In the Eye of the Hurricane
Tension increased in Nicaragua this month in the wake of the US Senate's ratification of war through its approval of the $100 million for the counterrevolutionaries. With both houses of Congress now supporting the Reagan Administration’s military option to destroy the Nicaraguan government, the Contadora process is clearly in crisis and direct intervention becomes more likely.
In contrast, Nicaragua sought and found support from the countries of the Nonaligned Movement, which endorsed Nicaragua's options for dialogue and self-determination at the group's eighth summit meeting in Zimbabwe. Even US allies at the summit, aware of the virtual impossibility of the contras being able to defeat the Nicaraguan government, were very pragmatic in their approach to Nicaragua, despite US pressures.
Meanwhile, the strategic defeat of the contras continues to be Nicaragua's strongest card in its unequal struggle with the United States.
US Senate ratifies the unspoken declaration of warWith the Senate's approval of contra aid, previously approved by the House, Congress definitively committed itself to the contra war. On August 13, after one day of debate, the Senate bill was approved by a 53-47 vote.
In the weeks preceding the vote, there was some hope that the debate would at least generate delaying tactics such as a filibuster or passage of restrictive amendments introduced by liberal Senators. In the end there was no filibuster, and the amendments introduced to mitigate the proposal’s aggressiveness were rejected, one after the other. Contrary to previous contra aid debates, rightwing senators this time were not forced to make any assurances that there would be no US troop intervention in Nicaragua. This weakening of the liberals' room for maneuver, particularly on the question of direct intervention, was more alarming than the passage of the bill itself. Even the World Court's decision in favor of Nicaragua's case, handed down between the House and Senate votes, did not cause the legislators to reconsider.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, an opponent of contra aid, commented prophetically, "This is not the end of the debate; it is the start of sending US troops to Central America." Three days later, on August 15, the House of Representatives lent greater probability to his prediction by approving a bill prohibiting governors from blocking the sending of National Guard troops from their state to "military maneuvers and actions outside our country," as some governors have already done. The short-term result will be the continuation of National Guard "training" in Central America to keep Nicaragua under constant pressure. The long-term intent of the bill could well involve an eventual direct intervention.
Only days after the House move, it was announced that US Special Forces would be sent to Honduras, El Salvador and/or Panama for the now "legal" training of the contras. Initial opposition from the Honduran and Salvadoran governments to the Green Berets appears to be nothing more than public pressure on the US to give even more economic aid to their countries. Following the Senate vote, the Reagan Administration named Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, to oversee the contra war budget. The CIA will direct military activity.
President Reagan, meanwhile, was clearer than ever in his anti-Sandinista rhetoric, referring to the "overthrow" of the Nicaragua government as the ultimate objective of the contra war. Without ever formally rejecting the World Court decision, both the executive and legislative branches of the US government continued violating it through their organized aggression against Nicaragua.
Nonaligned support NicaraguaThe unequal war Nicaragua is facing and the intensification of Reagan's military option make imperative the strengthening of relations with other third-world countries. Despite their wide variety of political structures and ideological positions, all these countries find themselves in unequal struggles for their economic, political and cultural independence.
The eighth summit meeting of the 101 countries that make up the Movement of Nonaligned Nations, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 1-6, was very successful for Nicaragua in this respect. A "third world alignment" with the Nicaraguan revolution was affirmed, and through that a broader base of support than the Latin American alignment. Although Latin America has been Nicaragua's principal base of support during the last several years, the continent's greater dependence on the United States compared to most African or Asian countries is a constant limitation to its effective solidarity.
Africa has traditionally been the vanguard of the Nonaligned Movement, and the weight of African issues was seen again at the Harare meeting. The priorities of the "front line" countries*—an end to South African apartheid and the decolonization of Namibia—dominated the debate and the most important results of the meeting.
*The group of African countries known as the "Front Line," which is struggling against the policies of the South African regime, was formed in 1976 after the independence of Angola and Mozambique. In addition to those two countries, the group includes Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The priorities of the group today are the struggle against apartheid and the liberation of Namibia. The group has close ties with three other African countries: Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland.
Nicaragua's relations with Africa since the revolution have been limited to yearly contacts at the UN and other international forums at which Nicaragua's Foreign Minister, Father Miguel D'Escoto, has shared a growing solidarity with many African leaders. The need for deeper third-world alignment, however, demands greater and more permanent Nicaraguan presence on the African continent. While Nicaragua already has embassies in Algeria and Libya, its only embassy in black Africa is located in Mozambique. A new one will now open in Zimbabwe.
