Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 79 | Enero 1988



Reagan & Co. Mine the Road to Peace

Envío team

With the deadline established in the Esquipulas II accords approaching and preparations for Esquipulas III—a meeting of the Central American Presidents to be held in San José on January 15—already underway as the next step in the process, the space opened by the peace accords for a political solution to the US-Nicaragua conflict is beginning to close. Three factors are responsible for this: congressional approval of new funds for the contras; efforts by the contra leadership to obstruct cease-fire talks; and obstruction of the National Dialogue with the Sandinista government by internal opposition leaders.

In the face of this, government leaders are trying to make very clear what was, for some, not so clear several months ago when the accords were signed: that no matter how difficult the situation becomes or how much pressure is brought to bear against the country, Nicaragua's desire for peace will not be manipulated to make it retreat from its basic principles or abandon or weaken the revolutionary project underway here for the past eight and a half years.

In the US, the Democrats are vulnerable
and the Republicans won’t give an inch

As we indicated last month when the Nicaraguan government decided to initiate cease-fire talks with the contra leadership, an indirect dialogue was beginning between Nicaragua and US Republicans and Democrats, who together have financially and politically sustained the war for many years.

To measure the prospects for success of this difficult and necessary dialogue with US legislators, one must look this month at the debate in Congress over approval of new funds for the contras. For the last three months President Reagan has had to postpone sending Congress his request for $270 million in additional contra aid. The postponement—which is itself something of a defeat for Reagan in his last year—can be attributed to the climate generated by the Esquipulas peace process favoring a political rather than military solution in Central America. As a way of keeping his war policy—and his "freedom fighters"—alive, Reagan has requested short-term funding packages. In October he was able to win approval of $3.5 million and in November another $3.2 million. "These will be the last funds they'll get," some congressional Democrats vowed on that occasion.

But they were not the last. According to White House accounting, the $3.2 million would be used up by December 16. Reagan then decided to make a request that month for an additional $30 million, which the House of Representatives, with its Democratic majority, refused to consider. Changing his tactics, Reagan included $9 million in contra aid in the spending bill the legislators would have to approve before their Christmas recess. This bill, totaling $600 billion, contained measures for reducing the swollen budget deficit that is the root of the country's profound economic crisis. These budget-cutting measures were the fruit of long and difficult negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. Thus, it was important to approve the budget, which was already behind schedule, as soon as possible in the bipartisan terms already agreed upon.

Some Democrats were opposed to "even one cent" for the contras in the budget. It is thought that somewhere between 50 and 75 of the 435 representatives in the House hold firmly to this position. Others tried to cut the amount Reagan requested. To put pressure on Congress, thereby creating a tense situation which went on for several days, Reagan declared that he would veto, as often as necessary, any budget that did not include aid for his "freedom fighters." This threat added to the already intense pressure to approve the budget in time for the Christmas recess, by which time the country would be technically broke.

With this pressure, Reagan finally won. The 1988 spending bill includes $8.1 million in "humanitarian," military and logistical aid to be administered by the CIA. The fight for more funds, which Reagan has not given up on, is now postponed to the end of January or beginning of February.

One Democrat described the result of the debate, which ended only days before Christmas, in these words: "What we've approved here is a pig we've dressed up in a tuxedo, but it's still a pig." Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said, "Voting for this aid is the same as saying that we want the Central American peace process to fail."

In addition to the blackmail, the Reagan administration staged two events to influence Congress' final decision. The first was the public presentation of former Major Roger Miranda, who deserted the Sandinista Army at the end of October and headed to the United States to cooperate with the US government in its war against Nicaragua. Miranda had not made a single statement before his public appearance, which coincided with the congressional debate on contra funding.

There was virtually nothing new in his statements for anyone listening in Nicaragua. He gave special emphasis to military assistance from the USSR and Cuba, but rather than offering new data on a relationship that the Nicaraguan government has never tried to hide, Miranda simply characterized it as a strategy whose objective was to threaten other countries in the region and, ultimately, the United States. Reagan, however, characterized Miranda's revelations as "startling" and concluded that "it is clearer now than ever before that we must keep the freedom fighters alive."

