WHERE IS CENTRAL AMERICA HEADED? (THE CONFRONTATION BETWEEN NICARAGUA AND THE UNITED STATES) SECOND AND CONCLUDING PART:
In March of 1982, the initial policy of the Republican administration for the region was defeated. Evidence of this can be seen in the following: the growing military and political strength of the FMLN coupled with an electoral process which demonstrated the power struggle among El Salvador's political groups; the fall of the Lucas Garcia regime in Guatemala because of conflicts between various oligarchic groups and sectors of the military; and the support which the Nicaraguan government received both domestically and internationally in the face of the threat of intervention.
Proposals for negotiation, first put forward by France and Mexico in regard to El Salvador and later broadened to include the region by Mexico's President Lopez Portillo, were frustrated. In spite of winning wide international support as well as acceptance by the Nicaraguan government and the FMLN, Reagan vetoed the proposals. The Reagan administration assessed that it had ample room for achieving its own purposes and that therefore it was very early in the game to accept the lesser evil of negotiations.
With its first attempt at a Central American policy frustrated, the Reagan administration decided to adjust its plans for the region but it in no way changed its original objectives. The new strategy, sketched out just before George Schultz’ nomination as Secretary of State, had three elements to take into account.
The first was the growing difficulties involved in direct U.S. military intervention. These resulted from the support which progressive governments and national movements had shown toward Central America's revolutionary struggles and the Republican administration's increasing domestic difficulties. The second element consisted in the effects which the war in the Malvinas had wrought in the Central American panorama, i.e., the progressive withdrawal of Argentine military support for pro U.S. governments in the isthmus; a relative but nonetheless increasing autonomy of Venezuelan foreign policy from that of the U.S.; and, the difficulty of resorting to the Organization of American States or the Rio Treaty for military and diplomatic attacks. The third and final element was the growing docility of various Central American regimes to Washington's dictates. Important factors in this element include Rios Montt's search for a new image which would bring him closer to Washington and permit a resumption of military aid to Guatemala; the increased economic and military dependence of the Salvadoran government as a result of the civil war; the financial weakness of the Monge government in Costa Rica; and the accelerated process of moving away from the Torrijos line in Panama.
Yet, it was the Honduran government which assumed the dominant role in the search for a way out of the Central American dilemma. That country's geographic situation; substantial U.S. involvement in its economy from the days of the banana enclaves; the fact that it possessed a government "legitimized" by elections, as well as armed forces greatly augmented in the wake of the 1969 war with El Salvador; all tended to convert Honduras into the most appropriate base for operations in Central America.
1 THE READJUSTMENT OF REPUBLICAN POLICY IN CENTRAL AMERICAAccording to the Reagan administration, the cause of the strength and staying power of the Salvadoran guerrillas was not rooted in the capacity of the Salvadoran people to organize themselves to fight against profound social injustice, but rather in the unproven interference of Nicaragua. From the administration's perspective of the East West confrontation, Nicaragua was supposedly serving as a channel for arms coming from Cuba and other socialist countries. The plan was thus reversed: instead of eliminating the FMLN and the UNRG and weakening the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the objective was to overthrow the Nicaraguan government while preparing the ground to destroy the other movements later.
This plan was first denounced in general terms by Junta Coordinator Daniel Ortega and detailed later by Argentine ex military officer Hector Frances; various press reports rounded out the information. The military offensive against Nicaragua would be based on the following strategy:
1. Armed attacks on Nicaragua's northern and southern borders, in both the eastern and the western parts of the country. The Somocista ex guardsmen, with an estimated force of six thousand men, would penetrate Nicaragua, principally from the northwest, but also from the northeast. Meanwhile, the Miskito contingent trained in Honduras, approximately 2,000 in number, would enter from the northeast.
These military forces, together with a political component, are grouped in an alliance called the Nicaraguan Democratic Front (FDN), which is the high command of the Nicaraguan counterrevolution.
