October 25, 1994

The Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest and renowned poet who served as a guiding light for the leftist Sandinistas has split ranks with the party, accusing former president Daniel Ortega of blocking the rise of moderates.

Father Ernesto Cardenal, a bushy-bearded, 70-year-old priest whom the Vatican banned from saying Mass after he entered politics, quit the party Monday evening.

Cardenal's defection suggested that Nicaragua's largest party was beginning to fray ahead of the 1996 presidential election.

Cardenal, who served as the Sandinista culture minister, is said to command considerable clout among party moderates.

He accused Ortega -- now party president -- of refusing to allow reformers to ascend within the ranks of the party that was stamped with Ortega's personality during his years as Nicaragua's strongman.

In another sign of party turmoil, Carlos Fernando Chamorro was fired Tuesday as editor of the Sandinista newspaper Barricada for differing with the movement's leadership. Chamorro, a moderate like Cardenal, is the son of President Violeta Chamorro, whose 14-party coalition defeated Ortega in the 1990 presidential election. Ortega became president after the 1979 revolution and guided Nicaragua and his Sandinista party through more than a decade of civil war against U.S.-backed Contra rebels.

He is said to be chafing to return to power and aspires to run in the 1996 election.

But the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), once this nation's strongest and most unified party, is now criticized for failing to modernize, and a rivalry has developed between Ortega's orthodox wing and moderates, led by former Nicaraguan vice president Sergio Ramirez.

Ortega denied that Cardenal's departure signaled a growing split between hardliners and reformers.

"One can enter or leave the FSLN of his own free will," Ortega said.

But Cardenal told reporters Tuesday that Ortega was responsible for "great anomalies" during recent elections to block the rise of moderates in the 300,000-strong party, increasingly riven by factional infighting.

Cardenal, admired throughout the Spanish-speaking world, is well known for works including "A Prayer for Marilyn Monroe."

Like many Roman Catholic priests throughout Latin America, he espouses "liberation theology," a brand of radical Christianity frowned on by the Vatican.

During Sandinista rule, relations with the Church were often tense. And when Cardenal went to kiss the ring of Pope John Paul II during his 1983 visit to Nicaragua, the pontiff drew his hand back and angrily wagged his finger at the priest.