The other action staged by the administration was military. On December 20, while Congress was still debating, the contras, to show that they were alive and well, attacked three mining towns in the North Atlantic region of Nicaragua—Siuna, Rosita and Bonanza. The Nicaraguan government calculates that there were over 1,000 troops in the attacking force. The attack consisted of indiscriminate mortar fire against economic and civilian targets in the three towns and a failed attempt to take the towns—which the contras probably hoped to hold until Christmas, enough time for US journalists notified by the Reagan administration to arrive and report on the their victory.

There was considerable damage to a number of public buildings (offices, grain storage silos, a radio station, warehouses, etc.), but mining infrastructure and military defense installations remained intact. The local militia of the towns and, shortly thereafter, the regular army forced the attacking contra force to flee into the jungle and frontier zones from which they had come. Nicaraguan sources reported 215 contra casualties (including 137 deaths), 5 captured and 8 who surrendered their arms and took amnesty during the combat. In the towns attacked there were 57 deaths, 19 of which were civilians, including 7 children. The rest of the deaths were peasant militia or army members. Among the civilians were 93 wounded, 21 disappeared and 53 kidnapped.*
*In its year-end statement, the Nicaraguan Army reported that the contra s sustained 6,322 casualties in 1987, of which 4,813 were fatalities.

"The attack on the mines—which proved invulnerable because they were defended by the people—was, rather, an attack on the vulnerability of US congressional opinion," said the Interior Minister Tomás Borge, describing the nature of the attacks as economic damage and, primarily, international propaganda.

Although it is difficult to evaluate the concrete influence that Miranda's statements and the attacks on the mines may have had or might continue to have on Congress, the reality is that the counterrevolution continues to have at its disposal funds approved by both parties and discussed openly and publicly. The new situation created by the Esquipulas accords, which makes the immoral and illegal character of such funding even clearer, has had no apparent impact. If Reagan is not able to get all he wants at once, he is getting it little by little.

Another vote that took place this month in the House, but passed by unnoticed, must be kept in mind in evaluating the prospects of Nicaragua's dialogue with Republicans and Democrats. Included in the large foreign aid bill that the House approved by 346 to 58 was an amendment in which US legislators established the criteria for what constitutes "democratization" in Nicaragua as a condition for ending the war. Those criteria include, among others, abolition of the draft, total freedom of the press, right to strike, and non-discrimination against the Miskitus.

Aside from the question of what criteria should be chosen and how to interpret them, the most disconcerting aspect of this measure is the presumption of US legislators in setting themselves up as the sole judge of the peace process, ignoring the fact that Esquipulas II designates the International Verification and Follow-up Commission (CIVS) to evaluate the progress of the accords by agreement of the five Central American Presidents. The US Congress thus takes it upon itself to usurp the place of the foreign ministers of eight Latin American and five Central American nations, and of the secretaries general of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, who make up the CIVS.

As one more sign that the requirements of Esquipulas II are only binding on Nicaragua in the minds of US politicians, on the same occasion the House rejected by 290 to 110 votes another amendment that would apply these same criteria to the other four Central American countries. All of this demonstrates the obstacles facing the indirect dialogue begun in November between the Nicaraguan government and US legislators. The Republicans have not given an inch; there are no signs of weakening in their preference for a military solution.

The Democrats, with a similarly imperialistic attitude toward an area traditionally considered the US "backyard," were unable to achieve enough unity to come up with a policy based on anything other than simply defending themselves against Reagan's attacks and pressures. Dominated by their fear of being called "communist," they have accepted his agenda, apparently satisfied with simply cutting back a little on what he requests. Such an unimaginative opposition policy provides no real alternatives and makes them easy prey to blackmail and pressure tactics.

Yet to come is the decisive battle for the $270 million, set for the early days of February, the results of which will depend largely on what happens at "Esquipulas III," the meeting of Central American Presidents in Costa Rica on January 15. What has happened so far on the eve of this new stage in the peace process is not very encouraging. How much of a challenge a more unified Central America, more protective of its independence, presents to US politicians is still an open question.

