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Sandinista perfidy

WELL surprise, surprise. With pressure upon them removed, the Marxist revolutionaries who run Nicaragua have backed down on their promises of reform, have thrown out the window their flimsy and fleeting protestations of belief in democracy, and have reinstituted their campaign to silence political foes.

Only the most dewy-eyed apologists for the Sandinistas could have seriously believed that the ruling regime in Managua would really relinquish power if pressed.

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Even some of the skeptics, however, were prepared to give peace a chance - peace in the shape of the Central American peace plan put forward by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. For his initiative, Mr. Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Actually, the Arias plan was supposed to bring peace and democracy to Nicaragua. Many of us distrusted Sandinista pledges of democracy, but thought that with sufficient pressure upon them, they might be obliged to come to some kind of peace with the armed contras protesting Nicaragua's slide to communist-controlled chaos. But the Arias plan remains a concept that, at least in the case of Nicaragua, has not been brought to fruition.

The pressure upon the Sandinistas has been eased for two reasons.

First, the United States Congress, which has vacillated backward and forward on the contras over the years, cut off military aid. Even approved supplies of non-lethal aid are apparently not getting through.

Second, the contras have exhibited less-than-sterling unity among themselves in cease-fire negotiations with the Sandinistas.

With some disarray among the contras, with American military aid to them dried up, but with Soviet aid still being funneled to the Sandinistas, the Sandinistas have abandoned their flirtation with conciliation and have returned to a tough line with both the contra guerrillas and the more orthodox opposition within Nicaragua.

After easing up on the opposition press they had long silenced, the Sandinistas are cracking down again on journalists. Opposition radio stations have been given strict new guidelines and have been told what they may, and may not, report on. Sandinista sources say the same restrictions will also apply to the print press.

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In March the Sandinistas pledged to permit ``unrestricted freedom of expression.'' Some banned radio stations, and newspapers have been authorized to operate. But in the case of the most famous, the newspaper La Prensa, its owners have been hobbled by the regime's refusal to permit adequate supplies of newsprint for the newspaper's needs.

Meanwhile, the Sandinistas have once again put into play their turbas. These are mobs of government-encouraged toughs who break up opposition meetings and rallies and intimidate opponents of the regime. There also seems to have been a return to the imprisonment of political foes.

All this goes in tandem with an increasingly tough Sandinista line on cease-fire negotiations. Apparently the Sandinistas think the contras are on the ropes and, with their own Soviet military supplies secure, believe they have regained the upper hand.

The Sandinista mood toward the contras was captured in a recent speech by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He dismissed the idea that the Sandinistas would negotiate with the contras on the form of government in Managua.

``What we're discussing,'' he said, ``is how the mercenary forces, who are already defeated, can lay down their weapons. They should be grateful we are not offering them the guillotine or the firing squad.''

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