|Central American University - UCA
Number 50 | Agosto 1985
Latin America Raises its Voice Against Terrorism
The happening this month in Nicaragua was the celebration on July 19 of the sixth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, amid ever more menacing threats by the US government. The happening for all of Latin America was the Foreign Debt Conference held in Havana amid growing continent-wide awareness of this serious economic problem.
Nicaragua’s struggle to defend its revolutionary project of social transformations in the face of US military aggression puts Latin American unity to the test. The struggle of the Latin American peoples in the face of financial aggression, of which the foreign debt is the highest expression, puts it to the test as well.
Peace in Nicaragua and resolution of the foreign debt problem are two causes in the struggle for independence and dignity that today call together all the countries of the continent. It is from the perspective of this Latin American challenge that the month’s events are analyzed.
US aggression: Accusations of terrorismUS verbal aggressions against Nicaragua reached the danger point this month, centering on the issue of terrorism. For the first time, President Reagan and top officials in his administration made references to an organized network of terrorist countries. They stressed their decision to strike against it, both preemptively and in retaliation, both country by country and as a group. Administration declarations point to Nicaragua—the weakest state in this supposed terrorist confederation—as the preferential target of reprisals.
On July 8, President Reagan, speaking to the American Bar Association in Washington, named five countries—Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Nicaragua—as members of a “Confederation of Terrorist States” dedicated to attacking the United States and its citizens. Using very aggressive rhetoric, Reagan responded to his own accusations with a call to action: “There can be no place on earth left where it’s safe for these monsters to rest or train or practice their cruel and deadly skills. We must act together, or unilaterally if necessary, to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere… We are especially not going to tolerate these attacks from outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, loony-tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich.”
This gave rise to a series of statements and reports that signaled ever more clearly the possibility of aerial reprisals (“surgical bombings”) against the countries named, although these were now reduced to areas in Central America—Nicaragua and parts of El Salvador under FMLN control. Within the United States, the topic of terrorism was tied two other topics capable of setting off irrational fears in US public opinion: drug trafficking and the presence of Soviet spies in US territory.
In an atmosphere of threats and speculations about the possible punishment that awaited the “terrorists,” on July 17, two days before the celebration of the sixth anniversary of the revolution, US Ambassador to Nicaragua Harry Bergold delivered a note to the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, an unofficial English translation of which is reproduced below in its entirety. More than one US political analyst in Nicaragua for the anniversary celebration expressed surprise at the note’s threatening tone, which marked a new milestone in the annals of US diplomacy:
“The citizens of the United States and of friendly and allied countries have been increasingly the object of international terrorist activities. The patience of the people and the government of the United States in becoming exhausted.
“A repetition of any incident similar to the brutal assassination of the six citizens of the United States in San Salvador on June 19, 1985 will have grave repercussions. Regarding the event in El Salvador, both the Salvadoran government and we have reacted strongly against the PRTC. We are well aware of the support of the Nicaraguan government and of the FSLN for the PRTC and other elements of the FMLN, and of the influence of the government and the Frente over these groups. The Nicaraguan government must use its influence to discourage attacks against US personnel, personnel whom it is well know are not involved in combat.
“We have indications that preparations are being made to begin a program of terrorist attacks against US personnel in Honduras.
“We consider it essential that the government of Nicaragua understand clearly and completely that any terrorist attack against personnel of the United States in Honduras, supported by Nicaragua, will be considered the direct responsibility of the government of Nicaragua, and that this can count on a like response from the United States.
“It must be understood that even though this warning applies to possible terrorist acts against US citizens in Honduras, based on specific information, the reaction of the United States to terrorist acts in other countries of Central America, or elsewhere, will be based on the same principles. A repetition in any part of Central America of the assassinations on June 19 of US citizens in El Salvador will bring serious consequences for the perpetrators and those who help them.”
Nicaragua’s lengthy and documented response categorically rejected both the content and the form of the communication. It listed numerous activities carried out by the US government in its policy of state terrorism, and exhorted the Reagan government to present all its complaints and accusations to the World Court of Justice at The Hague. President Ortega declared to the international press that “the note itself is an act of terrorism and political blackmail.”
The most aggressive public accusation to follow Reagan’s address to the Bar Association was that of presidential spokesperson Larry Speakes on July 24. Noting that the terrorist countries are now warned that the United States is prepared to take “appropriate steps,” he said, “We are constantly adding to our information about the location, tactics and geography of the Central American terrorist infrastructure. When that knowledge reaches a stage that satisfies our criteria, we will act.” In response to journalists’ questions about whether surgical bombings might be among such actions, Speakes responded, “We have not closed off any option,” specifying that actions could also be “preventive,” since “reprisals are passive actions, in the sense that they can only occur after something happens.”
