News And Analysis Update, August 10 To September 5, 1982
The period covered in this update has been very eventful. Some of those events, particularly those which concern U.S.-Nicaraguan relations, reflected a situation which we have analyzed in the past and which has remained unchanged. On the other hand, new internal developments have arisen, both in terms of several unpredictable occurrences as well as in new policies of the Nicaraguan government to correct past mistakes.
In order to give a systematic framework to our analysis, we have divided the article into the following sections:
U.S. POLICY TOWARDS CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE PAST MONTH.
THE USE OF REGIONAL ALLIES IN THE REAGAN POLICY TOWARDS NICARAGUA.
THE INTENSIFICATION OF INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS WITHIN NICARAGUA: The events of Masaya and Monimbo and their political significance.
THE POSITION OF THE GOVERNMENT, THE FSLN, AND THE PEOPLE:
A defensive response to a particular situation.
Efforts to consolidate the revolution both internally and abroad.
Two new developments demonstrate the continuity of an aggressive policy on the part of the Reagan Administration toward the region.
1- U.S. POLICY TOWARDS CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE PAST MONTH
a. The Symms Resolution. This resolution was approved by the Senate on August 11 by a vote of 69 to 27. It does not have the power of law, but rather represents a “sense of Congress”. Nevertheless, it does represent a point of reference for future U.S. policy towards the region, which indicates the possible intensification of present policies. The resolution approves the possibility of sending American troops to Central American and the Caribbean “to contain Cuban aggression in the Western Hemisphere by whatever means necessary. Senator Charles Percy, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the Symms initiative as “a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution for Cuba”, making reference to a similar resolution in 1964, which allowed President Johnson to increase U.S. military intervention in Vietnam.
b. The speech by Thomas Enders given on the twentieth of August in the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. In this important speech, the Under-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs presented an analysis of the Central America region, country by country, in terms of their history, problems and perspectives. In his speech, titled “Building Peace in Central America”, Enders refers to Nicaragua as follows, “In Nicaragua [since the fall of Somoza] a hard-core group of Marxist-Leninist ideologues began to consolidate power with Cuban assistance, by creating the biggest military establishment in the history of Central America... History is beginning to repeat itself. Elections have been postponed, demonstrations are more and more frequent, and some opposition groups have even taken up arms... Like the Somoza regime before it, the government of Nicaragua is beginning to wage a war against its own people”.
With respect to the present situation, Enders said, “...We are providing limited assistance to Honduras, which has become a new Cuban and Nicaraguan target for terror and armed intimidation. Even Costa Rica, a country without an army, has come to us to discuss security assistance. The Costa Rican people also fear the threat of an aggressive Nicaragua with a growing military potential and dedicated to exporting violent revolution”. Referring to present problems in Central America, he added, “Of all these problems, that of Nicaragua is the most alarming. It was the Sandinista government which regionalized the conflict in Central America by supporting the violence in El Salvador... and now Nicaragua is promoting violence in Costa Rica and Honduras.” Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of his speech was the proposal to “seek out and explore every opportunity for reconciliation and peace...”, and then he enumerated a series of points related to this objective: the process of internal reconciliation within each country, ending the export of subversion from one country to another, limiting the introduction of specific weapons into the area, and limiting the number of foreign military advisors in each country.
The validity of Ender’s affirmations in terms of building peace must be weighed against ongoing U.S. actions. The day before Enders’ speech, the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Nicaragua issued a communique protesting the violation of Nicaragua’s territorial waters by the U.S. destroyer SPRUANCE. The destroyer was located ten miles off the Pacific Coast near the town of Jiquilillo, and it was armed with sophisticated surveillance equipment as well as offensive armaments, including multiple warhead missiles of the “Sea Sparrow” type, 127 millimeter artillery, rockets, and torpedoes.
In a speech given on August 28, Comandante Hugo Torres announced that in the past eight months there had been 38 infiltrations by counterrevolutionary forces from Honduran territory into Nicaragua, 36 attacks against border posts, 75 violations of Nicaraguan air space (of which 29 involved U.S. Air Force planes), and 5 violations of Nicaragua’s territorial waters. He added that there are seventeen counterrevolutionary encampments “financed by the government in Washington”, located in Honduras near the Nicaraguan border.
