News And Analysis Update – September 5 To October 5, 1982
The meeting of foreign ministers in San Jose, Costa Rica, was attended not only by representatives of Central American and Caribbean governments, but also by the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs, Thomas Enders. It was an event of great importance that will have its consequences.
As we were preparing this article, a significant event took place which affected the Nicaraguan and regional political situation of this past month. We refer to the meeting of foreign ministers in San José, Costa Rica, which brought together various representatives of Central American and Caribbean governments and the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs, Thomas Enders.
This event has considerable importance, since the Nicaraguan situation continues to be conditioned and determined by Central American political realities, and even more by the attitudes and decisions of the Reagan administration. This meeting also constitutes, to a certain extent, the diplomatic and political synthesis of a series of actions and tendencies which have become more evident in the last month in the region. These are not all original or new tendencies, but rather repetitions on a more global level of moves already detected in previous months.
The meeting of Foreign Ministers began October 4 and included the participation of representatives from the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, Jamaica and Colombia. The Ambassador of the Dominican Republic in Costa Rica and a leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party of Panama were present as observers. Guatemala and Nicaraguan were not invited to the meeting.
One of the principal objectives of the meeting was to create a “Forum for Peace and Democracy”, which would contribute to the “reestablishment of peace in Central America and to the avoidance of future conflicts”. Other ostensible aims of the meeting were to study concrete peace initiatives, to halt the arms race in the area, and to condemn foreign intervention and subversion in neighboring countries. In short, the apparent purpose of the meeting was to consolidate democracy and peace in Central America.
What significance can a Forum for the consolidation of peace in the region have without the presence of Nicaragua, which has persistently struggled to bring about peace and a negotiated settlement of the region’s problems?
The fact that Nicaragua was not invited was not an oversight, nor did it occur casually; rather, it was consistent with the political objectives of the U.S., which we will analyze later. A quick look at the principal delegates to the meeting and their statements will allow us to make a more accurate assessment of the motives behind it.
a- Thomas Enders, the U.S. representative, repeated the points which he had presented earlier in his speech entitled “Constructing Peace in Central America”, delivered August 20 of this year to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. (See Envío N° 15). These points included a devastating criticism of Nicaragua, on whom Enders placed the responsibility for the majority of Central America’s problems.
b- Edgardo Paz Barnica, Foreign Minister of Honduras, accused Nicaragua of provoking the destabilization of his country’s democratic system, at the same time adding, “Nicaragua has become a source of controversy; the problems in the Central American area could be resolved if the government of that country got back on its original track, that of representative and pluralistic democracy.”
c- Fidel Chávez Mena, Foreign Minister of El Salvador stated, “Nicaragua has maintained a totally aggressive attitude towards the internal political processes of Central America and in particular has maintained an attitude of interference in the internal affairs of El Salvador…”
d- Luis Monge, president of Costa Rica, said in his opening speech, “Costa Rica will not participate in any armed conflict which would upset the Central American area, nor will it become involved in activities contrary to the political stability of other nations; however, we cannot help but support whoever, inside or outside of government, is committed with courage and determination to building democratic societies, even in the face of the greatest adversity”.
Some Reflections. It is difficult to believe that a meeting based on attitudes of this kind could be a positive event. It is even less likely to be positive because the country accused of being the destabilizing element in the area, Nicaragua, was accorded no right of defense, explanation or reply. This exclusion leads us to believe that the meeting in San José was called in order to further the political plan which the United States has concocted for the area, rather than to undertake a serious search for peace. In other words, what prevailed in San José was Washington’s view that it is more interested in bilateral agreements with friendly nations, which would increase the isolation of Nicaragua, than in accepting a genuine multilateral dialogue, which would undoubtedly have to include Nicaragua.
The Forum attempts to build a more extensive platform than existed with the Central American Democratic Community (created in January, 1982), whose practical effectiveness is seriously questioned and whose objectives and actions are totally conditioned by American foreign policy. This forum could also be seen as a diplomatic effort of the Reagan administration to assure that the United States (after suffering a continental setback with the Falklands conflict) will arrive at the next meeting of the Organization of American States with a favorable balance of hemispheric power.
The ideological framework within which the Forum for Democracy and Peace was created is a clever one, and is consistent with the Reagan administration’s overall political vision. The forum aims both to reverse the administration’s hawkish image and to divert attention away from the genuine efforts of Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela to bring about dialogue in the region. The latter two countries were also “notably absent” from the Forum, although they had been invited. Through their repeated efforts and proposals, Mexico and Venezuela have promoted an improvement in the relations in the region, and will undoubtedly be key figures in any multilateral peace discussions.
