Timely help for Nicaragua

April 23, 1991|By The New York Times

GALLANTRY abounded last week when Violeta Chamorro made the rounds in Washington, a year after she became president of Nicaragua.

President Bush extolled her "exhilarating victory" over the Sandinistas. After she addressed Congress, a California Republican called her "a miracle in the Western Hemisphere."

It's embarrassing that Washington has disbursed only $207 million of $541 million pledged to a democratic regime that honors human rights and seeks economic reform.

Some American conservatives ungallantly fault Chamorro's decision to retain Humberto Ortega, brother of the former president, as armed forces chief.

Their grumbling is doubly unfair. It gives no weight to her success in reducing the army from 80,000 to 28,000, with further cuts promised. And it ignores the reality that the Sandinistas lost an election, not a war.

A similar need for reconciliation induced a democratic government in Chile to retain a former right-wing dictator, General Pinochet, as armed forces chief -- without complaints in Washington.

Chamorro's most formidable asset is her popularity; she is a healer, not an avenger. Everyone knows the divisions in her country are mirrored in the conflicting politics of her children: one of her sons is editor of a Sandinista newspaper, while another heads the family-owned and resolutely anti-Sandinista paper La Prensa.

Habits of violence persist, as does the winner-take-all view of politics. Striving for a better way, Chamorro has earned American affection and international support.

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