In mid-July, The Miami Herald reported extensively on a study that Reagan had charged Vice-President George Bush with, regarding “forms of struggle against world terrorism.” Limiting his sources to the CIA, the National Security Council and the Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush presented recommendations that encompass a full gamut of options in a broad strategy of war:
- Attacks by air or by commandos against rebel bastions in El Salvador or training camps in Nicaragua. (Administration and congressional sources indicated that among the possible targets was a Salvadoran guerrilla training camp located in Santa Julia, on the Cosigüina peninsula in northwest Nicaragua. On July 30, the ambassadors of the four Contadora countries visited Santa Julia, where they were able to observe what was there: the remains of a military center of the Sandinista militias that had operated for seven months beginning in April 1984, and is now abandoned.)
- Moderating or eliminating existing presidential prohibitions against assassinations to eliminate terrorist or anti-US foreign leaders, such as the Sandinistas or the Salvadoran guerrillas.
- Supplementary advisers and assistance for El Salvador to be able to train the National Guard and the Treasury Police, as well as increased military assistance to Honduras and Costa Rica for antiterrorist training.
- Supplementary military exercises in Honduras and off the east and west coasts of Nicaragua.
- New request for funds from Congress to increase the Nicaraguan rebel force from 17,000 to 30,000.
- New sanctions against Nicaragua, such as recalling the ambassador or breaking diplomatic relations.
- Review of US policy towards Cuba, which could include a hardening of the commercial embargo or the elimination of sports and cultural interchanges.
Through slanderous accusations about terrorism which attempt to portray Nicaragua as a sanctuary for practically every armed group in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, the US government is determined to construct a campaign that would justify to public opinion, especially in the US itself, what could be the first step in a massive direct intervention: surgical bombings against strategic military or economic points in Nicaragua. It is an attempt to adopt a policy of consummated acts with consequences that the administration judges would be predictable and controllable. It seems to have decided to try out this policy despite international political and diplomatic costs and despite internal tensions in some US military circles, where it is believed that these kinds of direct blows would endanger the “low intensity warfare” formula of attrition that they are confident will destroy the Sandinista project and stop the advance of the Salvadoran guerrillas.
Nicaragua defends itself from terrorismAccused of terrorism and sentenced to death for it, Nicaragua continues confronting the state terrorism of the US government. In the military trenches, the defensive war goes on. In the diplomatic trenches, Contadora finds a new voice. In the theological trenches, prayers and fasting are new weapons in the struggle.
Counterrevolutionary military terrorism continuesThis month, the two Houses of Congress finally reached agreement about the amount of money the US government will be able to give the armed counterrevolutionary groups as “humanitarian aid”: $27 million, which will be available starting October 1, 1985, the start of fiscal year 1986.
During the month, these US-financed counterrevolutionary groups continued to suffer important military defeats, and continued applying their terrorist tactics against the civilian population.
The FSLN National Directorate and the President’s Office approved a new overall plan for Regions I (Estelí, Nueva Segovia and Madriz) and VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega), the two hit hardest by the war. It will be directed full time by National Directorate member Luis Carrión, Deputy Interior Minister.
This decision is of major importance and responds to the accumulated experience of painful apprenticeship during these years of war. According to Carrión, the plan grows out of a recognition that the war is “not strictly a military phenomenon, but also political and social,” and seeks to “harmonize every effort as an aspect of defense.” Within this, the political priority is the consolidation of the peasant alliance, especially with the poorest peasants who have been pushing for individual ownership of land. (In recent months there has been an important turn-around in the agrarian policy of the Sandinista revolution, involving massive land handouts in small parcels to individual poor peasants in the Pacific area—particularly in Masaya, but also around Estelí and in the center and south of the country. We will address these shifts in the agrarian reform strategy more in coming issues of envío.)
Evaluating the current war situation in these two strategic regions, Comandante Carrión noted that in Region I all defense rests on the militia forces of the region itself, who are more stable, better organized and better armed. The BLIs (Irregular Warfare Battalions), the Sandinista army’s spearhead in the direct confrontation with the counterrevolutionaries, are concentrated in Region VI. “This is a strategic shift and means that now 90% of the combats are in our favor,” said Carrión.