In our view, the principal importance of the San José Meeting is its relationship to other complementary events which have occurred over the last month. On October 2, the “Diario El Nacional” of Venezuela published a denunciation referring to preparations for an invasion against Nicaragua. “The operation is being planned at a site 35 kilometers outside of Tegucigalpa”, said the President of the Venezuelan branch of the “Anti-imperialist Tribunal of Our America”. He added, “the meeting brought together four defense advisors of the CIA, the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras, six functionaries of the State Department, plus 29 colonels of the Honduran Army”. The declaration asserts that a new Bay of Pigs is being prepared in Central America.
The same meeting was denounced by other organizations and personalities, who pointed out the participation of U.S. Under-Secretary of Defense for Latin America Néstor Sánchez, who worked with the CIA in Latin America for 30 years, leaving that post in 1981.
In a sense, the Costa Rica meeting and the meeting in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are two facets of a comprehensive policy being promoted by the Reagan administration for the purpose of isolating Nicaragua in order eventually to facilitate aggression and intervention against it. The San Jose Meeting was an arena in which the United States could attack Nicaragua, question its model and its efforts at being a peacemaker, and try to isolate Nicaragua even more fully in the international sphere. Judging from its participants, the meeting in Tegucigalpa could be seen as a move towards the consolidation of operative structures to serve as instruments of an intervention which would have as its objective the destruction of the Nicaraguan process.
Compared to the situation in August, this last month shows that the general U.S. policy against Nicaragua has gained in practical implementation. Last month, we pointed out, among other aggressive developments, the speech by Thomas Enders in the Commonwealth Club and the Symms Resolution. These two important events occurred in the arena of rhetoric or parliamentary debate and, moreover, were confined to the United States. This month, however, the same concepts have moved to the scene of action, Central America, and have become real and concrete. What last month was only a threatening speech can today be seen as a political–diplomatic source of action, which joins together and is the vanguard of a series of clearly anti-Nicaraguan positions.
THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION’S OBJECTIVE: DESTROY THE NICARAGUAN MODELThe administration’s plan for destroying the Sandinista model is neither linear nor completely settled. However, some of its tactical elements are the following:
a) A long-term siege, based on a coherent policy of economic destabilization, whose principal objective is to increase the pauperization of Nicaragua’s lower classes and thereby undermine the Revolution’s social base.
b) Military invasion in the medium-run, following a period of slow exhaustion of Nicaragua’s armed forces through constant attacks on its northern borders by special units of counterrevolutionaries, supported militarily and logistically from Honduras.
Taken together, the two measures seek to demonstrate that the Sandinista project – which embraces political pluralism, the mixed economy, international non-alignment, the participation of Christians in the process, etc. – is not viable. The U.S. aim is to destroy what is being built in Nicaragua, to wipe it out as a valid alternative for other Latin American peoples.
Taking this context into account, we will analyze some of the most recent domestic, regional and international developments.
A significant development last month was the statement of Stephen Bosworth, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Interamerican Affairs, who declared before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that Nicaragua shows no signs of “adopting concrete measures of peace” and that, together with the Cuban government and the Salvadorian guerrillas, Nicaragua is responsible for terrorist attacks in Honduras. (Bosworth made specific mention of the takeover by the Cinchoneros of the Chamber of Commerce in San Pedro Sula.)
In addition, on September 23 Nicaraguan newspapers reprinted parts of a statement by John Buchanan, a retired American Army Lieutenant Colonel, who asserted that “the Reagan administration has deliberately exaggerated the military capabilities of the Sandinistas as a smokescreen to hide preparations for war against Nicaragua”. He added that very reliable Honduran sources maintain that a war between Honduras and Nicaragua will start in December.
On the military plane, there have been a series of attacks and provocations on the Honduran border, including the killing of two advisors from MIDINRA (others were wounded), an attack on the fishing boat “Danto” in Nicaraguan territorial waters, an attempted aggression at the frontier post of San Pedro del Potrero Grande, and attacks on other posts. This permanent military harassment from the north forces Nicaragua to devote immense quantities of human and material resources to guaranteeing its defense.
On a more global level, the anti-Third World thrust of the Reagan administration’s economic policy was once again manifested at the beginning of September in the annual meeting of the IMF in Toronto, Canada, where the United States openly opposed any attempt to liberalize the workings of that institution.
