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The Nicaraguan Tangle: An Exchange

In response to:

The Nicaraguan Tangle from the December 5, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

A copy of a New York Review of Books article on Nicaragua by Robert Leiken [NYR, December 5, 1985] has circulated among opposition parties here in Managua. I do not think I have ever seen such a dishonest report.

I will confine myself to what Mr. Leiken claims were Sandinista intimidation tactics to force the Democratic Conservative Party to participate in the November 1984 Nicaraguan elections. Mr. Leiken writes that “On October 28 [1984], the Democratic Conservatives were also on the verge of voting to withdraw [from the elections]. Several dozen young Sandinistas broke up the party’s convention.” A moment later he refers to this as “the coercion of the registered opposition.”

This, like so much of Mr. Leiken’s extraordinary version of events, is entirely false. I was the Coordinating Secretary of the Democratic Conservative Party Youth in October 1984. I personally organized the demonstration to which Mr. Leiken refers. (There were 800 members of the Democratic Conservative Youth at the meeting, Mr. Leiken, not “several dozen”—it is obvious that you were never there. We would have had even more if several hundred members from Chinandega and other outlying cities had been able to get transportation.) Our demonstration was organized with the support of Dr. Celemente Guido, our Party’s National Organization Secretary and its Presidential candidate in the elections. The Sandinistas had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Leiken carefully avoids telling his readers the reason for the demonstration: it was an effort by the Youth to stay in the elections after revelations that several influential Party members had accepted bribes from the US Embassy to try to pull the Party out.

All this was adequately reported in the London Financial Times and the Manchester Guardian at the time, but the American reporters whom Mr. Leiken is so fond of quoting on the elections (one of whom, Julia Preston of the Boston Globe, described us in a “straight” news story as “rabble rousers”) never printed any of it. For the benefit of Americans who do not regularly follow the British press, here is what happened.

A few days before the elections the Political Secretary of the US Embassy in Managua met with several high-ranking Party members and offered them substantial amounts of money, $300,000 to the Party plus $50,000 for each of them personally as commissions, if they could get the Democratic Conservative Party to abstain.

Three of those present went along with the deal, but the Party Treasurer did not and instead quietly reported the maneuver to Party Presidential candidate Guido. We then, with his approval, organized the demonstration to which Mr. Leiken refers, bursting into the hall shouting “Elections! Elections!”

Had we not gone into the meeting the Embassy plan might well have succeeded. Our intervention, which showed the depth of the Party Youth’s commitment to the elections, was decisive, however, and the following day the Party leadership met again and voted to continue the electoral campaign, something Mr. Leiken also conspicuously fails to mention. The three members who agreed to the bribes quit the Party after being denounced for corruption and betrayal.

We wanted to participate in the elections because we want a strong political opposition to the Sandinistas that is not a handmaiden of the US Embassy. We consider ourselves a party of the center, a party of peace, between the two extremes of the Sandinistas and the US-controlled contras. Our Party has no foreign affiliation, unlike most parties in Nicaragua, and we are nobody’s tool. There are those who are not happy with that, both at the Embassy and among the Sandinistas, as was shown by recent government censorship of one of our radio broadcasts that promoted the bill we have introduced in the National Assembly to change the country’s military draft law. But we believe our road is the only way to peace.

Mr. Leiken never came by our office to check his information, which is not surprising, given that he is not interested in peace for Nicaragua but has been a publicist for the contras for years, first for Eden Pastora and, since the CIA dropped Pastora, for Arturo Cruz.

It seems that many of your compatriots believe that they should have a voice in our country’s political affairs. I hope you will print this letter and give us a voice up there, too.

Marvin José Corrales Monjarrez

President, Democratic Conservative Youth

Democratic Conservative Party of Nicaragua

Managua, Nicaragua

Robert Leiken replies:

Mr. Corrales Monjarrez has misrepresented himself as well as the events he claims to portray. This is made clear in the two statements published below by Enrique Satelo Borgen, the coodinator of the Democratic Conservative party at the time of the elections. Only one of Mr. Corrales’s assertions is correct: I was not present (nor did I ever claim to be) during the demonstration and disruptions that took place at the Democratic Conservative meeting and had to rely on the press and accounts of journalists and other witnesses. They told me that while some eight hundred demonstrated, only a portion of the demonstrators actually entered the meeting. I used the most conservative estimate (“several dozen”), but there may have been as many as two or three hundred. The higher figure of disrupters hardly puts Mr. Corrales in a better light. There is no discrepancy however about the fact that, as Steven Kinzer of The New York Times reported on October 31, 1984, “delegates to the Conservative convention appeared ready to vote to drop out, but their convention was broken up by youths chanting ‘Elections! Elections!’ and no vote could be taken.”

Subsequently, on two occasions, I did go to the party headquarters to interview party leaders. However, the party had split over the election issue. On one of those occasions Mr. Sotelo and his associates had gone to the International Press Center in Managua to hold a press conference explaining the events, a conference that these leaders were forced to cancel because of Sandinista intimidation. The two statements by Mr. Sotelo follow:

1.

