Envío Digital
 
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 82 | Abril 1988

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Nicaragua

Sapoá: Will Peace Last?

Envío team

Through a complex, speeded-up process initiated by the signing of the Central American peace accords in August 1987, possibilities have opened up for an end to the counterrevolutionary war and even for the normalization of relations with the United States. But for this to ultimately occur, a bilateral dialogue between Nicaragua and the United States is indispensable.

As a prelude to such talks, an indirect, tripartite dialogue between the Sandinistas, the Republicans and the Democrats has been taking place in the wake of Esquipulas. Given the new political dynamic in Central America, both President Reagan and Congress have been forced to act with more political responsibility following the two Central American summit meetings.

Congress took a step in this direction when it cut off military aid to the counterrevolutionary forces on February 3. Another important step was the March 23 signing of the Sapoá accords between the Nicaraguan government and the contra forces, which could be the start of a complex realignment toward the Democratic position. The ongoing internal dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and the opposition parties is yet another step toward bilateral US-Nicaragua talks. Thus the Esquipulas peace process continues advancing, and today an end to the war imposed on Nicaragua by the United States is closer than ever before.

Republicans Vs. Democrats

As on previous occasions, the congressional debate over another presidential request for aid to the counterrevolution generated a great deal of speculation in the United States and Nicaragua, as well as in international forums. In the new climate, however, this was not merely one more debate. It was a test of how far the Democratic alternatives for a political solution had advanced.

In its attempts to boycott the Esquipulas accords, the Reagan Administration was forced to continually decrease the $270 million aid package it had initially proposed, until the final proposal totaled $36 million. This drastic reduction was an effort to win over the sector of Congress opposed to sending an exaggeratedly high sum to the contra forces. More important than the actual quantity finally voted on, however, was the existence of a military component in the package ($3.6 million of the final total), which would assure the legislators' commitment to continuing the war.

The number of swing votes and strong Administration pressures on many representatives made it impossible to predict the vote right up to the final moments. To ensure that swing voters would oppose further military aid, House Speaker Jim Wright made a concession, promising that once the Reagan package was defeated, Congress would then have a chance to vote on a "humanitarian" aid package. Although it was not clear that such a package would conform to the Esquipulas Accords,* the proposal was a decision against the war and in favor of a political solution and, thus, a significant break with the Reagan policy.
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*According to the Esquipulas accords, as long as there is no cease-fire, any humanitarian aid for irregular forces would be prohibited, since it would in fact be aid for the continuation of the war.


On February 3, after ten hours of heated debate, the Reagan proposal was rejected by a 219 to 211 vote. The following day, in a symbolic vote, the Senate approved it 51 to 48. The narrow margins of victory for each side indicate the difficulties encountered in the three-way "dialogue" and demonstrate that a number of Democrats are still not willing to respect the will of the peoples of Central America and take the road to peace.

A month after that key February vote, Wright's concession suffered an unpredicted defeat in the House of Representatives. Byzantine procedural maneuvers and a bizarre alliance between the small group of Democrats opposed to any kind of aid and those Republicans holding out for an aid package that would include military assistance and guarantee the war's uninterrupted progress killed the $30.8 million humanitarian aid package.*
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*Half of that amount was for food, medicines and uniforms to be administered by the Pentagon; most of the rest was for child victims of the war; lesser amounts were for "passive air defense" and aid to Miskitu groups—specifically Brooklyn Rivera's faction of Yatama.


The result of these two votes—the first strategic, the second circumstantial—was that the contra forces were officially, if only momentarily, hung out to dry by Congress. Several days after the second vote, Adolfo Calero held a press conference in which he bitterly described the United States as an "inconsistent and temporary" ally, in contrast with what he called the loyalty offered by the Soviet Union to its strategic allies. His remarks were aimed primarily at Congress, but they revealed a reality: the profound military and political weakness of the contra forces, all the more obvious in moments when the trend among US politicians is to look for an end to the war.