2. Sabotage against economic and military targets by counterrevolutionary commandos operating inside Nicaragua. The presence of such commandos was denounced in Managua, Chinandega, Rivas, Boaco and other cities.
3. Creation of rearguards both in the north and the south. In the north one rearguard would be made up of U.S. and Honduran army units working together in a new type of Halcon Vista operation using land, sea and air (and with naval forces operating in both oceans). In addition to furnishing supplies to those infiltrating into Nicaragua, the rearguard would serve as a security cordon in case of a Sandinista counterattack against Honduras. Costa Rica would allege border problems with Nicaragua and would request that an international force protect the border. There is also the possibility that the U.S. and Costa Rica would plan military border exercises.
4. An uprising sparked by significant groups within Nicaragua, who would he judged to be deeply discontented on account of "Sandinista totalitarianism and the economic difficulties."
5. If territory were actually liberated and a Provisional Junta could be formed, they would receive recognition at least from the U.S., Honduras and El Salvador. Under the cover of this legality and bolstered by accusations that Nicaragua violated Honduran territory, the Honduran armed forces would attack Nicaragua. Of strategic advantage in pulling off such an offensive successfully would be the strength of the Honduran Air Force. Although improbable, direct U.S. intervention, given the right political circumstances, would not be ruled out.
Another important element of this strategy would be the political, ideological and diplomatic actions to be carried out in the international and national spheres. The aim of that offensive would be to delegitimize Nicaragua's government both domestically and internationally with the principal weapons being Nicaragua's supposed "totalitarianism" and the purported armed threat which it represents to its neighbors. Internationally, the campaign was aimed at undermining support for the Nicaraguan government among progressive governments and institutions (and at the same the building up the image of the FDN), while justifying the hostile actions of other Central American governments toward the Nicaraguan revolution on the grounds of "legitimate self defense." Domestically, the Church would play an important role in encouraging opposition to government and defense programs.
This offensive was channeled outside the country through the most right wing opposition groups, who had taken shelter in Costa Rica, and domestically by conservative church leaders. While all this was going on, the “15th of September” radio station in Honduras and the "Voice of Sandino" in Costa Rica reinforced by interference in the Sandinista television system would seek to publicize the actions of the counterrevolutionaries. If all went as planned, the Provisional Government formed in the wake of an attack would receive the required national and international support.
The operations which the Reagan administration had planned against Nicaragua would be complemented by its strategy toward El Salvador and Guatemala. In El Salvador, the administration aimed at diminishing the tensions within the country's political forces, while continuing to provide military advisors, troop training and war technology.
In Guatemala, Rios Montt would be supported in his all out war against the guerrillas, in his attempts to eliminate the conflicts which the Lucas Garcia regime had opened in the oligarchy and sectors of the army, and in his search for a better international image on which to base his relationship with the U.S. The defeat of the Nicaraguan government would naturally reinforce whatever advances Magaña and Rios Montt were able to make.
This second attempt of the Reagan to design and implement a policy vis-à-vis Central America obviously would have to manage successfully a series of factors which were not always under its control. That fact implied the need to leave both a margin for changing non essential aspects of the plan as well as a margin for error. Nonetheless, the plan described above appeared to be the most efficacious and most cost effective plan available. As its implementation would naturally require a period of months, a time frame from March to December of 1982 was set for putting the plan into effect. During those months military offensives against all of Central America's liberation movements were to be accelerated.
2. MILITARY ATTACKS AND NICARAGUAN RESPONSEThe plan which has just been analyzed did not come to light all at once, but rather was revealed little by little as the weeks and months of 1982 passed. Nevertheless, as diverse sources continued to uncover the plan, its logic could be seen to fit with the pattern of events as they unfolded. First, this will be demonstrated in the military sphere.
