Esquipulas II—Is Peace at Hand?
The Central American Presidents were greeted with fanfare and a drum roll as they entered Guatemala's National Palace on August 7. The palace symbolizes the history of a Captaincy General that united all of Central America during the last century. After listening to the national anthems of the isthmus' five countries, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias read the text of the document, "Procedure for the Establishment of a Strong and Lasting Peace in Central America," which details the agreements reached. When Arias finished, those present responded with a prolonged standing ovation as the Presidents signed copies of the accord. Nearly 500 journalists from around the world were present at the signing. Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo offered a closing speech. "All five governments had to make many concessions," he stated, "but we put the interests of the Central American collectivity above all else... We know there will be many complaints, that these accords will unleash many pressures and much discord, but we demand that our will to build peace be respected."
Last month we showed that the final stretch of the Reagan administration's battle with Nicaragua will be defined by two key factors: first, the results of the Guatemalan summit and second, the position that the US President adopts vis-à-vis the counterrevolutionary forces. (See envío, August 1987.)
The Guatemala meeting was expected to produce some, perhaps minor, advances. The tremendous step forward that the meeting finally did produce and the impact this advance will have on any future strategies adopted by the Reagan administration therefore came as a surprise. Informally known as the Esquipulas II accords, they are not a list of rhetorical principles but rather a complex set of very concrete steps to be taken toward peace. As such, they mark a fundamental rupture in the ongoing dynamic of confrontation between the United States and Nicaragua.
The signing of the accords constitutes the single greatest expression of Central American unity in this century. In Central America's long history of dependence on the United States, the accords themselves signify a milestone in distancing the Central American nations from current US policy toward the region. They are a message to the world that a new reality exists in Central America, one that offers an opening for the Nicaraguan revolution. From this perspective, the Esquipulas II accords are a reaffirmation of a worldwide movement for peace in Central America, which can now look to the accords themselves as a reference point for its ongoing efforts in that direction.
Although, a new path toward peace was opened up with the signing, this path is strewn with obstacles. The introduction of the Reagan-Wright plan, unveiled on the eve of the Guatemalan summit, was an attempt by the Reagan administration to block any autonomous agreement among the Central American countries. With its failure, the administration is now trying to neutralize the Esquipulas II accords with what we will refer to as "Project Abrams," focused, as usual, on toppling the Sandinista revolution. This time the strategy is to thwart fulfillment of the Esquipulas accords with the aid of that sector of Nicaragua's internal opposition allied with the Reagan administration, and to try to gain more funds for the counterrevolution to continue the destructive war against the Nicaraguan people.
Nicaragua's response to this latest phase of US aggression has been to both continue its military offensive against the contra forces and strictly comply with the accords it signed in Guatemala. If all that was agreed to is actually carried out, including the absolutely essential point of an end to US aid to the contra forces, peace will have been achieved. If all the points are not complied with or all the countries do not carry out the specified measures simultaneously, as stipulated by the accords, Nicaragua's actions will still place it in a better situation—nationally, in Central America and internationally—to achieve this long-awaited and necessary peace. In either case, a far-reaching step toward peace was taken in Guatemala. This introduces a whole new political dynamic into the Central American region and isolates Reagan and his policy of war as never before. For example, just hours before the signing, the Central American Presidents had laid to one side the conflicting plan put forth by President Reagan.
What the peace accords containThe Esquipulas II accords seek peace and the democratization of Central America. To achieve peace, the five Central American states are exhorting regional and extra-regional governments currently assisting armed anti-governmental forces to cease this aid; they call for a cease-fire and commit themselves to prohibit the use of their national territories for the staging of destabilizing actions against other governments. To achieve or strengthen democracy, the five governments have pledged to hold presidential, legislative and municipal elections as called for by their countries' Constitutions, in the presence of international observers. They also agreed to repeal any states of exception, siege or emergency, in order to put the Constitution of each country into full effect. As part of the peace and democratization process, it was agreed to declare amnesty as well as initiate a dialogue with the unarmed political opposition. Additionally, elections will be held in 1988 for the formation of a new Central American Parliament.