Both the Symms Resolution and the Enders speech express a dangerous and one-sided view of the situation in Central America.
The Symms Resolution not only contemplates a potential intervention, but also in effect discards the attempt to establish a serious dialogue for a political resolution to the region’s conflicts. It tacitly rejects the proposal Mexican President López Portillo made in Managua in February of 1982 (at the end of the meeting of COPPAL). López Portillo proposed a negotiated settlement for El Salvador (the Franco-Mexican proposal) and a dialogue between the United States, Cuba and Nicaragua to establish joint and lasting solutions to the present problems. The Symms resolution also negates the repeated Nicaraguan efforts to find negotiated and peaceful solutions as expressed by the Coordinator of the Government Junta, Comandante Daniel Ortega, in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council on March 25, 1982.
The speech by Enders, a person of some influence in U.S. foreign policy, raises the questions: does it represent a fundamental change in the foreign policy of the United States toward Central America (to build peace)? Or is it intended above all to achieve the political objective of giving the appearance to the rest of the world that the U.S. position is rational and moderate? This could then justify politically a future U.S. intervention in Central America should any possible dialogue break down due to the Reagan Administration’s own lack of good faith. In this context, the Symms Resolutions would be the means domestically of trying to justify a U.S. intervention in Central America, and the position expressed by Enders would represent the same attempt to legitimize intervention to the international community.
The first hypothesis seems doubtful. The events of the past three months, not only in Central America but also in the rest of the world, prove that there has been no such fundamental U.S. policy change. U.S. support for Great Britain in the South Atlantic conflict and its total support for Israel’s ruthless attack against the Palestinians constitute convincing proof of this point.
In terms of Enders’ position, we wonder whether Nicaragua, a small country of two and a half million inhabitants with countless internal problems, both new and inherited, has the capacity to generate all the problems affecting Central America. Furthermore, the United States military establishment, whose regional hegemony has been threatened by growing popular movements, is more likely to be interested in a war than a country which has not even had enough time and tranquility to rebuild from the last war.
- On August 11, U.S. Admiral Harry Train arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for an official visit. His visit coincided with the announcement that the United States and Honduras would carry out further combined military exercises. The same day, the head of the Honduran security forces, Colonel Daniel Bali Castillo charged Nicaragua with being responsible for the “war-like climate between the two countries”.
2- THE USE OF REGIONAL ALLIES IN THE REAGAN POLICY TOWARDS NICARAGUA
- On August 13, the Honduran Minister of Defense, José Serna Hernández, referring to the Symms Resolution, supported a possible U.S. intervention “because it is time that the United States respond energetically in defense of democracy in these countries”. The same day, the Honduran press reported a general mobilization of troops, and Honduran President Suazo Córdoba, during a ceremony for the promotion of military officers, emphasized the necessity of being alert for the possibility of a Nicaraguan attack.
- On August 25, Nicaraguan newspapers reported that Honduran Foreign Minister Paz Barnica had sent messages to the United Nations and the Organization of American States asking these international forums to “urge Nicaragua to promote peace” and presenting a list of alleged Nicaraguan military aggressions against Honduras. These notes were seen as part of a Honduran diplomatic offensive.
- On August 31, the former head of Honduran military intelligence, Colonel Leónidas Torres Arias, in a surprising press conference held in Mexico, charged that the head of the Honduran Armed Forces, General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, intends “to involve the Honduran people in a criminal and bloody campaign” against Nicaragua. He also accused Alvarez of being “a man obsessed, an adventurer, ambitious, extremist and repressive”.
- Also on August 31, a group of 60 counterrevolutionaries based in Honduras attacked a storage depot of the Ministry of Construction in the town of Iyas, between Matagalpa and Siuna in Northern Zelaya. In the attack, the guard for the depot was killed, the health clinic was destroyed and 31 trucks and other heavy equipment vehicles were destroyed. The material losses from the attack exceeded two million dollars in equipment which was being used to construct the road to the Atlantic Coast.
