|Central American University - UCA
Number 83 | Mayo 1988
Sapoá—A New Benchmark
With the signing of the Sapoá accords, peace in the near future seemed possible. But now, after several more rounds, the negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the counterrevolutionaries have made little further progress. Important rifts have opened up within the contra ranks, while disagreements between US Republicans and Democrats persist. An analysis of the character of these various divisions is necessary to understand the alternatives now available.
Sapoá in a nutshellOn March 23, 1988, as another step in the process of the Esquipulas II accords, an agreement was signed between Nicaragua's government and the counterrevolutionary forces. This historic event took place in Sapoá, a tiny town located on Nicaragua's southern border. The Sapoá accords are the highest expression in Nicaragua—and in Central America as a whole—of compliance with the central objective of the Esquipulas II accords: to change from a military to a political battlefield, transforming today's armed confrontations strictly political ones.
For this reason the government and the counterrevolutionaries agreed, to halt all offensive military operations for a period of 60 days beginning April 1 as a preliminary step toward agreement on a definitive cease-fire. During this first cease-fire, the contras would gather in pre-determined zones within Nicaragua; the location and size of these zones, and the operating rules within them would be mutually agreed upon by special commissions by both sides, meeting prior to April 1. The contra forces would then have access to strictly humanitarian aid, channeled through neutral organizations.
As a counterpart to the cessation of hostilities, the contras would be permitted to send delegates to the National Dialogue (which brings together both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition political groups), to discuss subjects related to Nicaragua's democratization process, as stipulated in Esquipulas II. Topics would include discussion of the electoral processes for the upcoming municipal and Central American Parliament elections, and for the next presidential elections, scheduled for 1990 according to Nicaragua's Constitution.
The Nicaraguan government also agreed to issue amnesty decrees. The first would permit the freeing of 100 prisoners on March 27. Half of the remaining contra prisoners would be freed when the irregular military forces entered the cease-fire zones, and the other half after the signing of the definitive cease-fire. The freeing of ex-members of Somoza's National Guard would be subject to a case-by-case determination by the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The general schedule for compliance with the accords was:
* March 28: A special commission of representatives from both sides
meeting in Sapoá would settle the location, size and operating rules
for the peace zones; these agreements had to be sorted out before
the contra troops could proceed to the zones.
* April 1-15: contra troops would move to the peace zones.
* April 6: continuation of top-level negotiations in Managua, and
eventual signing of a definitive cease-fire.
A Verification Commission for the accords would be made up of OAS Secretary General Joao Clemente Baena Soares, and Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo.
The Sapoá accords were possible because of four interrelated factors:
1) The military decline of the contras since 1985, culminating with the
Nicaraguan army's "Operation Danto" on the Honduras-Nicaragua border in
March of this year.
2) The political climate in both Central America and the international
community, which was dominated by the Esquipulas II agreements. This has
been achieved largely through the persistent search for a political solution by the Latin American nations in the Contadora and Support groups.
3) The nearing end of Ronald Reagan's second presidential term, and the development of a new approach to Nicaragua within the Democratic Party.
4) Splits within the contra leadership, arising out of the US policy of
including businesspeople to disguise the basically Somocista nature of the
The Sapoá agreement was without doubt one of the biggest tests of the Sandinistas’ political coherence underlying the commitment undertaken in Esquipulas II. It was also a new and strong message from Nicaragua to the complex indirect dialogue which has been developing between Republicans, Democrats and the Nicaraguan government ever since the Central American peace accords were signed in August 1987. The next message in this dialogue of words and deeds would have to come from the Democrats and the Republicans.
Message receivedThe response came four days later. On March 28-29, the US Senate and House of Representatives approved a package of "humanitarian aid" for the contras. They gave $17.7 million to the "Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance," of which nearly $2.2 million was designated for the Miskito group Yatama (see Atlantic Coast article this issue). Another $17.7 million was designated to aid children who are victims of this war, which Congress itself has underwritten, and $10 million to the Sapoá accords' Verification Commission. The law passed by 87 votes to 7 in the Senate and 345 to 70, in the House.
