If there was any doubt before, the leftist Sandinistas have proved once again that they are no real friends of democracy. The party pushed through new laws this week granting President Daniel Ortega sweeping powers to make arrests and silence the news media.
In effect, it makes it possible for Ortega to assume the powers of an absolute dictator in any state of emergency. The new law pretty much leaves it up to Ortega do decide what qualifies as a "state of emergency."Under the law, the government can confiscate private businesses and vehicles, shut down news media, engage in sweeping preventative arrest, and suspend individual liberties. The Sandinistas already have done some of these things. The new law simply formalizes the procedure.
In a separate action, the government this week made it a crime for Nicaraguans to receive any type of official U.S. aid, including humanitarian aid for the Contras or any victims of the seven-year civil war.
This makes a mockery of any "humanitarian aid" that Congress chose in lieu of military aid to the Contras. It says that the civil war is over as far as the Sandinistas are concerned, and the Contras are the losers.
Without military aid, with peace talks stalled, and with any other kind of aid declared illegal, the Contras are left with nothing - exactly what was predicted when Congress halted military aid before the Sandinistas had made any concessions.
One of the arguments for cutting off aid was to "give a chance" for the Arias peace plan to work. Clearly, it hasn't worked and the Contras are left to the non-democratic mercies of the Sandinistas.
But don't expect those who voted against military aid to come back and support it. They appear to be content to see the Contras left with nothing.
In sharp contrast to the new Sandinista laws, Brazil this week adopted a new constitution that wiped out the last vestiges of military rule and guarantees individual civil rights. And in Chile, the military-backed government accepted the outcome of a referendum that called for free elections next year.
The people of Nicaragua face a long and difficult future. The political opposition, private business, the news media, and other symbols of freedom and diversity - already weak and helpless - clearly will continue to exist only at the sufferance of the Sandinistas - who are tightening the screws of power.