Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 78 | Diciembre 1987



Cease – fire Talks Contras After Power Not Peace

Envío team

The Esquipulas II peace accords have been a profoundly important step along the road to peace in Nicaragua. Since they were signed, questions have arisen regarding the possibilities for fulfillment in each of the Central American countries, although it escaped no one's attention that the key question was what position the Reagan Administration would adopt toward the accords. This has taken on new urgency since November 5, the day the accords were to take simultaneous effect in all five Central American countries. The measures taken by the Nicaraguan government forced the Reagan Administration to postpone its bid for a new $270 million aid package for the counterrevolutionary forces. However, the US still refuses to open bilateral talks with Nicaragua, an absolutely essential condition for peace. In light of this, some sectors of the Democratic Party have begun to distance themselves in significant ways from the Administration's Central American policy.

By accepting talks aimed at arranging a cease-fire with the counterrevolutionary forces, Nicaragua has in fact forced an indirect dialogue with the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. The new correlation of forces opened by the Guatemala summit, along with the current internal situation in the United States, forms the background against which this indirect three-way dialogue is taking place.

Esquipulas II is entering a more complex and decisive phase. The war in Nicaragua continues to be a losing option, yet the means by which to win a definitive peace are still being sought.

Cease-fire talks: The bridge from war to peace

On November 5, the date stipulated by the Esquipulas document for obligatory simultaneous compliance with the accords by all the Central American countries, President Daniel Ortega announced the new measures his government would take to a crowd of more than 100,000 in Managua's Plaza of the Revolution. Nicaragua had already implemented a number of measures intended to bring peace closer in the 90 days prior to November 5. Still ahead lay another summit meeting of all the Central American Presidents on January 15, in which they will evaluate their countries' compliance in the intervening 60 days.

In his speech, President Ortega announced that the government would pardon 985 prisoners as a goodwill gesture and as a continuation of a practice begun several years ago, although never in such numbers. He also announced that the government had approved two measures that have been the subject of significant controversy and were being sent to the National Assembly for ratification. The first was an amnesty to benefit all prisoners currently serving time for counterrevolutionary activities who were detained since January of 1981. Applause was scanty until Ortega stressed that this date excluded the ex-Somocista Guardsmen sentenced for crimes committed during the dictatorship. For the most part, only ex-Guardsmen sentenced in the first 18 months for really heinous crimes are still in prison. The remainder have already served their sentences or been pardoned for good behavior.

On November 18, this new amnesty was ratified by the National Assembly. The amnesty law enacted in 1985, which applies to all contra fighters who wish to lay down their arms and integrate into civilian life with all rights guaranteed, remains in effect. (In the 90 days following the Guatemala summit—August 7-November 5—585 contras took advantage of the amnesty law. This does not include the Atlantic Coast, where an entire unit of 400 men reached a separate agreement with the government.)

The second controversial issue was the lifting of the state of emergency. Again there was only scattered applause until President Ortega, who had paused for effect, said, "There is a but," and emphasized that both measures, once ratified by the National Assembly, would automatically go into effect only when the International Verification and Follow-Up Commission certifies that all the region's countries have complied with the Esquipulas accords.* With that the plaza erupted with cheers and clapping.
*The International Verification and Follow-Up Commission has as its members the foreign ministers of all five Central American countries and of the eight countries making up Contadora and the Support Group, as well as the general secretaries of the OAS and the UN.

Compliance with the accords means that the Central American countries must not allow use of their territory to stage attacks against any other country. In addition, military and logistical aid to all irregular forces in the region must cease. The accords also stipulate that these commitments must be met simultaneously by the five countries. Thus, internal democratization would become a reality the moment the foreign aggression ceases. By linking the two issues to verification that the aggression had ended, the Nicaraguan President reminded the world that the problem is not Nicaragua alone and that Nicaragua will respect the verification mechanisms written into the peace accords. With that stroke, he masterfully hit the ball back into the US court.

The next step announced by President Ortega was that it was prepared to indirectly arrange a cease-fire with the counterrevolutionary forces themselves. Nicaragua had repeatedly expressed its desire to work out a cease-fire before, but only through direct negotiations with President Reagan, as commander-in-chief of the counterrevolution. On November 5, Ortega unveiled a change in this position: for the first time, the Sandinista government showed a willingness to arrange a cease-fire with contra leaders through an intermediary.