The resolution was a Democratic offer that the Republicans couldn't refuse. As the crucial February 3 vote indicated, Ronald Reagan's militarist policy had been defeated in Congress by a Democratic majority increasingly leaning toward a political solution to the Nicaraguan conflict. Then a month later, a humanitarian aid package proposed by Democrat Jim Wright was surprisingly defeated by an unexpected alliance between Democrats opposed to any aid whatever and Republicans opposed to any that did not include military supplies. After the Sapoá accords, the Republicans had to rule out a military package, at least for the time being. At the same time, the Democrats sought a way to fit their aid package within the boundaries established by the agreement between the Nicaraguan government and the contras.
The congressional aid bill seeks, according to its text, "to preserve and protect security interests in the region" but "in a manner compatible with the Guatemalan peace accord of August 7, 1987, the Declaration of the presidents of the Central American Nations at San Jose, Costa Rica, on January 16, 1988, [and] the Agreement between the Government of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan Resistance signed March 23, 1988 at Sapoá, Nicaragua." For that reason. Congress signaled that its intention is "to reinforce the Central American peace process by supporting negotiations leading to a permanent negotiated cease-fire agreement."
Despite such peaceful statements, three elements that tend to contradict the stated intentions should not be overlooked. One of these is the choice of the US Agency for International Development (AID) to channel the "humanitarian aid" to the contras. The Sapoá accords specified that the aid can only be channeled through "neutral" organizations. AID is an agency of a government that is an aggressor against Nicaragua, as the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled. As such, it can in no way be considered neutral. This biased choice leaves the door open to manipulation of the aid, inconsistent with the agreement between the contras and the Nicaraguan government .
A second significant counter to the bill's peaceful-sounding declarations is that it includes buying communication equipment for the contras as part of the "humanitarian" aid. This is quite different from food, clothing or medical supplies; money to improve the communications of an irregular army dispersed throughout the geography of Nicaragua must be considered military assistance.
In the third place, the bill passed because of a prior agreement between the Republicans and Democrats which further strengthens the opportunity for a return to military solutions. The Republicans sought the inclusion of expedited procedures so that a request for military aid from President Reagan could reach floor debate immediately, in case of a failure in the cease-fire negotiations begun in Sapoá. After the February 3 vote, Reagan had faced a raft of procedural maneuvers in Congress to block or delay any new aid request. The request was controversial, but Robert Byrd, Democratic majority leader in the Senate, finally agreed informally to bring such a request to the floor without delay. This means that after torpedoing the peace process and blaming Nicaragua, the contras will have a fast track to a new vote on military funding.
Overall, the congressional response to Sapoá, especially seen in the context of the indirect dialogue with the Nicaraguan government, is a way from Nicaragua's position. The Nicaraguan government has consistently sought direct bilateral dialogue between the two countries to find solid solutions to the problems of mutual national security and thus to the requirements of the Sapoá accords. The aid bill, on the other hand, while containing elements that promote peace, also contains loopholes for the resumption of military maneuvers. Behind the olive branch of one sector is hidden the sword of war of another.
This fundamental disagreement among the US legislators, while quieted for the moment, promptly exploded violently in the contra ranks.
Earthquake shakes contrasAlfredo Cesar, member of the contra directorate, called Sapoá a "political earthquake." The shock waves rattled not only the Reagan Administration's positions but even more fundamentally the counterrevolution itself.
The contras are crosscut by five interrelated fault lines of their own. The first one to appear after the Sapoá accords had its expression in their social base, the Miami exile community. On March 27 and 28, while the counterrevolutionary "Assembly" (an important part of the contras' internal structure) was in progress, different local groups demonstrated outside in favor of and against the signed accords. The majority of the nearly 10,000 Nicaraguan exiles living in Miami fear that the accords will put their US immigration status in danger, since they have no intention of returning to Nicaragua. Feelings were heated and the demonstrations degenerated into a violent street fight.
Inside, in the assembly, the same positions surfaced, with some labeling those who signed the accords as traitors. In the end, it was decided to form a group to fund the activities of the contra directorate and the delegates meeting with the Nicaraguan government. Silvio Argüello, a Nicaraguan Vice President during the Somoza years and now a member of the contra Assembly, explained that the aim of the funding was to assure that the exiles' interests would be "well protected."
