Soviet ship in Nicaragua: no military wares found
United States President Reagan says this port in Nicaragua is being used by the Soviet Union to ship military supplies to the Salvadorean guerrillas. But it seems clear after spending half a day here that commercial shipments are the port's main business.
If the Soviets shipped any heavy military equipment through the port, it would be obvious to hundreds of civilian Nicaraguan workers who move in and around the port each day and night.
This does not exclude the possibility that small arms, explosives, and medicines are shipped through the port in containers which are not opened here.
But a reconnaissance photo of the port, taken May 20 by the US and released by the White House on May 26, did not contain any obvious evidence of military equipment either on the ships or on the docks. The photo did show two Soviet merchant ships docked at the port.
Almost as soon as the photo was released, Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry officials acceded to a request from several reporters to visit the port. They were allowed to walk past the one Soviet ship which was docked at port but were not allowed to board the ship.
The ship, the Novovolynsk from Leningrad, was seen over a period of several hours unloading fertilizer into Nicaraguan trucks. Three other ships - one from Brazil, one from Taiwan, and one from Panama - were also unloading and taking on cargo.
Corinto is located about 65 miles northwest of the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, toward neighboring El Salvador.
The only evidence of anything like military equipment was 67 mobile olive-green field kitchens from East Germany, which port officials said were destined to be used in the land reform program. They said previous shipments of such field kitchens had gone to the Nicaraguan Army. These seem to be unlikely items to ship to El Salvador, where weaponry is the top need for insurgents there.
Immigration officials at the port commented with sarcasm on Mr. Reagan's suggestion that offensive military equipment had recently moved through the port.
''According to Reagan, those must be the Soviet tanks,'' said one immigration officer, pointing to two yellow Soviet-made bulldozers sitting on a street just outside the port.
The port administrator, Francisco Martinez, showed reporters records that indicated that one of the Soviet ships that was docked at the port on May 20, the Polotosk, was carrying 12,000 tons of fertilizer.
He noted with some amusement that the other Soviet ship then in port, the Novovolynsh, was reported to have come from the Salvadorean port of Acajutla where it apparently had picked up cotton. The records showed it was in the Nicaraguan port to load on cotton and cotton meal.