Upping the US War Ups the Contradictions
Nicaragua continues in its uneasy calm, as it braces for a worsening of the war due to the injection of the $100 million approved by Congress for the counterrevolutionary forces. Meanwhile, the normal dynamic of the revolution, as well as several unusual activities carried out during this lull, continue creating contradictions for the US government, adding new obstacles to its war plans.
As the waiting period drags on, Nicaragua is not passive. In the sphere of international relations, President Daniel Ortega conducted his most extended foreign tour to date this month, strengthening the revolution's ties with the nonaligned countries, among others. In this same period, the Contadora process revived once again.
On the domestic political scene, the Constitutional debates in the National Assembly began, as did a series of bilateral dialogues between the FSLN and each of the opposition parties. In addition, the government began talks with the Catholic hierarchy.
US Democrats distance themselves, but do not opposeThe Reagan Administration’ expressed will is to destroy the Sandinista revolution, and its weapon of choice is military. Congressional representatives opposed to this policy—the majority of them Democrats—continued to distance themselves from it, thus dealing a small blow to Reagan's efforts to legitimize his war.
They did this by trying to block passage of some legal details necessary for the $100 million to finally get to the contras. Faced with the possibility that the bill would get bogged down, Reagan intervened, successfully pressuring the representatives to finish the process. Now that the controversial appropriations bill has finally been passed, the funds are expected to become available to the contra forces at the end of October.
The greatest distance the congressional representatives put between themselves and Reagan's policy was to extend until 1987 a 1984 law that prohibits the CIA from giving the contras additional money out of their contingency funds. In addition, the $300 million for the four other Central American countries originally approved as part of the package was not appropriated.
These obstacles, perhaps put in place by the congressional opposition to ease their consciences, cannot stop the CIA from providing funds to the contra forces through so-called private organizations, laundered so Congress can’t trace them. The contra leadership, upon hearing of this small setback for the CIA, candidly stated that the agency would covertly make up to $400 million available to them for travel, political activities, communications and intelligence systems.
What has suffered no change, even superficially, is the most serious element of the Reagan Administration's plan—the CIA’s lead role in directing the contra war.
The contradictionsThe political and moral gravity of this situation has led four US veterans—three from the Vietnam war and one from World War II—to put their lives in the balance in an attempt to mobilize the 62% of the US public that has consistently, but passively, opposed Reagan's Central American policy. Given the relentless course of recent events, it hasn’t been easy for this somewhat unpredictable sector to overcome its feelings of powerlessness or to find clarity amid the lies and sowing of confusion.
Beginning on September 1, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and another decorated war veteran began a "fast to the death" in Washington, DC; they were joined by the two others on September 15. Although news of this profoundly moving action taking place on the steps of the Capitol continuously made the front pages of Nicaraguan newspapers, it was, until recently, barely covered by the US media.
On September 22, the four fasting veterans took a Declaration of Peace to New York, where the 41st UN General Assembly recently opened. The veterans also released a statement in which they made special reference to the Contadora and Support Group countries: "We call on you to take immediate action in order to save lives in Nicaragua, even given the risk that the US might take reprisals."
In another action to mobilize public opinion, solidarity groups promoted a "Stop the Lies in Central America" campaign, slated to run from October 7 to November 7. In conferences, vigils, visits to congressional representatives, letters, popular actions, etc., the campaign aims to expose the six major lies that the US uses to justify its war policy in Central America.*
*The "six lies" are that US policy: 1) promotes democracy in Central America; 2) is a response to the Soviet threat in Central America; 3) is improving the human rights situation in Central America; 4) is not preparing for increased involvement in Central America; 5) is in accord with international law; and 6) helps the Contadora process.
Contra military training in Central America Despite the initial refusal by the region’s governments to allow contra forces to train in their countries, it is already happening. There’s news of it in Puerto Rico, at Fort Sherman in Colón, Panama, (thus violating the Torrijos-Carter treaties) and in different parts of Honduras. US Special Forces Commandos (Green Berets) arrived at Palmerola Air Base in Honduras to conduct the training; a virtual state of emergency was declared in all US military installations in Central America and strict security measures were implemented in the contra camps in Honduras.
The Honduran government's justification for this total submission to US policy is that you can't be poor and honorable. Vice President Jaime Rosenthal stated in a radio transmission that "Honduras is a pawn of the US. But that shouldn't bother anyone, because without the United States this country can't go forward."
