Tangled Nicaragua: An Exchange
In response to:
To the Editors:
Bob Leiken uses conjecture, hearsay and simple invention when writing about Nicaragua [NYR, December 5, 1985]. At one dinner he and I both attended, in Managua in 1985, he was confronted by a group of eight journalists who asked him where he found his “information.” “I’m not a journalist,” he replied smugly, “I don’t have to support everything I write with facts.”
Unfortunately, when your correspondents have confronted him with his lies in your columns, he has been less frank and has chosen instead to attack their credentials. Thus in your June 26, 1986 issue he claims I misrepresented myself. In July 1986 I wrote offering proof that I was indeed a correspondent for the London Guardian. You were evidently embarrassed: “Of course you must respond to the personal attack,” you told me over the phone last month. At the same time you asked me to cut my response in half. But my first letter was made lengthy, not by a personal defense (Leiken is the only person to have ever questioned my objectivity in four years reporting from Central America for the BBC, The Guardian and The Economist, inter alia), but by the much more crucial effort to correct just some of Leiken’s outrageous distortions about Nicaragua. Very well, here is an abbreviated rebuttal, but both you and he know that I have plenty more evidence to unmask Leiken’s misuse of your columns for his pro-contra propaganda effort.
Since Bob raised the question of misrepresentation it is now fair to scrutinize his own credentials. But this is not tit-for-tat muckraking. Part of Leiken’s undue influence on the Nicaraguan debate in Washington has been the perception that he is politically trustworthy; in testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on March 4th he described himself as “an independent witness in a scholarly capacity.” “Democratic,” “liberal,” “intellectual,” “well-respected” have been just some of the adjectives used by publications such as The New Republic and Time magazine to describe Leiken. If he is all of these things, we are led to assume, his views must be reasonable and accurate.
But throughout his life Bob has espoused a succession of idiotic political theories. In the late Sixties he was a Stalinist; Professor John Womack of MIT describes Leiken as “one of the few people I know who has ever urged his friends to read Stalin.” By the end of the Seventies he was flirting with Maoism and chummy with the October League. And this wasn’t a young student’s hot flush; he was nearly forty at the time.
As a failed academic Leiken has always tried to justify his political lunacy with pseudo-scholarly writings. As evidence I have already sent you a copy of a tract on Mexico which he offered for publication a few years ago. Of course you don’t have the space to print the whole diatribe so for the benefit of your readers let me summarize the main conclusion: Latin American workers are about to rediscover the virtues of Leninism, therefore Argentina, Mexico and Brazil can be added to Italy, France and England “as the likely constituents of the next stage of world revolution”!
It was this history of untrustworthy political judgement that led Leiken to team up with the far right on the Nicaraguan issue. He is a political and intellectual nitwit, who brings the fanaticism and tunnel vision of the recent convert to his assessment of the Sandinistas. When the facts don’t fit his overblown prose he simply invents them. That his past nitwittery was of the loony left does not magically validate his critique of a left-wing regime. That he recently advocated “world revolution” does not make him a reliable critic of the Sandinista revolution. Or does The New York Review want its readers to trust the word of a man who in his middle age went gaga over Stalin and Mao?
As for his trumpeted independence on the Nicaraguan question: long before Bob achieved notoriety for his views he was an informal assistant to Arturo Cruz, now one of the top three leaders of the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionary movement, UNO. He also helped Cruz’s son, Arturito, and through him the onetime contra leader Eden Pastora. Far from being independent he is a very committed and active lobbyist who has lately become deeply involved with the largest CIA-organized contra army, the FDN, in an effort to sanitize it and help it win the popular support which it has lacked thus far. In June his activities caused three top FDN commanders to publicize a signed statement in which they complained of his interference in FDN affairs.