Somoza's ex National Guard (the spearhead of the military attacks) became the principal protagonists in the more than 140 attacks against Nicaragua in the period from January 1981 to March 1982. These attacks resulted in the death of at least 66 Nicaraguans, including military personnel and civilians. During this period, the ex guardsmen were operating in small groups and generally without heavy weapons. However, once the new phase of the administration's policy began, 142 attacks led mainly by Somocistas were carried out in the space of just six months, from April to September 1982. The number of actions undertaken per month thus tripled. These incursions resulted in the death of 105 Nicaraguans, including military and civilians. By January 13, 1983, according to statements by Commander Daniel Ortega, more than 400 Nicaraguans had been killed since the start of the attacks from camps in Honduras.
The Somocistas had gone beyond the stage of small groups and were in the process of converting themselves into well equipped military units. For example, among the arms captured from guardsmen after March 1982 were M 16 and FAL rifles, 23 25 submachine guns, R 15 automatic rifles with the inscription "Property of the U.S. Government", 66mm. "LAW" or M 72 anti tank rocket launchers, C 3 and C 4 explosives, 60 and 81mm. mortars, etc.
One of the most dramatic Somocista attacks occurred at San Francisco del Norte, Chinandega. More than a hundred well armed guardsman, carrying modern rifles and protected by mortar fire, attacked the town. Without a regular army in San Francisco del Norte, the civilian militia defended the town for two and a half hours. When the militia ran out of ammunition, the Somocistas killed all the members of the Municipal Council, slit the throats of other townspeople and tortured still others by breaking their legs. The guardsmen, who returned to the camps in Honduras from which they had come, left behind signs which read, “With God and patriotism.” Members of the diplomatic corps accredited in Nicaragua arrived at the scene hours after the massacre and heard the testimonies of the townspeople.
This "silent war" and its attendant "strategy of terror" were like a slow motion invasion, slated to culminate in December. Meanwhile, numerous indications came to light that groups like that of Fernando Chamorro Rappaccioli and the Miskitos under Steadman Fagoth or Brooklyn Rivera were now receiving more sophisticated arms and training. Sources included statements by Honduran authorities in areas along the Honduran Nicaraguan border people who have deserted from the hands, and those who have been captured, etc. At the same time, the "Baltimore Sun" reported that 500 agents recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency were in training to carry out sabotage against the Nicaraguan economy. The first circle of fire appeared to be closing around Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, the Honduran army has continued to build up its military forces. In addition to its army of 20,000, Washington has converted the Honduran Air Force into the most powerful in Central America. The U.S. has "lent" Honduras most of a fleet of 23 helicopters; it has helped to form a squadron of 35 jet fighters (including 20 Super Mysteres, 10 F 86 Sabre Jets and 5 A 37 Dragonfly bombers), in addition to a force of 24 Trojan bombers, three reconnaissance aircraft and possibly as many as 12 Northrop F5E/F fighter planes. Moreover, three high capacity airports are under construction which, according to Honduras' Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, "could be utilized by the United States whenever necessary to counteract the Cuban air threat in the region." Naval installations have also been constructed on the island of Tigre Amapala in the Gulf of Fonseca, which lies between Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as in the Caratesca Lagoon near Puerto Lempira on the Atlantic Coast, only a few kilometers from Nicaraguan territory.
Reinforced by modern Israeli armaments, the Honduras army can also count on the services of 150 U.S. military advisors. Some of these are high ranking officers responsible for advising the Navy, the General Staffs of the Air Force and the armed forces, lower ranking commands within the army (from 6 1 to 6 7), the Public Security Forces ("FUSEP"), the police, and the Cobras (urban counterinsurgency units).
The remainder are part of Special Mobile Groups, generally composed of veterans of the Vietnam War. The range of specialties among such groups is broad: military intelligence, communications, air and naval instruction, ambushes, mountain campaigns, etc. These U.S. advisors have sought to build up Honduran capabilities in the naval and aviation fields, in communications, in parachute operations, and in specialized Ranger units designed for jungle warfare and capable of aggressive operations. This is financed in part by U.S. economic and military assistance which has increased sevenfold from 1980 to 1982. A second circle of fire thus closes around Nicaragua.