The contradictionsTraining the contras to effectively use the new sophisticated weaponry that will be handed over to them is neither simple nor quick. The contradiction between the current capability of the contra forces and the short-term results the Reagan Administration needs doesn’t seem easy to resolve. The quality of the trainers is as important to the efficiency of the training as the ability of the trainees. Using Latino mercenaries who are naturalized US citizens and have some military experience ("unilaterally controlled Latino assets," or UCLAs in Pentagon jargon) would assume a greater US involvement in the war. There’s also always the temptation to commit the UCLAs to direct actions on the assumption that they could get the job done better.
Militarization of UNOThe US-supported civilian counterrevolutionary organization known as UNO (United Nicaraguan Opposition), led by the triumvirate of Adolfo Calero, Alfonso Robelo and Arturo Cruz, has been "militarized" too. The Military Council of the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Front), which is the largest member of UNO, has been given maximum powers. This council is made up of 30 former National Guardsmen from the Somoza era and is headed by Calero and ex-National Guard Colonel Enrique Bermúdez.
The contradictionsTo militarize the structures of the counterrevolution, wresting power from civilian figures Cruz and Robelo, is an option that could accelerate the US administration’s plans to escalate the war, but also threatens the always fragile unity of the contras" and jeopardizes their eroded image still more. Cruz and Robelo have expressed opposition to this new structure because it concentrates so much power in Calero and already infamous Somocistas.
Honduran military strengthenedThe Honduran armed forces have been buttressed with an eye to an eventual military escalation in which either conventional air attacks or "surgical" bombings will probably be required. The US government has turned over an undetermined number of F-5 Tiger II combat planes to Honduras this month, as a donation. These planes can fly 3,175 kilometers without refueling, more than the round trip distance between Tegucigalpa and Managua. They can carry up to 7,000 pounds of bombs and are equipped for six air-to-air missiles, four air-to-surface missiles and nine MK-82 guided bombs. The Honduran government also received three general use UH-1H helicopters and three Hercules C-130 transport planes.
The contradictionsWithin the context of the last Contadora discussions about armaments in the region, the transfer of these clearly offensive aircraft demonstrates the clear unwillingness of either the US or Honduran government to contribute to a negotiated solution. This contradiction eats away even more at the Honduran government’s international credibility. Furthermore, the continuing militarization of Honduras exacerbates tensions among the country's armed forces. This month a serious crisis at t top military levels affecting over a dozen high-ranking commanders is the latest demonstration of these tensions between those who support the radical US options and those who want to avoid a war against Nicaragua at all costs. These tensions go hand in hand with the contradictions and corruption generated by the flow of dollars to the country to maintain the contras.
Costa Rica gets in deeperCosta Rica's commitment to support the counterrevolution became more evident this month with the "discovery" of a large airstrip recently constructed, with obvious US participation, some 35 kilometers south of the border with Nicaragua. Planes providing arms and food supplies to the contras inside Nicaraguan territory have already used the airstrip.
The contradictionsThe United States needs Nicaragua's neighbors, both geographically and politically, but this leads to two contradictions. First, Nicaragua brought action against both Honduras and Costa Rica in the World Court at The Hague on July 28 for their support to the contra groups and the war they are carrying out—itself already condemned by the Court. Nicaragua and Costa Rica will first appear before the Court in October, to hear the steps Nicaragua must take to make a formal accusation, as well as what Costa Rica must do to respond. Second, the growing and ever more open militarization of Nicaragua's two neighboring countries is creating complex contradictions within both countries, not only damaging their governments in the international arena, but in the eyes of their internal opposition. (See "Briefs," this issue).
Setting all these concrete facts aside, the US government is continuing its threats against Nicaragua. On September 8, Carlos Tünnerman, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United States, was summoned to a meeting by William Walker, adjunct to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, to be informed that US intelligence "had knowledge" of Nicaraguan involvement in plans to attack US diplomats in Central America and the rest of Latin America. In the 41st UN General Assembly sessions, President Reagan, making no reference to the decision of the World Court (the UN's own judicial body), repeated his customary criticisms and threats against Nicaragua.
Intense defense activitiesIn this period of intense calm, the very motion of the revolutionary process, both in its normal activities and in the milestones that mark qualitative jumps, becomes another arm of the nation's defense. This month saw two such milestone events: Nicaragua’s presence among the nonaligned countries and the Sandinista government's new dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy. The other event—the legislative debate of the draft Constitution—is part of the normal process of institutionalizing the revolution.
