When Gen. Omar Halleslevens was installed Monday in Managua as chief of the Nicaraguan army, the U.S. government was represented by a mere major at the change-of-command ceremony. The slight was intentional. Halleslevens is regarded at the Pentagon as a hard-line Sandinista, whose rise to power represents profound problems in Latin America.
The Sandinistas, the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party repeatedly rejected by Nicaraguan voters, are on the verge of accomplishing what U.S. officials call a ''golpe technico'' (technical coup), stripping President Enrique Bolanos of power. It is no isolated event restricted to a small Central American country. The Sandinistas have a rich and powerful ally in Hugo Chavez, the Marxist president of Venezuela.
Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman who was returned to power thanks in large part to the execrable Jimmy Carter as we posted here, is as big a problem for us in Latin America as Boy Assad is in the Middle East:
Chavez has not only survived all Venezuelan challenges to his power but is making great strides in spreading his ''Bolivarian Revolution'' throughout the region. Besides the Nicaraguan connection, Chavez endangers shaky elected presidents in Peru and Ecuador and is aiming at unseating Bolivia's president, as he did his predecessor. Colombia's conservative regime is busy staving off narco-guerrillas backed by Chavez. The Venezuelan is spreading his influence through Latin America more effectively than his friend and ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro, ever did.
The Nicaraguan military was caught attempting to sell SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles to Colombian narco-terrorists recently. Sandinista lawyers got them off.
While we stalk the vipers in Damascus, Tehran and Pyongyang it looks like we need to take care of some business on the home front.