A second fissure can be seen between the military and civilian contra leaders. Adolfo Calero and Alfredo Cesar, both businessmen, are the principal figures in the civilian leadership, while ex-National Guard colonel Enrique Bermúdez is the top military chief. In a clear rejection of the peace accords, Bermúdez declared on Costa Rica's Radio Impacto on March 27 that "the forces under my command will continue fighting until we win a complete victory."
Fighting between the two factions continued until, by the end of April, Bermúdez appeared to have gained the ascendancy over Calero. At that point, Cesar moved to playing mediator and Bermúdez put out a statement apparently backing the peace talks in order to maintain a semblance of unity. But the conflict was not resolved. While Calero had the backing of the youngest contra chiefs, it was not enough, at least for the time being, to win a victory over Bermúdez, who was supported by the older military heads, his friends in arms before 1979, under Anastasio Somoza. One casualty of this internal struggle was civilian contra leader Gustavo Herdocia, who was assassinated in Honduras. Herdocia supported the Sapoá accords.
The third split is within the ranks of the military leaders themselves. Known as "the war of the commanders," the contradiction began to appear when Diógenes Hernández Membreño ("Fernando") and Walter Calderón López ("Toño"), signatories of the Sapoá agreement, were pulled out of their negotiator roles. Their whereabouts were unknown for almost three weeks. It was later found that the two had broken with Bermúdez, taking with them an important sector of young commanders. Bermúdez, backed by the old Somocista Guardsmen, sacked Enrique Sanchez as coordinator of the Commanders’ Council, removed "Fernando" and "Toño" from their positions on the general staff, sent military men with his views to the April negotiations with the Nicaraguan government, and made a whole series of other changes which, all told, added up to a virtual coup.
The next battle came almost immediately: Tirso Ramón Moreno ("Rigoberto") put himself at the head of a group of 27 commanders who favored a negotiated settlement and asked for Bermúdez's resignation. "Rigoberto" is the overall commander of the area where the "Jorge Salazar Comando" operates, which is the military heart of the counterrevolution. Independent of what happens to this particular conflict, its breadth and depth make it difficult to imagine a sufficiently solid unification if the war continues.
Superimposed on these structural contradictions are personal ambitions for money or political power. Contra military men have accused the civilian leaders of "aspiring to the presidency." Many observers find it difficult to imagine the contra leadership, far from the risks of the battlefront whether they are military or civilian, voluntarily renouncing salaries of about $6,000 a month plus perks. As is well known, the passage of congressional aid has often provoked personal and group conflicts over the sharing out of the money. And there is mounting evidence that air transport of weapons has been combined with drug dealing. Enrique Bermúdez has been one of the main contra leaders accused of siphoning off funds for himself or his allies.
The fifth and most fundamental contradiction, which underlies the other four, is the opposition between the strictly Somocista group within the contras and the "creole opposition bourgeoisie," as they were known before the revolutionary triumph. This fault line has reopened because of the deepening military failure of the counterrevolution.
As is known, one of the specific characteristics of the 45 years of Somoza military dictatorship was that it created two basic sectors within the Nicaraguan capitalist class. One of these, the dominant Somocista sector, was characterized by its rapacious use of the government's powers as the main means to accumulate wealth.
The other, subordinated sector built up its wealth through traditional methods. It had the support of the dictatorship, although there were periodic conflicts because of the Somocista sector's "disloyal economic competition"—it derived exclusive benefits from its direct management of the state apparatus. The Somocista dynasty always contained these contradictions, using a system of pacts and shady deals. Three big pacts during the Somocista years were made in 1948, 1950 and 1971. When the time was ripe for the fourth pact, in 1978-79, the Sandinistas were strong enough to make it impossible.
By that time, the decades of dictatorship had imprinted specific features on these two business sectors. One was predominantly military, the other civilian; one used government to enrich itself, thus reducing its business acumen, while the other relied on its business skills and wanted the state to stay out of its way.
After the 1979 insurrection, the Somocista sector lost its power inside the country, but Reagan set it up as an armed counterrevolution.
With the passage of time and the consolidation of the revolution, the other sector began to despair of ever inheriting the power its members thought was rightfully theirs. Some chose the armed path and were joined by deserters from the Sandinista ranks such as Edén Pastora and Alfredo César, the former heading up its military wing and the latter its political.