Troubles in Central America
on the run-up to Esquipulas III

Reagan's advances, however limited they may be, have serious repercussions in Central America. Esquipulas II opened up a dialogue among the Central American Presidents and represented the beginnings of a consensus to opt for a political rather than military solution to regional conflicts. Time and the pressure brought to bear by the Reagan administration have revealed the obstacles on this new road to peace.

The CIVS met for the first time on December 4 in New York for its 15 members to hear and begin to evaluate the steps being made in the five Central American countries to comply with the Esquipulas II accords. At this first meeting, the attitude of the Honduran government emerged as a serious problem. Honduras refused to accept on-site inspection by the CIVS in the five countries from January 4 to 10. The reason for its refusal is well known: while some contra bases in Honduras have been moved or camouflaged, contra troops continue to operate openly from their bases in Honduran territory, from which they launch incursions into Nicaragua.

Honduras has come up with various justifications for its refusal. In December Honduran officials insisted that there would have to be "simultaneity" as a condition of the inspections, defining this to mean that before Honduras would comply, Nicaragua would have to declare a general amnesty including all ex-National Guard members and lift the state of emergency decreed because of the war. The first condition is not a requirement of Esquipulas II, which leaves the definition of amnesty up to each country; while the Nicaraguan government has offered unconditional amnesty to all contra s who lay down their arms and has granted pardons to numerous prisoners accused of counterrevolutionary activities and even some ex-National Guard, it has declared repeatedly it will not offer a blanket amnesty to former National Guard members. Furthermore, the lifting of the state of emergency and amnesty for all those accused of counterrevolutionary activity, excluding the National Guard, is conditioned on a CIVS judgment of the end of the military aggression.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Alan Wagner referred with concern to the verification process as "on the point of strangulation," citing in particular Honduras’ brandishing of the definition of simultaneity. For Honduras to persist in its refusal to allow on-site inspection would constitute a significant obstacle to a basic point in Esquipulas II—the non-use of Central American countries' territory for irregular forces. The short-term progress or stagnation of the peace process depends in large measure on the resolution of this problem.

In addition, other incidents seem to be designed (perhaps by the United States, the "invisible party" to the process) to hinder Nicaragua's relations with Honduras and Costa Rica and thereby freeze the new climate of dialogue among the Central American governments opened by Esquipulas II. These diverse incidents include the air attack on the village of Panall in northern Nicaragua by two planes coming from Honduras and the resumption, after a long lull, of mortar attacks on Nicaraguan territory from the Honduran border and "piranha" speedboat incursions into Nicaragua from Honduran waters.

Costa Rican incidents include the publicized "summit meeting" of contra leaders held in San Joé to launch their "government program" and the shooting down by a land-to-air missile from Costa Rican territory of an Aeronica commercial cargo plane on its Managua-Panama route. The plane made a forced landing and six crew members were wounded. There is also the case of the US citizen, James Jordan Denby, captured after his small plane violated Nicaraguan air space and was hit by Sandinista antiaircraft fire in San Juan del Norte in the southern Atlantic Coast. Denby belongs to the so-called Illinois Ranchers group of US plantation owners in northern Costa Rica on the border with Nicaragua where armed contra s have lived for many years, staging incursions into Nicaragua. These incidents demonstrate that Costa Rica still has a way to go to be the "neutral" country it says it is and to comply with the Esquipulas II accords.

Another stumbling block in December was Honduras' receipt from the United States of two F5-E fighter bombers, the first of a package of 12 such planes to be delivered over the next few months. This new equipment gives Honduras, which already has the best-equipped air force in the region, an even greater advantage over other Central American countries. Coming at this time, it seeks to force Nicaragua to make a decision to buy MiGs or some other intercepting planes with which to balance out the inequality of air power between the two countries—a decision that would then be used by the Reagan administration in its propaganda campaign against Nicaragua.

These events appear designed to push Nicaragua into conflict with its neighbors and to break the fragile unity achieved for the first time by Esquipulas II. When we add the political crises that other Central American countries are undergoing—an attempted military coup in Guatemala, Duarte's growing loss of domestic prestige in El Salvador—the result is a complex of difficulties that could push the process begun by Esquipulas II to its limits at the very time when it needs to be reinforced. At the Esquipulas III meeting, the Central American Presidents could vacillate—or they could take new steps in the direction of peace, regional coexistence and self-determination with respect to the United States.