En route to Harare, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega visited three African nations (Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Congo), as well as Yugoslavia, one of the founding nations of the Nonaligned Movement.* President Ortega’s trip to Africa was to further develop Nicaragua's ties with the countries of that continent. Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) has recently undergone a radical revolution; Ghana is one of the largest countries in Africa and the Congo will hold the presidency of the Organization of African Unity next year.
*The first meeting of heads of state of the Nonaligned countries was held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on September 6, 1961, and Marshal Tito was one of the main organizers. The Movement was opened to countries in Latin America and Europe, but only 25 countries participated in this first meeting, most of them African and Asian countries that had recently shed their colonial status. Yugoslavia has tried to preserve the original vision of the Movement's purpose: non-polarization and equidistance from both giant blocs. Today, however, that vision is challenged by another, which defines non-alignment as the taking of independent third-world positions based on a country's real needs. This position puts the onus on the two blocs to approach or distance themselves from the Movement, and not the reverse.
Nicaragua, which joined the Nonaligned Movement a month after the victory of the revolution, brought to Harare both the cause of preserving its right to self-determination and the specific proposal that Managua be the site of the ninth summit in 1989. The latter was a bold move since the host country is also the leader of the Movement in the three years following the summit. To be chosen, Nicaragua would have to begin the difficult task of constructing or significantly and quickly reinforcing a network of political and diplomatic relations with numerous countries. In terms of infrastructure, important investments and economic adjustments would be required for Nicaragua to accommodate high-level delegations from more than a hundred nations. The boldness of Nicaragua's proposal is in keeping with the political significance that the summit site carries, a significance measured by the extensive US maneuvers in Harare and other capitals of nonaligned countries to pressure against Nicaragua's candidacy.
The Movement received Nicaragua’s bid “sympathetically,” as the final document demonstrates, and no delegation directly opposed it. It did, however, create debate at the summit. Some pro-US or "neutralist" countries felt that naming Managua as the site would cause an anti-US polarization of the Movement, destroying the balance and equidistance they feel define it. Other countries felt that the actions of the US government itself are the cause of more and more polarization. During this same summit, for example, the US imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe for "its litany of arbitrariness and unfounded charges against US foreign policy." This action affected the discussions concerning the site.
In order not to distract from the theme of South Africa, the decision was postponed until a later meeting. Two ministerial-level meetings are scheduled, one in Cyprus in 1987 and another in North Korea in 1988. Nicaragua remains the only viable candidate to come out of this meeting. Indonesia put itself forward, but its candidacy has little practical likelihood, since the custom of the Nonaligned Movement is to rotate the site of the summit meetings and in 1989 the choice should go to a Latin American capital. In addition, Indonesia's problems with East Timor have met with severe criticism from the majority of nonaligned countries, making the success of its bid doubtful. Although Peru had both domestic and international reasons for wanting to be the next summit site, it did not propose itself in opposition to Nicaragua's candidacy, although it could compete for the site at a later date if consensus is not reached regarding Nicaragua. With its candidacy, Nicaragua succeeded in putting Central America in a prominent place at the meeting.
In his first presentation at the summit, Nicaragua's President Ortega, chosen to speak in the name of Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed out that defense of international judicial order is "where small and weak countries have their first line of defense." When he spoke again on September 4, this time in the name of Nicaragua, Ortega referred to his country as "the strategic reserve of nonalignment in an area that US military power considers its strategic reserve." He underscored that Nicaragua does not consider itself an enemy of the United States and wants to have "normal relations" with the US government and reiterated his country’s desire "to initiate a constructive dialogue immediately" with the US government. He also gave Nicaragua’s reasons for proposing itself for the site of the next summit: "We do it to defend the global principles of our Movement: to defend and support the verdict of the International Court of Justice; to defend international law and to defend peace in Central America. These principles are already being defended with the blood of the Nicaraguan people on its 'front line,' in defense of the sovereignty of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
To be named as the site of the next summit was one goal; another was to achieve maximum support for Nicaragua's political and diplomatic positions at a time when Contadora is in deep crisis and conditions for intervention are increasing. This support was amply given in bilateral contacts between the Nicaraguan President and other chief executives or heads of delegations, in remarks by a majority of speakers at the summit (80 explicitly expressed their solidarity with Nicaragua), and in the final document. The Nicaraguan positions, backed by international law, were as rational and defensible as the positions of the Reagan administration were the precise opposite. The verdict at The Hague and the latest Nicaraguan initiatives with Contadora played an important role in forming a consensus among the third world countries in favor of Nicaragua.