In the tripartite dialogue, the Democrats have been advancing in a slow and generally conflictive manner toward support of a political solution in the context of the Esquipulas accords. The Republicans, headed up by Reagan, have maintained their insistence on not abandoning the military option. Both the presentation and the defeat of the Reagan package were expressions of these two positions. The narrow margin gained by the peace option left the door open for Reagan, who did not hesitate in declaring that he would continue to push for military assistance to the war. It was also easy to foresee that a number of the Democrats, conscience-stricken at having abandoned the "freedom fighters" after so many years, would support forthcoming humanitarian aid packages, even if they did not respect the Esquipulas accords. It can be expected that the US elections will highlight further contradictions among the Democrats and Republicans, faced with the reality of revolutionary Nicaragua.

The political "freedom fighters" spread chaos

After Esquipulas, Reagan and the Republicans needed to win back some space from the Democrats, so they put forth new anti-Sandinista positions. They wanted to show that Nicaragua's signing of the Esquipulas accords was just formalism and that the Nicaraguan government had no desire for "democratization, thus justifying a continuation of their war against the "totalitarian" Sandinistas.

For this task, the Reagan Administration turned again to its political and military "freedom fighters." In the political arena, it relied on the "Coordinadora," the alliance of far right parties inside Nicaragua. In the military terrain it continued to depend on the contras.

In December 1987, the Coordinadora was able to paralyze the National Dialogue that had begun two months earlier and included the Nicaraguan government and all the internal opposition parties. For weeks, for a variety of ideological reasons, the Coordinadora had been able to drag a number of the other parties along with its attempts to hold up the dialogue’s progress. Proposing 17 reforms to the country's Constitution—discussed and approved in the National Assembly during the entire 1986 session—the parties abandoned the National Dialogue on December 15 when the government refused to push the reforms through the National Assembly in a week, as demanded.

Hoping to break the alliance between the non-parliamentary Coordinadora and the parliamentary parties, on February 2 the government proposed a National Dialogue meeting in which a 14-point agenda (including electoral issues, independence of the judicial branch and municipal elections) was to be taken up. The parties rejected the government's call.

The Coordinadora did not stop at only blocking the National Dialogue. It also engaged in open street provocations, voicing demands contrary to the laws of the country. According to the National Reconciliation Commission headed up by Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, 65 public demonstrations took place between November 5 (the day the Esquipulas accords took effect and the state of emergency was lifted) and March 24, not including opposition meetings held inside at party headquarters, local movie houses and the like. While not all of these demonstrations were openly provocative, others called for an end to the draft, a demand that could be characterized as illegal and unpatriotic in any country at war.

The rightwing attempts to engage in provocative activity were nowhere clearer than in Masaya. Some 400 ultra-right demonstrators, including several ex-National Guardsmen who had been pardoned as part of Nicaragua's compliance with the Esquipulas accords, attacked government buildings and burned several vehicles. In response, a larger group of local FSLN members took to the streets of Masaya the following day to denounce the violence. Then on March 6, the Coordinadora and its business affiliates returned to Masaya to stir things up further. The FSLN organized a massive demonstration the same day and several altercations occurred, in which demonstrators on both sides were hurt and Sandinistas burned two vehicles of the opposition leaders.

The logic of the Reagan-allied opposition in these demonstrations was this: challenge revolutionary power in the streets to force the government to close up political space in the country and take action against the demonstrators, thus creating a situation such as Salvador Allende faced in Chile, giving the Right more arguments about the "lack of democracy" in Nicaragua, and in turn strengthening support in Congress for the military option.

The Sandinistas, in their attempt to avoid an escalation of political violence and chaos, decided to respond to provocations and illegal acts, but not by resorting to the police; rather, by calling on the people to defend the revolution in the streets and force the provocateurs to retreat. Both the government and the FSLN acted according to this logic.

