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Help for ‘La Prensa’

In response to:

Scenes from Nicaragua from the August 14, 1986 issue

To the Editors:

In his article, “Scenes from Nicaragua” [NYR, August 14], Murray Kempton writes that last year the National Endowment for Democracy “sent $100,000 to La Prensa,” and that “the check was paid to the Central Bank of Nicaragua to be converted to cordobas.” He goes on to write that this arrangement allows the Sandinista government, by manipulating the exchange rate, to pocket three quarters of the grant. Mr. Kempton has his facts all wrong.

The Endowment did make a $100,000 grant to help purchase supplies and wire services for La Prensa, but not a penny went to Nicaragua (let alone to the Nicaraguan government). The funds went, on a monthly basis, to La Prensa‘s longtime Miami supplier, who paid the subscription costs for the wire services and shipped the needed supplies (ink, photographic materials, chemicals, etc.) to the Nicaraguan newspaper. Subsequent payments were made only after confirmation of the receipt of the supplies.

La Prensa had urgently approached the Endowment for support in 1984 after the Nicaraguan government had refused to authorize the foreign exchange necessary to purchase essential imported supplies. The Endowment grant prevented the Sandinistas from strangling the paper in this manner. So now the government has shut the paper down entirely, claiming (Catch-22 style) that La Prensa should not have solicited help from the Endowment.

Whatever excuses the Sandinistas dredge up to justify this repressive act, the fact is that they have crushed an historic symbol of freedom—something not even Somoza dared to do. They should be judged accordingly.

Carl Gershman

National Endowment for Democracy

Washington, DC

Murray Kempton replies:

Carl Gershman’s authority on the transactions of the National Endowment for Democracy is, of course, beyond challenge. I drew the report he has refuted from a conversation with Horacio Ruiz II, La Prensa‘s assistant managing editor, whose intimate knowledge I took for granted and whose good faith I could not have questioned then and would not now.

It has, by the way, come to my attention that the owners of La Prensa have been struggling since its closure to maintain their staff and equipment in being, on the chance that the government of Nicaragua might in time permit them to resume publication if only under the hobbling conditions previously permitted. Realism does not offer an abundance of expectations for this effort. But it is nonetheless a brave one; and I think it deserves the respect and support of everyone whose commitment to free expression is practical enough to extend to comradeship with any journalist who resists being reduced to a government hack. I cannot even offer assurance that the Chamarros will not have consumed their resources and given up by the time this note appears. All the same a few American reporters have been laboring—I’m sorry to say so far ineffectually—to find ways to help; and anyone inclined to assist can feel certain of a grateful reception if he writes me in care of this journal.

Might I surmise that the Reagan administration is by no means discontent to let La Prensa lie buried as further proof of a Sandinista tyranny beyond redemption? I do not think that those of us who cannot regard the case as quite so simple could locate many better causes than an effort to keep the members of La Prensa‘s staff breathing, in the hope that some day they will have the chance to speak that was, in every real sense, denied them even in the days when the National Endowment for Democracy was supplying the ink they could use only for such words as did not displease the censor.

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