To verify and follow up on the accords regarding amnesty, cease-fire, democratization and free elections, National Reconciliation Commissions will be created in each country, made up of one government representative, one representative of the legal opposition parties, one Catholic bishop and one "notable citizen" who neither serves in the government nor is a member of the ruling party. At the same time, an International Verification and Follow-Up Commission will begin to function to ensure total compliance with the accords. This commission will be composed of the foreign ministers of the Contadora, Support Group and Central American countries and the secretaries general of the Organization of American States and United Nations (or their representatives). Outstanding matters regarding security (arms control, verification and limitation) will continue to be negotiated through the Contadora Group.
The accords are understood as an indivisible and harmonious whole. On November 7 (90 days after the initial signing), the commitments on amnesty, cease-fire, democratization, cessation of aid to irregular or insurgent forces and the non-use of territory to attack other governments will enter into effect simultaneously.
Why were the peace accords signed?The basis for establishing the Esquipulas II accords can be found in seven years of confrontation between Nicaragua and the Reagan administration. During this time, the counterrevolutionary forces spearheading the US project in Central America began their now irreversible slide to total military defeat. Moreover, the influence of the Reagan-oriented opposition parties in Nicaragua was lessened in the 1984 elections by the refusal of some parties to participate and the poor showing of others. At the same time, the ultraconservative religious sectors were unable to fill the political void created by the waning influence of these opposition parties. Despite the economic crisis facing the country, Reagan's policy became less and less effective inside Nicaragua. Finally, the military defense structures put in place by the Sandinista government made direct military intervention against Nicaragua increasingly inadvisable. Although the possibility of such direct US action against Nicaragua still cannot be discarded, it would result in extremely high political and economic costs for the invading forces.
Thus the success of either of the US military options against Nicaragua—continuing the contra war or undertaking a direct intervention—has become more and more unlikely, making a political solution seem more and more reasonable. This is the option that the Contadora group, in what the Esquipulas II accords referred to as a "visionary" effort, has been trying to promote since 1983.
Since that time, the Contadora and Support Group countries have confronted a great number of difficulties presented by some of the Central American countries. Aligning themselves with the Reagan administration's plans, these countries opted for blocking a negotiated solution and adding fuel to the armed counterrevolution's cause.
Not until 1986 were significant changes observed on the Central American scene. In Costa Rica, Oscar Arias won the presidential elections as the self-proclaimed "peace candidate," recognizing that the military path represented by the counterrevolutionary forces was no longer a viable option. This was concretely demonstrated when Eden Pastora's ARDE forces, operating from Costa Rican territory, read the writing on the wall and gave up the fight only weeks after Arias took office. Arias also realized that a US invasion of Nicaragua implied serious costs for Costa Rican society as a whole, endangering the democratic model of which Costa Ricans are so proud.
These objective factors were combined with other, more subjective, ones. Although Costa Ricans are anti-Sandinista based on their deeply rooted anti-Communist sentiments, and anti-Nicaraguan for reasons that include a deep-seated racism, they are unwilling to involve themselves actively in a military conflict. In this sense, they are a peace-loving people. Arias was smart enough to grasp the importance of this constellation of factors and use it to win the elections.
As President, Arias opposed the military route and lent his support to a political solution to the region's problems. But at first he used this route to seek political capitulation on the part of the Sandinista government. During his inauguration, in the presence of a number of Presidents of the Contadora and Support Group countries, Arias unsuccessfully tried to secure their signatures on a document making nearly the same demands of Nicaragua as Reagan had in 1985: dissolution of the National Assembly, new elections to be held immediately, etc. Arias was seeking the same objectives as Reagan, but using political rather than military means. Not until the beginning of 1987, when the counterrevolution’s irreversible decline was apparent to all, the Democratic Party had won the November elections and Reagan was bogged down by the Iran/Contra scandal, did Arias change his position. His new peace plan, a creative variation of the latest Contadora plan, provided for a truly negotiated solution. Meanwhile, Reagan's time in the Oval Office, and thus his personal obsession with Nicaragua, was running against the clock.
Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo supported President Arias' new initiative to seek a political solution to the Central American conflict. Cerezo took power in January 1986, initiating a new phase in the political project that continues to be directed by his country's armed forces. Since the end of the 1970s, the Guatemalan military had faced a resurgent guerrilla movement. The repression unleashed against that movement was of such magnitude that President Carter, and even President Reagan during his first term, was unable to send substantial military or economic aid directly to the Guatemalan military. Relying on their own counterinsurgency experience and counting on continued Israeli support, however, the military was able to deal significant strategic blows to the guerrilla forces in the ensuing years, particularly 1982. Since then, the Guatemalan army has been of the opinion that limited democratization strengthens their counterinsurgency strategy, as it gives the Guatemalan government much-needed legitimacy, both internally and internationally.
In its Central American policy, Cerezo's government is an expression of this process of change. Recalling Guatemala's own recent history, the Guatemalan military wants to maintain a certain autonomy vis-à-vis the United States. It is considered a powerful and capable force inside Guatemala, particularly when compared with the Salvadoran Army, which is very directly dependent on the United States and has been ineffective in its struggle against the FMLN.
From this point of view, the Guatemalan armed forces see the conflict between Nicaragua and the Reagan administration as a struggle in which geopolitical factors play the most crucial role. In the first place, Guatemala has no borders with Nicaragua, which permits it a measure of flexibility compared to the other Central American countries. Secondly, Guatemala does share a border with Mexico, one of the leading Contadora countries, whose position vis-à-vis the Guatemalan refugees there is critical to Guatemala in military and social terms. In the third place, if Guatemala had reason to fear military action, it would logically be Salvadoran, as El Salvador borders Guatemala. For all these reasons, the Guatemalan army has little to gain by involving itself in a military conflict with Nicaragua. In fact, the regionalization of the Central American conflict could mean a new resurgence in Guatemala's own guerrilla movement, which could prove disastrous for Guatemala's manufacturing and tourism industries, the most developed of any on the isthmus.
Using this logic, the Cerezo government aligned itself with Arias in the search for a peaceful and political solution to the regional crisis. This does not mean, however, that it will be easy for either of these governments to maintain their positions, given their close relations with the United States and the US ability to pressure them. In this context, the signing of the Esquipulas II accords suggests a certain, but perhaps short-lived, flare-up of nationalist expression among the region's countries.
The situation is quite distinct in the cases of El Salvador and Honduras. The Salvadoran government is almost totally dependent on the Reagan administration: if it were not receiving US aid, the guerrilla forces of the FMLN would take power in a matter of months.
When the Arias Plan was proposed in February 1987, El Salvador's President José Napoleón Duarte, like Honduras' President Azcona, did not want to sign. Later, after a meeting with Reagan's Special Envoy to Central America, Philip Habib, Duarte proposed postponing the presidential summit that was to have taken place in June. By doing so, Duarte was keeping in line with administration wishes to block a political solution to the US-Nicaragua conflict.
When the Guatemala summit did take place, Duarte was facing his most serious internal crisis ever, with rapidly dwindling international support. Even though the US government has sent over $770 million to El Salvador this year alone, the country’s economic situation is critical. The union movement’s demands are increasing, yet the ultraconservative oligarchy remains unwilling to yield an inch. In addition, the FMLN's military strength prevents a climate of negotiation advantageous to the government. Duarte's signature on the Guatemalan accords gives him some tactical space within which to maneuver. Esquipulas II conditions dialogue with the FMLN on it disarming, and opens political space for negotiation with the legal opposition forces in the country, thus improving the government's image internally and internationally. It remains to be seen if Duarte's calculated signing of the accords will give him a political edge in light of the FMLN's military capability and the FDR’s increasing political activity.
Signing the accords was much tougher for Honduran President José Azcona Hoyo. Honduras still maintains some of the characteristics typical of a so-called "banana republic," including a poorly developed national economic base and a political system dependent on and thus highly vulnerable to US business and political interests. Working with this dependent structure as a foundation, the Reagan administration has turned Honduras into a virtual military base for staging actions against Central American revolutionary movements. This process has only served to strengthen Honduras' traditional dependence on Washington.