In fact, during the course of the summit a majority of delegations came to view Nicaragua's struggle for self-determination and against US aggression as a symbol of the entire Movement and its philosophy. Even countries that don’t necessarily agree with Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista ideology recognize that Nicaragua has supported its struggle in international law and has insistently proposed dialogue with the very US superpower that’s attacking it. Because these positions coincide with the historical platform of the Nonaligned Movement, it was virtually impossible for a member of the Movement, no matter how close it may be to the US, to publicly oppose Nicaragua's embodiment of them.
The strongest and clearest declaration ever from the Nonaligned Movement concerning the Central American problem came out of this summit. Central America, and especially Nicaragua, was second in importance after South Africa. Fourteen paragraphs of the summit’s final document detail its position concerning the conflict in Nicaragua. The document:
* reiterates that the roots of the Central American conflict are socioeconomic and cannot be explained "in terms of ideological confrontation between the two military blocs";
* condemns the intensification of aggression against Nicaragua, denouncing all "terrorist practices" used in that aggression;
* expresses the belief that political and economic pressures and military actions increase the risk of a regional war;
* expresses "indignation" at the approval of $100 million for the "mercenary contra army," and strongly condemns "this illegal and immoral act";
* emphasizes that the aid is not only an act against Nicaragua but "an insult to the principles and objectives of the Nonaligned Movement and the United Nations Charter ";
* affirms its solidarity with Nicaragua and calls for the "immediate suspension" of aggression, threats and pressures to "overthrow the legally constituted government of Nicaragua";
* exhorts the United States to respect the World Court decision;
* fully supports the Contadora and Lima Group efforts;
* welcomes the Caraballeda Message and its principle of simultaneity;
* urges the US government to reopen conversations with the Nicaraguan government;
* praises Nicaragua for the "constructive measures" it has taken in Contadora;
* agrees that demilitarization of Central America is necessary;
* regrets that the United States continues to block the adoption of a negotiated solution;
* views positively the agreements between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to supervise the common border and calls on the Honduran government to respond affirmatively to a similar initiative by Nicaragua; and
* expresses its satisfaction at the strengthening of political and economic dialogue that has occurred between Europe and Central America.
As these statements indicate, the Nonaligned Movement gave its complete support to Nicaragua, going far beyond Contadora's possibilities of support. Contadora is by definition a mediating entity and is hampered by those Latin American countries dependent on the United States.
Sixteen Latin American countries belong to the Nonaligned Movement: Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Surinam, and Trinidad & Tobago. All of these countries, carried along by the increasingly progressive posture of the Movement, defined, expressed and accepted radical anti-US positions in Harare that the majority could not or would not have endorsed in other forums.
All attempts at the summit by countries such as Ecuador or Colombia to raise controversial domestic issues regarding Nicaragua, and thus "contadorize" the issue, were unsuccessful. Subjects such as political pluralism and press censorship, for example, matters for pressure and treated with ambiguity in Contadora, are not what preoccupy and bind together the impoverished countries of the South. The Nonaligned Movement's list of priorities begins with the arms race; the need for a new international economic order; hunger; defense of their own cultures; the foreign debt; an increase in South-South relations; the ongoing struggles against colonialism, racism and Zionism; the provision of health and education for all; national liberation struggles, etc. Countries that try to discredit other countries by questioning their internal policies find themselves discredited.
After the conclusion of this summit, President Ortega visited India, China and North Korea in his continuing effort to strengthen relations with third world countries. The opportunity to deepen political and trade relations with Peking only a few months after diplomatic relations were established between China and Nicaragua is very important in Nicaragua's present economic situation. Important economic agreements are also expected to be reached with India.*
*In conjunction with the Harare meeting, the Nicaraguan Minister of Foreign Cooperation published figures concerning aid from nonaligned countries to Nicaragua. Since 1979, this aid has amounted to $760 million, 60% of which has been donations.
After the Harare meeting, and after the World Court verdict, which will be debated at the upcoming 41st UN General Assembly, US foreign policy toward Central America and Nicaragua appears more and more isolated and the political costs required to achieve its final objective increasingly high.