Leiken knows his credentials are weak, so he deceitfully claims the endorsement of respected liberals such as Patt Derian, who was President Carter’s Assistant Secretary for Human Rights. “I find Leiken’s efforts to incorporate me, as an expert to validate his views, a slippery technique,” says Derian. She complains that he alludes to events that occurred in her presence and then indiscriminately tacks on descriptions of other events or personal opinions of which she has no knowledge, in order to make it appear that she can confirm his information or that she agrees with his conclusions.
For example, Leiken has consistently lied about events at an opposition rally that occurred in the Nicaraguan town of Chinandega in 1984. He was not at the rally, I was. I accompanied a TV crew who recorded most of the event. Backed by this evidence I have, elsewhere, exposed Leiken’s description as a tissue of lies. Nevertheless Leiken claims that his version was confirmed, in front of Derian and others, by several Chinandegans during a visit to that town earlier this year. But Derian says, “I cannot confirm anything except that one doctor told us that Arturo Cruz came into town and along the main street in a car, and not in a parade or on foot, as Leiken has said.” In other words Derian will not endorse the Leiken version and specifically exposes one lie which he has now repeated on several occasions.
In a similar way Leiken has tried to discredit the Nicaraguan elections by quoting anonymous “party leaders” hinting darkly at the possibility of electoral fraud. To boost his shaky evidence in his piece he “quoted” Adolfo Evertsz, a leader of the Socialist Party (for, by inference, if the Socialists who are Sandinista allies condemn the elections we know they must have been rigged). But Evertsz says he has no recollection of ever having met Leiken; he denies the statements Leiken attributes to him and suggests that Leiken mistranslated a speech he made which was broadcast on Nicaraguan television and used the mistranslated comments as if they had been made in an interview. The statement Leiken puts into Evertsz’s mouth speaks of Sandinista efforts “to confuse and frighten people” and of threats of reprisals against nonvoters. Evertsz says “these statements are ridiculous” and refutes other “quotes” Leiken attributes to anonymous Socialist Party officers.
As part of the effort to establish his credentials as a scholar Leiken claims a virtual monopoly on the facts; he says his critics should “distinguish false speculations from factual claims.” Yet even on matters as simple as the names of political parties Leiken gets his own facts all wrong; as I detailed in my earlier letter he garbles the history of the various Nicaraguan conservative parties. His purpose is subtle: to prove that one conservative faction “was awarded official status by the Sandinista courts,” implying that the courts are pliant to government pressure. To anyone who has studied the Nicaraguan legal system this charge is ridiculous.
Nicaragua still uses, virtually unaltered, the pre-revolutionary legal code, while many judges are non-Sandinistas and distrustful of police evidence. It was partly for this reason, and to boost the rate and speed of convictions, that the government created the so-called Anti-Somocista Popular Tribunals—the kangaroo courts which try wartime Public Order offenses and which closely parallel Northern Ireland’s Diplock courts.
But all civil and criminal cases still go through the normal judicial system. The case to which Leiken refers was heard by the seven members of the Supreme Court, of whom two were self-proclaimed conservatives and a third was a member of the Independent Liberal Party. Shortly afterwards, in a public display of judicial independence, the head of the Supreme Court threatened to resign unless Sandinista authorities executed his court orders. The news was trumpeted delightedly on the front page of the opposition newspaper, La Prensa. Even the bitterly anti-Sandinista lawyer, Enrique Sotelo Borgen, whom Leiken has quoted at length in his own defense, describes the Supreme Court as “impartial.”
I could go on like this forever, unmasking Leiken’s lies, slurs and mistakes, but you won’t let me…
To the Editors:
Robert Leiken has been engaged, for a number of years, in a series of disputes concerning articles he has written about the Sandinistas and the contras. One of them concerns events surrounding a political rally held in Chinandega, Nicaragua in 1984. After twenty-eight years in politics, I have learned that the who-shot-John details of what took place at a long ago political event are virtually of no interest to me and that I am unwilling to invest any time in this.