Nevertheless, the gradual defeat of the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionary forces and their brutal behavior in Honduran territory has created a number of problems in recent years with some military and coffee-growing sectors within Honduras, sparking movements that have garnered the support of a majority of the Honduran population. These ruling class sectors, which would seem to be saying, "Yankees sí, contras no," haven’t been able to impose their will within the country, given the depth of US influence. In signing the Esquipulas II accords, which oblige Azcona to expel the contra forces from his country, he appears to have opted for the anti-contra sectors within Honduras. We also should not discard the possibility that Azcona felt significant pressure to sign from both the other Central American Presidents and the international community present at the Guatemala meeting. Neither of these possibilities is incompatible with an attempt by Honduras to jockey into a better bargaining position to secure more economic aid from the US.
Why did the Nicaraguan government Sign? For Nicaragua, the Esquipulas II accords represent the most important step that has been taken in the whole diplomatic search for a negotiated peace. Although the dynamic of the confrontation with the United States has been making it harder for the Reagan administration to pursue a military solution, this in itself doesn’t automatically bring peace any closer; positive steps are also required.
Nicaragua's signature on the accords has certainly caused problems for President Reagan's militaristic policy. This is particularly important right now, when his time in office is running out. It should also be noted that there are new obstacles to the personal enmity Reagan has shown toward the Nicaraguan process—an enmity that could lead him to decide on politically irrational actions like "surgical" bombing strikes. At the same time, President Reagan now has a new occasion to support, with verifiable deeds, a political solution that would be acceptable to his government and that of Nicaragua.
It would be a mistake to explain Nicaragua's position in Guatemala only in reference to the Reagan administration, however. The Esquipulas II accords also open up the possibility of negotiating with the next US administration, whether of liberals or pragmatic conservatives. Compliance with Esquipulas II means Nicaragua has reaffirmed the path of a negotiated political solution, whether in the short run with the Reagan administration or in a broader perspective with the next US administration. This would involve complementing the Esquipulas II accords with a bilateral dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua or finding some equivalent mechanism.
The Nicaraguan government wants to work things out peacefully with Washington. But the Reagan administration would be mistaken if it interpreted this desire as a sign that the Sandinista government can be defeated politically. Sandinista flexibility should not be confused with any softness on its basic principles. These remain firm; all the more so when Reagan's military strategy is falling apart and direct intervention would be extremely costly.
A clear sign of this was the public debate in Managua on August 31 between President Ortega and Senator Robert Dole, in the running for the Republican presidential nomination. Dole, who came with a delegation of three Republican senators and one Democrat, announced in an open letter published in the Miami Herald that he would be visiting Nicaragua and had "important things" to tell President Ortega. Without no other notice or request for an appointment with Nicaragua’s head of state, Dole landed in Managua bursting with imperial arrogance. But he proved unable to respond to the strength and dignity that came through in President Ortega’s words. (See transcript of Ortega-Dole conversation, in this issue.) Over 100 national and foreign journalists covered the debate, which was televised in Nicaragua. The flexibility shown at Esquipulas II and the firmness toward Dole are the two sides of Nicaragua's message to Washington.
The Guatemala accords received unanimous worldwide support from such organizations as the Contadora and Support Groups, the European Economic Community, the Soviet Union and Cuba, the Nonaligned Movement, the OAS, the UN and an important sector of US Congress members. On August 19 the Central American foreign ministers met in San Salvador to form the Executive Commission that will follow up on the accords, and on the 22nd in Caracas the International Verification and Follow-Up Commission was constituted.
Reagan thrusts, Nicaragua parriesPresident Reagan couldn’t take quick enough action against the Guatemala agreement. He had failed to postpone the presidential summit indefinitely through President Duarte, as he had initially tried to do. That would have made it easier for him to get congressional support for the contras, since there would have been no notable steps toward peace in the region. The Reagan-Wright plan, launched just before the summit in a way that left a lot of diplomatic courtesy to be desired, turned out to be a boomerang. Visibly perturbed, Presidents Arias and Cerezo refused to change the established agenda; and President Ortega responded to the plan by proposing a US-Nicaragua dialogue in which the Reagan-Wright plan, intended to slow down or derail the peace process, could instead become a starting point to begin bilateral negotiations. Given these reactions, the plan was not welcomed as part of the agenda for the Guatemalan summit. Observers at the summit said this incident helped awaken a sense of Central American nationalism.
