|Central American University - UCA
Number 7 | Diciembre 1981
Continuing Tensions Between Nicaragua And The United States
The threats from the U.S. government against Nicaragua and Cuba increased in intensity and passion. The Reagan administration spoke of a naval blockade and of direct military intervention.
INTRODUCTIONDuring November, 1981, the threats by the government of the United States toward Nicaragua and Cuba were stepped up dramatically. The Reagan administration stopped speaking in general terms of “measures” and began specifying the alternatives under study: a naval blockade, internal destabilization, and direct military intervention. These threats and accusations have caused reactions both internally and abroad. The Nicaraguan people have found in the threats an issue around which they can unite.
Many newspapers and other communications media of the United States and Western Europe minimized the concern of the threatened countries. They said these reactions were exaggerated given the “good will” demonstrated by the Reagan administration through its peace efforts in the world. Others accused the FSLN and the Nicaraguan government of provoking a hysteria of fear in the country in order to cover up intense internal contradictions and, in this way, to close ranks.
The threats toward Nicaragua cannot be looked upon in an isolated way, outside of the context of U.S. policies in all of Central America. The U.S. is evidently determined to win a military victory in El Salvador. Their threats and accusations against Nicaragua are related to that determination. The accusations are basically three: that Nicaraguan is spreading revolution and aiding the Salvadoran and/or Guatemalan guerrillas; that Nicaragua’s arms build-up has become so extensive that it threatens the stability of the area; that Nicaragua has become a totalitarian state. The first is used to justify the U.S. presence in and aid to the Salvadoran Junta; the second tries to justify increased military aid in the rest of Central America; and all three can be seen as preparing the way for a possible military intervention in Nicaragua.
The cost of responding to these threats, through military build-up and through diplomatic and mobilization efforts, cannot be discounted. Nicaragua is still struggling precariously to get on its feet after the devastation of the Somoza years and the insurrection. It does not have the resources to divert from necessary reconstruction projects to combat a “created” threat. It does, however, recognize that the existing threat has resulted in a certain unity around this issue of a possible intervention.
In this article, we will look at the threats by the U.S., the reactions of the diverse sectors within Nicaragua, and the responses of other Latin American governments in the face of a possible intervention in Nicaragua. We include a short sketch of the support for or rejection of intervention by Latin American governments in the last thirty years. We include excerpts from a press conference given by Comandante Daniel Ortega and Dr. Sergio Ramírez, members of the Junta of the National Reconstruction Government, responding to some of the accusations.
BRIEF SKETCH OF U.S. INTERVENTION AND LATIN AMERICAN REACTIONSAs a rule, the general public in the countries of the self-designated “First World” receives very little information regarding the political interaction within the Third World. People in the United States and Western Europe know little about the sometimes surprising responses of the majority of Latin American governments to the plans for intervention, both in the past and currently.
1954. The Organization of American States (OAS) supported, by a large majority, the intervention of troops organized and directed by the CIA in Guatemala, in order to overthrow the nationalistic regime of Jacobo Arbenz and in order to impose once again a reactionary government which represented an alliance between the leaders of the Guatemalan large land-owners and the economic interests of the U.S. through the United Fruit Company.
1960. All of the Latin American governments, with the exception of Mexico, participated in the economic and political blockade of Cuba, proposed by the United States.
1965. Along with the direct intervention of 40,000 United States Marines in the Dominican Republic, Brazilian and Paraguayan soldiers participated in the repression of popular movements there and the imposition of a government to the liking of the United States.
At that time, domination and control by the United States still seemed unchallenged. Whatever plan for intervention that the U.S. made still seemed to win the approval of the majority of the governments on the continent.
1973. A well orchestrated plan carried out by the CIA and reactionary forces within Chile overthrew the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende.
But by 1979, the OAS rejected a proposal by the United States to send a peacekeeping force to Nicaragua, a few months before the triumph of the Nicaraguan people. Some sources at that time spoke of the end of the absolute Yankee domination in the area; others refrained from this interpretation, referring to the exceptional case of Somoza.
