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Nicaraguan: 'USSR can't solve our economic problems, nor can US'

Nicaraguan officials say they want to maintain a mixed, pluralistic economy but the United States is throwing obstacles in their way.

American officials argue that the Sandinista leaders of Nicaragua are slowly grasping control of all aspects of life in the Central American nation. But the Nicaraguan officials point out that 60 percent of the economy here is still in private hands.

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Economic specialists in the Nicaraguan government say they are driven more by pragmatism than by ideology. An agreement on compensation for the expropriation of an American mining corporation and a new investment law, now in the draft stage, which would permit 100 percent foreign ownership of enterprises here, are pointed to as examples of pragmatism. An American company refines all of the country's oil. A single family has been allowed to continue producing half of the country's refined sugar.

''To run this economy from a Marxist point of view would be quite difficult, '' says Cesar Arostegui, a young government vice-minister with Nicaragua's International Fund for Reconstruction. ''We have to find our own solutions to our own problems.

''We don't think the Soviet Union has the magic word to solve our problems,'' he says, ''but neither does the US.''

American officials have criticized the Sandinistas for postponing elections until 1985. They point out that Nicaragua's draft elections law does not give opposition political parties the right to aspire to attaining power. The US points to Costa Rica, and its elections, as a model for the region.

But Mr. Arostegui argues that Costa Rica, which is faced with the world's highest per capita foreign debt, is hardly an example that Nicaragua wants to follow.

''Costa Rica is as bad off or worse off than we are,'' said Arostegui. ''I don't think an election is going to solve our economic problems.''

Arostegui contends that the Nicaraguans have been acting as ''good debtors,'' paying back what they can of their $2.69 billion foreign debt, but that many US banks have not acted as good lenders. He also says the US has been attempting to veto requests from Nicaragua to international financial institutions for concessionary loans designed to help with community development programs. These, he said, would help small farmers and provide water to rural communities.

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The US, said Arostegui, has been forcing Nicaragua to turn to ''expensive money'' instead of to concessionary loans for such projects.

Despite the pragmatic views of government economic specialists, ideological rhetoric prevails at the highest levels and tends to scare off foreign investors.

''Often, (the) economic policies and decrees (of high-level officials) are reasonable,'' said one diplomat. ''But it's the implementation and the political climate that are so negative.''

The US State Department often points out that five leaders of COSEP, the umbrella private-sector organization in Nicaragua, were arrested because they issued a statement criticizing official policy.

Despite criticism from the Nicaraguan officials, meanwhile, a group of foreign banks, including the Bank of America, recently agreed to grant this country more than $25 million in short-term trade credits as part of an effort to facilitate the payment of Nicaragua's debt.

Not all of Nicaragua's economic problems are of its own doing. Like other Central American nations, Nicaragua has had to cope with higher interest rates and falling prices for its exports. In 1982, natural disasters added a huge burden. Heavy rains and floods damaged cattle production and the rice and banana crops. Damage estimates reached more than $350 million. Drought then followed, heavily damaging the cotton crop.

Some economists say that in 1982 inflation may have increased from the 23 percent claimed last year to 30 to 35 percent. Private investment is minimal. Although Nicaragua has received increasing amounts of assistance from the Soviet Union and other East bloc countries, economists do not believe that the Soviet Union is prepared to ''bail out'' Nicaragua the way it has Cuba. Hard currency loans are not likely to come from the Soviets, they say. Some of Nicaragua's technocrats would just as well keep it that way.

''We wouldn't like to rely too heavily on any one side,'' said Vice-Minister Arostegui. ''We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket.''

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