It also got Reagan into trouble in his own country. The ultraconservatives, rejecting the plan, compared the situation to the Bay of Pigs military disaster in April 1961. Liberal senators like Edward Kennedy and Tom Harkin considered the plan "an attempt to rehabilitate a failed policy." The final touch came when Jim Wright, Speaker of the House and coauthor of the plan, distanced himself from it and gave his support to the Guatemala peace accords.
The Reagan-Wright diplomatic initiative was the brainchild of a small group of top-level officials—among them, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, Secretary of State George Shultz and Special Envoy Philip Habib. According to Wright, Nancy Reagan got her husband's support for the plan so he would be remembered as "the peacemaker in Central America." Left on the sidelines for this one were Vice President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci and Under-Secretary for Latin American Affairs Elliott Abrams.
The plan calls for a cease-fire between the Sandinistas and the contras. The United States would then immediately suspend military aid to the contras, the "communist bloc" would cut off its aid to Nicaragua and the Central Americans would begin negotiations on military matters with US participation. With the cease-fire, the state of emergency legislation in Nicaragua would be suspended immediately and elections would be held right away, irrespective of the date stipulated in Nicaragua's Constitution, supervised by an international body like the OAS. The national reconciliation plan would include demobilization of the Sandinista military forces. From that point on Nicaragua could hope for US economic assistance.
With his eye on this plan, which was unacceptable to Nicaragua except as a starting point for negotiations, Habib wanted to include Nicaragua in his next journey through Central America to size up the possibilities for negotiations. But the White House vetoed the idea. With that, Habib resigned, and Abrams once again took the initiative. On August 17 Abrams met with forty officials, including top-ranking diplomats in Central America, to lay out the US strategy for the region.
Abrams' working plan has three key points:
First, label the Guatemala accords "preliminary" and use "secret diplomacy" to influence the Central American countries in an effort to tilt the negotiations in Washington's favor. The United States would put pressure on the governments of El Salvador and Honduras as the weakest links.
Second, beef up support for the internal opposition in Nicaragua to make it tougher for the Sandinistas to widen their democratic opening. The Reagan administration could thus continue to label the Nicaraguan government totalitarian.
Third, ask Congress for more contra aid, presenting the request as insurance in case the Esquipulas II accords turned out to be a failure. The contras could then follow up on this policy by proposing a partial "cease-fire."
If the first two approaches led to a breakdown of the Central American peace accords, then the way would be clear for a heavy military attack on Nicaragua with both Republican and Democratic support.
Nicaragua has moved to counter this project. Within the country it’s trying to implement all those aspects of the accords within its purview. At the same time, it has stepped up its military offensive, combining it with a new and broad call for the contras to lay down their arms and accept amnesty. These two courses of action are geared to defeat the Abrams Plan in the short run and, in a deeper sense, to move toward peace.
Stepping up the peace processAs a manifestation of Nicaragua's political desire to attain peace through negotiations, Daniel Ortega announced on August 8 that instructions had been given to withdraw the suit against Costa Rica in the International Court of Justice at The Hague. That was meant, he said, as an act of solidarity with the Costa Rican people and with President Arias, who played a crucial role in the peace talks. Even in the case of Honduras, which has shown no desire for peace as clearly or as seriously as Costa Rica has, Nicaragua requested that the start of oral arguments be suspended for at least three months.
Shortly thereafter, on August 11, President Ortega met with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and leaders of the domestic opposition parties. He gave them a copy of the Esquipulas II Plan and asked them to make up the National Reconciliation Commission.