The direction of the war has shown that the Sandinista military strategy in these two zones, which began to be implemented in the first half of the year, has been effective. The stabilization of the territorial militias and the combination of their actions with those of the BLI and the Border Guard in other areas have allowed the Nicaraguan army to recuperate an initiative that had been lost, to take greater control of inaccessible areas and to hit the contras’ regional commands hard, breaking them up but not yet annihilating them. (In the first six months of the year, the counterrevolutionaries suffered 2,500 casualties.)
For the second half of the year, with a new group of young people in military service, a massive new offensive is expected, which it is hoped will give a truly strategic blow to the counterrevolution. The important FDN attacks this month in Estelí seem on the one hand aimed at setting back and complicating this offensive and on the other to recover legitimacy for themselves in the eyes of both Congress and their right-wing financial supporters who have been relying on their effectiveness to destabilize the Nicaraguan revolution.
In this attack there are also elements of desperation—“suicidal actions,” as Comandante José Valdivia called them. These actions give credence to the idea that the contras are taking orders directly from Washington, which must be evaluating Nicaragua’s situation as one of irreversible deterioration entering into an anti-Sandinista pre-insurrection period, and is therefore demanding definitive and convincing blows from the “freedom fighters.” As has occurred in other moments in this long war, Washington is incorrectly evaluating the situation and these new counterrevolutionary offensives are resulting in a new failure.
Some 1,200 counterrevolutionaries who had infiltrated down from the Jinotega area tried to carry out an offensive strategy called “Plan Roundup 85” in Estelí this month, which had as its objective to attack civilian and strategic economic targets, among them the agroindustrial project of Sébaco, and to take the city of Estelí on the anniversary of the revolution.
During July there were some 42 confrontations, in which the contras suffered a total of 129 dead and more than 60 captured. As this issue went to press, the plan was already being neutralized and the bulk of the contras were being pursued through northern Nicaragua by the Sandinista army.
The most significant attack of “Plan Roundup” was the effort of 500 members of the FDN to take the city of La Trinidad, 13 kilometers southeast of Estelí, on August 1. “Somos los cachorros de Reagan!” (We’re Reagan’s boys!) they shouted as they entered the town. They lost 33 in the first moments of their foiled attack, compared to eight Sandinista soldiers who died defending the city. (In Nicaragua, the youth serving in the military are called the “cachorros [or cubs] of Sandino.” The name was inspired by a verse in Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío’s “Ode to Roosevelt,” in which he refers to the Latin Americans trying to deal with the US as “unleashed cubs of the Spanish lion.”
Only three days before, La Trinidad had held funeral services for 18 of its youth who had died in an FDN ambush that killed a total of 29. This was the contras’ major blow this month.
There have also been intense combats this month in Regions VI and V, a new scene of heavy fighting, in which 125 counterrevolutionaries were killed. And on August 2, the Nicaragua army concluded the third stage of “Operation Sovereignty” begun in late May along the border with Costa Rica, with the retaking of Saripiquí, ARDE’s last base in Nicaragua. As a result of the various battles in this border zone, 67 ARDE fighters were killed, an estimated 300 fled to Costa Rica and 62 turned themselves in to the army in the Machuca area.
Various counterrevolutionary actions in different parts of the country clearly show the terrorist orientation of their strategy, an orientation always more accentuated when these groups suffer defeats in their confrontations with the army. Among the actions, the population was particularly hard hit by the following:
- On July 23, 18 days after the passenger boat “Bluefields Express” had been attacked and burned on the Atlantic Coast, apparently by some 50 FDN members, counterrevolutionaries fired on the Río Escondido between Bluefields and Rama with rifles and mortars. Their attack left two dead and 17 wounded, including two children. Among the 168 passengers were 18 foreigners, from Spain, West Germany, Canada, Mexico and the United States. In a press conference held on their return to Managua, these visitors described the terrorist nature of the attack, demanding that the Reagan administration immediately withdraw all support for the contras.
- On July 28, an FDN band ambushed a civilian truck carrying women on their way to visit their sons at a military service training school in Mulukukú, Matagalpa. The contras shot at the women, wounding 14 and killing 8, some of them as they ran from the truck. Some were raped and their bodies mutilated and burned. President Ortega attended the funeral service for some of the women who lived in León. Visibly moved to anger, he spoke directly of the members of Congress who had approved assistance to these groups: “They are acting worse than Hitler! They are fascists, criminals; they are provoking the extermination of our people.”