In the conversational tone that characterized the entire speech, President Ortega explained the difference between these cease-fire talks and a political dialogue. The talks are envisioned as dealing exclusively with the technical aspects of a cease-fire and the integration of the contra forces into the process of national reconciliation now underway. This position reflects both the letter and the spirit of the peace accords. A political dialogue, on the other hand, would imply discussing and negotiating the current power base in Nicaragua, which Ortega reiterated will never happen. In this context, he repeated his call to the US government to open bilateral talks—not to discuss internal political issues, but to discuss the legitimate national security concerns of both countries.

Of all the unilateral measures taken by Nicaragua in the previous 90 days, only one was cancelled on November 5—the cease-fire covering 1,450 square kilometers put in effect by the Nicaraguan government between October 7 and November 7. Though it did result in a number of contras laying down their arms under the existing amnesty law, it gave the remainder a one-month rest in which they received a significant number of supply drops. President Ortega declared that until a new cease-fire is agreed to, the government would pursue the contra forces with everything it had. Paradoxically this bellicose statement was also greeted with wild cheers, revealing that the deep-felt desire for peace was matched by a will to continue defending the revolution.

The November 5 rally left a number of questions about the future of the Esquipulas process unanswered. Will the counterrevolution reject the opportunity presented by the Sandinistas, who have now complied in full with all the provisions of the accords? If so, what viability will the peace plan still have regionally, given that there no longer seems to be any realistic possibility for a cease-fire in either El Salvador or Guatemala? Would President Reagan thus be able to get his $270 million aid request through Congress and continue his contra war?

Would peace then have to wait for a new US Administration? Affirmative responses to these questions would seem to point to the premature demise of the Esquipulas II Peace Plan.

Another line of reasoning is also possible. Will the Reagan Administration accept a dialogue with Nicaragua in order to seek a graceful way out of its failed policy? Given that power in the United States will undergo a shift in 1989, has the hour finally arrived for the beginning of a solution to the Nicaragua-US conflict, with US government acceptance of its inability to destroy the Nicaraguan revolution? Will this open a path towards peace and thus deepen the spirit of Esquipulas II? Or, and this too is possible, will the solution once again be an intermediate and uncertain road?

Whatever the response, there was no doubt on that warm November night that it was a decisive moment, for the first time signaling a possible end to the seven-year war against Nicaragua. The assembled crowd was so attentive that even soft-drink sellers hawked their wares in a low voice.

Depending on the outcome of Esquipulas, the future could look bright for Central America. It could also look even grimmer than it already does. Two extreme scenarios, neither of them unrealistic, were hypothesized by Panamanian economist Xabier Gorostiaga in an op-ed article for The Los Angeles Times. Either peace in Nicaragua, and thus, greater possibilities for peace throughout the region—or regionalized war.

In the latter scenario, Gorostiaga reasons that a continuing military dynamic implies an effective boycott of the peace accords by the Reagan Administration. The internal logic of this option suggests to him that, within a year, the United States invades Nicaragua and imposes a new government in Managua, nominally headed by civilians, but dominated by the contras, who control the weaponry. This government is unable to control the country, and cannot govern, because a guerrilla army of tens of thousands of people, organized by the FSLN, successfully resists the US forces from the mountains.

The Nicaraguan revolutionaries also form a regional alliance with the Salvadoran and Guatemalan guerrillas, leading the United States to invade these two countries as well and, as a consequence, to further militarize both Honduras and Costa Rica. Latin American brigades unite with the Central American popular movements, thus deepening the crisis between the United States and Latin America. At this point the Pentagon realizes that its initial estimate of the invasion's price—15,000 US soldiers dead, at a cost of $16 million—were low. The number of dead in Central America leaps from some 200,000 in 1987 to more than a million after five years. More than three million refugees flee the region towards the United States and other Latin American countries. This burgeoning conflict, along with others in the Third World in which the US is involved, seriously threatens world peace.