In Nicaragua the firing has not ceased

According to the Esquipulas agreement, Nicaragua was to initiate and sustain two dialogues: one with the counterrevolutionary leaders to put an end to the war, and the other with opposition parties inside the country, giving new life to domestic political debate. Progress in both would hopefully create an irresistible force for the most necessary and decisive dialogue of all—that between the governments of Nicaragua and the United States to finally normalize relations between the two countries. Both dialogues suffered setbacks this month.

Two opening rounds of talks to arrange a cease-fire were held in the Dominican Republic in December, the first on December 3-4. In mid-November the Nicaraguan government presented an 11-point plan to the counterrevolution suggesting technical mechanisms to implement the cease-fire. The plan, in brief, offered the armed counterrevolutionaries a political way out, in which they could choose to either become an active part of the unarmed political opposition, or simply return to civilian life with all civil rights guaranteed. In its counterproposal, the contra leadership presented a list of political reforms as a precondition to any cease-fire, which presupposed the dismantling of the revolution and the gains that have been institutionalized over the past eight years. The two plans located the negotiations on totally different planes.

Referring to the counterproposal repeatedly as "the proposal of the United States," Nicaraguan leaders dismissed it as "a provocation." “We didn’t expect it to be so irrational and on receiving it were tempted to break off the talks," President Ortega confessed to journalists three days after the conclusion of the first round of talks.

In this round, the contra delegation centered all its discussion in a proposal by Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the mediator in the negotiations, to establish two truce periods: one for December 7-8, the dates of Nicaragua's most popular religious festival—the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, known as "Purísima"—and the other for December 24-25. The truce discussion distracted attention from the larger issue of the total cease-fire. At one point in the talks, the Nicaraguan delegation accepted the truce on the condition that the US government commit itself to end all aid to the counterrevolutionaries, but this was not accepted and the Purísima truce idea ended there. A few days later, however, the contras decreed a unilateral truce for these days of religious celebration, although within 48 hours they violated it eight times with attacks and ambushes.

The contra delegation neither commented on nor asked any questions about the government cease-fire proposal. Nor did it respond to any of the questions the government asked through Cardinal Obando about its own counterproposal. Nothing more came of these first talks than a brief and formal document of consensus by both parties approving the mediation of Cardinal Obando, supporting Esquipulas II and reaffirming the desire for peace.

On his return from Santo Domingo, the cardinal suggested that the dialogue be face-to-face between the two sides, and held in Central America itself. He asked also that a Christmas truce be established, a total amnesty decreed, the state of emergency lifted and the bishops’ conference named to verify and control compliance of all these accords.

For the government's part, President Ortega announced that the cardinal had solicited the help of a team of experts in this type of military negotiation and suggested that the negotiations take place either in Panama or Belize—both countries in the Central American region but not signatories of the Esquipulas accords—or possibly in Venezuela or Mexico. A few days before Christmas the Sandinista government decreed a unilateral and unconditional Christmas truce for December 24-25, in "recognition of the cardinal's initiatives," which the contras accepted several days later. This truce, too, was violated by the counterrevolution, ten times.

For the second round, preceded by much forthing and backing about the place and date, the Nicaraguan government named a team of experts who would meet directly with the contra delegation to discuss technical aspects of the cease-fire. The team was made up of Hans Jurgen Wischnewski, mediator in the kidnapping of President Duarte's daughter and in the contra kidnapping of eight German construction brigade workers in 1986, and Paul Reichler, a US lawyer who represented Nicaragua in its case against the United States in the World Court. Both the team itself and the decision that it would dialogue face-to-face were approved by the contra leadership as well as by Cardinal Obando.

But again in Santo Domingo on December 21-22, the counterrevolutionaries suddenly refused to hold any conversations with the advisers, giving as their reason the fact that the team was made up of foreigners, and a war between Nicaraguans could only be resolved by Nicaraguans. After 48 hours of fruitless efforts by the cardinal, the second round had even less substantive results than the first.

Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco, who led the government delegation that went to support the team of experts, said that his government would be willing to talk directly to the counterrevolutionaries if the US government named its own delegation and included some of the contra s in it. There was no response to this proposition.

At the end of the encounter, Paul Reichler declared to the press that the contra s' demand that members of the Nicaraguan government be at the negotiating table was "only a formality, because they insisted that they be present even if they remain silent." He called the contra statement that this is a war between Nicaraguans "false," describing it as a war "controlled, financed and directed from Washington, as the International Court at The Hague has already said. And in this war there is also US blood." For his part, the perplexed Wischnewski said that of all the negotiations he had participated in, this was the first time one side refused to talk. Wischnewski decided to visit Washington in January to talk to congressional members opposed to financing the war, convinced that "there will be no cease-fire as long as this aid continues."

On December 29, as the process of organizing a third round in Panama or Belize was beginning, the cardinal suggested that a Nicaraguan join the team of experts to avoid what happened in the second round. In those same days a powerful pincer grip tightened on the fragile Esquipulas process. One of its claws was Congress, where the legislators ended their heated budget debate by approving new funding to prolong the war. The other claw was the contra refusal to accept a political way out of their failed war, choosing instead to shoot their way into the mining towns of Bonanza, Rosita and Siuna, where the civilian population was the main victim. It was not a coincidence, because the source of the pressure was the same and had only one objective—to block the hopes for peace with dignity that Esquipulas II had inspired in Nicaragua.

National Dialogue Gets Mired Down

The dialogue between the government and the national opposition parties was the second of the two dialogues the Sandinista government committed itself to when it signed the peace accords in Guatemala. Beginning in October, this National Dialogue has been fraught with contradictions among and within the various parties participating. The first three sessions were spent discussing who could participate, the next four in discussing and approving the internal rules of the dialogue, and the following five in reaching consensus among the 15 participating parties and party fractions on agenda topics. Within this agenda, the FSLN itself was particularly interested in discussing the upcoming municipal elections.

This was the situation on December 4 when, with the sole exception of the Popular Action Movement M-L, 14 parties presented the government with an ultimatum regarding one of the agenda points. They gave the government 15 days to accept major reforms to the Constitution—which itself had been amply debated both at a grassroots level and within the National Assembly before its signing only 11 months earlier—or the parties would walk out of the dialogue.

The 17 reforms are as follows: 1) no presidential reelection, 2) no family succession to the presidency, 3) no vote for the military, 4) reform of the electoral branch, 5) independence of the judicial branch, 6) creation of a human rights solicitor, clarification of property rights, limitation of presidential powers, change in the nature of the armed forces, 10) creation of a constitutional law tribunal, 11) elimination of the preamble to the Constitution, 12) university autonomy, 13) municipal autonomy, 14) conscientious objection to military service, 15) prohibition of the extradition sentence, 16) separation of state, FSLN and army, and 17) redefinition of parliamentary immunity. Social Christian delegate Antonio Jarquín acknowledged the coincidence of some of these proposals with demands included in the contra counterproposal.

The political and legal importance of the reforms to a Constitution that five of the parties joining the ultimatum had participated in preparing and ratifying through their representatives to the National Assembly led the government to interpret the initiative as a "no-win" form of political pressure. This interpretation was borne out by statements by representatives of small parties such as the Nicaraguan Communist Party, whose leader Elí Altamirano even stated that "the National Dialogue is not only above the National Assembly, but above any other power of the Republic."

Behind the ultimatum was a lack of respect for legal procedures. According to the new Constitution itself, any such reforms must be debated and approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly in two consecutive annual sessions. The 1987 session would end on December 21, just after the 15-day deadline given to the government by the opposition parties. Even if the government were to agree to immediate discussion of the reforms, the discussion would have to be continued in the 1988 legislature, which opens in February. The parties, ignoring both the law and the role of the National Assembly, demanded in their ultimatum that the executive branch immediately approve the reforms in the National Dialogue itself, then send them to the Assembly for simple ratification by the Sandinista majority.

