Enrique Bermudez, military commander of the Nicaraguan Contras, says his forces are in the "most dangerous position" since their founding and contends that the United States - a "part-time ally of freedom" - is largely responsible.
Among other criticisms, Bermudez says the Reagan administration for a time handpicked the political leadership of the Contras, often placing in key positions persons with "limited, often zero experience" in the movement.In addition, he says American personnel have seldom allowed him to make military decisions even though they lacked understanding of the nature of the Nicaraguan conflict.
Bermudez outlined his thoughts in an article for a forthcoming edition of Policy Review, a conservative magazine.
Congressional eagerness for a peace settlement, reflected in the cutoff of military aid to the Contras in February, has left the Sandinistas in an enviable position, Bermudez says.
"The Sandinistas have played the United States for a fool," he writes.
A State Department official declined comment on Bermudez's allegations, saying he had not seen the article.
Some regional Contra commanders have sought Bermudez's ouster, calling him corrupt and inefficient, but the Reagan administration generally has supported him. One official recently said Bermudez "is the glue that holds the Contras together."
Bermudez is especially critical of House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, who has consistently opposed President Reagan's requests for Contra funding.
"Without doubt, Nicaragua's freedom movement is today in the most dangerous position since its founding, and the United States - part-time ally of freedom - can take most of the blame," he says.
"As a result of Washington's appeasement, the Nicaraguan people are forced to live under a totalitarian regime that Jim Wright and his liberal congressional colleagues would not tolerate for five minutes if it were inflicted on them."
Bermudez spent 27 years in the Nicaraguan National Guard, which was the main pillar of support for the Somoza family dynasty. He began his opposition activities about a year after the 1979 Sandinista revolution. In the interim, he made ends meet for a time as a truck driver in the Washington area, where he had spent the final years of the Somoza government as military attache.
This past week, he joined other Contra leaders for consultations with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and other administration officials and congressional leaders.
Bermudez writes that time after time the United States made unwise decisions in selecting political leaders for the Contras.
Former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro "was chosen because of what his family name meant inside Nicaragua," Bermudez says. "Alfonso Robelo was chosen largely because of his past association with the Sandinistas; and Arturo Cruz was chosen because of his name recognition in Washington.
"In fact, the entire leadership of the United Nicaraguan Opposition, with few exceptions, was chosen by the United States," Bermudez says. UNO has since disbanded and been replaced by another organization.
Despite the Contras' current predicament, Bermudez says the movement is far from finished.