- It is important to mention this month the virulence with which both the Honduran and Costa Rican press have treated Nicaragua and the distorted interpretations that have been given to the events of recent weeks in Nicaragua. The column “Prisma” of the Honduran newspaper La Prensa on August 21, stated, “The Church has raised its voice, the Socialist International has virtually withdrawn its support from Nicaragua, and only the communist support this new dictatorship which is worse than the previous one.” The Costa Rican daily La Nación, on August 20, reported that, “The mobs controlled by the FSLN fought against the people in Masaya and Monimbó, just like Somoza’s National Guard did before... The repression in Nicaragua has no limits...” The majority of the media in both countries is carrying out a plan of discrediting the Nicaraguan revolution by accusing it of being solely responsible for all of the region’s problems (thereby concurring with the position expressed by the Reagan Administration). This campaign also is intended to isolate Nicaragua from the support of other peoples of Central America and discredit its revolution as a model for the region. The role of the media is part of the larger strategy, which includes the military aspect of destroying productive targets in actions carried out by the counterrevolutionary military units. The attack on Iyas shows that these groups are not only seeking military engagements with the Nicaraguan armed forces, but also are attempting to undermine the process of reconstruction in order to intensify the destabilization of the country.
3- THE INTENSIFICATION OF INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS WITHIN NICARAGUA:
The events of Masaya and Monimbó and their political significance.
The intensification of the ideological and political battle between opposing groups is one of the key elements which has characterized this recent period. Although this ideological confrontation has been most evident in the religious field, the confrontation is not essentially a religious matter. Opposing political and social concepts may be expressed through religious conflicts even though the origins may not be fundamentally of a religious nature.
Some simplistic interpretations of the events which occurred in Masaya and Monimbó placed them in the context of a confrontation between Sandinismo and Christianity, whereas in reality the confrontation is more accurately between Sandinismo and the opposition, or even between Sandinismo and the counterrevolution.
- On Saturday, August 14, during a procession in Monimbó (a barrio of Masaya, 30 kilometers south of Managua) in honor of the Feast of the Assumption, in which Managua Archbishop Obando y Bravo was participating, a minor incident occurred between members of some of the Christian base communities and members of the youth group of the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), who were accompanying the Archbishop.
- During that weekend rumors were circulating throughout Masaya and Monimbó that “the FSLN wants to do away with religion”, “the FSLN is going to close down the churches”, “the FSLN is going to outlaw the Catholic religion”, etc. These rumors created an atmosphere of confusion and tension among the Christians.
- Monday morning, August 16, after classes had begun in the Catholic Salesian School in Monimbó, the directors of the s school, led by Father Morataya, ordered a 24-hour suspension of classes to protest the “aggressions suffered by the Church”. Later, the school was occupied by youths who were supposedly students supporting the suspension. The secretary of the FSLN in Masaya then arrived at the school to negotiate a reopening of classes, but no agreement was reached. According to some versions, upon departing, the FSLN car ran into a person who was at the entrance to the school; according to other versions, he was hit by another car which was passing by. The person, José Mercado Pérez, was taken to the hospital, but released that same afternoon. Several days later he stated, “Whoever pushed me in front of the car were not people from Monimbó. They were reactionaries, but they were not people from Monimbó because I didn’t recognize them”. (Barricada, Aug 24).
- Several hours later, three people from State Security arrived at the school to try to negotiate once again, but they too were unsuccessful.
- At this point, several bands, some of them armed, were forming in the streets of Monimbó and telling people about Sandinista “atrocities”, including a story that the FSLN had killed a person from Monimbó. These bands attacked the central office of the CDS and various militia posts. According to later explanations, the militia, the police, and other Sandinista officials had strict orders not to use any firearms against the people. For that reason, furniture from several offices was burned by these bands without any armed resistance.
- Around five p.m., the mass organizations and the trade unions in the area turned out to protest the provocative actions of the morning and the take-over of the Salesian school. As the demonstrators were approaching the school, shots were fired from within at the crowd, which numbered approximately 10,000. Empty cartridges were later found within the school. Two youths were killed instantly, Edmundo Castellón and Eddy Guzman, the latter being an active member of the Sandinista Youth Organization in Masaya. Seven other people were wounded. After the first minutes of panic and confusion, more people from Masaya and Monimbó took to the streets to demonstrate and ask the government for arms to respond to these aggressions.