Summing up, what we find is a diverse series of events which converge toward a single objective. Bosworth’s statements reveal a state of mind on the part of the U.S. which leads it to criticize and condemn Nicaragua while making the U.S. appear as the country best placed to interpret the Central American region’s quest for peace.
The meetings in San José and Tegucigalpa round out and illumine our analysis, as well as confirming its basic assumption, i.e., that what is being sought is the destruction of the Nicaraguan model.
U.S. POLICY IN THE LIGHT OF OTHER DEVELOPMENTSInternationally: The domestic political rearrangement which has occurred in West Germany over the last few days, with the Social Democrats’ displacement by the Christian Democrats, may signify the neutralization or even the loss of a prior political friendship with that country, a friendship which has helped to keep doors open internationally for the Nicaraguan revolution. This hypothesis will be confirmed or disconfirmed over the coming months.
In contrast to the situation in Germany, the victory of Olaf Palme in Sweden presages a strengthening of ties with Nicaragua. Palme is one of Nicaragua’s oldest friends and his role in our view will be a positive one.
On the other hand, the secondary contradictions which have emerged between Europe and the United States over the building of the Soviet gas pipeline constitutes an irritant for U.S. policy (which on certain points has managed to unite the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher with the Socialist government of Francois Mitterand). Indirectly this favors the Nicaraguan revolution, especially on the diplomatic plane.
It is also important to consider the consequences of the Beirut massacre for developments in Central America. Although this genocidal war succeeded in provoking a sharp reaction from the greater part of world public opinion, in practice it demonstrated the validity of the Reagan administration’s bellicose policy of partial and limited war. Our readers may recall that administration officials have spoken of the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. Although the war in Lebanon was not nuclear, it did remain limited, transpiring in such a way as not to lead to a regionalization. This is a dangerous developments for Central America, for it tends to confirm certain basic assumptions in the U.S. military about the feasibility of limiting future interventions to one country.
In the United States: The approach of Congressional elections in the U.S., scheduled for November, could have a significant impact on the political scene in Central America. In addition, by January of 1983 a federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year in the United States must be hammered out. In the interim, it is possible that the Reagan administration’s policies will change in decisive ways, ways which will lead it, depending on how domestic political trends develop, to use its Central American policy to bolster or recover support at home. As far as domestic politics are concerned, one development whose repercussions might tend to constrain administration policy would be protests against Reagan’s economic measures (strengthening of a “tight-fisted” policy toward low-income sectors). Another force which could serve to constrain the administration’s hostile intentions is the growing anti-nuclear movement; the draft letter of the U.S. Conference of Bishops (which had a great impact in the media) demonstrates the deep preoccupation which exists among many segments of American society in regard to the nuclear question and the warlike attitudes which prevail in administration circles.
U.S. POLICY ENCOUNTERS DIFFICULTIES IN CONSOLIDATING ITS HOLDGuatemala: In recent weeks the repressive face of the Ríos Montt regime in Guatemala has expressed itself in dramatic fashion. The murder by firing squad of four political activists, along with continuing massacres of Indian peasants and the operations of a special command called the Kaibiles (which launched an incursion into Mexican territory and caused a serious problem in relations between the two countries), serve to confirm the point.
The U.S. objective in Guatemala is to legitimize this “new democratic government”, utilizing toward that end the charismatic-religious appeal of General Ríos Montt. Such legitimation will enable the regime to advance further and at lower cost in the work of wiping out the popular movement. In pursuit of this objective the Guatemalan government has set up a farcical “Council of State” - with parliamentarians designated from above - and is offering a “political opening” to the leaders of a multiparty coalition.
However, this policy, unpopular on account of its repressive features (a few days ago Ríos Montt announced a “picks and shovels” program to give employment to campesinos which is nothing but a government plan for forced labor) also faces limits in its base of economic support, for in certain ways Ríos Montt has hurt the interests of traditional sectors of the Guatemalan bourgeoisie. By contrast, his policies have benefited a new sector of the bourgeoisie to which many of the military men who have enriched themselves during the last few years of dictatorship are linked.
In addition, the decision of the Guatemalan Labor Party to join in the revolutionary struggle, accepting the validity of the guerrilla path, serves to strengthen the popular forces internally as well as to bolster international solidarity for the Guatemalan cause.
All this limits considerably the real power which Ríos Montt can deploy and calls the U.S. design for Guatemala clearly into question. Given its present domestic situation, Guatemala will have a difficult time converting itself into an active ally of the Reagan administration in the event of a military intervention against Nicaragua.