The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, one of the largest in Latin America, has 115 U.S. personnel and is presently headed by John Dimitri Negroponte. Formerly, Negroponte was a political officer attached to the U.S. embassy in Saigon and a member of the commission negotiating the end of the Southeast Asian conflict, in particular with to Cambodia.
Negroponte has overseen the execution of at least four combined Honduran U.S. military exercises: the Halcon Vista operation in 1981, designed to evaluate the capacity of Honduras’s Navy and Air Force, in the event of a future war with Nicaragua, and the "Combined Deployment 82" maneuvers, whose objective was to practice “movement, control and communications procedures in deployment activities.” During these maneuvers C 130 transports flew from Panama to Puerto Lempira in Honduras to deliver machine guns, mortars, ammunition for automatic rifles, dry rations, jeeps and other equipment. Whole military units were also permanently relocated from the interior of Honduras to areas close to the country's border with Nicaragua. A third combined operation dubbed "Big Pine," scheduled for December, was postponed to January of 1983. As a forerunner to this operation, a command and control exercise known by its code name CPX was held during the second week in January. Carried out under the supervision of the Southern Command, the exercise was intended to raise the level of strategy capabilities among officials of the General Staff of the Honduran armed forces who would eventually direct any war against Nicaragua.
Against the backdrop of the naval exercises called "Ocean Venture," the White House also initiated a series of deployments of its Caribbean fleet. In November, the aircraft carrier Nimitz dropped anchor in Honduran waters, where its officials were welcomed by armed forces chief General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez. The Nimitz is the largest aircraft carrier in the American navy fleet, displacing 91,500 tons and carrying more than 90 aircraft of all types, including F 15s, F 16s and F-lls.
Several weeks prior to the Nimitz’s arrival, the nuclear carrier Ohio had passed close to the limits of Nicaragua's territorial waters. The Ohio carries 24 nuclear¬-tipped Trident I (C 4) missiles with a range of 6,000 miles and a combined destructive power equivalent to 2,040 Hiroshima bombs. About a month ago, guided-missile carrying frigate, USS Trippe, anchored in the Gulf of Fonseca for espionage and intimidation purposes and was replaced by the USS Samuel Elliot Morrison FFG 13, of similar design. All told, 24 different naval activities were carried out in waters off Nicaragua's coasts, mainly by U.S. warships, during the course of 1982. Lockheed reconnaissance aircraft flying at 80,000 feet violated Nicaraguan airspace on 93 occasions. A third circle of fire tightened around the country in what the New York Times called “the most ambitious military and political action operation which the Central Intelligence Agency has mounted in almost a decade.”
Notwithstanding its broad scope, the Reagan administration's second military design for Nicaragua contains features which suggest a high probability of failure. To begin with, the Nicaraguan Democratic Forces do not possess a sufficiently stable and unified structure. Within that group National guardsmen may be found side by side with businessmen and politicians who, although not opposed to the Somoza system, nevertheless attacked the dictator from the conservative end of the political spectrum. This uneasy coexistence creates a series of tensions, as the soldiers of the deposed dictatorship look with suspicion upon their former opponents, while the latter fear a grave deterioration of their political standing as a consequence of collaborating with the hated National Guard.
The Guard's reticence is even greater in regard to people like Eden Pastora, who held a high position in the ranks of the FSLN. The power struggles impede the necessary consolidation and leave important fissures open. There have even been power struggles within the Guard itself, both over the right of command and over control of economic assistance from Washington.
For their part, the Miskitos who went to Honduras and are in opposition to the Nicaraguan government are divided into two branches. One, led by Steadman Fagoth, is inclined to collaborate with the National Guard; the other, headed by Brooklyn Rivera, is linked to those who favor a "Somocismo without Somoza." Moreover, the objectives of the Miskitos who form their support bases, are at odds with the strategic aims of the other elements composing the "Nicaraguan Democratic Forces”. Thus, although the demands of the Miskitos can easily be encompassed within the general U.S. strategy, the overall organization of the Nicaraguan counterrevolution has presented Ambassador Negroponte and his superiors in Washington with some difficult problems.