- On August 2, an FDN group attacked the town of Cuapa, Chontales. Sixteen people were kidnapped, among them FSLN members, peasant leaders and school teachers. Eleven bodies were eventually found, mutilated by torture, in the surrounding woods. At the funeral of the school librarian, Father Domingo Gatti, the parish priest, full of indignation, said, “This is the work not of freedom fighters, but of champions of hatred and death, brothers of the devil.”
The new voice of ContadoraThe Latin American initiative is one of the strongest reins on the US policy of aggression. Nicaragua depends upon Latin American unity and alignment to contain the state-sponsored terrorism presently manifested as a war of attrition, but possibly leading towards direct intervention. This month, there were promising signs of an emerging Latin American consciousness of this role: the Organization of American States (OAS) demonstrated criteria independent of US policy, and Contadora showed a new vitality, with four new Latin American countries uniting in support of the peace initiative, thus broadening its possibilities for action.
Contadora and a reformed OASDispleased over last month’s unfavorable ruling by the OAS-Contadora Investigation Commission on the Las Crucitas border incident, the Monge government requested a special meeting with the OAS Permanent Council, to be held July 11. Costa Rica was seeking OAS censure of Nicaragua in disregard of the commission.
After intense debate within the OAS, it was decided that the ambassadors to the OAS from the four Contadora countries would draft a resolution concerning the case. The resolution, passed by OAS consensus, expressed deep concern over the tense border situation, condemned the Las Crucitas incident (without singling out Nicaragua as Costa Rica had hoped), and, most importantly, recommended that Costa Rica and Nicaragua proceed to hold talks.
The OAS treatment of the Las Crucitas case, considering its political and diplomatic context, is a clear indication of Contadora’s growing prestige as a Latin American alternative for Latin America’s problems. Contadora has managed to create new space, even within structures traditionally dependent on the OAS.
President Monge immediately expressed his displeasure at the resolution, stating that the OAS was “showing bias in favor of Nicaragua” and that “Costa Rica has been left alone, given the lack of solidarity from Latin American countries in its problems with Nicaragua.” He virtually rejected talks with President Daniel Ortega, by setting as a condition for them Nicaragua’s unequivocal apology and explanation for the incident at Las Crucitas. This also succeeded in belittling the findings of both the OAS and Contadora.
The tense situation between the two countries continues. At the end of July, the situation was further aggravated by a series of accusations by Costa Rica claiming that the Nicaraguan air force had violated its air space. The crisis, which was heading towards a break in diplomatic relations, was alleviated by the moderating role President Monge played with his Security Council, which already had solicited military aid from the United States, Israel and Venezuela. The prevailing tension continues to make the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border an ideal setting in which to create a pretext for direct US intervention in Nicaragua. Bilateral talks and the creation of a demilitarized zone along the border are alternatives which test the sincerity of Costa Rica’s proclaimed desire for peace.
Contadora’s new initiativesLike the OAS, Contadora has also progressed towards a more unified Latin American position this month. At the June meeting in Panama, Nicaragua called upon the four Contadora countries to demand that the US stop obstructing the path towards a negotiated settlement in Central America. It was uncertain what course Contadora would take next.
On July 21-22, the Foreign Ministers from the four countries held a special meeting on the Panamanian island of Contadora to break the existing deadlock in the peace making process. In his comments upon arrival, Jorge Abadía, the Panamanian Minister, commented on the importance of the meeting: “Contadora is life. The other alternative is death, war in Central America. The world should know this once and for all: in Central America it is either Contadora or war.”
Out of the meeting came a number of revitalizing initiatives:
- In an unprecedented move, Contadora called upon the US to resume negotiations with Nicaragua in Manzanillo, thus underscoring the correlation that exists between peace in Central America and the normalization of Nicaraguan/ US relations.
- Contadora called on Nicaragua and Costa Rica to initiate bilateral talks within the first ten days of August in Panama, again emphasizing the need for “normalized bilateral relations, especially between neighboring states.”
- Contadora’s Deputy Foreign Ministers decided to tour the five Central American countries during the first days of August and to propose that the subject of peace in Central America be added to the agenda for the United Nation’s General Assembly meeting in September.
Upon hearing the result of the meeting, President Ortega commented, “We have good news for the Nicaraguan people: Contadora is stronger than ever. Those who thought Contadora was already dead must now recognize that Contadora is here, alive, more alive than ever, expressing the sentiments of Latin America.”