In Gorostiaga's other scenario, the United States would at a minimum guarantee its genuine security interests in the region. (Nicaragua's willingness not to establish foreign bases on its territory or host foreign military advisors was stated officially to the Contadora Group in 1983, and that position has been maintained. Furthermore, by signing the peace accords, Nicaragua has already agreed not to supply either military or logistical aid to insurgent forces in the other Central American countries, in whose defense the US has claimed to wage its multi-faceted war against Nicaragua.) At the same time, Nicaragua demands that the United States and the Central American countries respect its national security, the acceptance of which de facto means the recognition of a new, pluralistic Central American reality. Expanding upon this scenario, Gorostiaga suggests that a less obsessive US President than Ronald Reagan could use the moment as an opportunity to shape new relations with the US "backyard," converting it into an economic and political model valid for other conflictive zones in the world with similar historical experiences. In fact, the "Group of 8"—the Contadora and Support Group countries (Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Brazil) are already calling for new relations of this sort, and point to the problem of the crushing foreign debt affecting Latin America as their most pressing common concern.

Three-way dialogue toward a cease-fire

The initial US reaction to the November 5 announcements in Managua was not encouraging. That same day, in a continuing resolution on the budget, the House of Representatives approved $3.2 million in logistical aid to the counterrevolutionary for­ces, to be used between November 10 and December 16. At the end of September, the House had approved a similar quantity—$3.5 million to cover a month and a half. This aid, which violates the charters of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States since it is destined to prolong the war, deserves serious criticism at any time, but even more so in the context of Esquipulas. Although the Democrats justified the vote as necessary to avoid an even greater sum of money, their approval once again demonstrates the inability of the Democratic Party to sustain a coherent alternative policy towards Central America.

The problem, however, is not only congressionally approved money. According to statistics cited by President Daniel Ortega during his speech to the OAS General Assembly on November 11, the Reagan administration invested millions of dollars in 540 flights violating Nicaraguan airspace during the 90 days following the signing of the Esquipulas accords. Many of these flights provided the contra forces with the military and logistical supplies essential to their continued existence inside Nicaraguan territory, while others afforded them the detailed information about Nicaraguan military movement that enables them to attack civilian targets virtually at will. Some 1,740 flights were noted from 1981 through November 1987, nearly one third of them during this 90-day period. The Miami Herald recently cited State Department sources who said that contra forces in Nicaragua are currently receiving more than 125 tons of supplies monthly—up from an average 65 tons.

At the same time, the joint US-Honduran maneuvers continue. On November 16, the fourth phase of the "Blazing Trail" maneuvers was begun, with more than 15,000 troops participating. Several days earlier, the Honduran government announced a new series of joint maneuvers to be carried out in the first half of 1988.

In spite of the enormous costs of the war and the lack of a coherent foreign policy alternative on the part of the Democratic Party, however, Ronald Reagan is not in an easy position. All the measures taken by the Nicaraguan government in the 90 days following the signing of the accords have had a positive effect on US public opinion, forcing the US President to postpone his $270 million aid request. And although Reagan once again implicitly rejected the possibility of bilateral talks with Nicaragua in his November 9th speech to the OAS, there was a small opening when he mentioned the possibility of meeting with Nicaragua in a multilateral context—though he conditioned this on advances in the cease-fire talks. On the same occasion, however, he stated that Nicaragua was a long way from complying with the peace plan and that it was important the process not become "another round of useless and endless negotiations." The most liberal Democratic Party members, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said that now was the "moment for the White House to demonstrate its good faith, and end its program of support for the contras."

It was in this context that President Ortega went to Washington. Addressing the OAS two days after Reagan, Ortega refuted the longstanding US accusation that the Nicaraguan government has "betrayed" the promises it made to that organization in the days leading up to the Sandinista victory of July 1979. He did this by reading the opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice on this precise charge, which held that it has absolutely no legal basis.

The most important moment of Ortega's Washington visit came on November 13, when he met with House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo in the Vatican's embassy in Washington. During that meeting, Ortega presented them with the Nicaragua government's cease-fire proposal. Obando had been asked by the Nicaraguan government to serve as an intermediary in the cease-fire talks with the contra forces, a choice that was later supported both by the Nicaraguan bishops' conference and the contra leadership.

The Nicaraguan proposal contains 11 points. It calls for a cease-fire in three zones comprising 10,800 square kilometers, to begin December 5. Contra leaders and troops would go to one of these three zones, and from there lay down their arms under the supervision of the International Verification and Follow-Up Commission and Nicaragua's National Reconciliation Commission (which Cardinal Obando himself heads). The contras coming in under this plan would have the right to integrate themselves into any of the existing political parties, or form a new political grouping, and thus gain representation in the national dialogue. Those who wished to leave the country would also be able to do so, with full guarantees of personal security and assistance in relocating in other countries. In short, the Nicaraguan proposal provides the mechanism by which these irregular armed forces would be able to transform themselves into legal political groupings integrated into civil society.

