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AS THE TROOPS OF Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Debayle's National Guard attempt to pound the widespread popular opposition to his rule into submission, the time has come for the United States government to re-examine its relations with the Somoza regime.
The Red Cross estimates that more than five hundred people have died and another one thousand have been injured since the Guard began its comprehensive effort to quell the latest and most signifigant round of opposition activity. The large number of civilian victims underlines Somoza's single-minded drive to retain control over the economy that his family dominates. The Nicaraguan dictator and his family own over a quarter of the Central American country's arable land, and Somoza has scorned considerations of human rights in order to protect his agricultural and industrial wealth. Arguments put forth by American supporters of Somoza that to oppose him would be to hypocritically single out one nation for human rights violations can be dismissed. The recent events testify to the particularly insidious nature of the Somoza regime.
The pressure for Somoza's resignation is not, as he claims, generated solely by a band of Marxist revolutionaries. The Sandanista Front of National Liberation (FSLN) champions an effort that encompasses virtually every element of the population of this small Central American country--from businessmen to industrialists to religious leaders to peasants. The mass of poor Nicaraguans see the multi-millionaire Somoza as the chief cause of their poverty. The Roman Catholic Church, hardly a bastion of Marxism and a long-time opponent of the dictatorship, has reiterated its plea for an end to the Somoza family's rule. In a letter to President Carter, Nicaraguan church leaders charged that the U.S. has helped maintain Somoza's power through "brute force," and called for an end to U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan government. The annual American contribution of twelve million dollars in economic aid continues to flow into Somoza's coffers even as his troops attempt to institute their reign of terror in the cities of Nicaragua.
The importance of this aid goes beyond the financial realm--belief in U.S. support has always provided a tremendous psychological boost to the regime. It has also cemented the association in the minds of the population between their oppressor and the American government.
In fact, leaders of the rebel seizure of the National Palace on August 22 claimed that part of their motivation for stepping up guerilla activity was the attitude of President Carter. They cited an August 1 letter from Carter to Somoza praising him for allowing the Organization of American States to survey the human rights situation in Nicaragua.
Somoza has now imposed martial law, shut off the presses of the opposition newspaper, and cut off the flow of information to the outside world. The fate of many of his opponents, most notably editor Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, has been death.
The time has come for the aging dictator to step down and allow the Nicaraguan people to determine their own fate. The time has come for the U.S. to withdraw all forms of support to a government that rules through force and terror.
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