But the historic division between the two groups has continued. One set up headquarters in Honduras and established the "Nicaraguan Democratic Forces" (FDN), while the other went to Costa Rica as the "Revolutionary Democratic Alliance" (ARDE). The Reagan Administration has worked hard in recent years to present them as a single entity, but with little success. This was mainly because it sought to keep military power in the hands of the ex-Somoza Guardsmen, only adding a patina of "democratic" civilian leadership from the other sector. The latest of these attempts is the current umbrella organization called the "Nicaraguan Resistance." But as Reagan's strategy has continued to unravel, the internal contradictions have grown stronger and more apparent.
Given the contras' military decline, the current option of political struggle (together with maintaining their income level within the mixed economy system) is tempting for the long-subordinated business sector. The Somocistas, on the other hand, see their options closing. Always dedicated to military support of the dictatorship, they lack political alternatives; and with their belongings long since confiscated, their ability to participate in the mixed economy is limited.
From this perspective, it becomes easier to understand the reaction of the Miami exile community, the contradictions within the Counterrevolutionary Assembly, the blow-ups between the civilian and military leadership, the personal conflicts and, up to a point, the conflicts within the military wing itself. In this last case, the basic confrontation seems to be between the Somocista leadership and the younger comandantes, who are of peasant origin and whose military experience is all since the fall of Somoza. The peace negotiations open up for them the possibility of returning to their land under acceptable conditions, thus creating a certain convergence of interests with the civilian sector of the contra leadership.
The Republican-Democrat splits serve to sharpen these conflicts even more. Reagan and the Republicans support the Somocista faction; the Democrats support the subordinated business faction. Since Congress as a whole inevitably ends up supporting the Nicaraguan capitalist class as a whole, it must try to prevent the precarious "unity" from falling apart.
The "political earthquake" that shook the contra ranks as a result of the Sapoá accords is making this unity ever more difficult to maintain. "We have a kind of unity now," a senior contra official told The New York Times in late April, "but for us this has become a question of survival. Who knows how long we can hold together and keep up the morale of our troops." It remains to be seen which faction will finally succeed in imposing its will without shattering the unity, or if in fact there will be a final rupture. The results of the contra-government talks in April can be understood from this perspective.
Contra-government talksTwo types of negotiations have been taking place since the first accord at Sapoá. One of them, that of the "special commission," was the responsibility of the Nicaraguan army and the contra armed forces. Its objective was to sort out the location, size and operating rules for the cease-fire zones in which the contra forces would gather for their later reincorporation into civilian life. The other meetings, the "high-level" ones, were to negotiate conditions for the definitive cease-fire.
The special commissions held three rounds of negotiations on March 28, April 5, and April 14. They agreed on the location and size of the cease-fire zones but only after difficult negotiations between Joaquín Cuadra, chief of staff of the Nicaraguan army, and "Fernando" and "Toño," contra commanders and signatories to the Sapoá accord. Nonetheless, during the course of the negotiations, these two were replaced by Jose Benito Bravo ("Mack") and Juan Ramon Rivas ("Quiché"), with whom no agreement could be reached. "Mack" had been in Somoza's National Guard since 1956, "Quiche" since 1976. Both had risen to the ranks of the elite "Basic Infantry Training School" (EEBI), the feared Somoza battalion headed up by dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle's own son. Because they could not agree on the operating rules within the zones, nothing at all was signed. With the failure of these talks, the remaining issues were passed to the high-level meetings.
The first round of these talks was scheduled for April 6 in Managua. Defense Minister Humberto Ortega was to represent the government and Adolfo Calero, chief of the contra directorate, would sit opposite. Because of the contras’ internal strife and their need to go into the negotiations with at least a minimum of unity, various pretexts were used to postpone the meeting until April 15-17. Another round of talks followed on April 28-30, and the third is programmed for the middle of May.
Very few advances were made in the first two rounds. The two main topics of debate to emerge were the operating rules for the cease-fire zones and democratization of Nicaragua. In discussing the cease-fire zones, the contras proposed that they be able to rearm and resupply themselves, and take absolute control in the zones defined as “peace enclaves.” The Nicaraguan government rejected this proposal, in part refusing to give the contras at the negotiating table what they had never been able to win on the battlefront. More importantly, it rejected the proposal because it was based on the contras buying time to prepare form more war, and not on a movement toward peace and disarmament.