- Around 9:00 p.m. there was a demonstration of some 17,000 people. The Minister of the Interior, Comandante Tomás Borge, asked everybody to remain calm and not to respond to the provocations being orchestrated against the people.
- At the same time, the security forces peacefully cleared the school and arrested 81 persons, only nine of whom were from Masaya. In addition, five Salesian priests, all foreigners, were taken to their respective embassies. Except for the school’s director, Father Morataya, whose residency permit was revoked and who therefore had to leave the country immediately, the other four priests returned to their regular jobs.
- On Tuesday, August 17, another large demonstration was held to protest the events of the previous day and the killing of the two youths. The mass organizations initiated a week of mobilization and a permanent state of alert.
- On August 18, 50 of the people who had been detained were released.
As a result of these events, the Salesian school was temporarily closed by the government, and a Consulting Board was named with representative or the popular organizations of Masaya and the Ministry of Education.
- On August 27, Father Luis Corral was named the new director of the school: he is a Salesian priest who had been working in the nearby city of Granada. This ended the government’s intervention in the affairs to the school.
Significance of These EventsOn the same day that the Salesian school was occupied, there were attempts to take over four other Catholic schools in Managua. Members of the Sandinista Youth Organization prevented these takeovers from happening. Also on the same day, two other Catholic schools in Masaya suspended their classes. When these events are added to the campaign of rumors which were circulating in Monimbó, one can see that the events of Monimbó fit into a more generalized and premeditated strategy in which the takeover of the schools was the signal to begin.
Both within Nicaragua and abroad, Monimbó is a symbol of the fight against the Somoza dictatorship because of its extremely valiant conduct during the insurrection. For this reason, the celebration of the third anniversary of the revolution was held in Masaya.
If the plan to spark a popular uprising had been successful (as the international wire services were quick to report), this would have represented the first large political defeat for the revolution. Just one month after the anniversary celebration the significance of the celebration slogan, “Monimbó is Nicaragua” would have been totally changed to indicate that all of Nicaragua was rising up against the present government.
On the basis of this hypothesis, Nicaragua’s national unity, the basis for the revolution, would have been cracked wide open, and what is more significant, this crack would have occurred in the most important part of the unity, at the base level. It is very possible that if the incidents of Masaya had spread to other places, a part of the people, those with the least political clarity, would have been swept up by these events.
Considering all these different elements, it seems that the plan which the counterrevolution attempted to carry out in Masaya represents a qualitative step forward in terms of their operations, going from military operations carried out by specialized units to trying to provoke a collective insurrection in the political field.
In ideological terms, if the incidents of Masaya had become widespread, that would have given legitimacy to the contradiction between Sandinismo and Christianity, and it would have benefited the political opposition which presents the Nicaraguan church as being “persecuted” and “a victim of totalitarianism”.
What prevented this counterrevolutionary plan from working was, first of all, the immediate response of the people against those in the school and, second, the way in which the FSLN handled the situation by using non-violent means to remove the occupants of the school. Had the FSLN given arms to the people as they were demanding, a massacre really would have taken place.
We have identified two primary types of policies in the past month. One was primarily defensive, designed to respond to events as they occurred and call the people’s attention to the government’s position; the other was more related to the process of reconstruction and consolidation of the revolution. We will analyze these two policies separately since they respond in two different, though not independent, ways to the practical problems of the past month.
4- THE POSITION OF THE GOVERMENT, THE FSLN, AND THE PEOPLE.
a. A defensive response to a particular situation. This covers a series of responses to a special situation which came about as a result of the increase in the ideological battle in the religious area, specifically the events in Masaya and Monimbó. These events placed the FSLN temporarily in a disadvantageous position, obliging them to adopt a cautious and defensive stance. Their position included:
- The communique of the National Directorate of the FSLN on August 18, which contained four points summarized below:
1- A reaffirmation of the FSLN Statement On Religion issued in October of 1980 (See Envío # 1, June, 1981) and ratified by the Second Sandinista Assembly in early 1982.
2- A characterization of the recent events in which people of the church were involved as not being of a religious nature.