Even more important, however, has been the behavior displayed by the Somocista military units within the country after receiving their new armament and training. The campaign of terror against Sandinista sympathizers, designed to win adherents away from the revolutionary cause, has generally had the opposite effect. The degree of savagery demonstrated by the Somocistas, which on occasion has included drinking the blood of their victims in the manner of Guatemala's Kaibiles, as well as killing children, has caused the population to unite against the Somocistas. Together with the effects which Nicaragua's agrarian reform program has had in the border regions, such behavior increasingly causes the inhabitants of these zones to lend more active support to the Nicaraguan government.
At the same time, the Army appears to have altered its strategy of defense. Instead of dispersing forces along the extensive border with Honduras, the Nicaraguan troops have drawn back several kilometers to permit a greater concentration of personnel and firepower. This in turn obliges the guardsmen to move further into Nicaraguan territory, increasing their risk of not being able to flee back across the border, and impeding border provocations by Honduran soldiers.
Somocista casualties have increased in direct proportion to the number of incursions into the country as well as in proportion to the increasing size of their units, which by December of 1982 had swelled to 400 members.
Furthermore, internal commando operations aimed at sabotaging both military posts and the economy have not met with the desired degree of success. Both ground and air attacks against such targets as the country's oil refinery, cement plant, and largest sugar mill (San Antonio) have been thwarted. A terrorist plan called "Bitter Christmas" which involved placing explosives in children's toys with Mickey Mouse covers, was uncovered and stopped. The Ministry of Interior reported that arrests were made of individuals engaged in this plot in Chinandega, Leon, Boaco, Managua and other locales.
The chances of the Honduran armed forces being successful in an attack against Nicaragua are slim. Such is the opinion of Lt. Colonel John Buchanan, who presented an analysis of this question to the Subcommittee on Inter American Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives. Buchanan, a highly decorated fighter pilot in Vietnam, pointed out some of the difficulties which the formidable Honduran Air Force would confront.
According to Buchanan, Nicaragua has few military targets of importance: the ports of Corinto, Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields; oil tanks at Corinto and the refinery in Managua; four airports of which only one is really important; plus an armored vehicle depot and 49 military garrisons. This leads Buchanan to believe that in one day all of the principal military targets could be destroyed, and that they could then move on to the secondary ones. But he warns that "there are obstacles to this scenario." The Honduran Air Force will also encounter Nicaragua’s anti- aircraft defense system. Given the limited size of Nicaragua's Air Force and the relatively large size of the Honduran Air Force, it is logical that Nicaragua would have to deploy anti aircraft guns and missiles. Nicaragua's concentration on defensive armament rather than on the development of offensive capabilities has also been pointed out by Nicaraguan Defense Minister, Humberto Ortega. This could also be the reason why Gen. Alvarez, in a recent meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, asked for Fakir aircraft, which cannot he detected.
According to high U.S. sources cited by Buchanan, the Nicaraguan army presently consists of 20,000 soldiers, while approximately 50,000 persons participate in the Militia.
It would be difficult for Honduran troops to advance far into Nicaraguan territory. A portion of its 20,000 personnel would have to remain behind in Honduras, as the army cannot neglect the border with El Salvador. In addition the Nicaraguan army, fighting in their own country, would have the logistical support of the population, which learned to act in war during the insurrections of 1978 and 1979.
Based strictly on military criteria, Buchanan concluded that it would be very risky for Honduras to enter into war with Nicaragua. He likewise judged that Nicaragua's strength lies in defensive rather than offensive military capabilities.
Opposition to war with Nicaragua in the Honduran military and governing Liberal party further complicates the situation for Washington. The effects of a war initiated but not won by Honduras would not be long in making themselves felt in both the economic and political spheres. In 1982, Honduras' GNP recorded negative growth, inflation reached 50%, the balance of payments showed a deficit of $100m, and the foreign debt climbed to $ 1.5 billion.