I now found myself inexplicably embroiled in just such a tangle. Anthony Jenkins, who was present at the Arturo Cruz rally in question, and Mr. Leiken, who was not, are the principal protagonists and each has cited me; neither is well known to me. Mr. Jenkins has written a letter excoriating Mr. Leiken and quotes me, accurately. One of the editors of The New York Review, who called to check the quotes, suggested that Mr. Leiken was trying to get in touch with me. Mr. Leiken then sent me a three-page letter. At this point, it seemed prudent to write my own.
It is apparent that an article in The New York Review provoked a storm of correspondence questioning many of the assertions of facts made by Mr. Leiken. Mr. Leiken was stung by the accusations and endeavored to use a human rights mission to buttress his position.
This mission conducted by the International League for Human Rights left Washington February 9, 1986. Mr. Leiken, before that day completely unknown to me, was at the onset a member of the small delegation. (On the second morning, his status changed and he became our second Spanish interpreter and “resource” person. This change took place in part because it was obvious that Mr. Leiken’s preoccupation with validating his claims was absorbing time that we could not spare. For instance, we were delayed at La Prensa for nearly an hour while he conducted a chaotic and fruitless search for a picture of Mr. Cruz surrounded by turbas.)
Mr. Leiken in a lengthy reply to letters in The New York Review [June 26, 1986] names me among those present at a meeting where “several Chinandegans confirmed to the visiting group each of the points I have noted above as they were published in The New Republic [of October 8, 1984].” I cannot confirm that. This is what took place: Mr. Leiken arranged a meeting in Chinandega. When we arrived one person was present. While others were being assembled Mr. Leiken questioned him. Until I realized that we were back at the ’84 rally, I took notes. About five AM on the morning of the rally a group of people assembled to construct a platform. Around 6:30 “around three state cars” containing “about twenty-four people armed with sticks and knives” arrived and “intimidated and chased away” the builders. A doctor then entered. Mr. Leiken asked him if “before the meeting Cruz came in a car, like a parade.” The doctor said, “I saw Arturo Cruz enter the city in a car. I saw him on Calle Centrale. I was walking.” If the doctor was correct in his memory, it is quite a stretch to call a man riding in a car a participant in a “march.”
I can confirm that Mr. Leiken spent a great many of our opening minutes with the assembled group asking questions about the rally until I asked him to stop so that we could get to the human rights discussion.
Mr. Leiken writes, to me, that he regrets that I have “drawn the conclusion that [he] sought to use me.” My conclusion after reading many of his pieces is not that he used me, but that he used the human rights mission. And that is the quality which I do indeed find slippery.
As he makes it seem that all of us can confirm “each of his points” so it is in his writing. There is a trick of elision which leaves the same sort of impression. While he asserted on March 4, 1986, that he was testifying before a Senate committee in a “scholarly capacity” on his personal views, both there and in The New Republic piece of March 31, 1986 he cites the trip, “our delegation” and “we.” In eighteen pages of testimony and three pages of The New Republic, there is no break to indicate where the observations of “our delegation” and “we” end. The result makes it seem that his full account stems from the trip. For example, he writes: “In response, a broad civil anti-Sandinista front is slowly emerging.” We certainly talked to a lot of people who were anti-Sandinista but I detected no signs of a “front,” much less a “broad front” emerging. We didn’t speak with a wide enough cross section or number of people to detect a front of any kind. Further, he states, “leaders of Nicaragua’s internal civilian opposition” find “the rebels are at the very least a necessary evil.” My memory is that most of the people with whom this issue arose had a-pox-on-both-their-houses, we-want-a-democracy view.
In short, I am greatly offended by the use of a free ride on a human rights trip to conduct one’s own private research and equally offended to have such a trip incorporated as ballast for the resulting publications. As for Mr. Jenkins, while his letter may be distressing to Mr. Leiken, that is between the two of them. Mr. Jenkins has quoted me accurately.