The discussions about democratization took a step backwards from the achievements of the Sapoá accords. There it had been agreed that, once the contra forces had gathered in the cease-fire zones, their leaders would move to debating this theme in the National Dialogue with the country's other political parties. Nonetheless, this time the contras reverted to insisting on discussing in the negotiations the subjects that pertain to the National Dialogue.
Despite this, there were some advances. Of the 32 points in the government 's proposal (see list at end of article), agreement was reached on 16. But none could even be signed and put into effect because of disagreement over the remaining points.
The real impediments to any advance in the negotiations, however, are not on the agenda. The main one, of course, is the fighting within the contra ranks and the desire of both factions not to weaken themselves further in negotiations with the Nicaraguan government. Any advance in the negotiations would deepen the rift with the Bermúdez faction, and could lead to fissures so deep as to be unhealable. That means no significant agreement can be signed.
Furthermore, any splits that are not sorted out within the contras tend to favor Bermúdez, at least for now. He has succeeded in maintaining his power over the military, restructuring his general staff and imposing his own delegates on the negotiations with the government. This is not surprising when one remembers that the real power of the counterrevolution has always been in the hands of the Somoza Guardsmen. Prospects for the civilian faction have improved considerably, however, with the power that accrues to them from the new position of the US Democratic Party.
This leads to the second obstacle in the negotiations: the conflicts between the Democrats and Republicans themselves, and thus we return to the subject of the indirect dialogue between Nicaragua and the two US political parties.
The "humanitarian aid" bill approved by Congress at the end of March has complicated rather than furthered the peace process. The loopholes in the law mentioned above, products of the conflicting views of members of Congress, allow the contras to begin receiving aid and thus to feel less pressured to sign a definitive agreement. In the end, the loopholes are such that the law itself has been violated.
AID spokesperson Roger Noriega confirmed on March 19 that food was beginning to be delivered to the contras through Honduras. The Nicaraguan government protested to both the United States and Honduras, describing the aid as illegal and contrary to the Esquipulas II agreement, the Sapoá accords and the aid bill itself.
OAS Secretary General Baena Soares sent his own protest note to Secretary of State Shultz on April 25. In addition to being a member of the Verification Commission, Baena Soares is responsible, according to the Sapoá accords, for "technical assistance and services necessary...to permit and expedite compliance, follow-up and verification of [this] accord." In his letter, Baena reminded Shultz that the aid bill says that "no authority contained in this joint resolution is intended to be exercised in any manner that might be determined by the Verification Commission established by the Sapoá Agreement to be inconsistent with that Agreement...."
He also cites Article 4 of the Sapoá agreement, which deals with the subject of humanitarian assistance: "With the aim of guaranteeing food and basic supplies for the irregular forces, exclusively humanitarian aid will be sought and received, in conformity with number five of the Esquipulas II accords, and will be channeled through neutral organizations."
Number 5 of the Esquipulas II accords in turn states: “The Governments of the five Central American States shall request the governments of the region, and the extra-regional governments which openly or covertly provide military, logistical, financial, propagandistic aid in manpower, armaments, munitions and equipment to irregular forces or insurrectionist movements to cease this aid, as an indispensable element for achieving a stable and lasting peace in the region. The above does not include assistance for repatriation, or in lieu thereof, the relocation of and assistance necessary for those persons having belonged to these groups or forces to become reintegrated into normal life. (Our emphasis.)
After making clear that aid delivered without sufficient guarantees that it will serve to assist in the reintegration of armed contras into normal life violates the letter and spirit of Esquipulas II and Sapoá, Baena concludes:
“There is an explicit link between the legislation adopted by the Congress of the United States of America, the Sapoá Accord, the provisions of Esquipulas II and any other accord subsequently made between the parties who are signatories to the Sapoá Accord. Any action that deviates from those texts is inconsistent with the preceding legal provisions and the conditions stipulated by the parties. Any modification of these texts should emanate only from the authorities who adopted them or those who agreed to them.
“I understand very well the human problem that this situation represents for the members of the irregular forces in the countryside during the peace process and this circumstance concerns me. Nevertheless I cannot share the point of view that the action taken by AID contradict the mandates that govern this material.