The third circle, which presupposes U.S. intervention, could operate in one of two ways: the U.S. could support intervention by the Honduran army and the FDN, or it could intervene directly. While the third option carries a lesser political cost, its effectiveness is limited by the capabilities of the FDN and the Honduran army. If these capabilities are weak, the U.S. will not be able to alter decisively the existing balance of forces; the option is hence an uncertain one. The second option presupposes certain political preconditions. Direct U.S. intervention, like intervention by way of the Honduran army, requires the creation of a suitable political climate. Thus it is important to look at the Reagan administration's political and diplomatic offensive against the Nicaraguan revolution.
3. Political Attacks and Nicaragua's Response
In August of 1982, Under Secretary of State Thomas Enders, in a speech entitled "Constructing Peace in Central America", accused Nicaragua of "creating the largest military establishment in the history of Central America and "postponing elections, while it wages war against its own people." Yet while U.S. warships were stationed in Nicaraguan waters and the U.S. government continued to arm both Somoza¬’s ex guard and the Honduran army, Enders mentioned the need to "exploit and seek out every opportunity for reconciliation and peace."
In Costa Rica, a "Forum for Peace and Democracy" was created. In addition to Enders and the host government, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Belize were represented. The Nicaraguan government was not invited.
At the forum Enders repeated his accusations against Nicaragua, this time seconded by Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Paz Barnica, the Honduran Foreign Minister, asserted that the possibility of an accord with Nicaragua depended on the latter putting itself back on "the road of representative and pluralist democracy." While Salvadoran Foreign Minister Chavez Mena criticized Nicaraguan interference, "particularly in the internal affairs of El Salvador," Costa Rica's President Luis Alberto Monge declared that he "could not help but feel solidarity with those inside or outside of government who pledge themselves, with determination and courage, to construct democratic societies even in the midst of the greatest adversity." The San Jose meeting concluded with an offer to work for peace in the region. The meeting became part of a larger effort to legitimize U.S. policy towards Nicaragua.
Costa Rica, whose foreign debt is over $4 billion, has effectively been converted into Washington's principal base for diplomatic and political action in Central America. Costa Rica's increasing collusion with Israel, as demonstrated by the transfer of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the military accords signed after Monge's talks with Begin and Shamir, has begun to reveal the limits of Costa Rican autonomy.
Presidents Lopez Portillo of Mexico and Herrera Campins of Venezuela launched their peace proposal well before the forum was coordinated in Costa Rica by Enders. In that proposal, they called on both Honduras and Nicaragua to abstain from "taking any action that might aggravate the situation, with the idea of promoting a constructive dialogue to permit rapprochement and cooperation between the parties." In similar fashion, the two presidents suggested to Reagan the "negotiation of a comprehensive accord" covering Central America. Numerous governments and movements voiced their agreement with this suggestion. However, while Nicaragua supported the Mexican Venezuelan proposal, Honduras continued firm in its adherence to the Costa Rican U.S. plan.
It was within this context that, during the 38th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Nicaragua won a seat on the U.N. Security Council. In an attempt to prevent Nicaragua from obtaining two-thirds of the votes in the Assembly, a precondition for election, the U.S. promoted and supported the candidacy of the Dominican Republic. However, 104 countries, mainly members of the Non Aligned Movement, supported Nicaragua's candidacy. Shortly afterwards, and despite the exercise of U.S. influence on his behalf, Honduran Foreign Minister Paz Barnica lost the election for President of the Twelfth General Assembly of the OAS.
THE SALVADORAN SITUATIONAccording to the Reagan administration's plan for the region, the Guatemalan and El Salvadoran military should have tipped the correlation of forces in their favor between April and December. Attempts at coup d'etats show that the Rios Montt regime has not been able to unify the military around its rule. While Rios Montt has had some success in containing the URNG, this has implied extremely repressive measures against the population. Such measures effectively create support for the URNG, which enables the guerrilla movement to survive.