It is clear who is sustaining the reactionary logic of the Reagan-affiliated opposition. In February, Newsday reported a US government plan to channel between $4 and $7 million to Nicaragua's opposition parties to help them finance their activities and train leaders. Within Nicaragua, it has long been an open secret that several rightwing parties are receiving economic aid from the US government. In its article, Newsday quotes a US official who said of the Nicaraguan opposition, "They're always fighting among themselves. They have to learn to work together and take risks for the sake of democracy. The contras are willing to die for their cause, but the internal opposition figures aren't. Maybe it's necessary for their cause to have martyrs before democracy can take hold in Nicaragua."

The Nicaraguan government is aware of these tactics and more than willing to avoid creating any "martyrs." Since the events in Masaya, the Right’s provocations have diminished, giving credence to the FSLN's logic.

A series of strikes also took place during these two months. The lifting of the state of emergency gave the opposition parties an opportunity to take action through their affiliated unions. They did so by using sectors that could be called the "labor aristocracy," as well as taking advantage of the situation created in the wake of the monetary reforms. Despite the manipulative tactics the Right used, the FSLN again tried to block it from creating chaos through persuasive rather than repressive methods. It mobilized the majority of Nicaragua's workers (who belong to the Sandinista Trade Union Federation, the CST), while the government made decisions respectful of the basic and just demands of Nicaragua's workers. (See second article in this issue of envío.)

Meanwhile, the war goes on

Although the counterrevolutionary war has shifted more and more to the political and ideological terrain since the signing of the Esquipulas accords, the war itself did not end in this period. It was, in fact, precisely during this time that the contras most needed to prove their military capability. The so-called freedom fighters desperately tried to inflict severe blows on the Sandinista Army during the past two months, to prove to Congress that they are a viable alternative and therefore worthy of continued funding. But they were unable to pull it off, either for the strategic military package or for the debate over humanitarian aid. Despite all the sophisticated equipment at their disposal, they did little more than once again prove their general military incompetence.

In the important 60 days summarized here, the only actions carried out by the counterrevolutionary forces were attacks against civilians and a few against small-scale economic targets. Two attacks were particularly savage. On February 4, a group of contras ambushed a civilian vehicle near Quilalí, destroying it with three US-manufactured mines and later opening fire on the passengers. Eighteen were killed, including four small children, and another eighteen were wounded. Four days later, as the town of Wiwilí marched to protest that attack, several fragmentation grenades were thrown at the marchers, killing 9 and wounding more than 30.

La Prensa implicitly defended the Quilalí ambush—the neutral headline on that story read, "18 Die as Bus Explodes." The various destabilizing activities engaged in by Reagan's political freedom fighters were more aggressively defended by La Prensa, as well as by a number of radio news programs reopened as part of Nicaragua's compliance with the Esquipulas Accords. La Prensa and these radio programs have in effect begun to serve as the voice of the Reagan Administration inside Nicaragua. The stories La Prensa publishes faithfully represent the US vision of Nicaragua, and the result is a sensationalist newspaper with clear factual distortions and information gaps. Anyone who wants a pluralistic vision of what is happening can expect no more than a tiny fraction of the overall picture from La Prensa, which does not even offer space to all the opposition parties.

Contra-government talks reopened

Ineffective with military weapons, and failed in their attempts to present a sizable or serious opposition movement in the streets, the "freedom fighters" tried another tack—to open political space in the talks initiated last December between the Nicaraguan government and the counterrevolutionary forces.

First they delayed the meeting dates, fundamentally through the political agenda presented by Cardinal Obando on their behalf in the meetings that took place in Guatemala in mid-February. Although the Esquipulas accords establish that talks with irregular forces are to focus exclusively on obtaining a cease-fire and do not constitute a political dialogue, Cardinal Obando drew up a primarily political agenda that made four key demands of the Nicaraguan government: total amnesty, unrestricted freedom of expression, reinitiation of the National Dialogue and a review of the draft. The agenda included only one demand of the contras: that they determine the cease-fire zones and regroup in those zones with their troops for a 30-day truce period while the Nicaraguan government carries out an internal "democratization" process by complying with the demands outlined in the agenda.