To the Editors:
I am writing in regards to Tony Jenkins’ statement that Robert Leiken “constantly lied about events at an opposition rally in Chinandega….”
I visited Chinandega in February 1986 while leading a human rights fact-finding mission for the International League for Human Rights, where I was an attorney and Program Director. Also on the mission were Patt Derian, former human rights official in the Carter administration, and Joseph Onek, former White House deputy counsel in the Carter administration. The League included Robert Leiken on the mission as an observer and general resource person. Ligia Bolivar, formerly Amnesty International Venezuelan staff director, served as the translator.
Prior to an informal public meeting on the general human rights situation in Chinandega, our delegation spoke privately with a group of Chinandega residents who had gone to the Cruz rally in Chinandega in 1984. Because of a general human rights interest in the rights of political parties to organize and because of the Jenkins-Cockburn attack on Leiken in the January 4, 1986 The Nation, Leiken questioned the residents closely about the events surrounding the Cruz rally in our presence.
The Chinandega residents, whom we interviewed at random, said that Arturo Cruz came in a motorcade through the streets of Chinandega, and was greeted by the residents on his way to the stadium where the rally took place. They said that turbas—that is, Sandinista sponsored and directed mobs—came to Chinandega in government vehicles and tried to break up the rally through violence and intimidation. They also said that Sandinista officials stopped other vehicles from coming into Chinandega on the day of the rally.
Their testimony corroborated Leiken’s description in its essentials. This was quite clear to all of us members of the fact-finding mission at the time. We discussed it among ourselves in the car during our return trip from Chinandega to Managua. Patt Derian even remarked that “the only life we may save on this mission is Bob’s [literary] life.” I understood that she was referring facetiously to the idea that the charges raised in The Nation against his account had any substance after hearing the Chinandegans.
Our investigation in Chinandega was germane to the League’s report, which in 211 pages documents more fully political repression in Nicaragua and concludes that the political opposition has been systematically harassed, with mid-level leaders, particularly in provincial cities such as Chinandega, being jailed in great numbers. What occurred at the Chinandega Cruz rally is consistent with an observation in the League report that political repression has been more overt and harsh the farther one goes from the capital.
Arbitrary arrest and detention and turba attacks against political opposition candidates in the 1984 Nicaraguan election have been independently documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. In their 1983–1984 Annual Report the IACHR wrote:
It should be noted that human rights organizations have alerted the IACHR toward the significant increase in the harassment of various political and union leaders by the security forces. Such harassment takes the form of more or less prolonged detentions, or accusations which later serve as the basis for convicting the accused of crimes such as vagrancy and drug abuse. In addition it has been widely reported that important opposition leaders have been harassed by groups partisan to the Government….
In addition, the Commission has been able to verify that during the current electoral process, the Sandinista National Liberation Front has intensively used all of the resources made available to it by its holding of state power, which places it in an advantageous position with respect to other contenders. In this regard, the denounced harassment of political and union leaders is unacceptable.
Such repression of the internal opposition has continued to the present. When I visited Managua three weeks ago for the Puebla Institute, of which I became Washington director in October, 1986, Virgilio Godoy, the Independent Liberal Party head and former Sandinista Labor Minister, told me that Sandinista officials tried to prevent his car from traveling to a recent PLI rally in Totogalpa. He said that after the meeting party organizers were rounded up and jailed and the next morning their children received draft notices. Other opposition parties and labor unions in Nicaragua related numerous similar examples of Sandinista intolerance for dissent.
To conclude, it is Tony Jenkins who is masking the truth about the events surrounding the 1984 Cruz rally in Chinandega. Robert Leiken is right. Moreover, given the well-known and routine harassment tactics of the Sandinistas against the democratic internal opposition both during the campaign period and since, it is surprising that any one can doubt that such events as described by Leiken took place.