Yet it is the situation in El Salvador which has become explosive. In effect, the struggle within the Salvadoran oligarchy has been increasing. In the city of Apaneca, department of Ahuachapan, there was a serious attempt to coordinate a government of rightist unity. Nevertheless, the Democratic Action party did not agree to participate; the National Conciliation party divided after the Apaneca agreement; the Salvadoran Popular Party entered into bitter polemics with the Democratic Action Party; the quotas of power turned out to be meager for the main parties ... and the division worsened.
The confrontation reached the center of the armed forces and aroused hidden tensions. The course of the war, with a high cost in lives for the army, brought criticisms from a sector of the military concerning the capacity of the General Staff to direct the war.
At the heart of the conflict was a confrontation between the Salvadoran oligarchy and the United States. Although both sides agree on the final objective, they differ in how it should be carried out. Little by little the U.S. has been gaining territory in its attempts to displace D'Aubuisson's forces, but the conflict appears to be far from resolved.
In addition to that crisis, there is another even more profound one. The "Revolutionary Heroes of October" campaign, which in fact extended until December, marked the beginning of the breakdown of the strategic equilibrium which until then had kept the armies fighting.
In spite of U.S. aid of $424 million for the period 1981 82, the visits of Nutting and other high officials of the Pentagon to review the strategy of handling the war, the increase in the army's troops, the modernization of arms, and the increase in advisors, the strategic balance simply broke apart. This is clearly demonstrated by the "Revolutionary Heroes of January" campaign.
WHERE IS CENTRAL AMERICA HEADING?The second option of the U.S. policy, which focused on Nicaragua, has been difficult to carry out both on the political diplomatic level and on the military level. The situation in El Salvador, with the balance now in favor of the revolutionary forces, has even further complicated U.S. plans.
In fact, in relation to Nicaragua, it does not seem possible that the Somocista or neo Somocista forces, grouped into the Nicaraguan Democratic Front, could inflict a serious blow to the Nicaraguan Revolution. Neither does success seem probable for the Honduran Army or Air Force if it attempted to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. And as already mentioned, both indirect and direct U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would have serious military and political repercussions in the U.S. and around the world.
Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the above does not imply a categorical victory over the Reagan plan. The Somocistas and neo Somocistas, with their constant armed invasions, and the ever present possibilities of successful sabotage, hold a significant potential for destruction. The Honduran army, although impeded from a strategic triumph, has an extremely high destructive power. A U.S. rearguard would probably come to back up these potentially destructive powers.
Finally, the possibility of a direct U.S. intervention cannot be ruled out completely, especially if the chain of events in El Salvador is taken into account. And if it is true that an intervention would be costly to the U.S. government, it is no less true that a revolutionary victory in El Salvador would also be costly.
Faced with the reality of the serious limitations and the costs to be paid in a frontal attack against the Nicaraguan government, but balanced by the significant losses in human and material resources of Nicaragua, the U.S. will have to decide again which country it considers to be the key country in the isthmus. Will they continue focusing their attention on Nicaragua as the best means of hurting the Salvadoran movement with the risks implied by this? Or will they go back to focusing on El Salvador, diverting the resources installed in Honduras to that end, and leave Nicaragua for a later time?
Whatever the case, only two alternatives remain in the region: to intervene or to negotiate. Both of these alternatives present diverse possibilities for the region which are obvious, but they are the only alternatives left.
The situation has developed to such an extent that the decision cannot be put off much longer. Either intervention or negotiation are feasible in the short run. There are also possibilities that something could happen before either of these alternatives were followed. For example, the U.S. could make use of the destructive, though limited, power which it has accumulated against Nicaragua. By means of Honduran troops, and eventually a limited number of Guatemalan ones, the U.S. could try to temporarily contain the FMLN's advances. After the results of those actions, according to the degree of success or failure, and in the face of the position of power that each contender is able to gain, the only real alternatives, negotiation or intervention, have to be examined and implemented.
In either case, 1983 appears to be the key year in the future of Central America.