In 1981, the Armies of the Americas met in Washington with the very pointed exclusion of Nicaragua, Cuba, Granada and Guyana, who were not invited. This was about the time that the crescendo of threats and accusations was building rapidly. At this time, the public responses from the Latin American governments was not as supportive of the U.S. position as they had been previously.
THE THREATSDuring the past weeks, there have been almost daily reports of statements by high-ranking members of the Reagan administration. The head of the Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs of the House of Representatives, Michael Barnes, commented on the mounting attacks: “If I were a Nicaraguan I would be building my bomb shelter this very afternoon”. It is impossible to list all of the statements made, but we include a few to give an idea of what has been published here on an almost daily basis.
Nov. 6. Haig: “In place of that (a direct intervention) what is being considered is to strangle the two countries that are helping the Salvadoran guerrillas with men, arms, and provisions”. The New York Times.
Nov. 16. “The North American Government has under study various options of military intervention in Central America, but has no plans to put them into practice for the moment”. The Washington Post.
Nov. 22. “The Reagan administration is approaching a crucial decision on whether to take action against Nicaragua to prevent that country from becoming ‘another Cuba’, according to senior officials in the State Department.
“The military buildup in Nicaragua, according to Administration officials, is aimed at creating a standing army of 45,000 to 50,000 troops, about three times the military force under Somoza”. The Washington Post.
Nov. 23. Edwin Meese. “The hour is late… There is a threat to other countries in Central America, and that is why there is a great deal of concern, not just by the United States, but by other countries in Latin America.”
“(A naval blockade) would not be military intervention within the country. Whether or not to utilize a naval blockade would depend on the circumstances, and on that point, we would not want to say that we would discount whatever other particular action was appropriate”.
Nov. 23. Haig. “The administration has made very dedicated efforts to improve relations. Unfortunately the leadership (of Nicaragua) has rejected those approaches and has steadily increased its drift toward totalitarianism”. ABC’s This Week.
Nov. 23. The U.S. State Department issued an advisory for American citizens planning to travel to Nicaragua saying that they could not guarantee their safety or access to Embassy services. Washington Post.
Nov. 24. “A U.S. Caribbean command was created by the Pentagon in an apparent display of American concern about growing leftist strength in Central America. Defense Secretary Weinberger announced the upgrading of a small task force established by Carter. The new command would be authorized to call on naval units in the area”. Wall Street Journal.
Dec. 4. Haig: “The countries of the region have to know that the united States will help them to resist the illegal intervention coming from their neighbors or from the exterior… Our obligation to resist the aggression is even more important when foreign powers look to impose a totalitarian ideology or when the goal of an insurgency is to destroy all possibility of democracy and liberty. We must all accept as a fact that the principle of non-intervention is being violated today with the flow of arms and other weapons from Nicaragua to the Salvadoran insurgents”. OAS Conference speech.
INTERNAL REACTIONS.One of the accusations in the media has been that the Nicaraguan government has exaggerated the threat to consolidate political power. Given the number and frequency of the threats reported by the same media wire services, there was little need to exaggerate. But the effect of a certain consolidation in the face of the threats was achieved. Almost all of the political parties, including the opposition, the popular organizations, labor unions, etc. have made statements against intervention. We include a few of these statements.
Sat. Nov. 14. Editorial in La Prensa by Pedro Joaquin Chamorro B. “In that respect (the threat of intervention, an attempted overthrow or destabilization of the Sandinista regime) we wish to clearly establish that the newspaper La Prensa condemns that attitude of interference and threats…, The smaller a country is in respect to another, the more respect it deserves.
“And so we declare ourselves opposed to international interference in our country and in any other, and we also declare ourselves against the aggressive policies of the United States which could end with a war so big that there would be no victor”.
Nov. 16. A leader of the PDC (Conservative Democrat Party) in La Prensa. “Mr. Haig definitely seems to be off the wall with his declarations and threats, which he should not be making at this time… The Conservative Democrats consider that it is just a bluff, but it is logical that the reaction here is what it is, after hearing continually from all sides of an invasion of Cuba”.