On February 19 the cardinal unexpectedly broke off the talks after a few hours of discussion, alleging a lack of understanding between the two sides. The contras fully supported the agenda proposed by His Eminence, while the government insisted that the topic of discussion was the technical aspects of the cease-fire, in keeping with what both parties had previously agreed on.

Following the cardinal's return to Managua there was an exchange of letters between him and President Ortega. The government's position was that the conversations resume as soon as possible, with the mediator working out an agenda of points common to both parties—dealing only, however, with the technical aspects of the cease-fire. It was hoped that this would move the talks forward since there had been no significant advance since December. The Cardinal's position was to stick to the agenda he himself had proposed in Guatemala.

On March 2, in order to get beyond this impasse, the government changed the format of the dialogue: the talks would be direct—that is, without a mediator—and at the highest level. General Humberto Ortega, the minister of defense, would head up the government delegation, and the talks would be held on Nicaraguan territory. The contras rejected the first dates proposed for this important meeting, March 9 to 11, following the logic they had employed since the start of the talks—use delaying tactics to gain time and try to impact congressional opinion. The meeting was finally held March 21-23, in Sapoá, Nicaragua.

Although the "freedom fighters" have managed to do some damage in these months, they have not attained their goal of destabilization. The political arm is not producing the anti-Sandinista "insurrection" it seeks and of which it speaks and writes. While the economic problems, the weak point of the revolution, continue, they are not generating any political activity that would tie in organically with the contras’ lines of action. Nor has the military arm dealt the effective blows it needed to deliver. Finally, attempts in the political realm to force a different content into the cease-fire talks have fallen short of the desired effect.

This weakness has tied President Reagan’s hands, even with traditionally servile sectors of US society such as the mass media. This has allowed the revolution to move ahead quickly on all fronts. Everything Nicaragua has gained in these last two months is the fruit of the multifaceted offensive launched in 1985 and of the growing weakness of the contra project both within and outside Nicaragua.

Sandinista offensive on all fronts

In the tripartite dialogue underway, Nicaragua managed to counter the Reagan thesis in the streets of Nicaragua, on the battlefields and in Cardinal Obando’s political agenda in Guatemala. But this is not only a question of defensive successes. Nicaragua has continued to take the initiative on all these fronts.

On the economic front, the government took an important step on February 14 with the monetary reform and the tightening of Nicaragua’s economic belt. While it involves many risks, the government's decision on the economy at this delicate moment is a sign of overriding necessity and, at the same time, of the security the revolution feels. It is also a sign that the government is taking the initiative once again in an area where it had lost it—in the economic area—and where the revolutionary process will begin to put itself on the line when peace and normalcy arrive. (See the economic article in this issue for a broad analysis of this fact, so central at the present time.)

The economic belt-tightening, along with the political framework opened up at Esquipulas, also offers new possibilities of international economic support for the revolution. Depending on its amounts, this aid could play an important role in consolidating the new national economic situation. An indication of these new possibilities was seen already this month when the socialist community assured all the oil necessary for the economy’s normal functioning in 1988. Europe is also presently considering a new aid package for Central America.

“Operation Danto” changes the war

In the military arena, the Nicaraguan Army carried out the largest offensive of the entire war from March 3 to 20. "Operation Danto," covering 150 square kilometers in a broad sweep from the mining town of Bonanza to the Honduran border, involved 4,200 army troops at its moment of maximum strength. This was the main component of a broader offensive in various parts of the country to hasten the final defeat of the counterrevolution.

This operation, which was conceived of in October 1987 and went into the planning stages in January 1988, cut off the contras from the important sources of supplies and logistics they had on both sides of the east-central border between Nicaragua and Honduras, traced by the Coco and Bocay rivers. In this thickly-forested area, as difficult to get out of as into, the contras had set up their most important "sanctuary," with clinics and arsenals full of all kinds of supplies. The complex functioned as a strategic rearguard for the armed groups operating in the central zone of Nicaragua.

