Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 94 | Mayo 1989


Central America

Conclusion Negotiations: A Revolutionary Tool

Envío team

Why was 1988 a year of movement towards a negotiated end to the Central American conflicts? There are five key factors: 1) The growing Central American economic crisis, rendering regional governments increasingly unable to meet the most basic needs of their populations; 2) a demand from the Central American people for an end to conflict—a demand for peace with justice and dignity; 3) the close of the Reagan era and its dead-end policy of military solutions and ideological distortion; 4) the advance of Soviet initiatives for economic revitalization, democratization and a negotiated solution to regional conflicts; and 5) the persistence of a degree of autonomy by the Central American presidents from regional US policy.

The Nicaraguan government has made skilled use of diplomacy and negotiation, along with an effective military defense, to prevent direct US intervention and to bring the contra war to an end. It is now, logically, in El Salvador, where armed conflict is likely to be the most intense and prolonged, that negotiations could play the most critical role. Yet there, as in Guatemala, the armed forces and an entrenched oligarchy block such an outcome.

Central American Armed Forces

The armed forces have never developed a realistic vision of the correlation of social forces in our countries. Trapped by their ideology of national security as a prerequisite for development, obsessively seeing any demand for justice as subversive, the armed forces aim, at best, to contain popular forces and, at worst, to beat them into submission. They view democratization merely as a facade for a plan to achieve military victory. They grant political space grudgingly, not to forge a real national consensus, but as a way of accepting minor changes to avoid substantive reforms. The armed forces lack a national perspective that could accept the existence of popular social forces, much less grant them space to act in the state and civil society.

The Salvadoran army is the most extreme example. Totally absorbed in the war, it postpones dealing with the problem of development. Colonel Ponce, head of the Salvadoran Chiefs of Staff, recently admitted that "our problem is lack of economic capacity to meet the urgent needs of our population," noting that only US aid stands between the country and economic and military collapse.

The Guatemalan army, on the other hand, views itself as the main force in a stabilization and welfare plan aimed at preventing subversion by addressing poverty. Development can only occur in a later stage, after security is assured, at which time the army plans to be the driving force behind modernization.

The armed forces of Honduras have neither a domestic war to wage nor a development project to promote. They live off corruption, the backwash of the contra and Salvadoran wars, drug running and smuggling.

Unlike these other armed forces, the Nicaraguan army may be capable, now that the war is ending, of transferring some of its energies from defense to supporting economic development for the benefit of the majority. But the US threat to reactivate the contra war puts strict limits on Nicaragua's ability to shift away from defense priorities.

Central American Capitalists

There are two types of capitalist groups in Central America, with quite different strategies. One is represented by federations of private enterprise such as COSEP in Nicaragua, CACIF in Guatemala and ANEP in El Salvador. While the agroexport model they are based on is in crisis and must be reformed, they are not willing to back changes that could potentially risk their profits or power. They have exported most of their capital in this decade; the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that up to 1986 alone capital flight equaled $5 billion; today it might be twice that amount. These groups, made up of relatively few traditionally wealthy and powerful families in each country, see no other way to maintain their profits than by reinforcing their alliance with the US-supported militaries. They back war and repression because without war, fewer AID funds would be flowing in to stabilize their economies. Developing an alternative development strategy based on nontraditional exports would be difficult without massive AID subsidies, given a stagnant international market and Central America's late arrival to this type of export development.

But more pragmatic capitalist groups are now emerging in Central America. They are aware of the profound changes in the correlation of social forces taking place in the region. Groups like the Nicaraguan Commission for Economic Recovery and Development (CORDENIC), the Salvadoran Foundation for Development (FUSADES), the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Research and Development (FIDE) in Honduras, the Costa Rican Coalition for Development Initiatives (CINDE) and the Chamber of Private Enterprise of Guatemala all recognize the need to revamp the old oligarchic model of accumulation. They are adapting it to the new demands of the international market and to the new economic actors in Central America—the European Community, the Scandinavian countries, Japan and the Pacific group. These capitalists recognize the need to create a minimum of equity to build the social stability that can foster capitalist reproduction, now seriously threatened by the level of conflict.

These modernizing capitalist groups are still small-scale and dependent on foreign financing. AID has begun to back them, but CORDENIC, the newest group, receives its aid from West German foundations and US private sector groups. The Sanford Commission, made up of 45 leaders from Central America, Japan, the United States and Europe who have come together to offer recommendations on reconstruction and development for the region, has served as a catalyst for this perspective. It is also serving as a bridge between the Sandinista government and sectors close to the revolutionary forces of Salvador and Guatemala who are looking to work together with such open-minded domestic business groups to avoid the collapse of regional economies.

As these modernizing capitalists attempt to adapt to rather than beat back the political changes that threaten their hegemony, two outcomes are possible. Their efforts can lead to cooptation of popular demands or start a democratic process of negotiation that may open up political space to popular forces.

Black and white are not the colors of the future in Central America. Regional elites cannot realistically pose their options as either abandoning their countries or maintaining all their power. They must understand that without structural reforms, without satisfying the basic needs of the majority, without giving real opportunities for production to the peasantry and small urban producers, Central American economies will continue to depend on funds which the United States is less able and less willing to provide.

Popular and revolutionary forces

In the same way, the revolutionary movements in Central America and the revolutionary government in Nicaragua are coming to realize that their real alternatives are neither statism or privatization. A monopolistic state economy is not the answer; that model is too top-heavy, too inefficient, and too bureaucratically rigid to involve the bulk of the population. It is necessary, instead, to search for a truly participatory mixed economy, based on existing productive capacity, and broaden and update it by integrating Central American markets.