Cardinal Obando handed the Nicaraguan government's proposal over to the counterrevolutionary leaders on the same afternoon in Miami. From the first, President Ortega was clear in pointing out that the proposal did not constitute an "ultimatum," and that the Nicaraguan government hoped that the Cardinal would set up a team of advisors to assist him in the mediation process. At the suggestion of Speaker Wright, Ortega suggested Paul Warnke—one of the Salt II Treaty negotiators for the Carter Administration—as one possible adviser.

Wright's active participation in this peace initiative, which some commentators even referred to as the "Ortega-Wright plan," touched off a political uproar in Washington. Both Reagan and Secretary of State George Schultz expressed "concern" about Wright's activities. Wright responded, "I'd like to think that the President and the Secretary of State want peace in Central America as much as I do," adding that President Reagan had drawn him into the arena in the first place with the "Reagan-Wright plan" unveiled on the eve of the Guatemala summit meeting.

Wright's position is logical, given the profound crisis currently confronting the Reagan administration. On the eve of the 1988 elections, Reagan is plagued by serious economic problems at home and political crises throughout the world. Though the Democrats have been unable to put forth a clear Central American alternative, it is clear that the "Reagan doctrine" has not succeeded in the region. It failed not only because it has been unable to overthrow the Sandinista government, but also because it has been unable to hold up Duarte's El Salvador as a model of democracy. Moreover, the Administration's Central American policy has resulted in its own political isolation from key allies in Western Europe, sparked a unification process among the Latin American nations and caused a serious polarization inside the United States. It is not surprising that, given this generalized crisis, the Democrats—with Wright at their head—are trying to get the most out of the Guatemala accords.

The developments during President Ortega's Washington visit shed some light on the questions left open on November 5. After this initiative, it will be more difficult for Reagan and the counterrevolution to boycott the Sandinista proposals and try to delegitimize the entire constellation of measures taken to date by the Nic­araguan government. As the Democrats—for a variety of political interests—have made clear, a boycott means risking the critical $270 million aid request. On the other hand, Reagan's continued support of the "freedom fighters," including demands that push far beyond the commitments agreed to in Esquipulas II and his consistent refusal to talk directly with Nicaragua, obviously do not point to an imminent peace. Thus, although the military option is playing itself out and Reagan is facing increasing difficulties in continuing the contra war, the possibility of peace still faces innumerable obstacles. In the short run, an intermediate option has presented itself. That option is indirect negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the Democrats and Republicans—representing very different positions—in the form of cease-fire talks with the contra forces.

Basis for a Nicaragua-US dialogue

The three-way dialogue between Nicaragua, the Republican Administration and the Democratic Party has its precedents. Just prior to the Guatemala summit in August, the United States revealed the Reagan-Wright Plan, in which three key US objectives vis-à-vis Nicaragua were outlined, and mechanisms were proposed to achieve them. When the Central American Presidents, irritated by the arrogance of the plan's timing, opted to ignore it and instead modify the Arias proposal, thus giving birth to Esquipulas II, Wright immediately lent his support to their initiative. Although this infuriated the Reagan Administration, Wright did not back down. His logic was clear: the Esquipulas accords would essentially ensure many of the objectives laid out in his original plan, although through distinct procedures. Moreover, Nicaragua's endorsement indicated that the plan was viable.

Nicaragua and the Soviets

The first objective of the so-called Reagan-Wright plan was to ensure that there are "no Soviet, Cuban or Eastern bloc bases established in Nicaragua that could present a threat to the United States and the other democratic governments in the hemi­sphere."* The Nicaraguan government has no problem guaranteeing this provision, which corresponds to its long-stated desire to establish Nicaragua as a nonaligned nation. In October 15, 1983, Nicaragua presented a proposal to the United States and the Contadora group stating that the government of Nicaragua states that the exercise of its sovereign rights do not constitute any threat to the security of the United States and that it will not permit Nicaraguan territory to be used to affect or threaten the security of the United States or to attack any other state. Moreover, it assures the safe transit of merchant ships and commercial airlines in its territorial waters and airspace, in accordance with international law and the laws of Nicaragua.

* All quotes from the Reagan-Wright plan are retranslations from the Spanish version.