The impact of Contadora’s new voice was reflected in the immediate US reaction. In Mexico, George Shultz declared emphatically that the US will not dialogue with the government of Nicaragua until the latter begins a dialogue with the counterrevolutionaries. A few days earlier, Harry Shlaudemann, special ambassador to Central America, had said in Tegucigalpa: “I see no other possibility for the pacification of Central America than the establishment by the Sandinistas of a national reconciliation in Nicaragua.” Using the same terms that President Reagan had used in his April ultimatum, in which the President postulated “symmetry” between Nicaragua and El Salvador, Shlaudemann said, “The Catholic Church has called on the conflicting parties, the government and the freedom fighters, to sit down at the same table to resolve their differences. The government of El Salvador has already done it. It has talked to the guerrillas and will continue to do so. In Managua the same thing should be done because there is no other solution.”
Why doesn’t the Nicaraguan government dialogue with the counterrevolutionaries—because they are terrorists? Wouldn’t the government even negotiate to save the lives of peasants threatened by these terrorists? This was the question that a US journalist directed to President Ortega during a July 20 press conference. Ortega replied, “The main reason for not negotiating with them is not because they are terrorists. If that were it, we would not be able to talk to the US. The main reason is that the counterrevolutionaries are nothing more than an instrument. Their financing is discussed in Congress; the US President is the one who defends them. They are an instrument that is totally dependent on US policy. It is the US government that has designed an entire strategy that includes the counterrevolutionaries.”
This is why Nicaragua insists on negotiations with the US in Manzanillo. This is why Contadora has asked the US to renew these talks—unilaterally interrupted by the US in January 1985—to begin deactivating a policy of state terrorism that effectively blocks any peace initiatives.
New support for Contadora in PeruOn July 28, Alan García took office as the new President of Peru. In his inauguration speech he called for the formulation of a group of Latin American countries to support Contadora. “In Central America the destiny of Latin American sovereignty is at stake,” the Peruvian President said, repeating some of the ideas presented two weeks earlier at the inauguration of the 15th Congress of his party, APRA. On that occasion García clearly expressed a call for Latin American solidarity with Nicaragua: “Nicaraguan stands for the sovereignty of the Latin American continent. There are those who claim to support Nicaragua, demanding conditions. I say: In one of these small countries, close to the imperial rule of the great power, a decisive act has been carried out, not only leaving behind a dictatorial and inhuman regime, but also establishing its own destiny and the right to defend itself, to develop its own path towards democracy.
“We are supporting Nicaragua because it is a symbol of an independent sovereignty and destiny for the continent. We place no conditions… I say as a student of Haya de la Torre and in the name of our party: either there is support or there isn’t. You are either with imperialism, or you are not with imperialism. And we have the APRA tradition, which is to support revolutionary transformation in America, today ignited in Nicaragua.” (Haya de la Torre founded Peru’s Popular American Revolutionary Alliance, or APRA, in 1924.)
The four foreign ministers of the Contadora countries attended Alan García’s inauguration, and while there met together to consolidate the proposals put forward on the island of Contadora a week before. Following the meeting, Contadora announced its decision not to enlarge the group with more countries, but instead to organize other Latin American countries into a support commission. In Lima it was announced that this groups would include Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Panama was the Contadora country that publicly expressed its opposition to enlarging Contadora in the clearest and most forceful terms. Mexico was also opposed to the idea.
Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister Víctor Hugo Tinoco praised the formation of this support commission, referred to as the Lima Group, saying it was the “most important political-diplomatic event since the formation of Contadora.” August 23 has been fixed as the date for the first meeting of the four Contadora countries together with the four in the Lima Group, in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
In another development, it was a reassuring sign when on July 19, Guatemala’s General Mejía Víctores said that “the Central American nations can coexist with a communist Nicaragua.” The political will for peace among the Central American countries is key to the success of Contadora’s efforts.
Latin American unity is increasing. A big factor in this has been the political openings in some of the South American countries whose new governments understand the importance for the whole continent of the struggle taking place in Nicaragua. Although they have not expressed it as forthrightly as Peru’s new president did this month, some of the other Latin American governments recognize that the defense of the self-determination of Nicaragua and Central America will set a precedent for the struggles for self-determination and independent development in the rest of the continent, as it confronts the historical control of the US. The Falklands crisis sparked this reassessment by the continent’s leaders and people. This new perspective was what gave life to Contadora and is what is today questioning Latin American institutions such as the OAS and the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty. This perspective has made Contadora’s growth possible. It is a positive sign; as more Latin American countries participate effectively in the search for peace in Central America, this goal becomes more attainable.