Nov. 19. COSEP in La Prensa. “The Superior Council of Private Enterprise… declares that all aggression, either internal or external threats, against the sovereignty of the country or against the liberty of the Nicaraguans, deserves the greatest repudiation by all honest citizens who reject foreign interference or international actions, no matter where they come from”.
Dec. 4. Comandante Daniel Ortega. “We cannot accept the position that Haig offered us in his speech in Santa Lucía. Our people would never accept an ‘open door’ so small that to go through they would be forced to enter on their knees, when the Nicaraguan struggle was precisely to recover our sovereignty”.
SOME GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO THE ACCUSATIONS. At the OAS Conference, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D’ Escoto said that in terms of intervention, the only American nation who has had the habit of intervening in other countries is the United States. He added that the only foreign government at present that is intervening militarily in El Salvador is the United States. He also rejected allegations that Nicaragua is becoming another Cuba. “With all due respect to our Cuban brothers and sisters, we repeat that Nicaragua doesn’t wish to be a second anything; only a first Nicaragua, truly free, truly democratic and very distinct from the Nicaragua of the time of the Somozas that was so pleasing to Washington”.
At a press conference in Managua, Comandante Daniel Ortega responded to the questions regarding the military build up in Nicaragua by saying that the country has the right to fortify its defenses, something which is very necessary given the U.S. statements regarding attacks on Nicaragua. He said, “Americans have been throwing threats at Nicaragua including in the speech of Mr. Haig at the meeting in Santa Lucia. This was a clear invitation to Latin American countries to attack Nicaragua. The U.S. has been tolerating, as well, the training camps of Somocista Guardia in U.S. territory. These are sufficient elements to be able to understand the concern that Nicaragua has about an aggression which could come from the United States, given the historical antecedents”.
Regarding the accusations of Nicaraguan involvement in El Salvador, Dr. Sergio Ramírez said, “From the U.S. we have been hearing plain lies about the involvement of Nicaragua in the internal affairs of El Salvador. We have been hearing about the presence of Cuban combat soldiers on our soil. It is a lie. We have been hearing things about the presence of Vietnamese planes – 1,000 planes – in Nicaragua. They can’t be serious! And those are not just words. They are lies, aimed at isolating Nicaragua from its friends in the world and aimed at attacking us with military force if this isolation is achieved. One of the things on which the government of the United States insisted recently was the supposed involvement of the Soviet Union with Nicaragua. It did this to convert the actual and real confrontation that there is between the United States and Nicaragua into a part of an East-West confrontation in Central America. We deny it once more because the only thing that is going on in Nicaragua is the confrontation between the United States and Nicaragua, because now we have the historical aspiration to be a free and independent country, not part of the orbit of influence of the United States and not part of the influence of any country in the world. The U.S. does not respect this right of the Nicaraguan people to be free, the right to be autonomous, the right to be an independent country.
“Of course we don’t think that we are going to win a war against the U.S. We have never thought in those terms. But in the case of any external force thinking of invading Nicaragua, we’re going to defend ourselves. To defend ourselves means that we have the means to do it properly. This is why we train our people. We have a militia. We have a good regular army. It is not as big as the propaganda against our revolution says, but it is an army that is going to defend our country with our people if that is necessary. We have never thought of sending a single soldier out of Nicaragua. We are going to keep our forces this side of the border. But in case any external force invades us, we are going to fight until the last person in this country”.
DECLARATIONS AGAINST INTERVENTIONThe following is a partial list of the Latin American countries and organizations who have made declarations against a possible invasion of Nicaragua by the U.S.
Nov. 8.- Ecuadoran President Oswaldo Hurtado.
Nov. 11.- Government spokesperson from Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico.
Nov. 13.- Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru.
Nov. 17.- Pres. Herrera–Campins of Venezuela, in Washington.
Nov. 24.- Pres. Turbay Ayala of Colombia.
Nov. 29.- The President of COPPAL and the president of the PRI of Mexico.
Nov. 8.- The president of the Socialist International
Dec. 2.- The Latin American Economic System (SELA), meeting in Panama.