3- A reiteration of the fact that the principal enemy of the Nicaraguan revolution is United States intervention; therefore, the FSLN will not fall prey to provocations which jeopardize national unity.
4- A call for calmness and mature dialogue among all parties concerned, a call to the press not to exacerbate tensions, and a call to the people to direct their efforts to reconstruction, defense of the country and peace.
- The press conference given by the Minister of the Interior, Comandante Tomás Borge, on August 19. Borge gave many examples of how the international press was distorting, if not actually lying about, recent events in Nicaragua. He cited specifically the daily paper Correo Brasileño, which printed a story by their correspondent in Nicaragua (Horacio Ruiz, a Nicaraguan and the editor of La Prensa) saying that Bishop Salvador Schlaefer had been jailed. Several days later, August 23, Bishop Schlaefer published a clarification denying that he had ever been arrested.
b- Efforts to consolidate the revolution.
1- The process of regional decentralization has made enormous progress this month. The regional decentralization plan had been announced on July 19 (See Envío 4), but it was not until August that the first steps were taken to implement the plan. The first step has been to form regional committees which will be in charge of carrying out the reorganization.
Before the revolution, the government structure’s primary objective was assuring the export of products which were in demand in the advanced capitalist countries. Since the revolution, this model which was centered in Managua is being radically changed. To do this, as well as for the economic reactivation and survival of the revolution, it is necessary to develop a more rational utilization of natural, economic and human resources which in turn necessitates a suitable organizational structure. Manuel Morales, the representative of the Government Junta in Region I (Las Segovisa) described some of the problems in the past, “I know of one case in which at the same time that we were saying repeatedly that we didn’t have enough vehicles and that there were shortages of gasoline and spare parts, on the same day, at the same farmers’ cooperative, the representatives of Procampo, the National Development Bank and ENABAS all arrived in separate cars”.
The regional administration will have legal authority in each area. It will also define the development strategy for the region and propose, coordinate, and evaluate these strategies based on the region’s resources. These regional plans will then be placed into the national context by the Ministry of Planning and the Government Junta, who will establish general priorities that will be carried out by the regional authorities. All of this is oriented towards decentralizing administration and guaranteeing that economic benefits and social services reach all areas of the country and all sectors of the population.
2- The FSLN assumes a position of self-criticism with regard to internal policies. In a talk given to party members, Comandante Bayardo Arce, coordinator of the Political Commission of the FSLN, stated, “...many people’s criticisms should not and would not exist if we, as the vanguard, had fulfilled our responsibilities better”, referring to the lack of political consciousness within the state apparatus. Countless problems of bureaucracy and other limitations have plagued the government structures, and it is encouraging to see the FSLN recognizing such failures which affect the people.
3- The “Face the People” program returns. The Face the People program is a means of criticism and self-criticism in which members of the government meet with the people. It had been suspended for several months but began again on August 20 in the Barrio of Santa Rosa. It is shown three days later on national television.
4- On August 13, the local press announced that the national financial system had provided a total of one billion córdobas in credits in this agricultural year to the private sector for the cultivation of 101,000 manzanas of cotton, while in the state-run area (APP), 320 million córdobas had been provided for 34,500 manzanas. In spite of the recent drought, which threatens a large portion of the cotton crop (at present 6200 manzanas my be lost in the area of Malpaisillo alone), the official policy continues to give priority to promote the mixed economy.
5- On August 25, the Council of State approved the law reforming the legal system, which, among other points, established that certain minor crimes can be decided by judges alone without the necessity of a trial. Juries will decide those crimes of rape, murder and other major crimes.
6- In a meeting with foreign correspondents, Government Junta member Sergio Ramírez reiterated the government’s commitment to hold elections in 1985, as was decided after the triumph of the revolution in 1979.
7- On August 28, a meeting was held between leaders of the FSLN and more than 800 professionals in various fields. Given the political make-up of this group, which is not always very well integrated into the revolution, and given that this was the first meeting of its kind to be held, this meeting was considered very important in integrating different social groups into the revolution.
8- As of September 2, 1982, 120 of the projected 425 kilometers of telephone lines had been installed between Matagalpa and Puerto Cabezas on the Atlantic Coast. This project to provide direct communication between the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts is being carried out by rotating volunteer crews of 100 workers from TELCOR, the national telephone company.