At the end of the 15 days, President Ortega rejected this "impatient" proposal, as government representative to the dialogue Carlos Núñez called it. Through Núñez, Ortega agreed to a discussion of reform measures that did not affect the Constitution in the National Dialogue, and suggested that, in accord with the Constitution, the remainder be introduced for discussion in the legislative assembly either at the President's request or through the parliamentary parties.

With that response the 14 parties walked out of the dialogue, offering no return date or proposed means for renewing the stagnated process. A few days later President Ortega stressed that the Esquipulas accords carry with them serious commitments, but none outside the legal framework in effect in each country, adding that the National Dialogue could not be converted into a "parallel parliament."

It is not illogical that the rightwing, extra-parliamentary parties and party fractions, which have always maintained pro-US positions, would express them in initiatives such as this one. It is less understandable that progressive leftist parties would support an initiative destined more to block the dialogue than to advance it. Attempts at an explanation have run the gamut from ingenuousness to opportunism, lack of a national project due to the permanent US threat, lack of political imagination, leadership aspirations and a desperate search for unity to cover the parties' individual weaknesses. In any case, as long as the United States pursues its determined effort to destroy Sandinista power, even the most determined parties will find the decision to be a constructive opposition difficult. It can also be supposed, based on the history of the last decade, that the unity of these parties, so ideologically dissimilar, will not be very stable.

The announcement at the end of December that the 14 parties participating in the ultimatum will receive a donation of $250,000 from Congress raised even more speculations. The money that many opposition parties already receive from sympathetic parties and internationals abroad does not achieve its goal of strengthening the Nicaraguan opposition. Instead, it contributes to their divisiveness as leaders compete for access to these resources, and encourages them to direct their energies toward maintaining international support rather than developing a domestic support base. Some political analysts are beginning to speak of a "Saigonization" of the Nicaraguan opposition.

President Ortega called on the parties to unite, "but based on a minimum of national dignity." He stressed the revolution's need for national unity, but "not to mix Reagan with Sandino; rather to make a patriotic mixture that defends national interests first of all."

This is the great challenge for the political parties in this delicate period when, intentionally or not, they could be converted into the unarmed representatives of an armed counterrevolution that does not want to stop the war. The challenge, in short, is that the pincers closing around Esquipulas not find a third claw in these opposition parties.

Strong Language, Strong Positions

In Congress, in Santo Domingo and in the chambers of Managua where the National Dialogue was taking place, hope for Esquipulas dimmed in December. At the same time, it became evident that the signing of the accords never signified and will ever signify the decision of the Sandinista revolution to make concessions of principle. It was made equally clear that while Nicaragua has allowed the weight of Esquipulas to fall most heavily on its shoulders and has accepted that all of its decisions will be examined under an international microscope, this must not be interpreted as a sign of the revolution's weakness.

The new year will be a difficult one for Nicaragua. It is the last year as President for Ronald Reagan, who has pledged to continue the war "to the last breath in my body," as he himself expressed it to the OAS. It will also be a year in which Nicaragua's economic crisis will worsen. The drought that affected all of Central America at the end of its winter growing season must now be added to all the factors—the war, above all—that have provoked this crisis. It is calculated that 530,000 people were affected in the six most populous regions of the country. Of the programmed harvests, 75% of the beans, 45% of the sorghum, 25% of the corn and 10% of the rice were lost. In cotton, coffee and sugar, thousands of dollars were lost in exports. Given the loss of most of its basic grains harvest, Nicaragua was obliged to declare a National Food Emergency and call on international solidarity for help.

The Reagan administration's policy toward Nicaragua is seen more and more as the intent to destroy the revolution by destabilizing it, promoting discontent, accelerating an economic collapse. To achieve this, economic discontent must be channeled into political discontent, so as to create a pre-insurrectionary situation in which the counterrevolutionaries can give the decisive military blow that would do in the Sandinistas. It is in order to produce this destabilization, not to pressure the Sandinistas to comply with Esquipulas, that the Reagan administration says "it is more necessary than ever to keep [the contras ] alive."

It is an attempt to "Chileanize" Nicaragua, as President Ortega emphasized recently. According to FSLN political leader Bayardo Arce in a Barricada interview this month, the proposal of "Chileanizing" Nicaragua was made by a policy studies institute linked to the Republican Party in a seminar on Central America held recently, and was accepted as the best route at the present time.

