Nicaragua Still Bleeds

February 24, 1991

Nicaragua has little to show for a year of democratically elected government dedicated to reconciliation. Few Nicaraguans are reconciled.

Inflation is running at 12,000 percent and unemployment at 40 percent. The government of Violetta Chamorro is split between moderates, who approve her concessions to the ousted Sandinistas, and hard-line ex-contras who want faster land redistribution to former contra soldiers.

The Sandinista-controlled unions are on a new round of strikes, anticipating austerities that the International Monetary Fund wants Mrs. Chamorro to impose. If the Sandinistas are not "governing from the bottom," they are at least preventing her governing effectively from the top.

This is the context in which contra co-founder Enrique Bermudez was assassinated professionally in Managua. The one-time National Guard colonel under dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle had returned, in Mrs. Chamorro's climate of free speech, and begun to circulate as a public figure.

All sides denounced the crime, but ex-contras are crying for revenge against the Sandinista army commander, Gen. Humberto Ortega, and his brother, former President Daniel Ortega, while Sandinistas claim trouble-making contras did it. Credible police solution of the murder -- not immediately forthcoming -- might head off renewal of strife.

Since her stunning electoral victory over a ruling, Communist-style, Sandinista apparatus, last Feb. 25, Mrs. Chamorro has proved her good intentions and scored success. Some 20,000 contras have been disarmed, the army has been shrunken but left in Sandinista command and some 40,000 rifles have been buried.

But Nicaragua remains an unhappy country, and the slaying of Enrique Bermudez could rekindle the eight-year war in which 30,000 Nicaraguans died. Which may well be just what the assassins had hoped to achieve.

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