Closer links with the third worldUS military escalation depends upon increasingly isolating both Nicaragua and important sectors of the international contacts and links that the Sandinista revolution has been making over the years. Achieving this has been neither easy nor successful for the Reagan Administration.
The longest and most complex foreign tour by the President of Nicaragua since the 1979 triumph of the revolution was undertaken this month. In last month's envío we discussed the most important part of his trip—Nicaragua's participation in the eighth summit of the Nonaligned Nations in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Nicaragua's candidacy for host site of the 1989 summit.
Seeking both economic and political solidarity in his 28-day tour, President Daniel Ortega visited Yugoslavia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Zaire, Zimbabwe, India, the People's Republic of China and North Korea, ending his visit in East Germany. The tour had immediate results in terms of material support, as China, India and East Germany donated thousands of tons of wheat and corn, as well as signing or reaffirming trade and aid agreements.
President Ortega's visit to the People's Republic of China was one of the most important. As the Nicaraguan ambassador to Peking put it: "It’s the most important stop on the President's trip, because of China's importance in the world and because it is opening its doors to Nicaragua."
Nicaragua established diplomatic relations with China in December 1985. During that month, there were visits by Nicaraguan Minister of Foreign Relations Father Miguel D'Escoto and Minister of Foreign Cooperation Henry Ruiz. The next month saw a visit by the minister of the Planning Secretariat, Dionisio Marenco.
This visit resulted in a $20 million no-interest loan from China with preferential terms. In addition, three agreements were signed between the two countries: one for the supply of products of prime necessity, another for the shipment of Chinese merchandise and a third for the formation of a mixed commission of scientists and technicians in the fields of agriculture, industry, forestry and energy. They also signed a protocol for mercantile exchange by which Nicaragua will be able to export its products to China.
In addition to this economic cooperation, China gave a clear expression of its political solidarity with Nicaragua. "China will show its friendship for Nicaragua," declared Hu Yaobang, president of the Chinese Communist Party. "China and Nicaragua should support one another and work together politically and economically."
On several key occasions, China has officially supported Nicaragua's right to self-determination and the Contadora efforts and has unambiguously criticized US policy both in its regional aspects and specifically against Nicaragua. These declarations have special meaning given that the attempted isolation of Nicaragua is a strategic point for the United States, which in recent years has become China's main trading partner(along with European countries). All signs indicate that China has now found in Central America and concretely in Nicaragua the opening toward Latin America it was looking for. This South-South alliance—of a small emerging country with an emerging great power—is a point to be taken into account in the present balance of international relations.
Contadora rises againIt’s hard to isolate Nicaragua, and appears no easier to kill Contadora. In addition to the Nicaraguan President's positive trip, it’s important to view Contadora’s new "resurrection" as a reopening of the international struggle.
When Congress approved the $100 million for the contras and the US government utterly ignored the World Court decision, Contadora hit near bottom in its well-known cycle of ups and downs. One voice in the international media jumped to the conclusion that it was now suffering "terminal illness."
The eight countries that make up Contadora and its Support Group, however, are forced to continue the struggle, pressured by their own national interests and by the nationalist dynamic that characterizes Latin America today. They are morally and politically obliged to show vital signs, no matter how offensive and intimidating the US attitude becomes toward the governments of the countries participating in this peace effort.
For all that, September l5, Central American Independence Day, passed and the Contadora Treaty was not signed. This had been one of the points of the Chicago Proposal put forth by the Nicaraguan President in August. One week later, however, on September 22, the eight foreign ministers of the Contadora and Support Group countries met in New York, where they had gone to take part in the UN General Assembly. Some of them issued more dramatic declarations about the Central American crisis than ever before. Such statements were in keeping with the reality of the situation but were also indispensable to give new life to the effort for an alternative to the conflict.
After ten days of such declarations and private conversations revealing a unanimous awareness that something had to be done—although what it might be was less clear—the eight foreign ministers prepared a document titled "Peace Is Still Possible in Central America,” which they presented to the UN Secretary General. The document, which takes a tone of dramatic urgency and alerts the world to the gravity of the situation, contains two concepts that while not completely new are very important at this point: 1) The Central American problem is all of Latin America's problem, and 2) security and democracy should not be used as a pretext to violate the principle of national self-determination. Nicaragua has also signaled the latter concept as one of the key points of the World Court decision.
With this document the foreign ministers have begun to rescue Contadora, although what initiative they may be considering to get the signing of the treaty on the agenda again remains no clearer than it was.