El Salvador: A similar situation can be detected in El Salvador. Here too the U.S. aim is to legitimize the existing regime and annihilate the FMLN and the popular forces. Again, however, the internal situation is not entirely favorable for the realization of these objectives. Despite the fact that all the right-wing parties signed the unity “Pact of Apaneca”, there continue to be considerable divisions and contradictions among them. In recent days, for example, ten of the PCN’s fourteen representatives to the Constituent Assembly separated from the rest of the party to form an autonomous grouping. As the regime’s functionaries themselves recognize, the situation continues to be one of a certain balance or equilibrium. But this fact, which they present as an achievement, is in reality a sign of failure. That the Salvadoran government cannot tip the balance of forces with respect to the popular sectors in its favor, despite all the military and economic aid which the U.S. is funneling into the country, reflects a state of severe structural weakness among the dominant sectors of the society.
In addition, continued military operations and political work by the FMLN-FDR do not make a straightforward implementation of the Reagan administration’s plans for El Salvador any easier. On the contrary, they slow down and even obstruct such implementation.
As in the case of Guatemala, this situation – unpropitious for the success of the policy which Washington is dictating – imposes limits on the extent to which the U.S. can count on the Salvadoran military as an effective ally in case of an intervention against Nicaragua. True, Defense Minister García, in a recent meeting with Salvadoran businessmen, declared his agreement with the idea of participating in the struggle against Nicaragua on the ground of “Nicaragua’s interference in the internal problems of El Salvador.” However under the present circumstances such a statement is little more than menacing rhetoric. For in the event of an intervention it would be highly counterproductive for the Salvadoran military to send troops to the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, such a move would leave the interior of the country unprotected and thereby enable the popular organizations in El Salvador to make significant advances.
Honduras: Since we are enclosing in this Envío an article specifically devoted to Honduras, we will not dwell at length on this topic here. As far as our general analysis is concerned, we view Honduras as the principal logistical base of operations for the U.S. policy of intervention, given that country has at its disposal thousand of ex-National Guardsmen to facilitate the task of attacking Nicaragua.
Like its neighbors, however, Honduras is afflicted by serious social and economic problems. Increasing repression internally is another element tending to raise the Honduran people’s political consciousness. This combination of economic crisis and intensified repression, a combination unmasked by the action of the Cinchoneros, is an objective fact which must be recognized – despite the Reagan administration’s attempt to use the international news media to blame the operation in San Pedro Sula on Nicaragua.
Costa Rica: This country basically serves the Reagan administration as a means of legitimating its policy of aggression on the terrain of international politics and diplomacy. Because of its long democratic tradition and the historical absence of an army, Costa Rica is an excellent platform or tribunal from which to denounce and attack Nicaragua, as occurred in the San José meeting a few days ago. Within the country, however, numerous problems resulting from the current socio-economic crisis are making themselves felt. Highly significant in this context is the fact that, at the same time that Costa Rica has become the spearhead of an aggressive U.S. policy toward Nicaragua (ostentatiously waving the banners of peace and democracy), the government has been suppressing a long strike by workers on the country’s banana plantations (eight of the most important operations in the Atlantic region are affected), confronts strikes from other important trade-union sectors (e.g., railroad workers), and is threatening to outlaw traditional left political forces such as the Communist Party. This tense internal situation could hinder Costa Rica from playing the diplomatic-international role which the Reagan administration has assigned it.
In general, the Central American regional panorama -- profoundly conflictual and complex -- does not unambiguously favor the basic aim which the Reagan administration so zealously seeks, namely the destruction of the Sandinista model in Nicaragua.
THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN NICARAGUA DURING THE LAST MONTHThe complexity of these regional and international events is an important factor to bear in mind when analyzing Nicaraguan internal developments, since it has a direct effect on the life and reconstruction of the country.
The economic situationcontinues to be critical. As Minister of Planning Comandante Henry Ruiz explained to the national press on September 23, Nicaragua’s economic problems are reflected in the deficit in the country’s balance of payments, which has risen to $300 million. The deficit is aggravated by a drop in the prices of major export crops that has entailed losses on the order of $100 million. In spite of these adverse trends, Nicaragua so far this year has paid off $200 million in foreign debts and is attempting to meet all its international commitments on time. Such action makes Nicaragua something of an exception in Latin America, where even countries which are on a more solid economic footing cannot meet their debts.