With respect to Jenkins’ reference to Leiken’s role with the 1986 International League mission, let me say that the League included Leiken in the mission because of his expertise in recent and historical Nicaraguan social, political, and cultural development. Supplementing the efforts of myself and others, he served in this capacity superbly. He worked diligently to brief the mission delegates on persons and events of relevance, and organized the Chinandega public meeting. Leiken’s contacts with human rights defenders and the editors of La Prensa were invaluable to the mission’s success in obtaining lengthy interviews with some of these individuals. When the mission broke up into two teams to take the testimony of over sixty former political prisoners or their relatives, Leiken pitched in to help translate. Most human rights groups select both mission delegates and observers, such as Leiken, with the expectation that they will write and speak about human rights abuses that they have observed. I do not take positions on US foreign policy matters. But I expected and indeed encouraged Leiken as well as the mission members to speak out against specific abuses where they saw them.
Nina H. Shea
To the Editors:
Mr. Tony Jenkins has raised questions about Robert Leiken’s account of testimony by residents of Chinandega about the campaign rally held there in August 1984 by then presidential candidate Arturo Cruz. During the first week of April 1986, I accompanied Congressman Les Aspin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua. Robert Leiken, then on the staff of the Carnegie Endowment, was the third member of our party.
We visited Chinandega and spent about three hours meeting and talking with a group of about sixty-five residents of the area. They included campesinos, workers and local union officials, small farmers, and a number of women who sold goods in the marketplace. The group had assembled through word of mouth to meet with Representative Aspin. Some knew each other; others did not. They were not members of any organized group or faction.
Many said they were former Sandinista supporters or activists, a number of whom had been active during the revolution. During the course of the conversation several of the women said they had helped organize the Cruz rally in Chinandega. The women said they had gone to the rally site early in the morning to hang banners and make other preparations. A group of turbas arrived soon after on a government truck. The turbas, though dressed in civilian clothes, all wore military boots. The turbas, they said, smashed up the rally site, ripped up their posters and banners, and manhandled a number of the people there, including several of them. After that encounter, they said they left. They also said that during the rally the turbas appeared again, some wielding sticks and clubs, and smashed the windshields of cars parked there. Others said that Cruz’s car was attacked during the day.
The women who had organized the Cruz rally said that several days later they were picked up by Interior Ministry police, held for a period of time, and were interrogated and threatened. Some of the same women, and a larger group of other residents of Chinandega who attended our meeting, also told us about another such incident. They said they had formed a committee of about twelve people to organize a processional honoring Obando Y Bravo upon his accession to Cardinal. Soon after, all twelve were arrested by police forces. Some were in jail for a period of days, up to two weeks in several cases.
The difficulty in talking about Nicaragua is that the facts do not fit some people’s political views, or some people feel that the facts might support a policy they oppose. So rather than acknowledge the facts, they try to shoot the messenger. During the McCarthy era, this was the practice of the Right, who drummed a whole generation of foreign service officers out of the State Department because they did not like the message they were reporting about political realities in China. The Reagan Administration did the same thing when it fired David McNeil, a respected analyst on Central America, because his reports did not fit neatly into the Administration’s policy formulations. Shooting the messenger was unseemly then; it hasn’t gotten any more attractive today when practiced at either end of the political spectrum.
Robert Leiken replies:
Mr. Jenkins’s abusive tirade (the only “source” for which is erroneously identified as an MIT professor) is designed to distract attention from the matter in dispute: the events in Chinandega in August 1984. As much time has gone by and Jenkins’s mudslinging has obscured things further, let me provide the background for readers still interested in this controversy:
1) In Alexander Cockburn’s column in the December 28/January 4, 1986, issue of The Nation, Mr. Jenkins published a letter similar in tone to the present one. After insinuating a purely fictitious personal and longstanding relation with me (in order to support his charges that I was a former supporter of Pol Pot, etc.), Jenkins asserted that my October 8, 1984, New Republic article (“Nicaragua’s Untold Stories”) was a “political cartoon” that misrepresented events in Chinandega in particular. Specifically Jenkins claimed that I had inflated the number attending an opposition rally. He accused me of fabricating a story that government-organized groups (turbas) had torn down banners for the rally and dispersed the organizers, and that Sandinista authorities had impeded traffic bound for the rally. He denied that opposition leader Arturo Cruz had marched through the city before the rally to the evident acclaim of the population, asserted that anyway my description of Chinandega as “historically the heart of Sandinista organizing efforts and support” was false, the product of “Bob’s fevered imagination.”