9- Work is continuing to develop the new urban barrios which have sprung up as a result of the recent floods. More than 410 families from barrios near the lake were resettled in ten areas. Each family was given a 7 by 10 meter lot. Many of these new areas are located along the principal avenues that criss-cross the center of Managua. Without attempting to hide the poverty, a solution to the emergency was sought which would benefit the flood victims and relocate them near the primary centers of population and work.
FOREIGN RELATIONS1- On August 16 Sergio Ramirez participated in the inauguration of the new President of the Dominican Republic. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ramirez, a member of the Nicaraguan Junta, met with members of the Socialist International in that country, with positive results. He also met with, among others, Venezuelan President Herrera Campins.
2- Nicaragua participated as an official observer at a meeting of the Council of State of the Latin American Parliament in Colombia.
3- On August 26, the Liberal International opened their convention in Managua, bringing together the most important leaders of Liberal Parties from around the world. The host for this convention was the Independent Liberal Party of Nicaragua, which belongs to the Patriotic Front of the Revolution and whose leader, Virgilio Godoy, is the Minister of Labor.
4- On August 30, the 17th Regional Conference of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization opened in Managua.
5- Of considerable importance in this last month have been the public declarations by the German Social Democratic Party, which appeared in the local press on August 24, and by Pierre Schori, head of the Swedish Social Democrats and one of the leaders of the European Social Democratic movement. These declarations denounced United States aggressions against and interference in the Nicaraguan revolution.
6- On September 1, in his semi-annual report to the nation, Mexican President López Portillo, at the same time that he announced the nationalization of the banks in Mexico, repeated his position on the problems in Central America. His remarks may be summarized in the following quote, “Nicaragua should resolve its own problems. It should not be burdened any longer with economic pressures, nor with threats of foreign armed interventions. There are rational and worthwhile options. Leave Nicaragua in peace!”.
7- Nicaraguan diplomatic efforts to initiate a dialogue with Honduras have run into new difficulties with the rejection by Foreign Minister Paz Barnica of an invitation to meet with his Nicaraguan counterpart. This would lay the groundwork for a meeting between Honduran President Suazo Córdoba and the Coordinator of the Junta of the Nicaraguan Government, Commander Daniel Ortega, for the purpose of finding solutions through dialogue which would lessen the present tensions between both countries.
CONCLUSIONSIn summary, we can enumerate some of the major points that emerge from an examination of the current Nicaraguan situation.
The possibility of an intervention by the United States in the region still exists. There has been nothing that would demonstrate a change in the aggressive policies of the Reagan administration. On the contrary, the Symms Resolution and the Enders speech are a kind of theoretical foundation and form of legitimization which, far from alleviating the tense relations between the U.S. and Nicaragua, increase them. In addition, the policies of the Reagan administration for the Central American region involve constant pressure on the pro-American governments in the area, which in some cases results in internal contradictions due to the way in which U.S. policy objectives in the region do or do not coincide with national objectives. These internal contradictions are apparent in the latest public declarations by the important Honduran military official, Colonel Torres Arias, and the later military “reorganization” carried out by the most reactionary sector, led by General Alvarez, trying to consolidate his power and political hegemony. Declarations by certain politicians in the region (Figueres and Echeverria in Costa Rica, for example) have also expressed their concern for the consequences that the war-like U.S. policies can have.
Within Nicaragua, the response to the threat of an intervention has been different from that of October 1981 (Halcón Vista) and March 1982, when there were large and impressive demonstrations by the people. Even though there is talk now of the possibility of foreign intervention (including the position that a silent invasion is already underway: see Envío #14), the response has not been a large-scale mobilization, but rather an effort at organizational consolidation, beginning this month with the second militia training course, with a medium- and long-term perspective. This means that the possibility of an intervention is being seen as a long-term possibility, and this is being passed on to the people in their daily lives.
Also in the domestic situation, this last month has involved a sharpening of contradictions between different and at times antagonistic political and ideological sectors. Toward the end of August there was a lessening of tension over these conflicts although the tensions between the government and the Church have not been completely resolved.
Original in Spanish