With this document, I Enrique Sotelo Borgen, of legal age, married, lawyer, with an address in the city of Managua, Republic of Nicaragua, confirm: that I was National Coordinator of the Democratic Conservative Party, during the period ending January 3rd of 1985; and as National Coordinator I had to preside over the sessions of the General Convention of the Party that took place the 28th of October 1984 in the lobby of the Hotel “Camino Real.”

The will of the Convention was not to take part in the elections organized by the FSL. This became evident after the first vote, when the convention decided to have a secret ballot, a decision that those in favor of abstention from the elections supported in order to avoid subsequent reprisals. The decision was ninety-six votes for a secret vote against twenty-four votes for a public vote.

Approaching the final vote, the supporters of participation in the elections—convinced that they were defeated, facing a convention that had applauded the speakers who had repudiated the electoral process taking place under irregular conditions, with mockery of the people and deception of foreigners, a situation the majority believed it should not accept—decided to assault the convention and dissolve it by force in order to prevent those at the convention from making the decision not to attend the elections.

In this way, Dr. Rafael Cordoba Rivas, then a member of the National Junta of Government, and Dr. Clemente Guido Chavez, presidential candidate, both leading supporters of participation in the elections, took the initiative. The first, with the help of his six bodyguards, all members of the State Security, political police of the regime, brought young people into the hall who pretended to be members of the Conservative Youth. It was proved later that they were members of the “19 de Julio Youth,” a Sandinista youth organization, or young members of the army, who intended to throw out members of the PCD.

This violent action was also directed by an old public agitator, a former member of the Somocista Security Office and photographer by profession, Cesar Augusto Castillo, now Deputy of the National Assembly. Dr. Guido mounted the podium and tore up papers and, at the same time, directed the activities of the Sandinista young people who were shouting slogans in the Sandinista style, while the Directors of the Convention remained in a corner as hostages of the assault group.

Thanks to the presence of several journalists from foreign countries, we were not injured; and we were able to get out of the hall when the mob went to the corridor of the hotel; they waited outside for me in order to finish their attack and, because I didn’t appear, they broke my car windows and smashed the car’s body, using bludgeons that they had concealed. All these events were reported later in the newspaper La Prensa in more detail, and the weekly Paso a Paso of the PLI. I confirm the truthfulness of these accounts.

In the city of Managua the thirteenth day of the month of February 1986.

Enrique Sotelo Borgen

Managua, Nicaragua

2.

I have just been informed that Mr. Marvin José Corrales Monjarrez has sent The New York Review a letter stating that members of the national leadership of the Democratic Conservative Party of Nicaragua received offers from the United States embassy in Nicaragua for the sum of $300,000, plus $50,000 for each official who supposedly would cooperate with the political secretary of the embassy before the elections in 1984.

In the most forthright manner, on my own behalf, as national coordinator at this time, and on behalf of the national secretary of my party, Felix Pedro Espinoza Briones, and also on behalf of the president of the party’s campaign, Don Sergio Torres Ogregario, I absolutely deny the above statement. We never had such a proposal from the political secretary of the embassy, or from any other member of the embassy.

Such false information was published in the official newspaper Barricada and was then refuted by the party officials I have named above. This allegation concerning the embassy political secretary was used by the Sandinista regime in order to spread lies.

The signer of the letter to The New York Review was at one time a messenger for the Democratic Conservative Party; he was dismissed when it was established that he was a member of the state security police for the Sandinista regime. He was not president of the Conservative Party Youth group at any time during the period he writes about. We did not know that he was a leader of the Sandinista mob posing as Conservative Party Youth that broke up our democratic convention; that is something we first learned on reading his letter to The New York Review.

Enrique Sotelo Borgen

Managua, Nicaragua

April 4, 1986

Not a shred of evidence, it should be added, has been furnished by Mr. Corrales or the Sandinista newspapers that printed the bribe allegations. I have no way of ascertaining their truth nor am I familiar with much of the reporting of the Financial Times correspondent. I have had reason to look into the reporting of Tony Jenkins in the Manchester Guardian and have found it highly partial to the Sandinistas. Unfortunately a few reporters based in Managua seem to regard as gospel truth anything they are told by the comandantes or they read in Barricada. Mr. Jenkins has written several distorted accounts of events in Nicaragua and on one occasion created out of whole cloth an interview supposedly conducted with me.

There is, however, clear evidence of Sandinista efforts to bribe the opposition. The New York Times report cited above refers to “an unpublished agreement signed in Managua on October 22 [1984] [by] leaders of six non-Sandinista political parties…to restrain their criticism of the…military draft law…[and] to encourage a large voter turn-out.” In return, the Times report said, “the Sandinistas offered to give five million cordovas [$18,000].” The secret agreement, which did not mention the money, “carries the signature of leaders of every participating party, including Comandante Bayardo Arce.”

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