On the 20th, in keeping with what was agreed upon in Guatemala, the Bishops' Conference presented its list of three candidates, consisting of Cardinal Obando, Bishop Bosco Vivas and Bishop Salvador Schlaeffer. On August 25 the government selected Cardinal Obando as the delegate and Bishop Vivas as his alternate. In political circles the choice was interpreted as a demonstration of the Nicaraguan government's political desire for reconciliation. In Church circles it was seen as a positive sign for the development of the new relationship begun in September with the hierarchy-state dialogue.
The 11 opposition parties legally registered in the country were also supposed to present a list of their three candidates, but they had a hard time doing so because of their own divisive rivalries. The parties broke up into two blocs, with some parties switching from one bloc to the other in the course of the discussions. It is interesting to note that these blocs were not ideologically defined. The Communist Party, for instance, was in the same bloc with the pro-Reagan group of parties in the "Coordinadora," which abstained from the 1984 elections. The other bloc included several Marxist parties as well as the Conservative and Popular Social Christian parties. Ideological and personal rivalries became compounded. Since the two blocs were unable to come to an agreement, each bloc presented its own list, which. Clemente Guido, former presidential candidate for the Conservative Party, the country’s number two political force, called an expression of the opposition parties' immaturity.
With expressions of sorrow over the division among the opposition, President Ortega chose Mauricio Díaz of the Popular Social Christian Party as the commission’s full member and Eric Ramírez of the Social Christian Party as his alternate. Díaz's party participated in the elections and was in one bloc, while Ramírez' party abstained from the elections and was in the other.
The third commission member is defined as a "notable citizen" with no affiliation with the government or the ruling party. The decision went to Rev. Gustavo Parajón as full member and. Gonzalo Ramírez as alternate. The former is president of CEPAD (Evangelical Committee for Aid to Development), the top coordinating body of the Protestant churches in Nicaragua; the latter is president of the Nicaraguan Red Cross. As the fourth commission member, representing the government, Vice President Sergio Ramírez was chosen as full member and Presidential Minister René Nuñez as alternate.
As the commission took shape, the opposition parties not surprisingly reacted in various ways. Some claimed that Díaz and Parajón were Sandinista sympathizers, while others criticized the lack of representation from the Marxist parties and the heavy religious presence. The Reagan administration charged that the commission was tilted in favor of the Sandinista government. Cardinal Obando insisted that it should not be judged "a priori" but rather "a posteriori," after seeing it in action. In any event, the selection of the four members met the requirements set down by the accords and earned the praise of independent observers such as the UN and the OAS representatives in Nicaragua. A few days later, Cardinal Obando was named president of the reconciliation commission.
Meanwhile, in line with Abrams' proposed support for the pro-Reagan internal opposition, some opposition parties began to make strong demands on the government—a general amnesty to include opening the prisons (a measure not contemplated in the accords), the reopening of La Prensa, immediate cancellation of the state of emergency, etc. According to Esquipulas II, Nicaragua would only be obliged to meet these demands on November 7, and then only if simultaneously there is a complete end to US support for the contras, Honduras dismantles the contra camps, and a cease-fire comes into effect, among other measures. Without yielding on fundamental matters, Nicaragua showed its good will from the very first by deciding to allow the return of Bishop Pablo A. Vega, who was deported in July 1986, and of Fathers Bismarck Carballo and Benito Pitito. The latter was one of ten foreign priests deported in July 1984.
Esquipulas II has started to create a new internal dynamic in Nicaragua, with a truly ebullient political mood surfacing in very diverse social groups. The state's gestures toward reconciliation with the Catholic Church are seen by some as giving further support to the détente that began with the Church-State dialogue, but they are viewed by others as a dangerous beginning of the typical marriage between the Church and whatever state is in power. Still others fear that Cardinal Obando may be able to use his new appointment as head of the National Reconciliation Commission to push pro-Reagan positions. The ultraconservative Coordinadora has taken a controversial stance, causing some people to begin calling them "trancos," a word made up of the same letters as contras. A more generous opinion is that if these reactionaries want any political influence within Nicaragua, the least they will have to do is "nationalize" their political program, which until now has been totally pro-United States.