2) Denunciations like these have appeared persistently and voluminously in the pro-Sandinista press ever since I first had the effrontery to criticize Sandinista abuses of their people. I did not respond to these ad hominem attacks since both I and my colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment considered that Nicaragua and not I was the proper subject of controversy. When Cockburn and Jenkins greeted with similar attacks my article in The New York Review which documented the serious irregularities in the Sandinista elections of 1984, the editors of The New York Review prevailed upon me to respond to their diatribes, and I replied in the June 26, 1986, issue. It is typical of the hypocrisy of Mr. Jenkins and company that he can write here that “since Bob raised the question of misrepresentation, it is now fair to scrutinize his own credentials.” (The editors of The New York Review tell me they never stated that they considered my response was a “personal attack” on Jenkins. They explained to me that their policy is to provide space for anyone who is mentioned in their paper no matter how preposterous and distorted his or her reply. In at least one case, on the other hand, The Nation has not printed a letter defending critics of the Sandinistas attacked by Mr. Cockburn.)
Anyone who has read my response to Cockburn and Jenkins will recall that I called no names and simply confined myself to pointing out the discrepancies in their statements and refuting and correcting erroneous criticism. In particular I explained at length my reasons for characterizing Chinandega as a center of Sandinista organizing efforts in the 1970s and why the four cities Jenkins names could not be so considered. He has not replied to my factual response. Nor, despite his great air of offense, does he explain why he as a reporter of unquestioned “objectivity” played fast and loose with the attendance figures at the opposition rally. As I stated in my response in The New York Review,
For someone who claims to have attended the rally and to have investigated it thoroughly, it is curious that Mr. Jenkins omitted any explicit mention of Chinandega in his reports to the Guardian. On August 7, 1984, at the end of a story on another subject, he briefly mentions an opposition rally on August 5 where “1000 people gathered to hear Dr. Cruz speak.” This could only have been Chinandega. When he came to write his letter, the number had soared to four thousand—presumably because there was now an extant account (mine) of the event.
Indeed it was in reference to this, still unexplained, discrepancy that I wrote,
His reporting from Nicaragua can hardly be characterized as objective. Moreover, according to the BBC, he is not their correspondent [as Cockburn wrote], but a “contributor” who files occasional reports. The Guardian says he is “not a staff member but a stringer who serves as our man in Central America.”
This is what the BBC and the Guardian told the editors of The New York Review when, at my request, they checked on his status. I never said he lacked press credentials from these organizations.
Though Mr. Jenkins presents himself as a great respecter of facts, he is not even forthright enough to admit or explain his distortions. Instead he delivers vituperative attacks on those who, in defending themselves, expose him. I do not follow Mr. Jenkins’s writings, but after reading his two letters, an additional piece in The Nation, and his dispatches to the Guardian, I can only assume that if it is true that no one has “questioned [his] objectivity,” that is because no one considers that he has much objectivity to question.
3) In my response to Mr. Jenkins I listed in alphabetical order the names of several Americans who were with me on two trips to Chinandega, including Ms. Derian, Mr. Bernard Aronson, a former human rights officer in the Carter Administration, and Nina Shea, then a program director of the International League for Human Rights and the leader of its mission to Nicaragua. More than a hundred Chinandegans from all walks of life—but especially workers, peasants, and shopkeepers—told the two groups of Sandinista human rights abuses for several hours. Their bitter repudiation of the Sandinistas was remarkable because the media had usually suggested that, at most, such sentiments were confined only to certain rural zones and not the relatively developed Pacific coast region, because Chinandega has historically been a center of Sandinista support, and because the Chinandegans who spoke were clearly aware that they were doing so at considerable risk.