The contra defeat—Source of Sandinista firmnessThe Nonaligned Movement's support for a government would be unimaginable, even if it represented a just cause, if that government was checkmated militarily. Its support for Nicaragua reflected in part Nicaragua's achievements in the war against the contras, achievements that insure the stability of the Sandinista process and support its anti-imperialist stance. When Nicaragua proposed itself as the site of the next summit, it projected an image to the third world of security based on military success and confidence that this will allow it to put its efforts toward resolving other internal, political and economic problems.
Month after month, the strategic defeat of the contras is proving deeper and more irreversible. For over a year, since the attempt to take the town of La Trinidad (Estelí) in July 1985, when the Nicaraguan army first used Mi-24 helicopters in battle, the contras have not launched a single important military operation. Rather, it has been the Nicaraguan army that decides where and when the offensives are carried out. In addition, the density of government troops in the border areas has made the contra crossings increasingly difficult.
During the first half of 1986, the FDN have experienced even greater defeats than in 1985. In the first four-plus years of war, it suffered a monthly average of 166 casualties; between January 1 and July 11 of this year that average increased to 733. FDN losses in this same period equal 30% of the total casualties it has taken in over five years of war. A newer Defense Ministry report, still incomplete, indicates that FDN casualties between July 11 and August 15 are yet greater.
This growing military dominion by the Sandinista forces, together with adjustments in the agrarian policy that favor the peasantry, has left the contras little capacity to replace their casualties through kidnappings or even ideologically induced recruitment. In the first six months of 1986, they kidnapped only 280 peasants, compared to the six-month average of 430 during the previous four years.
Thus, although Congress has given the contras more money, they lack men to shoulder the arms that will presumably be bought with it. Given this, the counterrevolution is increasingly obliged to use capital-intensive, high-tech, terrorist tactics and to rely less on the capacity of the contras’ guerrilla forces.
Furthermore, although US intelligence technology is put at the disposal of the contras, it does little good. One example is the systematic espionage that the US carries out to improve contra strategy. Between August 1 and 15 there were eight reported RC-135 spy flights over Nicaragua. This plane has the capacity to detect the exact position and size of the Nicaraguan troops and equipment at a given moment.* Regardless of the exactitude of the intelligence gathered by these flights, however, little advantage can be made of it without internal leadership, effective organization, troop morale and political work. These factors do not exist within the contra organization.
*It requires eight hours of flying time for the RC-135 flights to cover the military area they need to cover and later compile that data. Each flight costs the United States $200,000. Such expensive intelligence assistance to the contras is but one indication that $100 million is merely a symbolic amount of aid, and has more political than military significance. The real figure is many times that.
The new financing doesn’t guarantee the contras the capacity to confront the Sandinista army directly, take small rural towns or control any territory in the countryside over time. In short, it doesn’t give them any likelihood of recovering the tactical or strategic initiative. Given this strategic impotence, the contras keep their cause alive by attacking economic targets, cooperatives, etc. Lately their favorite activity has been to plant mines in rural roads. The reduction of contra action to indiscriminate terrorism shows clearly that this group lacks the capacity to spearhead a direct Marine invasion. Its strategic defeat has reduced it to the position of only being able to follow the invaders, to "occupy" what the foreign troops "take."
Until that happens, the way is open for the CIA to implement other, more strategic terrorist acts than just planting mines that destroy a civilian transport truck or a military tank, or leave a Sandinista soldier without feet or a passing peasant dead.* The terrorist acts with true destabilizing potential—assassinating leaders of the revolution, destroying the oil refinery, the geothermal plant, the ports or the airport—have not occurred so far, although reports from the Ministry of the Interior indicate that there are frequent plans and interrupted attempts to do just that.
*This month, after the July attack against a civilian vehicle in which three European volunteers were killed, the Nicaraguan government decided to withdraw all foreign volunteers serving as technicians, doctors, etc. in war zones, relocating them in the department capitals.
Because those possibilities exist and because the logic of the aggression demands that they be carried out, Nicaragua continues to prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, it also continues to build, insofar as the survival model permits, with the certainty that time and the more progressive forces of history are in its favor.
Two examples of pragmatismThe Reagan Administration dream, in which the contras destroy or overthrow the Nicaraguan government, has, it seems, turned into a nightmare. Despite difficulties, Nicaragua is surviving. As time goes on it becomes more evident that Reagan's only hope is a bloody intervention, bringing with it a widespread regional war.