The revolution's permanent objective of denouncing the US war against Nicaragua in all nations and all international forums is an even higher priority at this very serious point in history. The battle trenches of solidarity and international awareness that could slow down the military escalation must be occupied and extended at all cost, no matter how long the current uneasy calm may last. Nicaragua and Contadora agree completely on the need to remain active. If the guard is let down in any trench, it brings the war closer, whereas ongoing diplomatic activity reveals what the war means, holds it back and can stop it.
The constitutional debate beginsWhen the consultation of the population in the open forums (see envío, No. 62, August 1986) came to an end, the National Assembly’s Constitutional Reporting Commission took a month to incorporate people's input and edit a new draft. Twenty-two representatives from the seven political parties took part in this Commission’s the editorial work, although there was some occasional absenteeism.
The article-by-article debate on this draft began officially in the National Assembly plenary on September l6, with all parties present. This process should culminate in the proclamation of the new Constitution on February 2l, l987 at the latest.*
*The next phase in the process of giving institutional form to the revolution will be the municipal elections. Given the need for legislation concerning the municipalities as a prerequisite, the elections will not be held before the final months of 1987.
It was no easy task to have all the political parties participate at the start of the debate. In a letter to the FSLN on September 1, five of the six opposition parties conditioned their presence in the debates on the holding of a "national dialogue" among the parties, which would mean postponing the debate. Only the Marxist-Leninist Party did not support this condition, even though it is an outspoken opponent of the Constitution’s very nature.
The FSLN, which has the majority in the Assembly (61 of the 96 representatives), rejected the postponement of the debate as well as the parties' "condition." It suggested instead holding bilateral conversations with each of them as well as multilateral dialogues to reach greater consensus, but without suspending or delaying the constitutional process.
The parties accepted the counterproposal, and are all participating in the debates, simultaneous with the beginning of bilateral talks with the FSLN. The Conservatives have expressed the most disagreements with the Constitutional project, though none of the opposition parties is satisfied with the current solution since all are seeking greater power and influence. These bilateral dialogues will not be completed in just one round.
It’s important to keep in mind that this seesawing has been an ongoing opposition tactic from the outset, as the parties search for areas of influence, greater shares of political power and reaffirmation of their social, if not political, weight. Each threat to pull out is followed by a return, in exchange for dialogues in which some aspects of the development of political pluralism are negotiated. This is what the Conservatives call "our institutional guerrilla war" and it has always been carried out in a climate of freedom. It is to be expected that such habitual short-circuits will be frequent in the process toward the signing of the Constitution.
So far, the Constitutional debate in the Assembly is moving ahead through very long sessions and with feisty participation by all the parties. There is broad coverage in the mass media, and various sectors of the population, including students, attend the Assembly sessions as observers. National Assembly president Carlos Núñez made the point that the FSLN has always insisted that the Constitutional debate itself is a good way of "dialoguing":
“We have felt that the Constitutional debate is precisely a form of dialogue because we’re discussing the pillars that will support Nicaraguan democracy and Nicaragua’s economic, social and political system. In writing the Constitution, what are we dealing with? We’re touching upon all the political, ideological, spiritual, material, economic and social characteristics of society, as well as those having to do with its organization and defense. All these points are going to be debated and discussed, and we’re going to have to talk, exchange criteria and persuade one another. Of course, we’re going to have heated discussion and intense polemics. We’ll try to moderate the debates and take a break at times to see if we can find solutions. The fact is that we’re getting into the whole scaffolding of society—all the principles and postulates of the new revolutionary state’s philosophy. That’s why I say that the parties can’t withdraw; they can’t sidestep their historical role as Nicaraguans, as citizens and as honest individuals. They can’t open the door of history, go out through it and be forgotten when the very ordering of society is being defined. That’s also a form of dialogue, discussion, polemic and political apprenticeship. I won’t say that we could come out of this process a little wiser, but I do believe that we’ll emerge from it a little more ‘learned,’ as the peasants say.”
As far as the opposition parties are concerned, this isn’t so clear. Despite the heated debates in the Assembly and some possible steps forward in the bilateral dialogues, questions have been raised about the FSLN's degree of flexibility in introducing changes into this second draft.
Although the Constitutional debate is a good occasion for the parties to express their different opinions and struggle to advance their positions, the war against Nicaragua has led to political polarization, and the parties labor under a weakness inherited from the Somoza era when political activity was severely impoverished. For these reasons the party differences have not congealed into a consistent and unified opposition alternative.