Economic difficulties have been further exacerbated by the results of the drought that struck the country in the months of July and August. In the wake of this drought, the national government decided to assume the debts of producers in the zones affected to whom credits had been extended. The assumption of this heavy financial responsibility favors small- and medium-sized producers of basic grains, who lost all or at least a large part of their crop, as well as large-scale producers of cotton and cattle. The decision also signifies a strengthening of the policy of National Unity, a principal objective of the Nicaraguan government and the FSLN.
In the industrial area, certain government officials and leaders of mass organizations have predicted, in the near future, the closing of numerous non-priority factories whose profits are low, raising the specter of even more serious unemployment than already exists. Anticipating this situation, the government has launched a series of garden (huerto) projects for family, school, union, etc., in an attempt to respond to the food needs which this increased unemployment will create. At the same time, there are indications that a new industrial policy, one which is said to “revolutionize” classic industrial models, is undergoing thorough study in the Ministry of Industry.
As a practical consequence of the drought, and of the earlier floods, there have been problems this month in the distribution of basic foodstuffs, in particular with the distribution network of ENABAS, whose prices are subsidized by the government.
On the political plane, three weeks ago the FSLN began (reinitiated) a systematic political dialogue with the opposition parties grouped in the “Ramiro Sacasa Democratic Coordinating Committee”. The Patriotic Front of the Revolution (FPR)k, which is aligned with the FSLN, later joined in the talks. Although thus far no concrete results of the meetings have been made public, sources indicate that the topics under discussion embrace everything which affects the political life and future of Nicaragua, including the Law on Political Parties, elections, the communications media, the State of Emergency, and so on.
This dialogue, which has already prompted a positive initial reaction in the form of a denunciation by the opposition Social Christian Party of external intervention, is a very significant development. On one hand, it represents a concrete political response by the FSLN to threats of intervention. In light of such a dialogue, for example, the accusation that Nicaragua is or is becoming totalitarian is weakened. An added benefit is a reduction in the ideological confrontation that characterized the month of August. In addition to its calming effect on the opposition, the dialogue sets up an effective communication channel between the FSLN and the opposition parties, and obstructs the opposition’s policy of rallying around religious leaders and banners, something which also characterized the situation of the previous month (see Envío N° 15 regarding the events of Masaya, etc.).
In the military area, a state of permanent tension continues. The threats and aggressions on Nicaragua’s northern borders have been kept up, and this has forced a regular mobilization of militia forces and the army. Over the past three years, the amount of resources utilized for defense in the face of threats and aggressions has served to raise the consciousness of some sectors of the mass public, at least among the most aware. It is becoming clearer and clearer (and to more extensive sectors of the population) that many of the features of Nicaragua’s economic crisis derive from the international boycott against Nicaragua and from the military operations launched from Honduras. Paradoxically, therefore, such a negative factor as the external military pressure is a partially counteracted when its economic consequences are consciously analyzed and turned into a tool for political consciousness-raising.
In the international arena, Nicaragua continues to promote peace in the Central American region. It has taken the initiative vis-à-vis the leaders of Costa Rica and Honduras to concretize a meeting in which the problems of the region could be analyzed. However, this effort has met with few favorable responses. In the last several days a joint Mexican-Venezuelan letter addressed to the heads-of-state of the United States, Nicaragua and Honduras, proposing a frank dialogue to resolve tensions in the area, has emerged to fortify the previous Nicaraguan initiatives. In addition, on October 6 a group of Venezuelan and Mexican diplomats arrived in Nicaragua to arrange a meeting between Honduran President Suazo Cordova and Coordinator of the Nicaragua Junta, Comandante Daniel Ortega. Nicaragua’s response was immediate and positive. However, unofficial sources said that another group of envoys was sent to Honduras but that President Suazo Córdova’s attitude was evasive; in fact, Suazo seemed determined to put such a meeting off.
The continuing initiatives of Mexico and Venezuela, two staunch bastions of peace in the area, to concretize a Nicaragua-Honduras dialogue bear out our analysis of the significance of the Costa Rican meeting. In the light of such efforts one can only conclude that the “Forum” in San José, far from being a forum for peacemaking, was intended as a platform for furthering aggression against Nicaragua.
The attempt on October 6 to bring about a meeting between the countries involved in one of the focal points of tension in the area (Honduras-Nicaragua) signifies in practice non-recognition by Mexico and Venezuela of the results of the San José forum. It also signifies that, in the present political situation, the two nations refuse to accept “peaceful” resolutions to the region’s problems which do not involve the effective participation of Nicaragua.
Original language – Spanish
October 7, 1982