Furthermore, Nicaragua has been able to keep its fundamental principles intact. Political pluralism is surviving and bringing out the polemics evident in the political parties as the debate over the proposed Constitution gets underway on the floor of the National Assembly. The mixed economy is surviving in spite of the difficult, slow transition toward a survival model, a challenge the Sandinista leadership has been grappling with for several months. Nonalignment is not only surviving but also thriving, as we have just described.
Because the revolution is neither failing nor surrendering, and because its military destruction would not be easy, there are scattered new or renewed signs of pragmatism making Reagan's goal even more illusive.
Regional trade rerailedOn August 19-20, the Central Bank presidents, economic ministers and vice ministers of the five Central American countries held their yearly meeting, this time in Managua. The purpose of this year's meeting was to restructure and facilitate trade in the area, which has declined significantly during these years of crisis. In 1985 alone, the total decreased from $1.2 billion to $500 million.
Regional trade mechanisms were set up over twenty years ago with the creation of the Central American Common Market. Although private enterprise in each country carried out the trade transactions, their Central Banks paid them in the local currency and itself accumulated either the debt or the dollar payments from the purchasing country.
Nicaragua has been a very active customer since 1979, and has thus accumulated a $300 million debt with the Central Banks of its four neighboring countries. They have recently begun responding by applying any Nicaraguan payments against its debt rather than permitting the money to be used for additional purchases—a situation not to the liking of their private enterprise, from whose perspective Nicaragua is an excellent customer.
A new mechanism was set up that would allow all the countries to trade without paying in dollars. This mechanism is called Central American Importation Right. Through it, trade can be conducted in the respective currencies of the countries through documents issued by their own Central Banks, covering up to 100% of imports. These documents can be renegotiated by third countries within the region and will be valid for one or two years.
Nicaragua's outstanding debt was renegotiated until 1991. The assumption of this debt by the Central Banks of the four neighboring countries increases their own deficit and balance of payment problems. In effect, however, the US has unwittingly assumed the debt, since these countries’ balance of payment deficits are systematically subsidized through the US Agency for International Development so that economic problems will not have political consequences.
The pragmatism of the new agreement obviously doesn’t coincide with US policy, which has prioritized Nicaragua’s economic isolation. As is evident, however, the US embargo is not in the interests of Central American private enterprise, Reagan Administration rhetoric notwithstanding. To survive the economic crisis in the region requires a barrier-free market.
The US has difficulty breaking natural Central American economic coexistence. It’s not as easy to isolate Nicaragua as it was to isolate Cuba since Central American unity is not just an illusive ideal but also a reality born out of economic necessity.
From that perspective, Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramírez offered the following package of proposals at the meeting:
* that the Central American countries go to the European Common Market meeting in January 1987 and present a joint medium- and long-term proposal for financing to enable each country's industrial infrastructure to operate at full capacity and technologically renew the industrial plant of all of Central America;
* that the Central American Economic Integration Bank make simultaneous financing proposals to the European Common Market, multilateral organizations and bilateral credit sources to finance the reactivation of regional trade;
* that the five countries make joint proposals to obtain preferential prices for regional products in the markets, which up to now have been prohibited;
* that they work out a common position to negotiate the price of coffee—Central America’s chief export;
* that they conduct a joint search for new markets, using Nicaragua's experience of the past seven years with the markets of the socialist countries; and
* that they facilitate trade in the region.
While only the last point was immediately accepted at the meeting, the other proposals should not be seen as utopian. They are based on Central America's economic reality, the need for survival and awareness of the contradictions that regional cooperation can present to US strategy. The Central American economy, weakened but still interrelated, shows that after seven years Reagan has been unable to break the regional economic ties, or to close the borders of countries with economic needs for integration. The logic of economic interests imposes itself, which means that these annual meetings will continue to be held in their normal fashion and even with
The Catholic Church looks for more space Recent months have seen indications of a shift in what has been seen as a confrontational strategy by the Vatican toward Nicaragua the past several years. Although Vatican pragmatism comes from a very different logic than that of the Central American business executives, it also makes Reagan's plans more difficult.
The most concrete sign of this shift is the naming of Paolo Giglio as the new papal nuncio on April 2. Furthermore, he will not divide his time between Honduras and Nicaragua as did the previous nuncio.
Giglio, who arrived on July 28, was born in Malta in 1927. His Vatican career has been marked by delicate and important assignments and rapid advancement. He’s an important figure within Vatican diplomacy, considered the author of the dialogue between the Chinese Patriotic Church and the Vatican, a task that took seven years. Giglio comes to Nicaragua to repair and improve relations between the Sandinista government and the Catholic Church and is expected to do this using more finesse, more intelligence and less confrontation than characterized the past.
