WASHINGTON - Two weeks before the voters of Nicaragua go to the polls to cast their judgment on the Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega, the Bush administration has telegraphed its concern that those they view as the "bad guys" may win. The decision to scrap the official congressional delegation appointed by President Bush to monitor the Feb. 25 election positions the administration to contend, if the Sandinistas do win, that the election either was not properly carried out or properly monitored.
Under the circumstances, the administration had little choice but to fold the commission as long as the Ortega regime declined to issue visas to all 20 members of the presidential observer group. But it is something else again for the White House to suggest, as it has done, that the failure of the regime to issue the visas to observers appointed by an administration that is actively helping the opposition candidate "bring(s) into question the Sandinista commitment" to free elections.
The implied contention that only an observer group appointed by the American president is qualified to judge the fairness of the election is laughable. First of all, included in that group were Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and other diehard supporters of the U.S.-supported Contras whose mission has been the overthrow of the Sandinista regime.
More significantly, other groups that have been granted visas and have for months been monitoring the preparations for the Feb. 25 election between Ortega and challenger Violeta Chamorro of the National Opposition Union (UNO in the Spanish acronym) are headed by American and other observers with demonstrated records for integrity.
Foremost among these is former President Jimmy Carter, who last May blew the whistle on the fraudulent Panama election in which the regime of Manuel Noriega rigged the results to deny victory to opposition candidate (now U.S.-installed president) Guillermo Endara. Carter's charges of fraud on that occasion were not inhibited by the fact that he served on an observer team of the Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government invited in by Noriega. Carter is heading the same group now monitoring the Nicaraguan campaign and election, invited in by Ortega.
At the time the White House was casting doubt on the honesty of the election process in Nicaragua, Carter was reporting that while "there have been some serious problems," most of them "have been corrected."
There is no doubt that there will be sufficient neutral eyes focused on the Feb. 25 voting to ferret out major wrongdoing at the polls. Carter has put the number of observers at as many as 1,500 from various international and private groups across the tiny country.
One prominent delegation from the United Nations is led by a Republican, former Attorney General Elliot Richardson.
Richardson's U.N. group has reported that although there has been some intimidation of opposition candidates by the Sandinistas, the campaign has been fairly conducted in general and that the Supreme Electoral Council of the Managua regime, which is overseeing the campaign, has instituted election procedures that "have tended uniformly to improve the field in ways favorable to the opposition."
It will be hard for the Bush administration to cry foul if the likes of those two straight arrows, Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Elliot Richardson, not to mention other international and private groups, report on Feb. 26 that the Ortega regime has won fair and square in Nicaragua.