Fasting and prayer against terrorismThe fast begun on July 7 by Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Father Miguel D’Escoto, came to a close on August 6. This act expresses in a new and dramatic manner the gravity of Nicaragua’s situation. The limited act chosen by D’Escoto was treated with predictable indifference and calculated distortion by the US and international media. They either failed to cover the fast or else minimized it as a personal act that did not reflect the great impact it had within Nicaragua. In fact, the impact lived up to the words that D’Escoto used to begin the fast, when he called for an “evangelical insurrection” on the part of Christians and people of goods will to denounce the aggression that is destroying Nicaraguan lives. This insurrection took place and both supporters and skeptics were witness to it.
During the month, the parish of the Monseñor Lezcano barrio became a focus of attention, and the fast was a frequent subject of conversation throughout the capital. The National Day of Fasting saw groups of food vendors closing their shops in support of D’Escoto’s action, and Christians from the city and the countryside joined together in a common expression of the will for peace. There was a barrage of letters and radio messages in support of D’Escoto, and large numbers of people from all sectors of society attended ceremonies held at the parish. The response from the public was a social, political and religious happening that will have a lasting effect on many and is likely to continue playing an important role in this tense period. The echo of this unique event spread out little by little to many countries, organizations and groups, giving them new inspiration with which to focus their support for Nicaragua.
The fast was portrayed by La Prensa and much of the international mass media as a skillful political ploy by the FSLN to clear up internal problems in the Ministry and provide an excuse for D’Escoto to leave his position. Nevertheless, the decision arose from personal reflection, fed by D’Escoto’s religious convictions and by his longstanding commitment to non-violence, as well as by his direct experience of the US government’s aggressive decision. “I am ever more convinced that we are faced with a situation the character of which renders conventional methods of defense insufficient, and that they must be complemented with methods that the Christian community can and should begin to employ immediately,” said D’Escoto to President Ortega in a letter soliciting permission to be relieved of his post in order to begin the fast.
D’Escoto’s decision, made as a Christian and a priest conscious of his public image, was respected by the Sandinista leadership. They, like the rest of Nicaragua, learned as the fast developed what contribution it would make to the cause of peace and what potential it had as a religious and political tool in the struggle.
The fast’s great impact on the religious conscience of Nicaragua and on the Church structures suggests that the new efforts of Christian mobilization, planned to give continuity to those begun on July 7, will be equally inspiring. This “second phase of the evangelical insurrection,” as it has been called, was begun on August 6 and will culminate in the “International Week of Solidarity for Peace in Nicaragua and Central America,” September 8-15, shortly before the beginning of final deliberations on Nicaragua’s case at the World Court. In this seconds phase the presence of Father Pedro Casaldáliga, the Brazilian bishop who arrived in Nicaraguan July 28 to express his solidarity with the struggle for peace, will be important. His stay is a sign of the support emanating from the Brazilian Church, one of the more forward-looking churches in Latin America.
After the first days of the fast, the National Directorate of the FSLN published the following statement:
“1- The position that Father Miguel D’Escoto has taken is in harmony with the highest moral values of Sandinismo and the Christian sentiments of our people. To fight with sacrifice and dignity, in justice and for life and to firmly resist even at the cost of one’s life.
2- Father D’Escoto’s fast is part of the sacrifice and the struggle that our people carry out at the battlefronts, at work, and in all their daily duties to confront the US administration. The public fast—undertaken by prophets and great proponents of independence and peace—has been a powerful weapon to confront the forces of evil and imperialist colonial aggression against the peoples.
3- We support Father D’Escoto’s noble gesture and express our confidence that Nicaraguans, and peoples and organizations that are our friends, will demonstrate their support for Father Miguel, strengthening a new front in the struggle for life and against death. This will be a generous contribution to the consolidation of the forces for peace and the interdiction of the cruel aggression that the leaders of the US, in a challenge to humanity, have brought to bear against the Nicaraguan people and the people of Central America.”
On July 26, National Fast Day, six members of the Group of Twelve—the others still involved were outside the country—visited D’Escoto. “His prophetic fast,” said Sergio Ramírez when he came out of the meeting, “responds to the spirit that animated the Group of Twelve eight years ago.” When asked by a journalist if D’Escoto was planning to abandon his position as Foreign Minister, Ramírez responded that he could not do this because “now he is twice a minister—Minister of Nicaragua, and Minister of Peace.”