As a counterpart, the 1983 document further proposed that: "The United States of America recognizes the inalienable right of the Republic of Nicaragua, as a sovereign state, to independence and self determination. It also recognizes that the Republic of Nicaragua will not lend itself as a strategic ground or air base of any foreign power, this being a concept incompatible with Nicaragua's sovereignty and independence." (unofficial translation)

Nicaragua maintains this position today. An accord along these lines could be one result of bilateral talks between the Sandinista govern­ment and the Reagan Administration. However, it is clear that the absence of Soviet or other foreign military bases in Nicaragua does not imply the absence of open and friendly relations between Nicaragua and the Soviet Union at all levels.

The President of Nicaragua traveled to Moscow in November to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet revolution. Before assembled delegates from many nations, he stated that "despite pressure, aggression and blackmail," Nicaragua "will never renounce relations" with the Soviet Union. According to Comandante Bayardo Arce of the FSLN National Directorate, Soviet nonmilitary aid to the Sandinista revolution, including donations and credits in the fields of energy, food, medicine, etc., has totaled approximately $2 billion-about $250 million per year.

Neither the Reagan-Wright plan nor the Esquipulas II accords challenge Nicaragua's right to maintain relations with the Soviet Union. If the United States wants Nicaragua to decrease the proportion of aid received from the Soviet Union, it can lift the economic embargo and develop a package of short- and long-term aid for Central America that does not exclude Nicaragua. Socialist bloc military aid received by Nicaragua will lessen dramatically the moment the war ends, military maneuvers in Honduras cease and US bases established there are dismantled.

Since 1979 Nicaragua has strived to maintain and strengthen a truly nonaligned policy. On the October 8th anniversary of Carlos Fonseca's death in combat and the foundation of the FSLN, ComandanteTomás Borge recalled: For the apologists of determinism, it seems that no small country in the world can aspire to the right to be free, sovereign and independent. What kind of logic is this: to depend on the United States or on the Soviet Union! This logic is a death sentence for peoples of the world, because to be dependent is something worse than death. In Nicaragua, the successes and mistakes are our own. We consult our friends and often even our enemies, but the decisions we take are our own!

Nicaragua: A threat to its neighbors?

The second objective of the Reagan-Wright Plan is that "Nicaragua should not present a military threat to neighboring countries or be a base for subversion or destabilization of governments in the hemisphere." The second part of this objective, regarding aid to destabilize regional governments, was dealt with specifically in the Guatemalan summit. The Central American governments, including Nicaragua, promised there to "prevent the use of their own territory, and not lend military or logistical support, to persons, organizations or groups trying to destabilize the governments of Central America."

The first aspect—the possibility of a direct military attack by Nicaragua against its neighbors—was addressed by Nicaragua in official communication to the Contadora group in May 1986, as we detail below. But it is first necessary to recall once again the economic and material conditions in Nicaragua. Fuel, necessary for any military venture, is entirely imported, and the only port capable of receiving it in quantity could be easily rendered useless. Moreover, the Sandinista Army relies on civilian vehicles for 25% of overland transport. The limitations of air transport, be it military or civilian, are even greater. This, added to the weakness of the Sandinista Air Force—with Soviet helicopters appropriate for fighting irregular forces but not for attacking another country that has its own air force—would quickly leave Nicaraguan forces without the logistical support necessary to carry out actions beyond Nicaraguan borders.

Food, weapons and other supplies needed for invading Nicaraguan troops would have to be completely imported. Nicaragua has no military industry and its food packaging industry is insufficient even in peacetime; to carry out an expansionist venture it would need to import a large quantity of raw materials. A simple blockade of its ports would cut off the supplies needed for such a venture. In short, Nicaragua's structural limitations would prevent the government from waging an offensive military policy, even should it so desire. But these same limitations do not prevent Nicaragua from defending itself against a potential US invasion.

This reality puts into perspective Nicaragua's proposal to Contadora regarding security-related aspects of the peace accord. On that occasion, in Panama in mid-1986, Nicaragua proposed that the accords distinguish between offensive arms and defensive ones. Those characterized as offensive should be subject to negotiation among the participating countries to limit, regulate and even eliminate them. Each country should inform the others what kind and quantity of defensive weapons it possessed, and limits for these should be separately negotiated. Providing a detailed outline for talks, Nicaragua suggested which arms it would consider offensive: military helicopters and planes, tanks, mortars over 120 mm., self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, artillery over 160 mm., etc. The Esquipulas II accords take into account these broken-off negotiations on security-related issues. "The governments of the Central American nations, with the participation of the Contadora group exercising its position as mediator" agreed to pursue "negotiations regarding pending points of agreement on security, verification and control." Thus, the two aspects of the second objective of the Reagan-Wright plan were already explicitly addressed by the Guatemalan accords.