In the crucible of war Nicaragua has learned that socialism is not statism, that industrial workers are not the first and foremost revolutionary force for this country, that costly and premature technological leaps forward are not the most viable path. In straining to the limits the resources available to a small peripheral country for its defense and survival, the war has shown the way to a new kind of socialism, slow but broad, rooted in the real social composition of this country and based on the best use of available natural, human, organizational and technological resources. The war has made clear the limits of Nicaragua's geopolitical and geo-economic position, reinforcing the rationality of a nonaligned policy and the wisdom of developing economic relations with all parts of an increasingly multipolar world.

Building a democracy in which the organized masses participate is a revolutionary goal. It is not the end, but one leg of the road. It would allow us to rescue our national dignity and sovereignty. It would be based on respect for human rights, respect for life, religion and freedom of participatory organization and guaranteed freedom at the ballot box. It would demand sacrifices of austerity to reduce inequality.

From battlefield to negotiating table

Wherever popular revolutions have challenged imperial power, such powers have responded with war, whether through direct intervention or the current strategy of low-intensity warfare. But in Central America, although the triumph of the Sandinista revolution and the upsurge in revolutionary movements in other countries provoked the expected US backlash, the revolutionary will to transform Central America could not be halted nor the resistance of the Central American people undermined.

Despite eight years of Reagan's efforts to roll back the Nicaraguan revolution, Nicaragua has survived. But it has had to pay a high price for this survival in human lives, postponed social gains and a devastated economy. In Salvador, the FMLN came out of Reagan's two terms much stronger than it began. All that Reagan's policy to subsidize the bourgeoisie and the armed forces managed to do was buffer them from the enormous costs paid by the rest of the population, thus making them more intransigent and less willing to accept a negotiated end to the conflict. In Guatemala, the army has terrorized a significant part of the population and installed a network of control in the countryside. But the bourgeoisie has not accepted necessary social reforms, the army has failed to defeat the guerrillas and a united popular movement is developing once again.

Armed struggle in Central America has not been the choice of the people, but their last resort. They have tried peaceful change through social movements and elections. But fraud and repression by Central American governments and elites, backed by the United States, was always the response. In Nicaragua, armed struggle became the only way to throw out a 43-year family dynasty backed by the US; in El Salvador the massively fraudulent elections of 1972 finally tipped the scale for many who wanted to believe in the electoral path to change. In Guatemala, the violent overthrow of the democratically elected government in 1954, engineered by the CIA and Standard Fruit Company, and the imposition of a 30-year reign of direct military power led those who wished for change to take up arms.

While armed resistance in Central America thus has legitimacy in the eyes of the majority, it is also now understood that the kind of military victory achieved by the Sandinistas in 1979 is
unlikely to be achieved elsewhere. The costs are simply too high; negotiation is the logical road.

With Esquipulas IV, the hour has clearly arrived for a negotiated solution in Nicaragua. Some analysts point out that in this fourth summit meeting the Central American Presidents backed out of the original Esquipulas II concept which tried to deal jointly with all of the Central American conflicts. While this is true, it is possible that the dynamic of the peace process will still lead to a solution to the Salvadoran conflict as well. Even though the FMLN did not manage to postpone the elections, their military force and level of social mobilization could make negotiations inevitable. In El Salvador and later in Guatemala such negotiations would be at first on a national level but they would then have to take place at a regional level, since their consequences affect the whole region.

The new trend toward negotiations is testimony to the Central American people's capacity for dialogue, a triumph of social mobilization, revolutionary force and the peoples' strategies for survival. It was not the outcome Reagan sought; it is the popular forces themselves who have taken the initiative to negotiate at the strategically opportune moment, and their demands are clearer, more powerful and more independent than ever before.

At the moment, revolutionary and popular forces are creating the two conditions needed to put an end to conflict: increasing their capacity to put pressure on governments, joining military force to social mobilization; and putting forward revolutionary demands that are viable today.

Their first demand is that the popular classes and their organized movements be recognized with full rights. They call for a new kind of international relations that respects the fundamental equality of the world's people and permits more flexible political alliances; a relationship with the United States based less on rhetoric and more on respect. They call for a justice system that is indeed just, a democracy with authentic political pluralism, a real subordination of the army to the people and their legitimate representatives and, above all, a restructuring of the economy to lay the basis for production and fairer distribution. It is through negotiation that the people hope to reach peace and at the same time, advance the cause of the majority: the cause of personal and national dignity, self-determination and democracy, the basic conditions for material and spiritual life.

The ongoing economic concertation in Nicaragua and the FMLN's proposal in Salvador are two examples of this negotiating trend, based on the experiences of Central America in this decade. In Guatemala, the URNG is also floating proposals for a national dialogue and an eventual political solution. None of these policies means the goal of socialism is being abandoned. Rather,
they are based on a more dialectic vision of the road towards socialism and a creative view of what socialism means, including authentic democracy as an indispensable element. They promote neither an economy based on a super-privileged elite nor a populism that is too expensive to maintain. Rather, they focus on designing an economy that is rationally administered and technologically appropriate for the majority in countryside and city. This means negotiating foreign aid for reconstruction, based on a pragmatic national unity program. The revolutionary forces aim to create the broadest possible alliance of social forces, taking into account the interests of each sector and the sacrifices they have made.

The main obstacles to such a future are the United States, if it continues to militarize the conflicts in El Salvador and Guatemala and to block Nicaragua's path to normalized economic and diplomatic relations; a cynical attitude from the international community, denying these small countries the material help they need to raise up their devastated economies; and the intransigence of the region's armed forces and bourgeoisie, who continue to reject a negotiated solution.

The Central American people have presented a challenge that their own nations and the rest of the world must meet. The ethical response is to help them go forward, searching for a regional solution so that the Central America people do not have to keep paying in blood and hunger the price that they have paid for so many years.

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