On August 3 Kevin Cahill, a US doctor and an old friend of D’Escoto, arrived in Managua. D’Escoto had been showing signs of extreme weakness for two days. Dr. Cahill, who headed the team that attended John Paul II after the attempt on his life in May 1981, examined D’Escoto and recommended that the fast be interrupted to avoid permanent damage. Dr. Juan Ignacio Gutiérrez, the Nicaraguan doctor who had attended D’Escoto from the beginning of the fast, supported the decision. It was not a question, as D’Escoto had explained from the very beginning, of risking one’s life irresponsibly, but of dramatically denouncing terrorism and involving many Christians in this denunciation. On August 4, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel arrived in Nicaragua, with 30 Latin American church people, all of whom had just participated in the Conference on the External Debt in Havana. They brought a document, read publicly in Havana bearing the signatures of more than a thousand other participants, which asked D’Escoto to interrupt his fast since his life was so valuable to the people. The signers of the document declared themselves “in a state of permanent evangelical insurrection” for peace. On August 6, at the end of the fast, D’Escoto said in his closing message:
“The aggression, hate and death continue to besiege us. The government of the US, blind and deaf to the cries for peace, is not abandoning its intransigent and deceitful policy in its terrorist strategy and the Nicaraguan people continue to be sentenced to death and dying little by little. For this reason we must continue in a state of alert in and out of Nicaragua. We must continue this theological effort we have begun as a permanent Christian effort in the struggle for peace, for life and against state terrorism. I ask in the name of God and in the name of our peoples that while the US government continues to spill the blood of the poor in Nicaragua and in Central America, we remain vigilant in this effort, like faithful sentinels of the cause of Jesus, in a state of permanent evangelical insurrection, tirelessly presenting our prayer and our life before God so that the imperialist demon of aggression and death will be exorcised.”
In addition to its evident religious repercussions, the fast has had and will have profound political repercussions. It has demonstrated to the people of Nicaragua and of the world the strong desire for peace in Nicaragua and the weakness of this country in the face of the aggressive tactics of the US administration, an essential point in understanding this unequal war. At the same time, it revealed with particular clarity the depth of the ideological content in the confrontation between this little nation and the great empire. “A few days ago,” said D’Escoto in a press conference on August 7, “I sent a message to the US government saying that we only worship the God of Abraham and of Jacob, the God of Moses, the Father of Jesus; and that we are not to kneel before them as if they were gods.”
The moral strength that the fast has given Nicaragua’s peace efforts were revealed in the August 4 meeting between D’Escoto and the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Contadora during their tour of Central America. The diplomats were deeply impressed by D’Escoto’s words. It appears that there is a new force to be reckoned with both in international politics and in the Nicaraguan Church. After the collective religious experience of this period of fasting and prayer, as a new expression in the struggle against US terrorism, Nicaragua’s efforts for peace, and in particular Miguel D’Escoto’s voice as Foreign Minister, will have new strength and new impact in the international forums where the future of Nicaragua and Central America is being debated.
The terrorism of the external debtFrom July 30 to August 3, the important and highly publicized Conference on the External Debt of Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Havana, with 1,200 delegates from all of Latin America attending. There were many different expectations and political speculations about the nature and results of this meeting called by Fidel Castro. The nature became clear as the days passed: it was a political event aimed at making broad sectors of our societies more aware of the problem. The results can be called historic, not only for the standing of a large number of the participants in the conference—people who have made and are making their mark in Latin American history—but because of the important consciousness of Latin America unity, which was both reinforced and took on new dimensions. It is not simplistic to state that we are at a historic moment, in which the economic crisis gives life to a new political awareness, bringing together most of Latin America’s ideological tendencies, and increasingly isolating the minorities that are closed to change. (In the coming months, envío will present an account of the conference and an analysis of the external debt and its relation to the Central American crisis.)
Although there were no specialized analyses dealing with the various facets of this complex economic problem, the diverse political tendencies there all agreed that the situation must be confronted with united positions and must contribute to the construction of Latin American unity, that the crisis puts the continent’s independence and democracy in question, and that it is time to struggle for greater Latin American integration, new south-south relations and a new international economic order.
Nicaragua was a point of constant reference by the participants as a concrete example of the struggle for independence, self determination and sovereignty. The presentation of Nicaragua Vice President Sergio Ramírez received the longest and most energetic ovation.