Why would the Vatican shift its strategy? There are several possible explanations:
* The image of the Nicaraguan hierarchy has been markedly deteriorating throughout the world and especially in Latin America due to the open complicity of Cardinal Obando and Bishop Vega with Reagan policy, itself increasingly offensive to Latin America's nationalistic sentiments. Since Latin America is the only predominantly Catholic continent, it is the "strategic reserve" in John Paul II's plan to restore Christendom. An ill-advised policy toward Nicaragua could be fatal for Vatican Latin American strategy.
* The positions of complicity or silence toward US aggression by Nicaraguan bishops have consistently contradicted the position of the US bishops. The latter have repeatedly condemned the Reagan Administration policy as "illegal and immoral.”*
*On August 11, the US Bishops' Conference called on the Senate to reject the $100 million in contra aid. In their statement, they were able, for the first time, to quote the Nicaraguan bishops. They cited the April 6, 1986, Pastoral Letter of the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference which said, "We condemn any form of aid, from whatever source, that leads to the destruction, pain and death of our families or to hatred and division among Nicaraguans." The inclusion of that sentence in the Pastoral Letter was seen as an indication that something was changing in the Vatican. (See envío, April 1986.)
* This contradiction between the Nicaraguan bishops and the bishops of the most organized and financially powerful Catholic Church in the world has not escaped Vatican attention.
* The government has responded to the confrontational policy of the hierarchy and some clergy by restricting their space for action and influence through such measures as closing Radio Católica, lack of access to other communications media, control of visas granted to foreigners, etc. This policy is proving quite costly in the Vatican’s eyes.
*There are no indications that the government restrictions have had serious repercussions in the Catholic community in Nicaragua. In the case of Bishop Vega's expulsion, there was almost no reaction. This indicates that after seven years of polemics and confrontation by the hierarchy, the only effect has been a growing loss of influence on Nicaraguan society. Nicaragua is not Poland, as John Paul II apparently saw it at one time. The "persecuted church" image does not ring true with the Nicaraguan people. Thus, political destabilization can’t be achieved through religion or the Church.
* Vatican diplomacy is aware of the foreign policy victories the Sandinista government has achieved and the military victories against the contras won and held by the Nicaraguan army. It is also aware of the bloodshed that direct US intervention would cause without really resolving the ideological problems the Holy See finds so disconcerting.
All of these reasons compel the Vatican to adjust, and quickly, the confrontational strategy it has been following to date, in order to conserve some space if there is an intervention or to use it better if the revolution is consolidated. The new nuncio seems to be the appointed architect of new bridges of dialogue and more realistic opposition structures.
Upon his arrival at the Nicaraguan airport, the nuncio made some remarks that were surprising only in that such ideas have seldom been heard from any of the Nicaraguan bishops: "The mission of the church is to form good citizens, to instruct our Catholics to love their country.... What makes a good Christian? To fulfill one's duty, to obey the laws of the country. To love God, to love the country, to love one's neighbor, to open the heart to work and the conscience to obey the commandments of God and country."
It is still very early to evaluate the effects of this shift with any certainty. The resumption of dialogue between the hierarchy and the government, , has created many expectations with the new nuncio’s participation. The government has helped raise these expectations by making Church-State relations the first point in the Chicago Proposal and by President Ortega's reference to the dialogue in several international speeches. The outcome of the dialogue at this critical moment may make the extent of this Vatican shift clearer.
What seems certain is that changes are taking place in the Vatican. Analysts of the caliber of Irish Catholic statesman Conor Cruise O'Brien have noted this. Although his European roots cause him to make judgments that lack understanding of the fine points of Nicaraguan nationalism and Christianity, he has captured the changes at the Vatican well in an article, "God and Man in Nicaragua," Atlantic Monthly, August 1986.
"It is true that in the past the United States has been able to intervene in Latin America repeatedly and with impunity. But things are a bit different now; there is a new spirit around. In particular, the new alignment of el Dios de los Pobres and la patria—faith and fatherland—is shifting the balance. Pope John Paul II took on that formidable alliance without quite knowing what he was taking on, and then found that he had to back away. In June, President Reagan, in personally swinging that House vote, and in defying the findings of the World Court, seemed still to be moving toward direct US intervention. But I hope that Ronald Reagan, like the Pope, may yet back away, before it is too late.”