“As a member of the Verification Commission, which is the only body so created by the parties in the Sapoá Accords, I cannot be responsible for verifying actions incongruent with the objectives and motives underlying their conception. For this reason, I must express to you my profound concern about this entire situation.”
The foregoing explains why there lave been no significant advances, at least until now, in the various rounds of negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the contras. Nevertheless, another sort of non-official meeting taking place in several parts of the country between the troops of the Sandinista Popular Army and the contraforces, should not be overlooked.
The cease-fire reached in Sapoá, which in general has been complied with, has allowed the two military forces to approach each other in the field. Given the disinformation that the contra troops had received about the political dynamics inside the country, many of them sought explanations for the cease-fire. The contra forces oscillated between distrust of the government and a desire for peace. In some places, small groups of men have laid down their arms and in others, the army has shared food and medicines with the contras.
Berrnúdez and other contra leaders have viewed these developments with concern, realizing that the morale of their troops could plummet if such contacts continued, especially in the context of the bitter conflicts within their own leadership. The fears have led Bermúdez to give orders to shoot at anyone who approaches his troops to discuss the new situation, even if that person is a disarmed civilian. However, it is often the contras' own family members who seek the contact, urging that the fighting end and their relative return home. As long as the cease-fire goes on, this human contact will go on, too, little by little bearing the fruits of peace.
In sum, with Sapoá as a new benchmark, a new point of departure, the divisions among the contras have erupted violently and are exacerbated by the divisions among the Democrats and Republicans. Given that the contras are now engaged in negotiations with the Nicaraguan government, they are more pressured than ever to shore up their precarious unity. This leads to the obvious question: what are the alternatives for the counterrevolution?
The end of the road? Although the contras have been able to maintain their current level of strength, recent events in the Nicaraguan peace process have left their hard-line faction (and by the same token President Reagan) in a particularly difficult situation. But even if they were able to gain strength in the short run, they appear trapped on a dead-end road. Assuming this to be the case, we will analyze some of the possible alternatives for the contras at this critical juncture.
One possible scenario is that the current divisions among the contra leadership will harden to the point of an irreconcilable split, despite current efforts to avoid this. This split could cut along various lines, with one faction trying to incorporate back into domestic politics, while the others continued waging the war.
The problem for the contras is that this alternative would increase their military difficulties to an even greater extent. A number of their troops would inevitably desert; their political clout within Congress and the international community would be substantially diminished; their ability to withstand attacks from the Sandinista army would be weakened; and, in general, the factors that brought them to this strategic impasse would advance even more quickly. It thus seems that all efforts will be made to avoid this scenario.
The second option for the contras lies within the framework of unity among the factions. If, as a product of this fragile yet necessary alignment of the factions, Alfredo César emerged triumphant in the internal debate, he could count on support from the Democrats in Congress, and one would expect a peace agreement to be reached shortly thereafter. Since in this scenario, too, the militarist objectives of the Bermúdez faction would be defeated, it will also likely be avoided.
A third possibility is that Bermúdez faction could impose its objectives without splitting the counterrevolution. The obvious result would be a breakdown in the peace negotiations and the reinitiation of the war. While this option is a possibility, it would be problematic to pursue. Unless the Sandinista negotiators were to make a thoughtless error, the breakdown of the peace negotiations would be seen as the intransigence of the , who would be forced to unilaterally turn down one after another of the proposals the Nicaraguan government would surely make.
This is not likely to sway those congressional Democrats whose current posture is to seek a political solution into backing the contras. Even though there would be an effort to blame the Sandinistas for the breakdown in negotiations, it is doubtful that the Democrats, in the midst of the electoral campaign, would concede to the Republican position. If the contras cannot count on support from Congress, and are left facing an aggressive military counteroffensive from a Sandinista army bent on destroying them completely before November 1988, this scenario is not very appetizing. The contras could be left so weakened that no US President would consider it worthwhile to resurrect them.