Mauricio Díaz, who was the presidential candidate for the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC) in last November’s elections, reiterated the political pluralism of the Nicaraguan revolution, and read a statement signed by the PPSC, Democratic Conservative, Socialist and Independent Liberal party leaders who made up part of the Nicaraguan delegation. The only one who did not sign was the representative from the Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML).
“As representatives of political parties within a revolutionary process,” said the statement read by Mauricio Díaz, “we have felt first hand the tensions caused among our people by these apparent contradictions in the US administration, which on the one hand demands the democratization of Nicaragua, while on the other gives economic, technical, human and material resources to an absolutely unjust and arbitrary war; which at the same time that it cuts credits and applies commercial embargoes, hands over millions of dollars to maintain a war that has already cost thousands of innocent victims, as it limits the possibilities of economic development, and directly affects the process of democratic institutionalization by restricting the field of action of the political parties that exist in Nicaragua.”
The document concluded with a declaration that appeared in similar form in practically all the other delegations’ statements: “The exploitative capacity of the developed countries is unlimited, but the tolerance of our Latin American peoples does have limits and we are reaching them, because once you have had your eyes opened you can never again sleep peacefully. And here in this meeting, today in Havana, we are beginning to open our eyes.”
It was made clear at the meeting that despite the differences in terms of the amounts and political significance of the debt in each Latin American country, the way out is through unity. Peace in Nicaragua is favored by this awareness of unity and, although the Nicaraguan debt has very particular characteristics, Nicaragua also wants to help build this unity.
On July 19, in his speech to almost 500,000 people, Nicaragua’s President referred publicly to the foreign debt for the first time. He stressed that we in Latin America are “hostages to an unjust debt and to unjust exchange relations.” He tied Nicaragua’s struggle for sovereignty to Latin America’s struggle to free itself from the debt by pointing out that in both arenas the same terrorist enemy is being fought:
“We have to confront the political terrorism of the United States, which threatens the sovereignty of Latin America here in Nicaragua, and we have to confront that economic, financial terrorism, which holds the peoples and governments of Latin America hostage… How do we cease being hostages of the debt and of unequal exchange? Where is our force? Where has the force of the Nicaraguan people to reach victory resided? … Unity is the way forward for the peoples of Latin America.”
(A spirited exchange took place between Barricada and La Prensa over the number of people who attended the celebration on July 19. European journalists on the scene endorsed the official estimate of 500,000, and commented that the crowd was significantly larger than the previous year. La Prensa insisted that attendance had been forced, and that the crowd was much smaller than the one that greeted Cardinal Obando upon his return to Managua.)
In Havana, Sergio Ramírez took up the same message of Latin American unity, which Nicaragua supports and in which Nicaragua is supported:
“The contradiction between the imperial interests of the United States and Latin America’s desire for sovereignty and independence is being played out today in a dramatic and crucial way in Nicaragua. The contradiction is between the whole military, political and financial apparatus of the United States, with its infinite material resources and inexhaustible financial power on the one side, and on the other the humble but firm force of a poor and suffering people who in Nicaragua, a piece of Latin America, are defending the borders of Latin America.
“Nicaragua, a country attacked, has no doubt that the foreign debt is a form of aggression against the countries of the continent and that those countries which decide to assume sovereign positions in response to the debt can expect to meet with repressive actions, not only economic but also of a military character on the part of the United States. Therefore, we must act as a continent against the debt, since the force of this action would constitute a true front in defense of our interests.
“We are thus speaking of two aspects of the same struggle, and the most vital interests of our independence and our identity can be found in both. For this reason as well, all democratic governments, all political forces, all progressive and committed sectors, all people of good will must be called to defend Nicaragua, because this is the hour of the continental tests. Latin America must declare itself in a state of emergency for Nicaragua, to stop the threatening and aggressive hand of the United States and to oblige the United States to accept a peaceful and negotiated solution within Contadora, to resume dialogue with Nicaragua in Manzanillo.
“Our country will always be the voice of Latin America, even under terror, even under aggression. And the more arduously we are called upon to struggle, the more will we be the voice of Latin America, the more will we be identified with the desire for democracy on the continent, for change, for justice, for full independence… We are proud to defend, as Latin Americans, the vital interests of Latin America.”
During this month, the voice of Latin America has been heard in Nicaragua, in Contadora, in Peru, in Havana, in the Church of Brazil and throughout the continent. It is a voice that is growing in force and in concrete alternatives. It is the voice that today has more force to stop terrorism and to construct a peace with bread and dignity for all.