A democratic regime in Nicaragua

The third objective of the Reagan-Wright plan was that "the Nicaraguan government respect the fundamental rights of its people, including the political rights guaranteed by the Nicaraguan Constitution and the promises made to the OAS—freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion and a system of regularly established free and ordered elections."

The Nicaraguan government has repeatedly maintained that, in exercising its sovereignty, it will not discuss its internal affairs with the United States. In turn, Nicaragua has not asked the United States to respect, for example, the rights of its own black or Hispanic population, to outlaw the death penalty or life imprisonment, or to transform its unjust immigration laws.

It is worth noting that, in principle, there appears to be a repetition within this third objective, given that "the fundamental human rights" of the Nicaraguan people are already included in the Constitution of Nicaragua by the revolution's own dynamic, as are the already-discussed "promises made to the OAS." More to the point, this third objective promotes—although without putting it in so many words, perhaps in order to avoid recognizing the legitimacy of the Sandinista government itself—Nicaragua's compliance with its own Constitution, especially with those aspects pertaining to democracy.

Thought of in this way, the Sandinista government is obliged to build a democratic regime not because of US demands, but because of the demands of its own people. And the model for this democracy is indeed contained within the Constitution. The Nicaraguan Magna Carta stresses participatory democracy without ignoring the specific mechanisms of representative democracies—elections, newspapers, press freedom, etc.

The fundamental elements of this third Reagan-Wright objective are also contained in the Guatemala accords, in three specific points: the "national reconciliation" process, which includes amnesty decrees and dialogue with the domestic political opposition; "democratization," which implies freedom to organize for the opposition parties, freedom in the media and a lifting of the state of emergency; and the celebration of "free elections" at the municipal, legislative and presidential levels, as well as for the Central American Parliament, as constitutionally scheduled and with the participation of international observers. The Central American Presidents all committed themselves to this, when all forms of external aggression have ended in all five countries.

The government of Nicaragua, elected in 1984 by 63% of the popular vote in an election scrutinized by international observers and recognized as legitimate by the Central American Presidents who met in Guatemala, has been advancing along the road spelled out in those accords. When the state of emergency is lifted—a measure pegged to the end of the war of aggression—the Constitution will enter into full force and Nicaragua will have fulfilled these provisions of the accords. The law regarding the Central American Parliament was also approved this month by the President of Nicaragua and will soon come up before the National Assembly for final approval.

In the National Dialogue with the internal opposition, 15 parties and party factions are attempting to reach agreement with the government. This search has been particularly slow to date, its advances frustrated by three types of conflicts: those between the government and the parties; those among the parties, given their diverse ideologies; and particularly those within the parties themselves, some of which have been sharp.

Despite some byzantine inter- and intra-party contradictions—which envío will analyze in future issues—the government and opposition reached agreement on the dialogue's agenda on November 24. The eight points that were approved will address the process of democratization in the country, leaving the topics of the war and peace process in the hands of technical commissions. The agenda points are as follows: 1) constitutional reforms proposed by the opposition; 2) municipal law (forms of municipal government, its character, territorial boundaries, etc.); 3) electoral law (regarding municipal, Atlantic Coast and Central American Parliament elections); 4) law of political parties (rights of parties, process of registering parties, etc.); 5) the Central American Parliament (system for electing the 20 Nicaraguan representatives); 6) the date for municipal and Central American Parliament elections; 7) mechanisms to allow extra-parliamentary parties to participate in national politics; and 8) drafting and passing laws to apply the Constitution.

The Reagan-Wright plan: A plan with two voices?

The possibilities for peace in the Central American region and for normalization of US-Nicaraguan relations are real. The problem of potential Soviet bases and security themes can be addressed in the Contadora-Central America meetings and, above all, in a bilateral dialogue between Washington and Managua, while the issues of democratization and Nicaragua's image as a threat to its neighbors can be dealt with through Esquipulas II.

After stating its objectives and concerns, the Reagan-Wright plan stated that "besides this, the United States does not have the right to determine or influence the identity of the political leaders of Nicaragua or the socioeconomic system of the country. The people of Nicaragua have complete rights over these matters. The United States affirms its support for the right of the Nicaraguan people to peaceful and democratic self-determination, free of foreign intervention of any kind."