The operation, involving the infantry, the air force and even the navy (river transport), was a concrete blow against the strategic border space held by the contras at this moment in the war. As a blow against the rearguard, it damaged the contras' facility for moving inside Nicaragua, and can thus have a determinant effect on the current course of the war.

According to international news reports, a blow of such magnitude would not have been possible unless Sandinista troops had entered Honduran territory, where some of the bases were. The report of the United Nations Technical Commission, which visited the Nicaraguan side of the border at Nicaragua's request, concluded that the Sandinista army must have penetrated two to three kilometers inside Honduran territory. There has been no official statement on this in Nicaragua.

The operation cost the contras over 1,000 dead and wounded. It was of such magnitude that alarmed US officials began speaking of the "end" of the counterrevolution. What ensued was one of the most critical moments the revolution has experienced. A Reagan weakened and hobbled by his failures in Congress suddenly held in his hands a great opportunity to launch a direct military operation against the revolution under the aegis of punishment—the "surgical beatings," for instance, which had been expected for so long. A White House spokesperson said from the outset that no option was being ruled out.

The tension of those days was felt in Managua, the United States and internationally. As in other border operations of this kind in 1986 and 1987, the Honduran government initially showed no interest in getting into a conflict with the Nicaraguan government and kept silent about the operation until the US denounced the "Sandinista invasion." This silence was partly a way of pretending not to see, given the social crisis the contras have created in Honduras. It is also partly due to the isolated nature of the zone where the events happened.

As news of the magnitude of Operation Danto was being reported internationally, peace seemed closer than ever—the contras were finished, in their patrons’ opinion. But what also seemed closer than ever was a possible decision by Reagan to make a "final" move against the revolution. The reality is that despite the denunciations of "invasion"—not made until March 16—Reagan was unable to do anything since there was no consensus in Congress about what to do. He had to settle for a show of strength, and even that evoked opposition. The arrival of more than 3,000 troops of the 82nd Airborne Division in Honduras was nothing more than muscle-flexing and arrogance. The danger was real, but Reagan's solution did not go beyond effect, and the conflict finally resolved itself on the side of peace.

In the diplomatic arena, Nicaragua enjoyed a harvest of widespread and immediate solidarity, because the world was aware that Reagan was capable of deciding on an irrational course of action and because, after Esquipulas II, there can be little mistake about what is really happening between Nicaragua and Honduras. In the United States, thousands of people who for years had been ready to take to the streets to resist any eventual invasion made good on their commitment. The Nicaraguan people were deeply moved and grateful to see on TV the impressive scenes of this active response, which Reagan and the contras could not have expected to happen so quickly.

Nicaragua reaped victories on other fronts as well. The eight Contadora and Support Group countries expressed firm solidarity. President Alan García of Peru, calling on all of Latin America to support Nicaragua, made a commitment to come to Nicaragua as soon as the first Marine arrived. The reaction of Europe and other continents was also heartening—concretely, the UN's immediate response was to send a Technical Mission to inspect the border on the Nicaraguan side. (Honduras refused to accept the visit.) In a way it was time for the international community to recognize the only Central American government to have dedicated itself fully to keeping its word, given in the Esquipulas accords, to struggle for peace and democracy.

On the internal political front, the nation closed ranks against Reagan's threats and rallied behind government initiatives such as the surprise change of money and the beginning of the economic belt-tightening. The latter was a sign that the government was firmly in control, as was the military success of Operation Danto itself. And, as has happened before in similarly critical situations, party factionalism gave way to anti-imperialist nationalism.

In the context of this broad Sandinista offensive on all fronts, the government called again on the "freedom fighters" to enter into dialogue. The military blow on the northern border was the decisive factor leading some contra groups to respond affirmatively, particularly since a "no" response could have further damaged their prospects in Congress. Feeling pushed by the Sandinistas and recognizing their own weakness, the "freedom fighters" accepted the rules of the game set by the revolution, and the third week of March saw another important turn toward peace.