Moreover, the debate itself is giving rise to new tensions within the parties. The Conservatives have been divided constantly throughout their history—well before the revolution and today as well. The splits among the Liberals, which reached a serious point at election time in 1984, have now reappeared with the creation of the so-called Movement for the Democratization of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), led by Eduardo Coronado. PLI caudillo Virgilio Godoy holds firm to his position of obstructing the process and seeking to coordinate efforts with the extra-parliamentary parties. This month the Popular Social Christian Party has also shown signs of tension.
The counterrevolutionary groups attach less and less importance to the opposition parties in the Assembly. And for the Reagan Administration even the idea of a national dialogue that would include the contras is taking a back burner to the preparation of direct military actions to destabilize and overthrow the Nicaraguan government in the short tun. Although the Constitutional debate involving all the parties will not dissuade the Reagan Administration from its course of military escalation, the process can play an important role in helping US allies challenge the military options taken by the US government under the banner of "democracy."
Church-State dialogue beginsThe revolutionary government's dialogue with the Catholic Church hierarchy began on September 27 amidst great national and international expectations. These sessions had gotten started in December l984 with similar expectations, but had been suspended since October 1985.
The year of silence represented not a truce but a sharpening of the tensions. The revolutionary government reacted firmly to the constant confrontational policy adopted by sectors of the Archdiocese of Managua. In October 1985 the government padlocked the offices of COPROSA, the Archdiocese's social service center where the one and only issue of Iglesia was printed, and in December the government closed down Radio Católica. These were the government's two strongest responses until it deported Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega in July of this year, culminating a long period of attacks and counter-attacks.
In spite of all this, the dialogue has been resumed. The fact that this has happened, in the midst of such high levels of tension between the institutions, is one indicator that something is changing in Vatican policy toward Nicaragua.
According to the well-informed Vatican observer Giancarlo Zizola, this change could even lead to papal mediation to bring about a dialogue between Reagan and Ortega. "The President of the United States should speak with the President of Sandinista Nicaragua," said Paolo Giglio, the new apostolic nuncio to Managua, in an interview with Zizola for the September 21 issue of the Italian magazine Panorama. Zizola notes in his article that Giglio "has a precise plan to obtain this result," quoting him as follows:
“President Reagan should agree to speak with Daniel Ortega. Until now, Reagan, not Nicaragua, is the one who has refused to dialogue. The Church could do something, trying all possible paths, to bring about the conditions so this dialogue could take place, even when the difficulties are many and the objective possibilities few. It is clear that the United States does not want a government like that of the Sandinistas at its doors, but perhaps President Reagan still does not realize that intervention in Nicaragua would entail consequences even more serious than those brought on by the intervention in Grenada or in Libya. Moreover, the Church should interpret people's anxieties, and it is the people who are suffering and long for peace. If the Church, whose mission is not political, sees that its spiritual activity can serve to bring two varying points of view together, it should certainly not shirk its duty.
The government is open to this Vatican initiative. The same article quotes the Vice President of Nicaragua saying: "We are willing to take part in a dialogue between President Daniel Ortega and President Reagan called by His Holiness."
Within this context of Vatican policy, it can easily be seen that the dialogue that started up again in Managua—and had already had a second session by September 30th—is not just a continuation of those held in 1985. The new Vatican climate—evident in the assigning of this new nuncio—and this serious moment in the country's history clearly represent a new and different situation.
What emerged from the first two dialogue sessions was a decision to work out a common "general agreement" to serve as a framework for ongoing normalization of Church-State relations. Although some particular issues of concern on one side or another will also be discussed, the government is essentially seeking to establish that broader frame of reference.
The renewal of Church-State talks, with a view to normalizing the always-strained relations, is an important step for the revolution. If this normalization manages to take concrete form and produce goodwill gestures by both parties, the US government will have lost one of its most frequently cited reasons to justify the counterrevolutionary war: the supposed persecution of the Church in Nicaragua. This loss would undoubtedly make the possibility of direct military action even harder.
This month CIA director William Casey brazenly stated that the United States has a "proven method of toppling governments," indicating that it "is now underway in Nicaragua." He explained that it combines counterrevolutionary military pressures with an international campaign to isolate the Sandinista government, all reinforced by the internal political activity of Nicaraguan dissenters. The picture this month shows that the administration is finding the combination of these three factors to be a complex and difficult matter, and that even though it is increasingly putting the priority on military pressure, its predictable attempts to beef up these other factors will encounter obstacles and contradictions.