Interview: Arturo José Cruz
In this interview, Cruz displays a bitterness over the Nicaraguan election process that has led him from a moderate leader of the opposition calling for "political pressures" to openly declaring - as he did in Washington on January 3, 1985 - that he would lobby the U. S. Congress for continued support of the Contras.
NPQ: What is the central reason you left the original Sandinista junta and continue to oppose the present government?
NPQ: What is the evidence for this?
CRUZ: First, on the basis of my years of service in the Nicaraguan government. Secondly, the way the elections were conducted, not for national reconciliation, but for submission of dissidents.
Since the election, what is more important are the signs of harder censorship of La Prensa and the harrassment of dissidents. No less than 20 leaders have been forbidden to leave under bureaucratic pretexts having to do with their exit visas. In addition, the Sandinistas have altered the agenda to be taken up in the national dialogue, leaving aside the real issues of the rights of political parties. Ortega has said the National Dialogue can only produce "suggestions". It will be up to the Sandinista dominated assembly to decide whether to heed them or not.
NPQ: Daniel Ortega argues that as long as the aim of such parties is not to alter the established political system, they can compete.
CRUZ: In my judgement that means dissidence is to be constrained by the Sandinistas.
NPQ: How is your vision of Nicaragua different than Ortega's?
CRUZ: Our basic differences are in our respective concepts of pluralism and nationalism, Ortega wants to maintain the system imposed by the Sandinistas in perpetuity. Other political factions are not permitted to attempt to change the Sandinista political order. These other factions are barred from ever attaining power, and are allowed only existence. There is no distinction between the State and the Sandinista party. Individual rights do not exist per se, but are only tolerated. Ortega's idea of nationalism proposes a defiant role in the international arena. Military buildup combined with propaganda constitutes the current policy.
I advocate pluralism of the sort prevailing in Costa Rica, where individual freedoms are supreme and the state reflects the will of civil society, For me, nationalism is based on moral authority not on swaggering attitudes.
NPQ: As a Nicaraguan patriot and citizen of a country which lives in the shadow of the United States, what are the limits of your national autonomy? For example, should you have the right to buy MIG jets to defend yourself?
CRUZ: Yes, we are entitled to buy whatever kind of weapons we feel like for our legitimate defense. But we have to take into consideration several things. If we allow political space for our dissidents, we wouldn't end up having a civil war. We have to take into account that we are one of several units in the Central American common market, and we cannot have a system which is asymmetric with respect to the others.
If Nicaragua had a social democratic system, I assure you Costa Rica would not be that concerned if we were importing Russian helicopters. What really makes them scared is that those weapons are in the hands of a regime that could become aggressive.
The November 4 Election in Nicaragua
CRUZ: I think it is more appropriate to say I was intentionally excluded by the Sandinistas. It was they who refused to give the Democratic Coordinator candidates the necessary guarantees for participation. They took that decision upon learning how much popular discontent against the regime could be expressed through us. They regarded us as a threat. We were submitted to harrassment inside Nicaragua, and propagandistic deception abroad. All the leaders of the Democratic Coordinator were in favor of participating if there were conditions for fair election. Some of them held a harder line than the majority.
It is important to note than the Independent Liberals withdrew claiming lack of guarantees. The Democratic Conservatives were prevented by violence to vote on whether to abstain. The Popular Social Christians only participated on the condition that new elections be held within one year.
NPQ: Ortega argues that some of your conditions were acceptable because they concerned election procedures, but others were not because they involved what he called governing programs before the election even took place.
CRUZ: Let me explain our position. Nicaragua as a nation state has been deteriorating for five years. Rather than remain non-aligned, we have tilted to the Soviet Union, and pluralism is in serious difficulty, There is also serious confusion of state and party and we wanted to clarify this matter. So, we said, before going to national elections, why don't we invite the Sandinista parties together with us to examine what is going on. The Sandinistas were trying to rule before the elections. But, since the Sandinistas said power was not at stake, we asked, what is the purpose of participating in the elections if power is not at stake?
Some of the conditions for participating in the elections are related to the election per se, others to what would happen after the election. We wanted to have some understanding about the well-being of Nicaragua regardless of who won. Since the Sandinistas ignored our request, we decided to make a proposal through the President of Colombia, Belasario Betancur, to give us access to the citizens and so on. We wanted to have a real assurance that there would be freedom of the press because by that time we had received clear signals to the contrary.