To achieve it, Nicaragua's opposition parties—the proposed channelers of the discontent provoked by the economic crisis—have a key role if they can be linked to the armed counterrevolution. But the weakness of the Nicaraguan opposition parties puts tremendous limitations on this project. This month the 14 parties organized what they hoped would be a massive "March of Opposition Unity," which they advertised extensively inLa Prensa and on the radio. In fact, only some 400 people filed down the streets of Managua, including all the leaders of the 14 parties themselves. envío can vouch for the fact that there were more banners than people.

If the internal political channel is weak, the armed counterrevolution, which would have to take political and military advantage of the crisis, is also inadequate, as its attack this month on the three mining towns shows. Even if we do not use the contra s’ own exaggerated figure of 7,000 attackers, how is it possible that they could not take three tiny towns that do not even have a combined population of 20,000? Why, in an area that has been particularly hard hit by the economic crunch, due to contra activity and the difficulty of transport to this remote area, did the many armed militia members from the area not join with them?

The counterrevolutionaries have never succeeded in getting the people to rise up against the Sandinistas. They are alive thanks only to the sophisticated technology they’ve received and the informational outreach the powerful US wire services have provided them. envío, which was in Siuna after the combat ended, could verify that they were unable even to gain access to any but a few of the outer neighborhoods in one town. The airstrip, the military headquarters in the town and the mine itself were intact. Nonetheless, we also saw how a correspondent from one of the main US newspapers hurriedly returned to Managua to file his story about the "occupation" of Siuna by the contras .

On one side, then, is the weakness of the unarmed opposition and the armed counterrevolution. On the other is a renewed firmness on the part of the revolution, expressed this month with force in a shift from the conciliatory language that characterized the government's discourse after Esquipulas—which some interpreted as corresponding to a "time of concessions." At that time, the revolution's leaders made clear that they responded positively to an opening of political space, while also responding firmly to pressure. Now, in particular, they are emphasizing principles specifically respected by the Esquipulas accords and those the revolution will not renounce. We mention below three of these principles.

The first is the right of the nation to military defense. This is guaranteed by the handing over of arms to the people and by their ongoing training to confront either the prolongation of the counterrevolutionary war or any US interventionist adventure. The latter is again being discussed in Nicaragua since Reagan is going forward unwaveringly in his last year with his objective of destroying the revolution.

Defense Minister General Humberto Ortega, addressing a national pro-Sandinista trade union assembly, reaffirmed that the revolution will continue studying the acquisition of interceptor planes to halt supply flights to the contras and of more modern armaments, without specifically mentioning MiGs. He also noted that having 600,000 men in arms was the goal of the revolution's military defense plan.

Responding to the fuss made in the United States by the news of 600,000 armed men, President Ortega later underscored that the figure was at this point still only a plan, but if the war continued it would have to become an implemented one. He recalled that in Point 7 of the Esquipulas II accords, the Central American Presidents committed themselves to continue discussing arms limitations within the region and in each country, on the basis of the already significantly advanced Contadora negotiations. He declared that Nicaragua aspires to a "Swiss-model" army—a limited regular army (of between 60,000 and 80,000 men) and a massive reserve army, made up of much of the adult civilian population, trained and capable of using weapons to defend the nation. This reserve army would be the one that would have hundreds of thousands of citizens in arms.

A second principle firmly defended in various declarations this month was that of open political pluralism, but one free of blackmail and respectful of the country's legal institutions. Responding to the attitude taken recently by nearly all of the opposition parties in the National Dialogue, the declarations of the revolutionary leaders on this score were particularly strong. Humberto Ortega warned them that they should "tremble" because "revolutionary justice" would be applied to them before they could collaborate with the Marines in an eventual invasion. President Ortega, referring to the timid activities of all these parties during the Somoza dictatorship, said, "We don' t need them for there to be democracy here."

