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Nicaragua's Future?

After 100 days, Chamorro faces plots, contra demands

PRESIDENT VIOLETA BARRIOS DE CHAMORRO has managed to hang on to her presidency through 100 day in office, but in so doing, she has had to compromise her mandate and has not been able to achieve what Nicaragua needs most; the creation of a national consensus that would unify the polarized factions in the nation's political arena. The compromise candidate of the United National Opposition (UNO), Ms. Chamorro was nominated because of her inoffensiveness, not because of her strengths, and elected when voters rejected Daniel Ortega in order to end the contra war, call off Washington's economic blockade and obtain US financial assistance. Now, to succeed in her goal of national reconciliation, she must draw together elements of her own party, particularly the right-wing faction led by Vice President Virgilio Godoy, while appeasing militant Sandinistas and reintegrating the contras.

But instead of frequenting smoke-filled meetings to iron out differences, Chamorro has frowned on spending the time constructing political bridges to feuding elements within her own coalition, preferring instead to surround herself with inexperienced technocrats. This leaves the many strong, if unsavory, players in the Nicaraguan political arena out in the cold, feeling slighted and looking for other ways to exert influence.

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But if the future of Nicaragua lies in the search for consensus demanded by the harsh political and economic realities now facing the nation, the process has been seriously derailed through the partisan efforts of the Sandinistas, Godoy's plotting, and the opportunism of the ex-contras.

Former President Ortega seems to be unsure of his proper role, promising to cooperate one day as the leader of the loyal opposition, yet vowing to ``govern from below'' the next. The recent nationwide work stoppages called by pro-Sandinista unions only succeeded in undermining Chamorro, with the disruption leaving six dead and millions in property damage. For the leader of a party that claims its roots lie in a popular struggle to overthrow oppression, Ortega is not giving an entirely convincing performance.

Far more menacing, however, are Godoy's activities. The leader of the strongest faction within the UNO, this angry man believes it is he who has the proper credentials to be president. Disagreement is one thing, but Godoy is turning outside the system, threatening to bring back to Nicaragua Somoza-era terror.

He recently formed, ostensibly to thwart the Sandinistas, the ``National Salvation Commission,'' an undefined and armed private group funded by the wealthy business owners' association. It bears an eerie resemblance to Salvadoran death squads. He's led vigilante efforts to confiscate land owned by cooperative farming communities, as well as being the most partisan critic of the government he is supposedly a part of.

The contras represent the dangerous unknown. It is to Chamorro's credit that demobilization was achieved. But in the process she ceded to the contras territory as big as El Salvador for the formation of a virtual ``contraland.'' She promised them services unavailable to most Nicaraguans. They were guaranteed their own police force and high positions. It's unknown what will happen when bands of these armed young men, unused to civilian life, are unable to reintegrate themselves in their communities and find it emotionally and physically too difficult to live in isolated rural regions.

Chamorro certainly needs to develop some political street smarts, but this alone won't solve Nicaragua's problems. One hundred days into the new administration, she has shown signs of genuine accomplishment, the most important example being that after a decade of bitter war, the contra flag no longer flies. But to be an effective leader, she must win over major political players as well as their supporters. The Sandinistas must assume the proper role resulting from having won only 39 of 92 seats in the National Assembly. Chamorro has every right to expect Godoy's loyalty or his resignation - he represents the single greatest threat to reconciliation. As for the contras, they must see themselves as citizens of Nicaragua, not a privileged class. This is the ineluctable formula for the nation to prosper.

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