Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaraguan President's Tough Balancing Act New Property and Police Reforms Criticized by Left and Right. CENTRAL AMERICA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaraguan President's Tough Balancing Act New Property and Police Reforms Criticized by Left and Right. CENTRAL AMERICA

Article excerpt

NICARAGUAN President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took some of the most momentous decisions of her term last week in an effort to provide her country with a modicum of political stability that it desperately needs.

Facing severe cross-pressures within Nicaragua and the threat that a temporary suspension of US economic assistance could become permanent, Mrs. Chamorro appears to be walking a very thin tightrope in her attempt to solve two thorny problems.

The Chamorro government announced Sept. 2 that thousands of people whose homes, farms, and businesses had been confiscated in the 1980s under the rule of the Sandinist National Liberation Front were entitled either to get their properties back or receive compensation.

Three days later Chamorro announced the retirement of Chief Rene Vivas and 11 other high-ranking Sandinista officers of the National Police. The new police chief, Fernando Caldera, is also a Sandinista.

Chamorro's decisions did not leave anyone pleased, however, and with Nicaraguans still reeling from the Sept. 1 tsunami, the short-run prospects for the country to achieve stability are still uncertain.

When US Secretary of State James Baker III visited Managua in January, he warned his hosts that US aid would be jeopardized if they did not furnish "security" for investors. The chief obstacle, he asserted, was Nicaragua's Sandinista-controlled police force, which often refused to execute orders to return confiscated holdings.

In May, Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, a longtime critic of the Sandinistas, engineered the suspension of a $104 million aid disbursement pending a set of "changes" in Nicaragua. By August, when his staff issued a thick report, these had swelled to include removal of the entire police leadership, the ouster of Army chief Humberto Ortega, a complete overhaul of the country's judicial system, investigation of human rights abuses, and the return of expropriated properties.

Before the government's announcements last week, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega Saavedra argued that "if the government caves in to the Yankees, it will lose all legitimacy." Threatening to mobilize the Sandinistas in a "civic rebellion," he warned: "We will have no other option but to oppose it, and if the government falls, it falls."

Mr. Ortega seemed mollified by the announced changes. "The government did not give in to the pressure," he said in an interview Monday.

In sticking with Sandinistas in the police and Army, Chamorro and her chief minister, Antonio Lacayo, have apparently decided to avoid a destabilizing clash with the Sandinistas at the risk of continued trouble with the United States. …

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