We had also learned that there was not freedom for holding election meetings. I must admit that my nomination was rather late, not till July, which limited my time to test conditions. In spite of the short time, in earl\ August I decided to try to hold public meetings under the very rigorous policy of the Sandinistas.
During public meetings in my hometown, Jinotepe and Matagalpa we were met with harrassment by pro-Sandinista groups. There were fights between our supporters and theirs and the police just stood around.
Before our meeting in Chinandega, Daniel Ortega himself went to talk to his party activists and to tell them that they should not allow what had happened in Matagalpa, because after all, the Sandinistas have the government power and, more importantly, that the Sandinistas are "the people".
The next day, despite the fact that our platform had been burned down, we held a rally with several thousand people. I took the opportunity to outline what I thought should be the platform of a really nationalistic political party. Certain things were sinful to the Sandinista ear, such as an eventual, total demilitarization of Nicaragua where the army would be replaced by the urban and rural police. Again, pro-Sandinistas disrupted the meeting.
The next day, August 6, the only independent newspaper, La Prensa, was totally censored. It was not allowed to publish a single picture, not a word about what had taken place in Matagalpa or Chinandega.
So I decided to make a proposal to the Sandinistas through Betancur, which basically related to the electoral process. I argued that since too much time had passed to give me a real chance to campaign, that we postpone the date of the election.
But the Sandinistas had already made up their minds. I asked the Coordinator leaders to hold three more meetings in Leon Boaca and Masaya. In every single place, the Sandinistas decided to harrass and intimidate our followers and to humiliate us.
The harrassment consisted of Sandinista supporters who outnumbered us fifty to one, or a hundred to one surrounding us: throwing rocks. Naturally, the police were there to protect us, especially me, although the car I was traveling in had its windshield smashed and so on. I was bruised and spat on in the face. That's what they did in Germany.
Externally, the Sandinistas engaged in a very clever game making the world believe they were flexible about the elections. This flexible image was the reason that they dealt with us through Betancur. This effort also accounted for our last minute discussions with leaders of the Socialist International in Rio de Janeiro - where we even talked about a cease-fire with Bayardo Arce, a member representing the Sandinista National Directorate. But, in the end, it was all the same song and dance.
NPQ: In your view, the Sandinistas were not serious about obtaining your participation?
CRUZ: That's right. In the last analysis, we were excluded from the election because we were the only real opposition. If you look at the political situation in Nicaragua today, there are three sectors: the Sandinistas themselves; the meek opposition - those who accept Sandinista paramouncy in return for political rewards; and then ourselves, the genuine opposition only willing to participate in the election with proper guarantees. Because we were unwilling to accept Sandinista paramouncy, we were excluded through this campaign of harrassment and of playing to international opinion.
NPQ: During a visit to Nicaragua last March, then U. S. Ambassador Anthony Quainton told us he thought the Sandinistas wanted your participation to legitimate the election ....
CRUZ: Yes, that is a fact. Let me tell you, since I have no more reason to keep this private, that after the celebration of the Fourth Anniversary of the July 19 Revolution in 1983, 1 was approached by an emissary of the Sandinista government. He sent word from Daniel Ortega asking me to come to Managua to have an exchange of views. I reminded my friend, who conveyed to Daniel Ortega that when I was in government I tried to counsel the Sandinistas about the wisdom of a real political opening to establish the foundations for true social peace in Nicaragua. So I sent word to Daniel: "Why don't you just begin to make some gestures, some real openings."
I was obviously opposed by the inner sanctum of the Sandinista party.
The meeting never took place. My invitation was undercut. I indicated the exact dates I could come to Managua, with specific dates when it would be impossible. The latter dates are when I was invited. Through a friend, Alfredo Cesar, I received a very curious message from the Sandinistas that neither Cesar nor I was allowed to come to Nicaragua!
Later on they leaked deceptive information which falsely depicted me as desperately eager to go to Managua.
All this leads to the conclusion that, at some point the Sandinistas thought that if I ran in the elections, certainly if I was nominated by parties like the Democratic Coordinator, my participation would give an image of legitimacy. However if they ever thought that I was going to be a party to phony elections, they were wrong. The reason for my attitude was not partisanship, but what I consider my duty as a citizen. I always felt that the election was only part of a whole process where all parts of society support a national plan. But the Sandinistas don't seem to be willing to have a dialogue on a national consensus. This is because it means entering into commitments for pluralism and they don't like that.