Left-wing Marxist-Leninist parties such as the Popular Action Movement-ML focus on the possibility of radicalizing the process through their impact on the people, whom they see as being filled with fighting spirit but with their capacity to struggle kept in line by the Sandinistas. The question of whether, if contra aid ends, there should be amnesty for the Somocista National Guardsmen sentenced to prison in the trials following the revolutionary triumph is being publicly debated on call-in radio programs and in the newspapers; there is a sweeping rejection of that idea, particularly from the many thousands of families who have suffered at the hands of the Guard and now the contras. As far as the debate as a whole is concerned, the FSLN has declared that Esquipulas II is its governmental program for the immediate future because it demands a negotiated solution.
To the contras: Lay down your weaponsWhile the accords were being signed in Guatemala, the war continued. On August 25, when contra forces attacked the "Carlos Fonseca" peasant cooperative, three children under four years of age were wounded and a nine-year-old girl was killed. Two days before, five civilians were ambushed and killed by contras in the same department of the country. On the 28th the contras shot down an MI-17 helicopter. And these are only some of their actions. According to Defense Ministry reports, the contra forces sustained 445 killed or wounded in 328 military encounters between August 5 and September 5.
There is a new factor of growing importance in this phase of the war: the surrender of contras. While the above-mentioned attacks and battles were going on, amnesty (in effect since December 1983) was accepted by ex-Somocista mayor Oscar Peña, ARDE leader Carlos Coronel Kautz and a high-level FDN intelligence chief, Lester Ponce Silva. In the second half of August, 30 contras in Region I (Estelí, Madriz, Nueva Segovia) and 35 in Region VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega) also took amnesty. Beginning on August 27, commissions made up of Catholic priests, evangelical pastors and Red Cross members began to form in the war regions to receive former contras who are choosing in unprecedented numbers to give up their weapons and take amnesty. These commissions' purpose is to foster confidence and a sense of personal security in those who want to surrender.
At the same time, the Caribbean region of the country continues to witness the return of Miskitus—at the rate of two hundred a month—who had fled to Honduras. That tendency was reinforced on September 2 with the National Assembly's approval of the Autonomy Law for the Atlantic Coast. Since the start of this year, 185 indigenous fighters have taken amnesty in the coastal region, while an estimated 750 continue to bear arms, 500 of whom are presently in Honduras. According to Interior Ministry sources, the contras have launched attacks only five times in the last four months in this part of Nicaragua.
Although the war continues, even President Reagan's strong backing will be unable to stop the increasing breakdown of the counterrevolution. Reagan tried to slow that deterioration on August 24 when he sent a radio message to the contras over the FDN radio station broadcasting from El Salvador. "I know that your strongest desire is to return to your country," he said, while at the same time encouraging them to feel supported in the struggle and not to give up: "At the end of the road a free Nicaragua awaits you. We must not rest until we reach that goal.... I know you will continue in the struggle, and the United States will be with you."
The increasing military defeat of the contras is the basic factor at work in this new situation of breakdown and disintegration. The Guatemala peace accords are the immediate factor accelerating the process. The steps Nicaragua has taken in the wake of Esquipulas II have created tensions in the Reagan Administration and momentary divisions in the contra leadership, when three of the seven leaders declared that they might return to Nicaragua. While those who have laid down their arms state that the presidential summit strengthened the option to return peacefully to their country, President Reagan in his radio talk and in other declarations is trying to sow seeds of distrust in the accords. With Project Abrams, the Reagan Administration is trying to break Central American unity, make the democratization progress in Nicaragua more difficult and gain new US support for the contras. Esquipulas II is thus already having an very concrete and personalized impact at the very heart of the struggle between Nicaragua and the Reagan administration.
Nicaragua has redoubled its military offensive to give the coup de grace to the contras, calling upon them at the same time to accept amnesty. Making Esquipulas II its immediate government program, Nicaragua is getting ready for the political-ideological struggle that is on the domestic horizon, and is consolidating its international support, leaving the Reagan administration increasingly isolated. Today more than ever before, Nicaragua is a country at war seeking a "firm and lasting" peace.