Nicaraguan opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro met for half an hour with President Bush on Wednesday and asked for American financial assistance for her country, if she wins February’s presidential election.
Chamorro, the U.S.-backed candidate in the race against Nicaragua’s Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, is on a tour of the United States and Europe to seek campaign funds and support.
“In a clean, fair election, Ortega is not going to win,” she told reporters after meeting with Bush. “I believe (the elections) are going to be clean and fair, because that’s what the Nicaraguan people want.”
In a statement issued after the meeting, White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk said that Bush would “assist in Nicaragua’s reconstruction” if Chamorro wins. The only specific step the statement mentioned was an end to the trade embargo that the Reagan Administration had imposed on Nicaragua.
Bush assured Chamorro that “he’s very much willing to support a democratic government in Nicaragua with all he can do,” said Chamorro’s campaign manager, Antonio Lacayo.
The Administration has been centering its Nicaraguan policy on Chamorro and her campaign. Administration officials say that they are encouraged by high voter registration figures in Nicaragua and have been pushing efforts to provide support to the opposition campaign. Last month, for example, Bush won congressional approval for $9 million to be spent on the elections. So far, however, the money has not been sent to Nicaragua.
The meeting came on the eve of a meeting planned at the United Nations today in which representatives of the Nicaraguan government will meet with leaders of the Contras to discuss a resumption of the cease-fire that Ortega ended late last month.
Bush Administration officials have been pushing for a renewed end to the fighting, saying that they fear Ortega could use the warfare as an excuse to cancel the elections. Ortega has blamed the fighting on the Contras, saying that rebel attacks on Sandinista soldiers were endangering the election.
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher on Wednesday urged the Sandinistas to resume the cease-fire.
“If the Sandinistas are truly interested in peace and national reconciliation as they claim, the (U.N.) meeting could have a positive result, one that ends the fighting and moves the peace process forward,” Boucher said.
Neither U.S. officials nor Chamorro, however, were willing to respond to one of Ortega’s chief conditions for resuming the cease-fire--an agreement by the Contras to disband their military forces before the elections. White House spokesman Popadiuk repeated the Administration’s longstanding position that any demobilization must be a “voluntary” decision by the Contras.