread popular support. But, in deciding to bar opposition groups and rival political parties from getting financial aid from abroad, they are acting as if they don’t believe their own propaganda.

The main targets of a series of decrees and regulations that were announced recently in Managua are groups that receive assistance from the U.S. government, like relief agencies of the Roman Catholic Church. The largest such grant would have provided $17.7 million for the treatment of children who have been wounded in the insurgency being waged by the Contra rebels. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega angrily refused the aid, saying that it was “stained in blood” because of the past U.S. government aid to the Contras. While Ortega’s anger is understandable, flatly rejecting assistance that his people badly need serves no useful purpose.

Neither does it serve any constructive purpose for the Nicaraguan government to make it illegal for non-Sandinista labor unions and opposition media like the newspaper La Prensa to receive money or goods from the United States. Sandinista officials point out that under the new laws opposition groups can still receive aid from other foreign countries, but even this opening has an important exception--opposition political parties are restricted from receiving donations from any-where outside Nicaragua.

Throughout Central America it has been traditional for political parties like the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats to receive aid from like-minded parties in Europe. Even the Sandinistas have received such aid in the past. An outright ban looks suspiciously like an effort by the Sandinistas to undermine their political rivals at a time when public discontent is growing in Nicaragua because of the nation’s desperate economic situation. Could it be that the Sandinistas fear that rival parties could take advantage of the economic crisis to undermine their popular support? If so, the Sandinistas are compounding nationalist hubris with hypocrisy.

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