The basic difference between a totalitarian and a democrat is that the totalitarians require absolute power. And from that position they make use of it to control society.
NPQ: An advisor to French President Mitterand recently commented that Daniel Ortega's election as President was welcome because it consolidates the power of the moderates in the junta and keeps the hard-line tendencies under control. Is the junta monolithic, or is there some truth to this analysis?
CRUZ: They are all Marxists. They have shown incredible discipline in remaining united, especially when they have to appear united for reasons of ideology. I have reached the conclusion that, although the election was not legitimate, they have produced a de facto ruler.
Now, Daniel Ortega has an historical challenge. If he is still more of a Nicaraguan than an ideologue, he should have the wisdom to do what is necessary to carry out a number
NPQ: On the contrary, Carter continued to defend aid to Nicaragua until he left office. There was opposition to this aid, and even we at a certain point were tempted to say, "well, okay, let them keep their money" because there was hope and expectation by the Nicaraguan people, and the people were becoming indignant when they heard how the discussion was taking place in the U. S. At last the aid was approved. Perhaps $55 million of that $75 million was disbursed. The rest of the aid was cancelled by the Reagan government. It wasn't the Carter government.
During the same period, there was a propaganda campaign stating that an offensive in El Salvador was being carried out with the aid that Nicaragua was giving to the Salvadoran rebels. At that point, we had talks with Ambassador Pezzulo (U. S. Ambassador to Nicaragua during the Carter Administration) who gave us information that from a certain point in Nicaragua arms were being transported into El Salvador. Measures were taken from within Nicaragua to eliminate that problem, thanks to the information Ambassador Pezzulo made available to us. But the campaign regarding the supposed arms that were reaching El Salvador from Nicaragua served as a justification for renewing aid to El Salvador. At that point, President Carter was totally weakened. The newly elected Reagan Administration was already exerting influence and the renewal of aid to El Salvador - an action the new administration was going to take anyway - was attributed to Carter.
NPQ: Why do you have the largest army in Central America?
NPQ: Your government has been increasingly criticized by the bishops in Nicaragua ....
CRUZ: Not all of the bishops criticize the government, but some of them do because the government is promoting a revolutionary process. Even in the United States, the bishops criticize the government for some of its policies in the nuclear arms arena. But, of course your country is a big country, a powerful country which cannot be the victim of effective propaganda from other countries.
In Nicaragua, when the bishops criticize the government it does have great implications. However, in other Latin American countries we also see that there are bishops who for various reasons criticize different governments, but that is not news. What is news is everything that happens in Nicaragua.
NPQ: Some of the Europeans who have been supportive of the Nicaraguan revolution have also asked that you postpone elections. What is this about?
CRUZ: What there has been is an interest that all political parties participate in the elections, especially since the United States has presented Mr. Cruz as the only opposition. In fact, of the eleven parties that exist in Nicaragua, seven are participating in the elections. Of these seven, six are opposed to the Sandinista government.
We are the only country in Latin America that has been concerned that all parties participate in the elections. Instead of setting up obstacles, we have made efforts to insure everyone can participate and register.
The conditions presented by the non-participating parties - over which Arturo Cruz has no influence - are conditions that are out of reality. What they are trying to do is impose a program of government as a condition for participation in the elections rather than going to the elections to defend their program of government.
Within the non-participating parties there are two positions. One is a minority group position held by Arturo Cruz which has been in favor of participating in the elections. They have been flexible. There is a majority position which doesn't really want the elections, which plays the game of the U. S. aggression, which wants U. S. intervention.
NPQ: The latest reason given by the United States for objecting to the Contadora process is that disarmament and arms flows would be unverifiable ....
CRUZ: This is totally untrue. There are many contemplated mechanisms of verification and control right there in the draft Contadora treaty that we have accepted.
NPQ: Do you believe that the participation of the French, Spaniards and Portuguese by signing an annex to the Contadora treaty - or Brazil and Argentina, as has been talked about - would be sufficient to assure international opinion that you are in full compliance'?
They could be chosen. The French, Spanish and Portuguese were present at a meeting of twenty-two Central American and European foreign ministers recently in Costa Rica. They said, to paraphrase, that "we have analyzed everything here in this Contadora document that concern the objections that the U. S. is raising about the inadequacy of verifiability and control. We conclude that this is a magnificent agreement, an exemplary kind of proposal for an international treaty." Again, let me note, this is not our proposal - we had proposed another measure for verification and control earlier last year. This is the proposal of Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama that we have accepted.