Dec. 3.- Foreign Minister of Santa Lucía.
Repeated declarations have been made by Mexican officials, including President López Portillo, Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda and ex-President Echeverría. Panamanian government officials have also made several statements.
REFLECTIONS ON LATIN AMERICAN REACTIONSClearly, the reactions by the Latin American governments show that the opposition to intervention in Central America and the Caribbean was greater than the approval. In South America only the governments of Chile (military dictatorship since 1973), Bolivia (military dictatorship since 1980), Paraguay (civilian–military dictatorship since 1954), and Uruguay (military dictatorship since 1967) did not make statements against the interventionist plans (we are referring to November). The other South American governments, together with Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, opposed these plans in spite of the fact that:
The governments of Brazil (military dictatorship since 1964) and of Argentina (military dictatorship since 1975) remain strongly supportive of most U.S. policies.
Governments that are more or less democratically elected (Venezuela and Peru) are considered rightist and faithful to Uncle Sam and the interventionist policies in El Salvador, as in the case of Herrera C. and the International Christian Democrats.
The two most nationalistic leaders in the area (Roldos in Ecuador and Torrijos in Panama) both recently died in plane accidents. They were both in strong opposition to the Reagan administration and its Latin American policies.
Does the rather wide opposition to intervention by the U.S. have real significance? Are they only words without practical implications? Is U.S. control in Latin America diminishing?
Mexico seems fairly successful in its efforts to construct a pyramid of alternative power in the area and to be, to a degree, autonomous from the U.S. An example is their foreign relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada, the Salvadoran opposition, COPPAL under the leadership of the PRI, good relations with the Socialist International, etc.
The other upper classes and governments of Latin America, pressured by the economic crises and seeing the example of Mexico, are also trying to strengthen themselves through founding new political and economic relations with capitalist Europe (such as the trade relations of Brazil and Peru with the Federal Republic of Germany), with the Socialist bloc (such as Argentina’s wheat sale to Russia) and with other countries in the area (such as Brazil and Nicaragua).
In this time of economic crisis, the effects of which are transferred from the First to the Third World resulting in the continually increasing impoverishment of the people, with the dramatic increase in the external debt and the resulting dependency, the governments of the area find themselves in a growing crisis of legitimacy with their own people. It is certain that the numerous military dictatorships have served and still serve to destroy any protest by the people, but the social tensions continue to exist, above all. anti-Yankee sentiments. That is why these military governments are politically obliged to give themselves an independent, and at least minimally nationalistic, image over against the imperialist demands of the United States.
CONCLUSION:During the election campaign, Reagan promised the voters that he would recover the leadership of the world for the United States. The Republican Platform spoke openly of turning around the Nicaraguan revolution. The cracks in the formerly solid wall of Latin American support may make this a little more difficult. Recently, the passage of the measure in the United Nations to support the idea of a negotiated settlement in El Salvador seemed to be another sign of possible lessening of U.S. influence in this area of the world. However a few days later, at the OAS conference, a measure engineered by the U.S. was passed by the Latin American governments which supported the idea of elections without conditions or guarantees. This clearly was a victory for the interests of the Reagan administration in Latin America. It is difficult to know how far their statements against intervention go, and to what extent these governments would act given a direct military intervention.
The accusation of Nicaragua aid to the Salvadoran guerrillas has been denied repeatedly at all levels. The U.S. has never been able to come up with substantiated proof of this accusation, and yet continues to repeat it. The right of Nicaragua to defend itself and to build up an army for that purpose has also been repeated often. The charges of totalitarianism do not hold up at this point in time. Nicaragua has received international recognition from Human Rights organizations and Pax Christi for its efforts to maintain liberties and to ensure human rights under very difficult circumstances.
The atmosphere in Nicaragua these day is very tense. In a country which has a long history of U.S. military intervention and occupation, the words of U.S. officials are not taken lightly. There is, at the same time, a determination that Nicaragua will work out its internal problems without outside interference, but if an intervention does come, the people will defend their sovereignty “to the final consequences”.