Two parallel dialogues in Nicaragua

After two working sessions on previous days, in which President Ortega held more than 17 hours of talks with representatives of all the political parties, the National Dialogue was resumed on March 21. With its reopening, the Coordinadora’s Reaganite positions were again isolated.

On March 21 the government and the most important political parties arrived at an 11-point agreement.* The points included the decision to continue the National Dialogue without preconditions and the government's commitment to review the cases of jailed party or union militants and resolve the labor problems presented by mixed commissions. The opposition parties joined the FSLN, the National Reconciliation Commission and Cardinal Obando in calling for an end to street confrontations and moderation in the language used by the mass media, which had become excessively polarized in recent months.
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*The accords were signed by six parliamentary parties, who between them polled a third of the vote in the 1984 national elections. They were joined by the Central American Union Party (PUCA) and the Social Christian Party (PSC) faction in the Coordinadora headed by Erick Ramírez. Among the parliamentary parties, the Liberals (PLI) who signed represented the Movement for Unity and Democracy within the PLI, which had split with Virgilio Godoy in September 1986. The other parties and fractions comprising the rest of the Coordinadora refused to sign the accords and walked out of the talks along with the Godoy faction of the PLI.


The resumption of the National Dialogue broke the "spell" cast by the Coordinadora over the rest of the opposition, which had for some months shown the weakness of its nationalism. The political arm of the "freedom fighters" found itself isolated. Reagan's palpable weakness could be seen in the military defeat of the armed contras, now open to dialogue as a way to end the war, and that strengthened the autonomous decision-making capacity of the non-Reaganite parties. The resumption of the National Dialogue was an important step toward peace and a concrete alternative to street chaos.

The same day that the National Dialogue was resumed in Managua, conversations to begin working out a cease-fire got underway in Sapoá, Rivas, on the border with Costa Rica. Two days later an initial agreement was signed.

Sapoá’s surprise results

The Sapoá meeting was preceded by a broad mobilization of people, culminating on the night of the 20th with spirited street rallies—complete with bands, singing and dancing—in support of the government delegation. The notion of "direct dialogue with the contra leadership on Nicaraguan soil" has been taboo for a long time for broad sectors of Nicaraguan public opinion. Gradually this notion of dialogue was transformed into a sign of strength and victory over the counterrevolution, though questions remained in the minds of many people. This change was due to several developments: the new process opened up with Esquipulas II, an ongoing explanation of the differences between "political dialogue" and "cease-fire talks," and, just before Sapoá, the military victories on the northern border.

Sapoá was a great unknown. Would the contras show their total dependence on Reagan's policy? What tactic would they use to defend that policy without going to the extreme of abruptly breaking off the talks? Would they try to distance themselves from Reagan, now in his last year in office, and move closer to the Democrats? Was it possible that within contra ranks some tendencies seeking a political solution to the war were emerging?

In the analyses of even the most optimistic observers, there was no hope for anything more than some minimal accord between the two sides, with a decision to continue the talks. Even this would have been a great gain for peace. But reality, moving at a very fast pace in the wake of Esquipulas II, went beyond all the analyses. Only those who were keenly aware of the degree to which the contras were falling apart had some basis to imagine what might be the results.

At just before midnight on March 23, in an unforgettable public event, the results took Nicaragua by surprise. The event was simple, tense and quick. After the national anthem and a prayer by Cardinal Obando, the agreement was read in measured style by Baena Soares, secretary general of the Organization of American States. Humberto Ortega gave a brief, restrained talk, followed by Adolfo Calero, who displayed a scapular around his neck, called upon the name of God and thanked Reagan's freedom fighters.

Alfredo César also spoke, and his talk revealed his dreams of some day becoming President of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, as "Constitutional President of the nation of Darío and Sandino," recalled the efforts of Contadora and the Support Group and the struggle of the Sandinista combatants, demanded that the agreement be kept, and spoke with hope of the real possibility of an end to this war imposed on Nicaragua. After the live TV broadcast was over, Nicaragua stayed up trying to interpret what had happened.