This formulation represented a significant step forward. The Reagan Administration has not even wanted to listen to governments of principal Latin American countries which, just emerging from years of military dictatorship, insist that they need an economic base that can sustain viable democracies. It has turned a deaf ear as well when Nicaragua calls for a new kind of US-Nicaraguan relations. The common root of this deafness is Reagan's neo-Monroe Doctrine, which has in turn brought Latin and Central America together in a common cause. Certain that a triumph of the Reagan doctrine in Nicaragua would only strengthen interventionist policies throughout the continent, Latin American governments are seeing the problems of Central America as more connected to their own reality than ever before.

The most recent proof of this was the meeting early this month of "the eight" in Acapulco, Mexico. If the work of the eight Contadora and Support Group countries are at the root of the Esquipulas II accords, the accords have also given new life to the nationalism of these Latin American countries. Acapulco is the first independent summit—neither convoked nor inspired by US interests—that Latin America has held in its entire history. The eight countries that met in Acapulco represent 90% of Latin America's population, and 80% of Latin America's foreign debt. More important than the letter of the document issued there is the motivating force behind it: Latin America's urgent quest for a collective, negotiated solution to the continent's economic and political problems.

Following the conference, Daniel Ortega met with President Miguel de la Madrid in Mexico, and back in Nicaragua met with Uruguayan President Julio María Sanguinetti and Peruvian President Alan García. García was designated by "the eight" to deliver a message of Latin American solidarity to every Central American nation. While delivering the message to Nicaragua, he bestowed Peru's highest distinction, the "Sun of Peru" upon Daniel Ortega, and in the name of the eight reaffirmed their "deep respect for the cause of this people" and "complete confidence in Nicaragua's sincerity in fulfilling the Esquipulas accords."

It is from this Latin American perspective that the United States must understand the necessity of normalizing relations with Nicaragua. But the Reagan-Wright plan is not a plan with a single voice. The concrete procedures it proposes to arrive at peace do not necessarily follow from its explicitly established objectives. For example, in the procedures it calls for the prompt holding of new elections in Nicaragua, a demand that does not recognize the legitimacy the Nicaraguan government earned in the insurrection against the Somoza dictatorship and ratified in the 1984 elections. This legitimacy has been recognized by the international community in many ways in the past eight years, and the Guatemalan accords clearly spell out that elections should be held in accordance with the constitutionally established schedule of each Central American country.

At the same time, the Reagan-Wright plan calls for a demobilization of Sandinista military forces along with a demobilization of contra forces, requiring Nicaragua to stop accepting socialist bloc aid once the US ends aid to the contras. This leaves out a crucial point: Nicaragua's military conflict is not primarily with the contras but rather with the US government itself. The fact that the Sandinista armed forces, with their capacity to be converted from conventional to guerrilla forces in the event of a US invasion, constitute the most formidable such defensive force in the history of Latin America, has acted as the principal brake on the Reagan Administration's dreams of invasion. The lack of reciprocity in the Reagan-Wright plan must be stressed; it does not even call for the dismantling of US bases in Honduras to accompany the Sandinistas' demobilization.

All of this indicates that the real objective of the plan is to overthrow the Nicaraguan government or, in Reagan's words, to "substitute the current structure of the Sandinista government." This explains why the plan was presented right before the Guatemalan summit, with the intention of blocking the peace process—an explanation that fits with Reagan's behavior before, during and after the signing of the accords.

But how then can we interpret Jim Wright's position in supporting it? The fact that Wright gave a warm welcome to the Guatemalan accords just after they were signed shows that, despite his error in judgment in joining Reagan's plan, a decision much criticized by liberals in his party, his objectives can be attained in the Guatemalan accords. Without renouncing the principles he considers important for US interests, Wright searched for a negotiated solution, a political way out. Reagan, on the other hand, seeks only a military solution.

The Democrats at last have in their hands, thanks to Latin America's efforts, a coherent alternative with which to confront Reagan and put an end to seven years of US-Nicaraguan conflict. This explains why Wright participated in the meeting between Ortega and Obando in Washington, and why his participation met with such a negative reaction from the White House. The door through which Nicaragua can enter to force the Reagan Administration into direct bilateral negotiations is the US Congress—a fact the Republicans cannot ignore, as they did for years when Latin America was pursuing a solution through the Contadora process. In the cease-fire negotiations between the Sandinistas and the contras, what is weighing in the balance is a three-way dialogue among Nicaragua, Republicans and Democrats.