A fourth option, then, consists of dragging out the peace talks so that there is a sustained truce, but not a definitive cease-fire. The idea would be to keep the contras alive while waiting out the election year and a hoped-for Republican victory. Considering the protracted period of time during which the contras would have to keep the Sandinistas interested, and the multiple internal and external pressures that would have to be staved off on all sides, this option is delicate. It would only be a qualitative effort, such as the initiation of a dialogue between the US and Nicaragua, either in a regional or bilateral framework. This would additionally allow the Republicans, during the election campaign, to counter arguments from the Democrats about the Reagan Administration's misdirected policy towards Central America.
It wouldn't be the first time this strategy has been employed; it was precisely the purpose of the Manzanillo talks in 1984, and it worked. The current political situation in the rest of Central America also recommends this strategy to the Republicans. The recent elections in El Salvador illustrated the deterioration of the US policy of support for Duarte and the Christian Democrats; in Panama, the military under the command of General Manuel Antonio Noriega has resisted US policy more than had been expected; and in Honduras there has been a tremendous growth in anti-American sentiment, peaking with the burning of the US consulate and other similar actions.
This option also seems to be the most advantageous for the hard-line faction of the contras and for President Reagan. But it raises some important questions. First of all, can cohesion be maintained among the contra troops—especially those recruited from the countryside—during eight months without combat? Are Bermudez's fears of direct dialogue between the Sandinista army and the contras justified? If, as the months go by, there are significant desertions, this will hasten the strategic defeat of the contras. Second, if George Bush wins the presidential election in November, will he consider it politically viable to revive the Reagan policy or will he opt for a negotiated settlement? If the latter, following this option would just delay the inevitable. A third consideration is, what happens if Bush doesn't win the election? Is it wise to pin all one's hopes on him? In any case, it remains to be seen if this option could be implemented before one of the other alternatives takes over.
A fifth scenario would include a combination of elements from the other four. It could consist of, for example, continuing the contra war, combined with bilateral negotiations between the US and Nicaragua, followed by breakdowns in those talks, another period of war, a return to negotiations, etc. Whether planned or not by the forces in contention, this option would contain all the advantages and disadvantages of each of its separate elements.
This review of the various alternatives shows that the contras, especially the hard-line faction, still have some options. But while they have not yet reached the end of the road, the passageway out is very narrow and doesn't seem to lead to heaven.
A Synthesis of the Proposal Made by the Government of Nicaragua
The objective is to put a complete and definitive end to the war for the sake of peace, unity and national reconciliation. Toward that end, the [current] cease-fire involving all offensive military operations is extended until July 1, 1988.
a) The zones agreed upon are: Quilali (500 km2), San José de Bocay (4,000 km2), Kuskawas (1,050 km2), La Piñuela (3,800 km2), La Fonseca (4,783 km2), Bilwaskarma (3,500 km2) and Alamikamba (1,500 km2).
b) The Government will respect the freedom, security and physical and moral integrity of the Resistance forces in the zones. The basic services provided by the Government in such zones will
continue in effect.
c) Government military personnel, vehicles, ships and aircraft will not enter the zones and will
not place artillery units at any distance where they could reach the zones.
d) The irregular forces will enter the agreed-upon zones with their full complement of weapons,
munitions and communications equipment.
Supplies of Humanitarian Assistance
Once the irregular forces are in the zones, arrangements will be made for the supply of humanitarian assistance, under the charge of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Government will guarantee the expeditious flow of the supplies.
Facilities for Communication and Access
The Government will not disturb or interfere in any way with the radio communications of the Resistance.
Assurances for the Civilian Population
a) Residents who have been implicated with the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) will not be judged or
b) The Government will assure access to the zones for relatives, medical personnel, merchants… and the national and international press corps.
c) The Government will facilitate the arrival of supplies, freedom of movement, work, commerce and
banking services for the civilian population in the zones.
Once the irregular forces are in the zones, amnesty will be declared for 50% of the prisoners; and after their reincorporation into civilian life, amnesty will be declared for the remaining 50%. In the case of former National Guard members, amnesty will be declared according to the finding of the International Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States.
Integration into the Rational Dialogue
Once the Verification Commission has ascertained that the irregular forces are within the zones, their political representatives will join the National Dialogue.
The Process for Reintegration into Civilian Life
The war material of the RN will be handed over to the Verification Commission. Its destination will be defined within the framework of Contadora (Esquipulas II). Once this step has been taken, they will enjoy the full rights and guarantees of the Constitution and other laws of the country.