Divisions in the contras and their role

What did happen is deeply rooted in the divisions in the contra ranks and could be seen in some of the details of the event itself: the obvious competitive tension between Calero and César and the absence of Enrique Bermúdez, former colonel in Somoza's National Guard.

The origins of this division are not recent. When Reagan began some cosmetic surgery on the contras, creating the "Nicaraguan Resistance" with a seven-member directorate, he artificially fused the FDN, dominated by Somocista guardsmen, with the anti-Sandinista sectors of the exiled bourgeoisie. It is important to remember that although the Somocistas defeated in 1979 have been the backbone of the counterrevolution organized by the United States, what has been joined to this backbone (and some also later sundered) are other sectors including Pastora, "Negro" Chamorro, Rivera and Fagoth, Robelo, Cruz, César and others. The resignation of Arturo Cruz was one of the clearest expressions of the disunity among the “politicians,” and of the fact that it was the “military”—the former Somocista guardsmen—who ruled the turf.

Other divisions among the contras can also be identified. It is true that the FDN managed to gain a certain social base among the peasants, especially in the central strip of the country where for years the "Jorge Salazar" Command has operated. Although this group is part of the FDN, it has had some frictions with the dominant armed group because of the isolated geographical space in which it moves and because of its real base.

At Sapoá, a sector of the contra political leadership, headed up by Alfredo César, and a military sector of the FDN (the chiefs of the "Salazars") seem to have tried to distance themselves from an outgoing and isolated Reagan, get support among the Democrats and enter the political struggle within Nicaragua. The Democrats and these contras are convinced that the signers of the agreement will be able to mount an effective challenge to the revolution’s power in the political realm.

The other contra sector, directed militarily by Bermúdez and politically by CIA agent Adolfo Calero, cannot share that perspective, since they have no political viability inside Nicaragua. This is one reason for the deep tensions caused by Sapoá in the split ranks of the contras in exile, some of whom have seen this war as the greatest business venture of their lives. How these divisions will be resolved is an open question for the coming months. In Sapoá those who had the upper hand were the more pragmatic ones and those with a more presentable past.

The Sapoá agreements mean, among other things:

· the beginning of the end of the contra war;

· the moment of greatest isolation and weakness of Reagan's war policy, whatever the obstacles may be to fulfillment of the agreement;

· the political expression of what the revolution has been calling since 1985 the "strategic decline" of the counterrevolution;

· one of the greatest proofs of the coherence of Sandinista policy in keeping with the commitment taken up at Esquipulas II;

· the greatest political victory of the revolution over the counterrevolution;

· the first open expression of the division in contra leadership, not only in its political leaders but also in its military chiefs.

Sapoá is a magnificent advance toward peace and also toward the legitimation and consolidation of the revolution. It is the latest statement by the government of Nicaragua in order to move ahead in this difficult tripartite dialogue undertaken with Republican and Democratic politicians of the United States. It is as difficult to predict how well the contras will comply with what they have signed as it is to foresee the many obstacles that will have to be gotten around in order to arrive at a definitive cease-fire.

The Sandinistas and the Democrats are controlling the game. At Sapoá they seem to have put Reagan in checkmate, but for that to be true without any doubt, the internal political dialogue will have to be completed and there will have to be a bilateral dialogue between the US government and the Nicaraguan government. President Ortega reminded everyone of this once again when, just after Sapoá, he bestowed the Augusto César Sandino medal on Brian Willson, the US pacifist who lost his legs in the struggle for peace with dignity in Nicaragua and Central America. On that occasion, the President said:

“Today, with Brian Willson accompanying us, we want to affirm once again the Nicaraguan government's readiness to move ahead with direct talks with the US government, in order to deal with security issues in a bilateral framework. We hope that President Reagan will keep his word. Because he has been saying repeatedly that the day the Sandinistas sit down to negotiate with the contras, the United States would sit down to negotiate directly with us.”

Whenever this direct negotiation comes about, this cruel game of war will have come to a definitive end.

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