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Managua myths

WE are facing a couple of critical weeks as we wrestle with the Nicaraguan problem. Next week representatives of the ruling Sandinistas and the opposing contras are scheduled to sit down in Costa Rica to see whether they can work out a cease-fire. The following week, the House of Representatives is to vote on the Reagan administration's request for continuing aid to the contras.

If, as seems likely, the two Nicaraguan sides are unable to work out a cease-fire before the congressional vote, Congress will be confronted with a hard decision: whether to cut off aid to the contras while the Soviets, and their Cuban agents, continue funneling substantial military and economic aid to the Sandinistas.

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Key Nicaraguan officials have made no secret of the fact that defeating the contra aid package is a key objective for them.

So how much of their current maneuvering stems from a genuine commitment to reform, and how much from the desire to manipulate the congressional outcome?

As we ponder this, it may be helpful to reconsider some questions and myths about Managua.

What is the evidence that the Sandinistas have become genuinely addicted to the democracy they promised their people, but have consistently abused?

There isn't much. The grudging reforms they have put in place stem not from conviction but from the desire to manipulate world opinion and influence the United States Congress. The Sandinistas have been subjected to diplomatic, economic, and military pressure, but it is the military pressure from the contras to which they have seemed most sensitive.

Haven't they released some political prisoners and permitted more freedom of the press?

They have taken some positive steps, but there remains a long black record of human rights abuses. And the true inclinations of the regime keep showing through. Even as President Daniel Ortega Saavedra was ending a six-year state of emergency, his interior minister, Tom'as Borge, was this week ordering the arrests of opposition leaders. One of them was Jaime Chamorro Cardenal, a senior editor of the opposition newspaper La Prensa, which had only recently been permitted by the Sandinistas to publish again.

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But aren't the Sandinistas just simple revolutionaries, and isn't it the Reagan administration's threatening posture and insensitivity that have propelled them into communist hands?

This, as has been pointed out in this column before, is pure myth. Shirley Christian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent, makes clear in her book, ``Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family,'' that the Sandinista leaders ``intended to establish a Leninist system from the day they marched into Managua.''

Many had longstanding ties with Cuba and Moscow. The Washington administration of then President Carter sought to give aid to the new regime but was repelled by its animosity and its equivocation about aiding communist guerrillas in El Salvador.

By the first anniversary of the Sandinistas accession to power, the US delegation was obliged to leave the ceremonies, because the Sandinistas, in their national anthem, denounced Americans as ``enemies of humanity.''

Isn't Soviet and Cuban influence in Nicaragua much overrated?

That's what some people said about Grenada. After the Marxist regime was toppled there, the opposition discovered secret military treaties with the communist bloc. Recently evidence emerged of a secret plan for a military buildup to 600,000 men in Nicaragua, with sophisticated equipment supplied by the Soviets.

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