The editors of The New York Review had urged me to collect information and documentation to confirm or refute the criticism of my article. I included Ms. Derian’s name along with all the Americans present at the meetings.
As Derian acknowledges, I wrote to her before answering Jenkins’s charges here to verify his citation of her. I am glad that after reading my letter she has chosen to supply information from her notes and to considerably modify the impression left by her statements to Jenkins. For instance, she told Mr. Jenkins that she could not confirm “anything” that I had stated. Now she confirms the essence—that the Sandinistas did indeed attempt to suppress the opposition demonstration. Jenkins had stated that the turbas did not “burst into the soccer field, tearing down the banners and dispersing the organizers” (as I had written), but that rather “eight youths did appear and warned the people to go away, threatening to return in half an hour.” Derian’s notes confirm she heard testimony that there was a Sandinista-organized squad traveling in “state cars,” “armed with sticks and knives,” who “intimidated and chased away” the organizers.
Jenkins wrote that I falsely claimed that “Cruz marched through the city” and that at that time “many people opened their doors, gave him the ‘V’ for victory sign, and then ducked back into their homes to avoid the ever-present eyes of the CDS [Sandinista vigilance committees].” According to Jenkins, however, “Cruz did not ‘march through the city’ of Chinandega—ever.” It would in fact have been more precise to say his car was part of a march. Derian now confirms that she was told that he rode down Main Street (“Calle Centrale”). As I said in my letter to Derian, “I never wrote that Cruz came ‘on foot.’ The issue was not how Cruz marched through Chinandega—he was in a caravan of seven vehicles—but whether….” If Ms. Derian stopped taking notes because she considered irrelevant information, obtained from participants, about the rights of the opposition in elections which the government we were investigating cited as establishing its legitimacy (and which had occurred a little more than a year before our visit), that is her business. Neither I nor the other participants stopped taking notes and our notes show that the Chinandegans did in fact “confirm to the visiting group each of the points I have noted.”
It should by now be abundantly clear that it was not I but Mr. Jenkins who twisted events in Chinandega to suit his purposes, who doctored the number of participants, misled the reader about the Cruz motorcade through the city and misrepresented the efforts to disrupt the rally, etc.
After reading my letter to her, Ms. Derian revises other statements. She no longer accuses me of “using” her, but of “using the human rights mission.” To dispose of this canard quickly: (1) the league invited me to accompany the mission, to assist it in its investigation and to write about what I observed, (2) in my testimony and other writings I always made it clear where I was referring to my own political conclusions and where I was reporting on the league’s activities. No one else on our mission has raised any objections. Indeed I explicitly emphasized at the very outset of my Senate testimony that my views were “entirely personal” and that the league “will be publishing its own report shortly.” I might add that the league’s report was completely consistent with my own published observations about human rights violations. The numerous joint statements—one of which I specifically cited in my article and testimony—and common actions of political parties from the left (Nicaraguan Socialist party, Nicaraguan Communist party, the PLI) to the center (Social Democratic party, Social Christian party) to the right (Conservative parties), including those protesting jailing and disappearance of party activists, provide irrefutable evidence of an emerging broad front. My comment on leaders of the internal opposition regarding the rebels as a “necessary evil” occurs at considerable distance from mention of the league but quite specifically in the context of what “one left-of-center leader told me” (my italics).
Contrary to Ms. Derian’s recollection I had known and respected her for years through our service together on the small human rights advisory board of the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee. It is sad if she is now joining the lengthening line of activists who choose to subordinate their witness bearing on human rights to their partisan politics. In my articles in The New York Review and elsewhere I have not hesitated to expose and condemn abuses of human rights by the contras as well as the Sandinistas.