The challenge to Nicaragua at the moment is to keep that door open and broaden the political space created through cease-fire negotiations and internal political dialogue. This will lead the way, inevitably and irrevocably, to a direct US-Nicaraguan dialogue. Blocking the passage of $270 million in contra aid is not an end in itself but rather a mechanism to force Reagan to direct talks in these last months of his eight years in office.

The challenge to Wright is to overcome divisions and indecisiveness within the Democratic Party and establish and maintain a united front with which to confront the Republicans and forge a new alternative policy toward Central America and Latin America.

The Republicans, on their part, might maintain their militaristic position, or might be amenable to some changes. Republican officials consulted by The Miami Herald stated that Secretary of State George Shultz would support gradual changes, reducing aid to the contras while keeping them alive as a force, and permitting a genuine diplomatic opening. A faction of the Republican Party would like to resolve the question of Nicaragua before the end of Reagan's term in order to avoid the accusation of saddling his successor with a policy in ruins. This faction would present a softening in policy not as a failure but as evidence of the triumph of US pressure on the Sandinistas, which at last forced the Sandinistas to negotiate. It remains to be seen which current will finally prevail among the Republicans, but it is clear that this three-way dialogue presents all sides with significant challenges.

Difficult negotiations: War or peace

The initial responses the Nicaraguan government has received from the two dialogues currently being carried out—with the contras in Santo Domingo and with the internal opposition in Managua—are not very encouraging.

The contras' counterproposal, which took 16 days to surface after Cardinal Obando presented the government's proposal in Washington, conditioned the cease-fire upon a virtual dismantling of the institutions, laws, organizations and achievements won since the revolutionary triumph. According to the contras, these prerequisites to a cease-fire would include dismantling state enterprises on expropriated properties; suspending military service, dissolving the state security apparatus and other measures that together would virtually disarm the Sandinista army.

The contra proposal started from the premise that they "control" some 68,000 square kilometers—over half of national territory.* In the event of a cease-fire, according to the contras, the Sandinista army would also be required to leave this entire area.
*A claim so absurd that Barricada published a reproduction of the contramap used to illustrate their claim, with the caption: "We're not pulling your leg, dear reader, this is the map from the US counterproposal. So if you're in Estelí, Matagalpa, Ocotal, Juigalpa, San Carlos, Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas—and the list goes on—then you should know as of today that you're in contra country."

In the National Dialogue taking place in Managua, and as the starting point for the agenda agreed to by the parties and the government, the opposition political parties most closely allied with the United States are fighting for substantial constitutional reforms.

The approach of both the contras and the opposition parties in their respective dialogues with the government bear the stamp of the hard-line approach pushed by Elliott Abrams within the Reagan Administration—a provocative one calculated to place obstacles in the way of the peace process and close off any room for negotiations. But if Nicaragua can navigate through these troubled waters, it will then be Wright and the Democratic Party's turn to block the request for $270 million in contra aid, laying the basis for direct US-Nicaraguan negotiations. What would the Republicans then do, given the usual intra-party tensions between hard-line and pragmatic currents brought out in an election year? It is a particularly difficult moment in which to make predictions, given that President Reagan's far-right supporters have bitterly criticized him for the disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union, while popular opinion against his war policy in Central America continues to grow. With the election campaign year nearly here, that is not a good position for the Republicans to be in.

Peace has never been so close at hand. But a return to war is still possible. If the Democrats cannot block the approval of $270 million in contra aid, one of the most essential aspects of the Esquipulas II accords will have come to naught. And if Nicaragua is forced to confront a new wave of aggression, can it survive the spiraling economic crisis? Backed into a corner, would it take up a new strategy of supporting the Salvadoran and Guatemalan guerrilla forces? What would it mean for Duarte's army if Nicaragua were to share with the FMLN portable anti-aircraft missiles supplied to the contras by the US, which the Sandinista Army has salvaged in battle? The Salvadoran crisis would enter a new stage. And so would the Nicaraguan one. The threat of US intervention could forge a united front among Central American revolutionaries, dedicated to resisting it with a long-term guerrilla war. Is this what the United States is looking for? Or would it prefer a negotiated solution? The answer lies in the three-way dialogue.

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