The President also made a distinction between "the government," to which the Right could hypothetically accede, and "power," which he said they would never achieve. He returned to this distinction in a year-end interview with the party newspaper Barricada, in which he explained more thoroughly that power belongs to the workers and peasants who made the revolution, and in whose interests revolutionary gains have been institutionalized over the past eight years. Using the unlikely case that the Communist Party won the US presidential elections, Gus Hall, the CPUSA leader, would not be able to “dismantle transnational corporations or change the nature of the army,” Ortega explained, because both are deeply entrenched in that country's institutionality.

There were also firm pronouncements and new political language in the December communiqué that preceded the trade union assembly attended by representatives of some 300,000 workers affiliated to the Sandinista unions. Responding to the pressures for constitutional reforms outlined by the opposition, the workers declared that if the Constitution were reformed, "it would have to be to socialize the revolution more." They enumerated some of the demands they would raise "to accelerate the construction of the socialist society in Nicaragua"—worker control in private and mixed enterprises, more restrictive limitations for agricultural property, and, mentioning the rice growers in particular, confiscation of private enterprises that reroute their production toward the speculative market.

A third principle firmly reaffirmed is that of Nicaragua's sovereign right to relate at all levels to all countries of the socialist community. The defense minister stressed this in great detail in his speech to the trade unionists.

These were the days in which speculation began about what the leaders of the two superpowers had discussed during their summit in Washington, DC. The important Reagan-Gorbachev encounter, which expressed the world's urgent need to reformulate the concept of security in political rather than military terms, had recently concluded. At its termination, declarations emerged from Reagan circles and from Reagan himself that gave rise to news reports about a supposed Soviet decision to suspend military assistance to Nicaragua. There was the suggestion that the two superpowers had decided Nicaragua's fate in Washington.

The Soviet foreign minister reacted immediately, stating that the suspension of military assistance to Nicaragua "was totally outside reality," and that what Gorbachev had suggested to Reagan in Washington were "reciprocal commitments" of a regional nature. He also proposed a joint declaration of support for the Esquipulas II accords, which Reagan did not accept. In the communiqué, recalling the need to contribute to disarmament in the region as a whole, the USSR referred to the US provision of F-5E fighter planes as "indecorous." Furthermore, in the long NBC interview with Gorbachev before the summit, he had declared that the Soviet Union was determined not only to continue military aid of all kinds to Nicaragua, but to increase it. This solidarity, which assures Nicaragua's survival in case the war is prolonged, echoes the firmness with which the revolution is defending its principle of nonalignment and its freedom to have dignified relations with all countries.


Space for ideological debate widened with Esquipulas II, in which the opposition and the pro-US right wing have begun to speak openly against the government. Every issue of La Prensa is an open confrontation with everything that the revolution is and represents, from the private lives of its leaders to revolutionary laws, decisions and pronouncements, and any government measure that affects daily life. All is couched in an alarmist rhetorical style, laced with sensationalism and unbridled bitterness. In the majority of cases, the focus is similar to that offered by the Voice of America, the official US government broadcast. In this climate, the Sandinistas have also begun to use firmer, more direct language, corresponding to the new stage of ideological struggle now opened up.

The Nicaraguan revolution faces a difficult battle in 1988. The challenge is to know how to manage the economic crisis and continue complying with the letter of Esquipulas; above all, keeping its spirit alive.

The struggle throughout Central America will also be difficult this year. The immediate challenge will be for the region’s peoples to know how to elude all the pressures Reagan will apply to try to close the space opened by Esquipulas.

Finally, it is an electoral year in the United States. The battle between Republicans and Democrats will also be hard, particularly because of the economic crisis the country is experiencing. The challenge for Nicaragua and for Central America in this pre-election period is complex: it is to make the Republicans more flexible and the Democrats less vulnerable.

In any case, the first question marks raised by these battles will begin to be answered in January with Esquipulas III, the Central American presidential summit. There Nicaragua's advances or retreats in its difficult indirect dialogue with the Republicans and Democrats through the talks to arrange a cease-fire with the contra leadership and the national dialogue with the opposition parties will have a powerful impact. Many doors could still be opened in both dialogues and the Nicaraguan government seems patient enough to open them.

Another decisive moment for the clearing up or further clouding over of the horizon will occur in February, when Reagan's luck in his plan to get new millions for the counterrevolution will be known. From its very first months, then, 1988 will be a decisive year.

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