4) Illness and doctor’s orders prohibit me from extended writing and I have already exceeded my warrant. Therefore I’ll leave aside any discussion of Jenkins’s false charges that I have been a “lobbyist” or an “informal assistant” to Arturo Cruz. Jenkins’s reference to the Nicaraguan judicial system’s supposed independence seems disingenuous; he should know, to cite just one fact, that all members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the government, including those from pro-Sandinista parties and pro-Sandinista factions of other parties. Mr. Jenkins falsely claims that in a longer version of his letter he exposes more of my “lies, slurs and mistakes.” In fact his longer letter is mainly devoted to further personal abuse. In two long articles and three lengthy exchanges in The New York Review, in my congressional testimonies, articles in The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and presumably elsewhere, and in my three books, Jenkins can apparently find only three or four alleged and unproved errors. Instead he dredges up an unpublished piece written about 1970—in a blush of “revolutionary enthusiasm” shared by many in my generation. His McCarthyite accounts of my political views and associations are as accurate as his account of Chinandega, and it is ironic to see them in, of all places, The Nation. I readily admit to holding views many years ago that I no longer hold. One of the reasons that I, unlike Mr. Jenkins, have lost my naiveté about “socialist” regimes is that I came to observe one closely.
To focus on his other specific charge concerning Mr. Evertsz, the vice-presidential candidate of the Marxist-Leninist Nicaraguan Socialist party (PSN), my notes tell me I met with Mr. Evertsz in his office on November 8, 1984. Mr. Evertsz began the meeting by congratulating me on my New Republic article—“You’re the first to tell the truth about what’s happening here.” Such comments were made to me often during that trip, among others by citizens in Monimbo who saw a clandestine version printed by La Prensa and by residents of a Managua barrio who’d seen a version printed in the PLI party’s later suppressed newspaper Paso a Paso. Nonetheless, I was somewhat surprised at this reaction from a high official of the old Moscow-backed Socialist party. He explained to me that the Sandinistas were seeking to “monopolize the left.” He also explained that in 1977 a pro-Sandinista group left his party. Thereupon Moscow abandoned its “previously very intimate” relationship with his party and shifted its support to the Sandinistas. He gave me a copy of the Resena Historica del Partido Socialista Nicaraguenese (Brief History of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party) to document his assertions.
Mr. Evertsz also sharply criticized the Sandinistas for “manipulating election results to gain a monopoly of the left” and to “reduce the remainder of it to insignificance.” He showed me a letter he had written in response to an attack on him on page nine of the previous day’s (November 7, 1984) progovernment newspaper El Nueva Diario. Evertsz’s letter stated that “many of these attacks against revolutionaries proceed from people who for years were Somozistas and are now Sandinistas.” I do not know if his letter was printed.
He went on during our talk to provide concrete examples of electoral “fraud,” “blackmail,” and “intimidation,” to criticize the Sandinistas for abandoning their professed goal of nonalignment and for “skipping the necessary stage of transition to socialism through democracy.” He told me, “We are Marxist-Leninists but not dogmatists like the FSLN. We want revolution with liberty.” He accused the Sandinistas of “plundering the resources of the country, building great walls around their houses while leaving the humble people without construction materials. He voiced strong opposition to the contras, adding that “their manipulation of the peasants and mixteca (Indian-white) people has succeeded insofar as many sectors of our people now support the contras.”
Since my meeting with Mr. Evertsz the Sandinista government in October 1985 further tightened restrictions on the political opposition, curtailed Nicaraguans’ remaining rights to organize, travel, assemble, strike, etc., and jailed even members of Evertsz’s own party. If Jenkins quotes him accurately, it is hardly surprising that he would now recant our conversation.
August 13, 1987
Ludvik Vaculik, translated by Barbara Day
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